Last season, the Minnesota Vikings felt the misery of not having a Pro Bowl pass rusher in the lineup for the first time since 2015.
Producing the third-lowest pass-rush win rate (36%) in the NFL, the defensive line was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2020.
The Vikings averted a crisis by reaching an agreement to restructure Danielle Hunter’s contract on June 14, spurring the two-time Pro Bowler to attend mandatory minicamp after holding out of voluntary OTAs.
Now, it’s time to find Hunter his running mate.
With $13.5 million in cap space following Hunter’s contract restructure, per Over the Cap, the Vikings have been deemed a “logical landing spot” for veteran pass rusher Justin Houston, according to Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon.
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Houston’s Prolific Career
Houston, 32, is entering his 11th season in the NFL after being selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.
He quickly emerged as an elite pass rusher, tallying double-digit sacks in three of his first four seasons, including 22.0 sacks in 2014, tied for the second-highest single-season total of all-time. Houston hasn’t replicated those numbers since but has averaged north of 9.0 sacks over the past four seasons despite a decline in playing time.
Houston started in all 32 regular season games over the past two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and has missed just four tackles in that span. Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters in April that Indianapolis could bring Houston back. However, after drafting two defensive ends in the first two rounds of the 2021 draft — Michigan’s Kwity Paye and Vanderbilt’s Dayo Odeyingbo — the Colts have cornered Houston into either taking a pay cut or finding a new team, Gagnon said.
Here’s what Gagnon wrote on Houston:
Justin Houston might not have a whole lot left at age 32, but the four-time Pro Bowler has put up at least eight sacks in each of the last four seasons with the Chiefs and Colts.
The key is you can no longer consider him an every-down player after he was on the field for just 59 percent of Indy’s defensive snaps despite starting 16 games in 2020. But there’s little reason to believe he can’t continue to serve as an effective situational pass-rusher for a contending team that has some money to spend on a short-term deal.
Besides, he’s far from a liability, having missed just four tackles the last two seasons combined.
Houston is coming off a two-year contract worth $11.5 million per year with the Colts. Considering he is still a free agent, Houston could be willing to lower his asking price to find a new team.
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Vikings Need Reliability Opposite of Hunter
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer confirmed on June 16 that Hunter is now healthy and looking “fantastic” after undergoing season-ending surgery for a herniated disc in his neck. Because of that, the Vikings don’t need a veteran to come in and be the No. 1 pass rusher on the team.
Minnesota has several developing talents on the roster in second-year defensive end D.J. Wonnum, third and fourth-round rookies Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson, and Stephen Weatherly. All are likely to contribute this season; however, none have the experience the Vikings prefer in a starting defensive end.
Houston’s proven to be a reliable and willing tackler and, if signed, could fortify the Vikings defensive line that will introduce Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson to the fold in 2021.