The Minnesota Vikings freed up a spot on the edge of the defense by trading Za’Darius Smith, and the ideal man to fill his shoes remains a free agent.
On a roster full of questions, one of the most crucial involves who will lead the Vikings’ pass rush over the next several years? Pro-Bowler Danielle Hunter remains under contract through next season but is unhappy with his current deal and looking for a big pay increase. With Smith now gone, the answer to who will be Hunter’s running mate in 2023 is anyone’s guess. One of the best options, however, is clear — former Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.
Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell was the offensive coordinator in L.A. when the Rams won the Super Bowl following the 2021 season. He watched Floyd rack up 9.5 sacks and 37 quarterback pressures, while playing a key defensive role in that title title run.
Floyd’s natural position is outside linebacker, the same as Smith’s, which fits Minnesota’s base 3-4 scheme. New defensive coordinator Brian Flores is expected to have the Vikings blitzing as much or more than just about any team in the league, which plays directly into Floyd’s strengths as an edge rusher.
Leonard Floyd More Productive Pass-Rushing Option Than Marcus Davenport
NFL insider Matt Lombardo of Heavy.com on May 4 suggested Floyd as a fit with the Green Bay Packers, another team that operates defensively out of a 3-4. However, Lombardo’s rationale for why Floyd makes sense in Green Bay translates exactly into why he would be a good fit in Minnesota.
“Unlike some names still available, Leonard Floyd has been able to stay healthy and on the field, appearing in every game since 2017, while producing at a high level,” Lombardo wrote. “In 2022, Floyd racked up 9.0 sacks and 59 total tackles, before becoming a Los Angeles Rams cap casualty in [general manager] Les Sneed’s mad dash to get cap compliant.”
“Ideally, competitive teams looking for pass-rush help would be lining up to drop Floyd into their defense, at or near the top of the depth chart,” Lombardo continued.
The Vikings already added pass rusher Marcus Davenport this offseason on a one-year deal worth $13 million, but Davenport has played defensive end his entire career and is a less optimal fit in Minnesota’s defense. Furthermore, Davenport cratered with the New Orleans Saints in 2022, tallying just 0.5 sacks after putting up a career high 9.0 sacks in just 11 games in 2021.
Davenport is a short-term play who could pay off and end up a long-term asset in Minnesota. That said, his presence on the Vikings’ roster should not preclude the team from looking at Floyd to add more help pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
Vikings Can Afford Leonard Floyd by Cutting, Trading Dalvin Cook
Floyd tallied 29 sacks and 98 quarterback pressures over the course of his three-year stint with the Rams, per Pro Football Reference. He played two seasons of a four-year deal worth $64 million, which he signed with Los Angeles in March 2021, before the Rams cut him in March 2023 to clear $3 million in cap space.
Floyd joined the Rams in 2020 on a one-year contract worth $10 million after spending his first four professional seasons as a member of the Chicago Bears. The Bears drafted Floyd out of Georgia with the No. 9 overall pick in 2016.
According to Spotrac, Floyd’s market value is $13.7 million annually over the life of a three-year deal. As of Friday, the Vikings had access to just shy of $9.6 million in cap space and are likely to prioritize an extension for Hunter that could eat up most of what’s available on the balance sheet.
However, Minnesota can add between $6 million-$11 million in space if they cut or trade running back Dalvin Cook, depending on the timing of either move. Should the Vikings decide to part ways with Cook, they would likely open up enough money to ink Floyd.
The outside linebacker, who turns 31 years old in September, would be well bought anywhere below an annual average salary of $10 million with team flexibility on the back end of the contract.