Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was adamant he’s never had a bad defense when tasked with the rehaul of replacing five starters in 2020.
But after surrendering the most points to a Vikings’ opponent since 1963 in a 52-33 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Christmas Day, Zimmer had to face the facts.
“This is a bad defense,” he said following the Saints loss, via Chad Graff of the Athletic. “Worst one I’ve ever had.”
During his first press conference since the end of the season on Thursday, Zimmer admitted he wasn’t optimistic when looking at the depth chart entering the offseason.
“I was kinda down in the dumps when I kept looking at the depth chart, and knowing what kind of salary cap space we had,” Zimmer said.
However, after guaranteeing $46.1 million to the defense this offseason by adding several high-profile free agents, Zimmer is once again bullish about his defense.
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Reinforcements Have Arrived
Last offseason, Zimmer saw many regulars on defense that had become household names leave in free agency. Add on the losses of newly acquired nose tackle Michael Pierce, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr by Week 2, and Zimmer’s defense bore little semblance to the unit that ranked fifth in points allowed in 2019.
Starting the 2021 offseason in the hole, general manager Rick Spielman and capologist Rob Brzezinski worked their magic to free up cap space which Zimmer had a full grasp of.
ESPN’s Courtney Cronin tallied the $46.1 million in guarantees that have reinforced Zimmer’s defense in Dalvin Tomlinson ($20.8 million), Patrick Peterson ($8 million), Xavier Woods ($1.75 million), Nick Vigil ($1.05 million), Stephen Weatherly ($500,000) and Mackensie Alexander ($137,500).
Zimmer also “lobbied heavily behind the scenes” for Anthony Barr to receive $9.4 million guaranteed on a restructured deal that makes him a free agent after the 2021 season, per Cronin.
All these money moves were a reaction to the defense ranked 29th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed last season.
“They’ve got me rejuvenated with the guys that they’ve brought in, and the players that are there to help, and then you’ve got guys like Anthony Barr who decides to restructure his contract because he wants to be here, you got guys like Stephen Weatherly, MacKensie, and a lot of these other guys that they really wanna be here, Patrick Peterson, and so those kind of things get me excited,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer’s excitement over the new weapons at his disposal was evident. He’s eager to turn around the defense after his worst defensive season as the Vikings head coach.
“Well, I’ll tell you, I’m not used to that level of performance from one of our groups, so we’ve had some of the best — you know it’s crazy because all the coaches are here in the building now- we’ve had some of the best meetings we’ve had in eight years probably,” Zimmer said. “Dissecting everything that we do, going through it, like I said before, with a fine-tooth comb. I’ve been really impressed with the coaches that are in there, but also the offenses have changed so much in the last four or five years, it’s time that we need to do some things differently, and change, and adapt, and so I’ve been really, I’m actually really excited to get back on the field with the players and get going.”
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What About the Offensive Line?
In the shadow of the defensive overhaul lies a pressing issue that’s plagued the Vikings for the better part of a decade: the offensive line.
When Zimmer was asked about the unit, he maintained coach-speak and said he was comfortable with the linemen in the building. If that’s true the Vikings are surely in trouble after the team let left tackle Riley Reiff walk.
However, when asked where 2020 second-round pick Ezra Cleveland would play, Zimmer hinted that additions could still be made on the offensive line by saying Cleveland is still the owner of his spot at right guard “right now.”
“Right now he’s right guard, but all those things can change, depending on what happens the rest of the way in free agency, and what else happens in the draft. We don’t know what’s gonna happen in those places,” Zimmer said. “Obviously, there’s other positions that we can draft, I’m sure at some point we’re gonna try to address all those things but, I think what we’ve done so far in free agency has allowed us to take the best player available wherever he is.”
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