With a glaring need along the defensive line, the Vikings could pull out all of the stops to bring free agent 4-3 defensive end Michael Johnson to Minnesota. They aren’t expected to re-sign Jared Allen or Everson Griffen, which makes Johnson a perfect fit for the soon-to-be-open right end position.
Johnson, considered by many to be the best 4-3 end available during free agency, has been dubbed by NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport as the Vikings’ “top target.” They struggled mightily last season, failing to consistently disrupt opposing quarterbacks and subsequently putting too much pressure on a subpar secondary. The Vikings managed only 41 sacks throughout the season, with Allen leading the group at 11.5.
The Vikings also struggled against the run, allowing 110.4 yards per game and finishing 17th in the NFL at stopping the ground game. While it was an upgrade from 2012, it wasn’t where the Vikings wanted to be.
Meanwhile, Johnson was one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL last season. Although he only managed five sacks on the season, he also compiled 40 hurries, seven batted passes and 41 tackles. He was rated as the second-best 4-3 end against the run while finishing with an overall rating of 25.9 on the Pro Football Focus scale, good for fourth among 4-3 ends.
Not only would Johnson be a significant upgrade to the Vikings’ run defense, but he’d also be an all-around upgrade over Allen. He’s young (27-years old) with tremendous size (6’7’’, 265 pounds) and athleticism. It would cost the Vikings a small fortune to bring him aboard, but Johnson is definitely worth the investment.
To top it all off, Johnson is familiar with new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, who was his defensive coordinator during their time together with the Cincinnati Bengals. If Minnesota and another team table similar offers, you have to believe Johnson’s familiarity with Zimmer could be what sways him.
After a disappointing 2013 season, it’s time for the Vikings and GM Rick Spielman to take the necessary risks to make themselves contenders again. Signing Johnson would be a huge step in that direction.