Tom Johnson proved to be the Vikings' best defensive tackle alongside Linval Joseph. He outlasted the competition and was third on the line of the league's No. 1 defense with 675 snaps. He made a leap as a run defender, helping to shed the 'pass rusher' label he disliked. So the Vikings want to retain Johnson, a pending free agent who turns 34 years old in August, but in a reduced role.

"I think Tom has some left," head coach Mike Zimmer told the Star Tribune. "But I think we got to use him in the right way. He wanted to prove he could play the run — and he did. I think it took a toll out of him."

Johnson is expected to have a market after his services if he's not re-signed by the Vikings before free agency opens March 14, according to a league source. One fit that makes sense is the Raiders and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, the longtime Bengals assistant under Zimmer. Johnson is coming off a career-high 15 starts.

ANDREW KRAMMER