Marcus Davenport's first foray into free agency began on March 15, when the former Saints first-round pick was officially able to negotiate with other teams. His time on the open market lasted a matter of hours.
The Vikings agreed to a one-year deal with the pass rusher that night, putting him in line to earn as much as $13 million if he can stay on the field for all 17 games. When Davenport spoke with Kevin O'Connell, he got a charge from the head coach's excitement about him.
"Just the energy that I got from him, I wouldn't say it's [like that from] many teams," Davenport said in a conference call on Thursday. "In particular, [he] stood out as somebody that I would love to go play for."
In some ways, it was a salve for the 26-year-old as he moved past a disappointing season.
While Davenport's 34 quarterback pressures last season were consistent with his numbers from 2021 and 2020 (42 and 34 pressures, respectively), his sack numbers were not. He had nine sacks in 2021. Last year, the sack of Kirk Cousins he split with Cameron Jordan in London was his only one.
"I'm still upset," Davenport said. "But you know, that's just fuel for the future. I kind of go over my play and see that I didn't capitalize, as much as I would say that [I wanted to]. I had some success in matchups and was putting pressure [on the quarterback], but I wasn't necessarily being the smartest player to know when to capitalize and how to capitalize, using my teammates, using the scheme and just winning overall."
The Vikings introduced Davenport and former Packers defensive end Dean Lowry to reporters on Thursday, as two pieces of a pass rush that still could be in transition. Both players are signed to one-year contracts, while Danielle Hunter is playing on the final year of a deal slated to pay him just $5.5 million this season and Za'Darius Smith reportedly asked the team to release him before the start of free agency.
While there's still time for the Vikings' pass rushing personnel to shift before training camp this summer, they currently have more pass rushing configurations available to them than they've enjoyed in a while, with Davenport, Hunter, Smith and D.J. Wonnum in the edge rushing group to go with Lowry and Jonathan Bullard at defensive end.
Lowry is also hoping to be a more productive pass rusher with the Vikings after accumulating 23 tackles for losses and 15.5 sacks in seven seasons in Green Bay.
"For most of my career, I've been a power rusher and it's really time to have a counter move to that and really improve just my pass rush toolbox to be more productive," he said.
Davenport, in particular, could have a chance to build a longer future for himself in Minnesota if he can shake off his injury history, boost his production numbers and possibly adapt to a new role.
Davenport was a stand-up rusher at Texas-San Antonio whose length and athletic ability invited comparisons to Hunter before the 2018 draft. The Saints took him 14th overall to play defensive end in their 4-3 scheme. During his five years with New Orleans, Davenport dropped into coverage a total of 60 times, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Vikings, though, listed him as an outside linebacker when they signed him, indicating they envision him spending base downs in the stand-up position he played in college. The team spends enough time in nickel packages, as O'Connell has pointed out, that players like Davenport and Hunter only play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense on a fraction of their snaps. Still, Brian Flores' edge rushers typically dropped into coverage several times a game when he was the Dolphins' head coach, and Hunter did it a career-high 30 times last season after dropping back only 64 times in his first six seasons with the Vikings.
"Honestly, I don't know how I'm gonna fit yet," Davenport said. "But, you know, just looking at great players and having seen them throughout the years, being drafted and having comparisons [to Hunter], I know they're great players. I just want to come in and be able to help them contribute and be a great player in my own right. I think together, we can all be a force."
His deal includes a $1 million workout bonus, the largest on the Vikings' roster by $900,000. It's part of a deal that seems structured to reward Davenport, who's never played more than 15 games in a season, if he stays healthy.
Especially given the uncertainty in the Vikings' pass rushing group, there could be plenty more in line for the former first-round pick if he can follow a disappointing final year in New Orleans with a big season in Minnesota.
"Really, I just want to start from zero," Davenport said. "I need to know my game. And then I have to study other people's games way better because I want to dominate. As far as the past, I'm really trying to let go of everything; just keep walking forward and looking forward."