The Vikings went into free agency prioritizing a defensive line that ended last season in disrepair. For the third time in eight offseasons under Mike Zimmer, their first move was to add a run-stopping defensive tackle.
The team signed former Giants tackle Dalvin Tomlinson on Monday night to what is reportedly a two-year, $22 million deal, adding the 27-year-old to play with Michael Pierce, the run stopper they added a year ago in free agency.
Pierce opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns about COVID-19. Next season the Vikings plan to use both Pierce and Tomlinson, who spent time at a number of different spots in the Giants' defensive interior last year.
Tomlinson is seen as a better run defender than pass rusher, but he logged 344 of his 658 snaps in passing situations last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and recorded a career-high 3½ sacks. He should help shore up a run defense that ranked 27th in the NFL and was embarrassed when the Saints' Alvin Kamara tied the NFL record with six rushing touchdowns on Christmas Day. His addition to the roster could mean an uncertain future for Shamar Stephen, who is due to count for more than $5 million against the cap this season.
Tomlinson arrives in the tradition of Linval Joseph — like Tomlinson, a former Giants second-round pick, who was Zimmer's first free agent signing in 2014 — and Pierce, who signed a three-year deal with the team on the opening day of free agency last year.
The Vikings inquired Monday about pass rushers like Carl Lawson and Trey Hendrickson before both signed elsewhere, while making overtures to defensive backs like Shaquill Griffin and Will Parks, whom they tried to trade for last year). They showed preliminary interest in former New England guard Joe Thuney, though negotiations never seriously developed, and the five-year, $80 million deal he got from the Chiefs served as a reminder of how expensive it continues to be to play at the top of the market, even with a reduced salary cap.
A day after the Vikings restructured Anthony Barr's contract to save $2.7 million and push their available cap space to roughly $12 million, sources said they'd floated the idea of converting part of Adam Thielen's $11.1 million base salary to a signing bonus, which could clear $7.5 million more.
It would help the team attend to further needs on a defense with plenty of questions to answer. The Vikings also added former Chargers linebacker Nick Vigil on a one-year deal. He started his career in Cincinnati, where new Vikings assistant Paul Guenther was his defensive coordinator after Guenther succeeded Zimmer in the role.
The Vikings may soon have to address Danielle Hunter's contract, which was surpassed three times, in terms of average annual value, on Monday by the deals Lawson, Hendrickson and Leonard Floyd signed.
Hunter, who signed a five-year, $72 million contract in 2018, is now the 20th-highest paid edge rusher in the NFL; sources have mentioned Joey Bosa's $27 million-per-year average as the benchmark the 26-year-old Hunter could be seeking. In the 2019 season he became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks, but he missed all of last season with a herniated disc in his neck.
The pass rusher has not spoken publicly for nearly a year, though he took to Twitter on Monday to defend agent Zeke Sandhu after a report he could seek new representation in a possible contract dispute with the Vikings. Hunter's injury and contract situation has raised questions about his relationship with the team.
While the fact he did not play in 2020 could complicate negotiations, especially as the Vikings consider whether redoing Hunter's deal with three years left could set an unwelcome precedent, his absence was glaring last season. Yannick Ngakoue led the team with five sacks despite playing just six games.
The Vikings could look to bring back defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo on a restricted free agent tender, though their interest in paying at least $2.1 million to any of their three restricted free agents — Odengibo, Chad Beebe and Mike Boone — has seemed tepid.
The Vikings did re-sign offensive tackle Rashod Hill for a sixth season in Minnesota, agreeing to a one-year deal, according to his agent Brett Tessler.