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Do the Vikings have a shot at landing Christian Wilkins?

The Athletic's Alec Lewis believes the interior defender is a "top priority" heading into free agency.
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Throughout history, the Minnesota Vikings have had their share of impactful defensive tackles. 

Gary Larsen and Allen Page were key members of the Purple People Eaters in the 1970s. John Randle was a Hall of Famer in the 1990s. Pat and Kevin Williams formed the Williams Wall in the 2000s and Linval Joseph was a game-changer after signing with the Vikings in 2014.

The lineage runs deep but it has also strayed over the past several years. The Vikings' need for an impactful player in the middle of their defensive line is a major need heading into free agency and its led The Athletic's Alec Lewis to report that free agent Christian Wilkins is a "top priority" for Minnesota when the tampering window opens at 11 a.m. CT Monday.

Do the Vikings have a chance to land the big fish in free agency?

The Vikings' defensive line was incognito for most of last season as Harrison Phillips, Jonathan Bullard and Dean Lowry took the bulk of the snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, Phillips led Minnesota with 838 snaps and was a solid run defender but also generated just 21 pressures on 438 pass-rushing snaps.

Bullard's production was even worse with nine pressures on 326 pass-rush snaps and Lowry had four pressures on 109 opportunities to rush the quarterback. 

This year's draft class has some intriguing options including Texas's Byron Murphy Jr. and Illinois' Johnny Newton if the Vikings wanted to solve the problem with the 11th overall pick but the possibility of Minnesota trading up for a quarterback could sway them to look to free agency. 

If the Vikings choose the free-agent route, Wilkins is the option that makes the most sense – especially considering his connection to Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

Wilkins was Flores's first draft pick as head coach of the Miami Dolphins when he was taken with the 13th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. While Wilkins' athletic profile didn't jump out in the pre-draft process, his athleticism stands out on the field. 

Wilkins had over 30 pressures in two of his three seasons under Flores (2019-21) and had 33 pressures and 3.5 sacks in 2022. But the 28-year-old had a breakout season with 58 pressures and nine sacks last season. Wilkins makes sense, but price tags on dominant interior linemen have skyrocketed, possibly pushing Wilkins' price out of Minnesota's budget. 

Kansas City Chiefs star Chris Jones set the market after agreeing to a fully-guaranteed five-year, $95 million contract on Saturday night and Justin Madubuike agreed to a four-year, $98 million contract with $75.5 million in guarantees with the Baltimore Ravens. Their deals set the stage for Wilkins to land a gigantic contract. 

This is a problem for the Vikings as they look to sort out their salary cap issues. According to Over The Cap, Minnesota has $31.9 million in effective cap space heading into free agency and has several key players to take care of including quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receiver Justin Jefferson and edge rusher Danielle Hunter.

If the Vikings re-sign Cousins, they might not have as much money to spend in free agency unless they spread his signing bonus into void years. If Cousins leaves or his hit is sent into the next decade, the Vikings may have to decide between Hunter and Wilkins.

This is the chicken and the egg game that teams have played with their pass rush. Is it better to have pressure coming off the edge or is it more productive to have that pressure coming from the interior?

There's a valid argument both ways. Of the top 10 edge rushers in pressures last season, four made the playoffs: Dallas' Micah Parsons, Detroit's Aidan Hutchinson, San Francisco's Nick Bosa and Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt.

Of the top 10 interior defenders in pressures last season, seven made the playoffs including Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, Jones, Buffalo's Ed Oliver, Madubuike, Green Bay's Kenny Clark, Wilkins and his Miami teammate Zach Sieler.

If you look at it from a Vikings angle, you can make the argument that interior pressure is more important. Hunter had 10.5 sacks in 2022 but the Vikings ranked 28th in total defense under Ed Donatell. Hunter had a career-high 16.5 sacks last season but the Vikings ranked 17th in total defense.

By comparison, the Vikings had just 10.5 sacks combined by interior linemen over the past two seasons.

Wilkins probably isn't the magical piece to turn the Vikings into an elite defense but he's elite and would immediately improve the defensive line. If Minnesota can make the money work, it would be a major win to land the former Dolphin in free agency.

Nov 5, 2023; Frankfurt, Germany; Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (94) reacts against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half during an NFL International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park.

Nov 5, 2023; Frankfurt, Germany; Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (94) reacts against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half during an NFL International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park.