The Vikings are in the market for an interior pass-rusher this offseason. They need someone to pair with run-stuffing nose tackle Michael Pierce in the middle of their defensive line, which was arguably the NFL's worst in 2020.
With minimal cap space, a big splash in free agency might be unlikely. But it's possible. So is spending a first-round pick on the position; there are several different ways for the Vikings to address this major need. I've already written about three players who could be options, with varying levels of likelihood: Alabama's Christian Barmore, former Texans superstar J.J. Watt, and potential Bengals cap casualty Geno Atkins.
In the coming weeks, I'll be breaking down the full list of defensive tackles available in free agency (including Shelby Harris and Ndamukong Suh) and the draft (Iowa's Daviyon Nixon is the biggest non-Barmore name to know). But for today, we're going to focus on another player who fits the Watt and Atkins mold of a veteran with an impressive track record but injury woes in recent years.
That player is Kawann Short, who was released by the Panthers on Tuesday morning.
Short was a second-round pick out of Purdue by the Panthers back in 2013, racking up 36 pressures in a rotational role as a rookie and only getting better from there. His breakout season came in 2015, when he had 67 pressures, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, and a 90.4 PFF grade for a 15-1 Panthers team that reached the Super Bowl. Short continued to thrive over the next three seasons, recording 16.5 sacks from 2016-18 with a PFF grade above 83 in each of those years. He made his second Pro Bowl in 2018 at age 29.
Unfortunately, Short's last two seasons have been messed up by injury issues with his shoulder. He tore his rotator cuff in 2019 after playing just 76 snaps, and worked his way back from that injury only to re-injure the same shoulder early on in 2020. Short has played in five games over the past two seasons.
It was a fairly straightforward decision for the Panthers to release him, especially with the decreased salary cap in 2021. They save $8.6 million in cap space, even if they have to eat $11 million in dead cap.
Now Short, who just turned 32, will look to prove to teams that his shoulder is healthy and that he can be a highly productive defensive tackle in 2021. His injury risk should reduce his price, but he'll still come at enough of a cost to be a somewhat dangerous investment for whichever team signs him.
Still, like with Watt and Atkins, the major upside of a player like Short is going to be too enticing for some team to pass up. When healthy, he's a game-wrecker in the middle of a defensive line. Pairing him with Pierce and Danielle Hunter would give the Vikings a hell of a big three up front.
Since Atkins was released, he can sign with a team as soon as he wants instead of waiting for free agency to kick off. It'll be very interesting to see where he ends up, and at what price.
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