As the calendar turns to July and training camps begin to approach, there are still dozens of talented free agents who have yet to find their next NFL home.
With that in mind, Pro Football Focus recently put out an article suggesting one player for each of the 32 teams to sign or acquire in a trade. Their choice for the Vikings: free agent linebacker Alexander "AJ" Johnson.
Johnson earned an 80.9 overall defensive grade while playing under new Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell in Denver. He tore his pectoral in October but would add another effective option to a Vikings group that already includes Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks.
The 30-year-old linebacker spent the last three years playing for Donatell and Vic Fangio in Denver, so he wouldn't need any time to get up to speed, scheme-wise.
Johnson has the talent to make this move work, too. In six games last year before his season-ending injury, he had an 80.9 grade (including a 90.3 run defense grade), two sacks, three passes defended, and zero missed tackles. In 2020, he started all 16 games and led the Broncos with 124 tackles, although his PFF grades were good, not great. In 2019 — his first year getting playing time in the NFL — Johnson had an incredible 88.5 PFF grade and stuffed the stat sheet as a versatile player.
The questions come down to roster construction and cost. In a 3-4 defense, the Vikings will almost always be playing just two inside LBs, and they already have their every-down starters in Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks. However, Johnson would be an incredible addition for the depth of that group, and he might even be better than Hicks. Behind Kendricks and Hicks, the Vikings have a number of unproven young players, like third-round rookie Brian Asamoah and second or third-year players Blake Lynch, Troy Dye, and Chazz Surratt.
If Johnson's price tag isn't too high, this move could be a good one for the Vikings, even if it's hard to see how Kendricks, Hicks, and Johnson would all play at once.
The last thing to note is that Johnson comes with a bit of off-field baggage, as he went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2015 after being accused of rape. He was acquitted of all charges in 2018, which led to the delayed start of his NFL career.
PFF's suggestion of the Vikings signing Johnson is an interesting one. If the Vikings do make another notable free agent signing, I'd expect it to be a defensive lineman, center, or tight end, but you never know.
Also of note: PFF suggests the Cowboys sign ex-Vikings LB Anthony Barr and the Bills sign former Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes, who was most recently with the Colts.
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