What's Next For the Vikings at Defensive End After Signing Stephen Weatherly?

How much more do the Vikings need to add on the edge of their defensive line this offseason?
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The Vikings made their first addition of the offseason on Thursday, signing Stephen Weatherly to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. After a disappointing year with the Panthers, Weatherly is back in Minnesota and will provide some much-needed veteran depth to the pass rush in 2021.

It's a fairly minor signing that doesn't drastically change the outlook for the Vikings going forward. But as the offseason really gets going in a couple weeks, how much more do they need to do to address the defensive end position?

Let's start by looking at what the Vikings have right now. Danielle Hunter is obviously a starter on one side of the line; Minnesota's hopes to once again have a great pass rush are centered around a return to dominance from their superstar. At the moment, you'd have Weatherly and second-year player D.J. Wonnum competing for the other starting job, with players like Hercules Mata'afa, Jordan Brailford, Jalyn Holmes, and Kenny Willekes also competing for roster spots.

None of those six non-Hunter names have proven to be a starting-caliber DE in the NFL. But the optimistic outlook is that Wonnum takes a step forward in year two and Weatherly bounces back from a down year in Carolina, playing like he did in 2018 and 2019 with the Vikings. Then there's Ifeadi Odenigbo, who was Minnesota's No. 1 pass rusher for the majority of last season. He's a restricted free agent who shouldn't cost a ton to bring back. Odenigbo was only able to record 42 pressures and 3.5 sacks last year, but he was double-teamed at the fifth-highest rate of any NFL edge rusher because offenses didn't have to worry about anyone else.

If Odenigbo is brought back to compete with Weatherly and Wonnum for the starting job opposite Hunter, are the Vikings really that far away from having a solid DE room? And when you consider all of their other needs — offensive line, defensive tackle, defensive back, third wide receiver, to name the big ones — are we sure they should they be looking to use premium resources on an additional edge rusher?

The reason I float this question is because the overwhelming consensus is that the Vikings will draft a defensive end in the first round of the draft. Per Grinding the Mocks, nearly 50 percent of all mock drafts have the Vikings going that route, with Miami's Gregory Rousseau and Michigan's Kwity Paye being the two main names tied to Minnesota time and time again. There's also been buzz about the Vikings going after an edge rusher like Carl Lawson, Ryan Kerrigan, or Olivier Vernon in free agency. It's clearly viewed as one of their most pressing needs, and understandably so.

As I've pointed out many times on this site, the Vikings haven't drafted a defensive end before the third round since 2005. It's just not something they do under Rick Spielman. I've come around on the possibility that this might be the year they break that tendency, given how nonexistent their pass rush was last season and how they lack a clear starting option opposite Hunter. 

But again — are we sure they're going to use a first-round pick or spend more than $2-3 million in free agency on a defensive end? There's an argument to be made that a Weatherly/Odenigbo/Wonnum rotation opposite Hunter can get the job done — especially with Andre Patterson coaching them — and that the focus should be on the other needs I mentioned earlier. Add a developmental rookie in the third or fourth round, which is the Vikings' sweet spot for edge rushers in recent history, and that's at least a solid unit. Remember, Hunter was a top-three EDGE in the NFL in 2019. His return changes things dramatically. If the Vikings don't bring Odenigbo back, this discussion will look a little different.

At the end of the day, I don't expect the Vikings to make any major splashes in free agency. I'd imagine they will make a number of moves similar to the Weatherly addition, adding cheap veteran depth at several positions. That approach allows them to be flexible in the draft. 

And when the draft rolls around, the Vikings need to trust their scouting reports and take the best player available with their first-round pick. If they love Rousseau or Paye or Jaelan Phillips or Azeez Ojulari, that should be the pick (I'm fully expecting them to trade back from 14, for what it's worth). But it's worth repeating that if they do take an edge rusher in round one, it would be the first time they've done so in 16 years.

So don't be surprised if the Vikings don't decide to make a major addition at DE this offseason. With so many other pressing needs and a quietly decent amount of depth behind Hunter, it's not as obvious of a need as it might seem.

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