Vikings free-agent focus: Defensive ends

Michael Johnson (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY)

If both Jared Allen and Everson Griffen are allowed to sign elsewhere, the Vikings are going to have a big need at defensive end, but there are plenty of options in free agency to fill it.

The Vikings will definitely be in the market for a defensive end or two. Fortunately for them, it is one of the deeper positions in free agency.

Although Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, the top-ranked end on Scout.com's free agent rankings, was given the franchise tag, there are numerous other ones available, ranging from former Pro Bowlers that are aging to those still on the rise.

The need is there for the Vikings with Jared Allen and Everson Griffen scheduled to be free agents themselves, but the position is plentiful.

VIKINGS VIEW

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says he would like for the Vikings to be able to re-sign Allen, but there were several more indications that made that scenario unlikely. Allen will turn 32 in April, he likely will command more money than the Vikings are willing to pay for a player his age, and he could be seeking a team that is considered more of an immediate contender for a Super Bowl. But the top reason Allen is unlikely to be heavily pursued by the Vikings is that he might fit exactly what Zimmer is looking for in a defensive end. Allen will sell out for the sack at times, and Zimmer preaches a much more disciplined method on the defensive line.

Griffen has plenty of raw talent for the position, but Zimmer also has no allegiance to him. Already the Vikings have shown a willingness to put the defensive line in overhaul mode – releasing Letroy Guion when Kevin Williams, Fred Evans, Allen and Griffen are all scheduled to be free agents – meaning Zimmer knows what he wants and isn't afraid to implement massive change to get it.

INSIDE OPTIONS

What's left on the Vikings' roster at defensive end? Frankly, there is Brian Robison and little else when it comes to experience.

Robison is expected to man his usual left end spot, but if Griffen and Allen are both left to negotiate deals elsewhere, only Justin Trattou and Spencer Nealy remain in reserve. Trattou spent six games on the Vikings practice squad, wasn't with the team for another six weeks and was inactive for three games. Nealy spent six of the last seven games on the practice squad and wasn't with the club until November.

TOP OUTSIDE OPTIONS

Michael Johnson: The connection made here is easy and natural. Johnson played all five of his NFL seasons with Zimmer as his defensive coordinator in Cincinnati and knows what Zimmer's defense demands at the position. Despite Zimmer saying that his right end isn't necessarily set up to produce a high number of sacks, Johnson still had 11½ in 2012 and has produced more than 50 tackles in each of his last two seasons, solid numbers for a defensive lineman. He would come with a heavy price tag, but he could be the jewel of the free-agent season for the Vikings.

Lamarr Houston: If the Vikings are looking for even more of an anchor at defensive end, Oakland Raiders free agent Lamarr Houston goes 6-foot-3, 300 pounds and produced 69 tackles and six sacks last year and has been a reliable starter all four years in the NFL. It would create a Texas (Longhorns) two-step of defensive ends with Robison as his complementing bookend.

Tyson Jackson: He also fits the mold of a bigger defensive end that wouldn't necessarily produce big sack numbers. At 6-foot-4, 296 pounds, he started nine games for the Kansas City Chiefs and produced 34 tackles and four sacks. In 2011, when he was more of a full-time starter, he had 55 tackles but only one sack.

THE FREE AGENTS

Greg Hardy (franchised)
Michael Bennett
Michael Johnson
Lamarr Houston
Arthur Jones
Justin Tuck
Tyson Jackson
Everson Griffen
Robert Ayers
Shaun Phillips
Anthony Spencer
Willie Young
Jared Allen
Antonio Smith
Alex Carrington
Will Smith
Corey Wootton
Brett Keisel
Ropati Pitoitua
Jeremy Mincey
Matt Shaughnessy
C.J. Wilson
Adam Carriker
Marcus Benard
Everette Brown
Andre Carter
Kenyon Coleman
Jason Hunter
Israel Idonije
Vaughn Martin
Ricardo Mathews
Lawrence Sidbury
Ronald Talley
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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