The Minnesota Vikings defense over-performed expectations in Year 1 of the Brian Flores era, and among the top priorities this offseason will be matching the talent on that side of the ball with the team’s superior scheme.
Judd Zulgad of Vikings Wire on Thursday, January 25, published a deep dive on four potential free-agent targets in Minnesota. Atop the list was elite defensive tackle/defensive end Christian Wilkins of the Miami Dolphins.
Christian Wilkins is ranked seventh in Pro Football Focus’ Top 150 free agent list, so this would be a major investment, but considering the Vikings’ desperate need for help in the interior defensive line and Wilkins’ relationship with defensive coordinator Brian Flores, it makes sense.
Wilkins was the first pick the Dolphins made after Flores became their coach in 2019. He has been a dominant run defender for several seasons, and this year he stepped up his pass-rushing game.
If Wilkins does hit the market, he could be looking for in excess of $20 million a year, so he might be too rich for the Vikings as well. But the presence of the versatile Wilkins in the middle of the line would be a massive upgrade for Flores’ defense.
Christian Wilkins Won’t Come Cheap to Vikings This Offseason
Wilkins expanded his game in 2023, amassing career-highs in pressures (30), QB hits
(23) and sacks (9) by wide margins, per Pro Football Reference.
The pass-rush element not only elevated Wilkins’ play to a different level last season, it is likely to elevate his contract value as he enters free agency for the first time in March. Spotrac projects the former first-rounder (No. 13 overall out of Clemson in 2019) has a market value of nearly $81 million over a new four-year contract ($20.2 million annually).
Wilkins, 28, has also added to his value by being a reliable presence week in and week out since entering the NFL. He has played 81 of a possible 83 regular season games during his professional tenure, which includes 77 starts.
Zulgad also explored the Dolphins’ options to retain Wilkins, including the team’s sole path to keeping its star defensive tackle from hitting the free-agent market.
“The Dolphins and Wilkins were unable to get a contract extension done last offseason and the team already is significantly over the cap,” Zulgad wrote Thursday. “Miami could attempt to place the franchise tag on Wilkins — the projected number for defensive tackles next season is $19.7 million, according to Over The Cap — but it’s no given that will happen.”
Brian Flores Likely to Remain With Vikings in 2024
The Flores connection to Wilkins is meaningful, as one of the better defensive minds in the NFL begins to build the defense in his image and around an aggressive scheme that proved exceedingly successful in Minnesota last season.
Flores’ transformation of the Vikings’ defense combined with his history as a head coach in the league (Miami from 2019-2021) and the success he attained (19-14 over his last two seasons) made him a viable candidate for several open head coaching positions in the 2024 cycle. Perhaps unfortunately for Flores, but certainly lucky for Minnesota fans, the NFL at large again overlooked the Vikings DC.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday reported the remaining candidates in play for the last two head coaching positions with the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Commanders. Schefter named 10 candidates for the two jobs, but Flores wasn’t among them.
“The last two head coach openings of this cycle are the Seahawks and Commanders. Neither team is expected to hire anyone until next week, after Sunday’s conference championship games, per league sources,” Schefter reported. “Available coaches for the final two available spots include Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel, Pete Carroll, Aaron Glenn, Ben Johnson, Anthony Weaver, Mike Macdonald, Ejiro Evero, Dan Quinn and Bobby Slowik.”
Because Flores will probably remain in Minnesota for at least the 2024 campaign, the franchise will likely be more inclined to make a run at a potentially game-changing, yet expensive, free agent like Wilkins.
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