Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer defensively coordinated the Cincinnati Bengals for six seasons before trekking to the North Start State. Now, he has been the Vikings skipper for one year longer than he led the Bengals defense.
On Saturday, news picked up that Cincinnati would likely release defensive tackle Geno Atkins in a cap-clearing maneuver.
“The Bengals are projected to cut three-technique Geno Atkins to clear up $9.5 million against the cap” 👀🤔 https://t.co/c3memCROW6
— Sean Borman (@SeanBormanNFL) February 13, 2021
The Houston Texans did release longtime legend, J.J. Watt, this week, so that waiver garnished national attention. But the Atkins hubbub is a tremendous bit of fodder, too. Atkins entered the NFL during the same draft bestowed upon the Vikings — Everson Griffen (2010). The Bengals 3-technique defensive lineman is an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection.
He also has the proverbial “ties” to Mike Zimmer. Atkins and Zimmer collaborated for four seasons in Cincinnati.
If Atkins is remotely available in the Vikings offseason orbit, his potential acquisition would be a momentous addition to a team defense that ranked 29th in the NFL during 2020 via points allowed.
The Need for a 3-Tech DT
My, oh my – do the Vikings need an increased pass rush. Indeed, this a 2020-only Vikings symptom as quarterback pressure was commonplace for the previous six years of the Zimmer era. But when a team loses its show-stopping EDGE rusher in Danielle Hunter and its keynote 2020 offseason signing in 2020 – nose tackle Michael Pierce – the fallout is nauseating. The lack of pressure nimbus was new for Vikings enthusiasts around for the entirety of Zimmer’s tenure.
Atkins would immediately upgrade the defensive line’s pass rush – as in, snap-of-the-fingers type stuff. This is especially applicable to the 3-technique spot. Since 2014, the Vikings have utilized players like Sharrif Floyd, Tom Johnson, and Shamar Stephen at the defensive tackle position opposite nose tackle. This is called skimping. In 2018, Sheldon Richardson joined the squad for one year, and he bolstered the pressure output a bit at 3-technique.
In theory, Atkins should blow the pass-protecting wherewithal of the aforementioned men out of the water. He is a significant upgrade to Floyd, Johnson, or Stephen. Overall, he would be considered a Richardson-esque addition if Minnesota makes the move.
Pre-2020 Production Would be Spectacular
Atkins tore his labrum in 2020, and the season became a lackluster one for the soon-to-be 33-year-old. The pandemic season marked the first time since 2013 that he missed a single game. Ergo, outside of 2020, Atkins is durable.
And when’s healthy, he’s a monster. From 2013 to 2019, only Aaron Donald has more sacks as a defensive tackle than Atkins. Bringing Atkins aboard the Vikings defensive line – a healthy version – can be perceived as Diet Donald.
The delectable aspect of Atkins’ tool bag is balance. When his labrum is whole, he is equally as effective in rushing the passer as he is stopping the run. Normally, a defensive lineman does one trait or the other in superior fashion. Such is not usually the case for Atkins. He stops the run and terrorizes passers.
If one is really in the hype business, a penning of Atkins on a Vikings contract would instantly transform the 2020 defensive maladies. A defensive line of Ifeadi Odenigbo, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, and Jalyn Holmes – would morph to Ifeadi Odenigbo, Michael Pierce, Geno Atkins, and Danielle Hunter. Good Lord.
Cross It Off the To-Do List
Most importantly – if the Vikings can land Atkins a reasonable price – the need for a non-NT defensive tackle is crossed off the to-do list. And this is not a piecemealed solution; it is a Nelson Cruz-like homerun.
If Atkins is just a pipe dream because of budgetary restraints, the Vikings will rely on someone organic like Armon Watts or Jaleel Johnson to fill the position. This can work when either man is surrounded by Michael Pierce or Danielle Hunter. But it does not have the Atkins sizzle.
Or Minnesota can invest a lower-octane name like Steve McLendon – a veteran also from the 2010 NFL Draft. Otherwise, it is off to the 2021 NFL Draft for a new face. Then, the Vikings must decide if the 3-technique personnel is “worth” its 14th overall pick in April. A defensive tackle at No. 14 would be delightful, but the team must hope it nails the pick.
With Atkins (assuming health), the prognosis for performance is clear – upper-echelon pass-rushing and run-stopping with Zimmer familiarity as the cake-topper. On price, this would be the best time ever to inquire because his stock is somewhat low due to injury and age.