MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Minnesota Vikings were going to have the kind of defensive line Mike Zimmer wanted -- one that could stand up against the run, occupy blockers and give linebackers the room to run free -- they needed the kind of junkyard dog lineman they haven't had since Pat Williams. They needed a big, hulking presence who tips the scales at more than 300 pounds and can collapse the middle of the offensive line. They needed someone who would be hard to move at the point of attack.
They needed someone like Linval Joseph.
The Vikings' first external signing of the free-agency period was made to fill a sizable need in the middle of their line -- and not just because Joseph checks in at 6-foot-4 and 323 pounds. After gambling on the undersized Letroy Guion's ability to succeed Williams at the position, the Vikings' run defense had gone from formidable to mediocre at best. Gone were the days of the Williams Wall, when Pat and Kevin Williams made the Vikings nearly impenetrable and forced teams to try their luck against the team's effective pass rush. The Vikings needed a tackle like Joseph to help them move back in that direction -- especially with the style of defense Zimmer wants to play.
The move, which will cost the Vikings a handsome $31.5 million over the next five years, helps them remake the defense in Zimmer's image. Before his linemen think about shooting gaps, they're instructed to engage offensive linemen and keep them from getting to the linebackers. It's not all that different than what linemen are asked to do in a 3-4 scheme (though the Vikings are sticking with a 4-3), and since Pat Williams left, the Vikings haven't had anyone who could affect an offensive front like Joseph could. Joseph has managed to post nine sacks in the past three years, even while fulfilling his responsibilities as a run defender, so the guess here is the Vikings were fairly high on him.
Now, they'll have three high-paid players (Joseph, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison) and a first-round pick (Sharrif Floyd) set to start on their line. It's not impossible that Kevin Williams could come back as a rotational player, but as we've discussed, he'd find a markedly different scheme than what he's used to in Minnesota if he does return.
The Joseph signing made it clear how high a priority the Vikings placed on fixing the first line of Zimmer's defense. It's not a top-of-the-page headline-grabber, but if Joseph does his job, it's a sensible move that fills a critical need on the Vikings' defense.