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Vikings position outlook: Defensive line

2/1/2015

MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our position-by-position look at the Minnesota Vikings' roster this morning, with a look at the team's defensive line:

DEFENSIVE LINE

2015 free agents: Tom Johnson, Corey Wootton

The good: This group received a major makeover before the 2014 season, and it appeared coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman pulled almost all of the right strings. The decision to give defensive end Everson Griffen a five-year, $42.5 million contract resulted in a breakout season that included 12 sacks. Linval Joseph did a solid job at nose tackle after getting a five-year, $31.25 million deal last March. Even Johnson proved to be a nice pickup at defensive tackle, registering 6 1/2 sacks after getting a one-year, $845,000 deal. 2013 first-round pick Sharrif Floyd had an impressive second year at three-technique tackle, and 2014 seventh-rounder Shamar Stephen became a key member of the Vikings' defensive tackle rotation.

The bad: It should be noted that Zimmer said he asked defensive end Brian Robison to change some things about his game for the good of the team, even if they weren't completely natural to Robison. Still, at age 31, Robison didn't have his best season. He posted just 4 1/2 sacks, and had just 51 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, a year after he finished second among all 4-3 defensive ends with 83. The Vikings also didn't get the contributions they were hoping to see from defensive end Corey Wootton, who posted just one sack after recovering from offseason hip surgery. Between Wootton's lack of production and the slow growth of third-rounder Scott Crichton, the Vikings didn't get enough from their backups to lighten the load on Griffen and Robison, who each played more than 900 snaps.

The money -- 2015 salary-cap numbers: Griffen ($8.2 million), Robison ($5.65 million), Joseph ($4.6 million), Floyd ($2.2 million), Crichton ($705,507), Justin Trattou ($660,000), Stephen ($526,287). The Vikings have roughly 17 percent of their current cap space wrapped up in their defensive line, and while they wouldn't have to make any major changes this year, Robison probably needs to have a better 2015 season to stick around on his current contract. He's got $2 million of his base salary guaranteed if he's on the roster on the third day of the league year in March, and the other $2.15 million if he's on the roster on July 1. And after this season, he has no more guaranteed cash in his contract. He'll have to rebound to be back in 2016 at a $5.05 million cap number. The Vikings have talked about a new contract in general terms with Johnson's agent, and as well as the defensive tackle seemed to fit in their nickel rush package, he might be worth bringing back on a modest two-year deal.

Draft priority: Low. The Vikings could probably use another pass-rusher, though they could get some help from Crichton and Trattou's growth. It wouldn't be a shock to see them use a mid-round pick on a defensive end they feel they can develop down the line.