Moving to 3-4 Scheme Would Signal Major Personnel Changes for Vikings Defense

Photo: Quinn Harris - USA TODAY Sports

We thought the offseason fireworks would wait until next week but the Minnesota Vikings showed some of their hand on Thursday. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the new leaders at TCO Performance Center hired and retained multiple coaches for O’Connell’s staff on Thursday.

Most notedly, a new defensive coordinator — 65-year-old Ed Donatell — who’s spent the last three seasons in the same position for the Denver Broncos and has 42 years of NFL coaching experience. The Vikings will also retain wide receivers coach, Keenan McCardell, who reportedly clicked really well with Justin Jefferson last season.

Donatell Hire Signals Winds of Change.

The Ed Donatell hire isn’t a complete surprise, for a couple of reasons. First, his age and experience. It has been rumored since 36-year-old Kevin O’Connell was hired that the Vikings liked the idea of pairing the young, first-time head coach with a defensive coordinator who’s been around the block. Donatell and Adofo-Mensah worked together when their careers crossed paths in San Francisco and reportedly got along well.

But there are a few questions about Ed Donatell and it starts with the 3-4 defensive scheme he’s expected to implement. Look, the Minnesota Vikings have been a bad 4-3 defense for a couple of years, under Mike Zimmer. But as currently constructed, they’d be a much, much worse 3-4 defense.

Eric Kendricks No Longer Makes Sense?

On Thursday for example, Paul Allen and Ben Leber discussed on KFAN radio whether or not Eric Kendricks can be an effective linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Kendricks has been an an all-pro caliber player during most of his entire 7-year career, including a career-high 143 tackles in 2021.

But there are legitimate questions surrounding his size and capabilities both on the edge or in the middle of a 3-4 scheme, something Allen has clearly been struggling with. The conversation starts at the 21:00 mark below and goes for a few minutes. I only typed out one of the more interesting parts.

ALLEN: “If I say, ‘Eric Kendricks is not a 3-4 linebacker’, am I overstating it? Am I wrong? Because I’ve said it like 3 times. I just think he’s too small for the inside and he’s not…”

LEBER: “… and he’s not an outside guy, yeah. That’s the direction I’m going. I gotta be careful here because I think he’s such a good player, he’s such a good athlete and he has such amazing instincts. To say that he can’t make the transition, I think, is foolish. I think it’s going to be difficult for him, though. It’s a defense, in my mind, that doesn’t speak to his specific skillset and I think it’s going to enhance the weaknesses that he has.”

“You are [as an inside LB in a 3-4 defense] taking on a fair amount of more blockers. We’re not talking fullbacks and tight ends. We’re talking guards and tackles. That is not his strong point. He does not have long arms. He’s not a thumper when it comes to getting off blocks. It doesn’t come natural for him to play off blocks and you do have to two-gap a lot as an inside linebacker [in a 3-4 scheme].”

92Noon Show – KFAN

If Eric Kendricks doesn’t fit the new scheme, the Vikings could cut him and save $7.5 million. I doubt it would come to that. Finding a trade partner who would deal for an all-pro caliber 4-3 middle linebacker shouldn’t be a problem. But if the Vikings decide to move on from Kendricks, who in the fuck are they going to keep?

Danielle Hunter

Well, the conversation starts with Danielle Hunter, who is due an $18 million roster bonus if he isn’t moved, cut or extended by March 20. If there’s any freak athlete on the Minnesota Vikings who would transition to a 3-4 scheme with relative ease, it’s a healthy Danielle Hunter.

But does the new regime see it that way? Hunter is an Andre Patterson product and posted a picture to social media of the two hugging after it was announced that Patterson was hired by the New York Giants on Thursday. Premier pass rushers are difficult to come by but the Vikings front office could save a lot of money and gain some legitimate draft capital, should they decide to move the oft-injured 4-3 defensive end before 3/20.

Easily Expendable

If the Vikings choose a full-on defensive rebuild, which seems more and more likely as the days pass by, they could easily flip most of Mike Zimmer’s defense in just one offseason. From a contract standpoint (according to spotrac.com), the Vikings would save money by trading or cutting almost everyone.

  • Danielle Hunter: $18.6M Saved
  • Eric Kendricks: $7.5M Saved
  • Harrison Smith: $5.7M Saved
  • Michael Pierce: $6.2M Saved
  • Anthony Barr: FA
  • Patrick Peterson: FA

Some of those players may have trade value, like noted above. Expendable contracts would only make negotiations with other teams easier. The only contract on defense that is ‘uncuttable’ is Dalvin Tomlinson’s. If the Minnesota Vikings were to cut or trade Tomlinson, they’d have to pay a $10 million cap penalty. He’s only on the books for $7.5 million this season.

Both Tomlinson and Pierce, unlike others, would probably fit pretty well in a 3-4 scheme. Defensive backs like Cam Dantzler, Kris Boyd, Camryn Bynum and other playing on rookie deals don’t matter in this conversation. Their money is minimal and they have very little contract power.

In other words, the options are limitless. If Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Co want to blow up Mike Zimmer’s defense and start over from the ground up, it’ll be relatively easy for them to do. At least from a money standpoint.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan