Vikings shore up post-Cousins defense by striking deals with Greenard, Van Ginkel and Cashman

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings said goodbye to quarterback Kirk Cousins and quickly began building up their depleted defense as the free agent negotiation window opened Monday in the NFL, agreeing to contracts with edge rushers Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel and inside linebacker Blake Cashman.

Greenard will get a four-year, $76 million deal with $42 million guaranteed, his agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed. Cashman will get a three-year, $25.5 million contract, his agency, the Institute For Athletes, announced on social media.

Van Ginkel will get a two-year, $20 million deal with $14 million guaranteed, according to a person with knowledge of those terms who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the contract can’t be finalized until the signing period begins Wednesday.

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Greenard and Cashman left the Houston Texans. Van Ginkel departed the Miami Dolphins.

While Cousins agreed to a new megadeal with the Atlanta Falcons, accelerating the club’s transition to the next franchise quarterback, the Vikings zeroed in on addressing a defense lacking proven players under contract for the new league year after fading down the stretch last season as injuries piled up.

The 26-year-old Greenard had a career-best 12 1/2 sacks last season while playing in 15 games, his highest total in four years in the NFL. He was limited to eight games in 2022 because of a calf injury.

The 2020 third-round draft pick out of Florida, where he finished his college career after transferring from Louisville, had 23 sacks in 48 games with the Texans. The 6-foot-3, 263-pound Greenard has been an effective run-stopper too, totaling a career-high 52 tackles from his defensive end spot.

Van Ginkel was a fifth-round draft pick out of Wisconsin by the Dolphins in 2019, when current Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores began a three-season stint as head coach there. The 28-year-old has not missed a game in the past four seasons and had a career-high six sacks in 2023 from his outside linebacker spot.

The 27-year-old Cashman, a native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who starred locally in college for the Gophers, had a breakout season for the Texans with 104 tackles, five passes defensed and nine tackles for loss after starting 13 games. Drafted in the fifth round in 2019 by the New York Jets, Cashman was traded to the Texas in 2022.

The agreements likely mean the departure of Vikings star Danielle Hunter, who will become a free agent and is bound to command a hefty contract. Fellow edge rusher D.J. Wonnum and inside linebacker Jordan Hicks will both become free agents, too, and are unlikely to return. Another edge rusher Marcus Davenport, a key signing in 2023 who missed all but four games because of an ankle injury, will also be a free agent with his return uncertain.

The Vikings mostly thrived under Flores, but his strategies weren’t as effective late as injury absences for Hicks, Davenport, Wonnum and cornerback Byron Murphy loomed large down the stretch. The Vikings allowed an average of 30 points over a four-game losing streak to finish the season.

The Vikings also re-signed restricted free agent guard Blake Brandel and unrestricted free agent tackle David Quessenberry on Monday to maintain some depth along the offensive line. Brandel has started five games in three seasons after a year on the practice squad. Quessenberry joined the team at the end of training camp last season and started four games.

The flurry of a start to free agency Monday left quarterback as the most obvious position to address, with the Vikings almost certain to not only sign a cap-friendly veteran with starting experience but also use a high draft pick on a rookie next month.

Defensive back is another position that’s sure to get some reinforcement. Last month, the Vikings re-signed safety Theo Jackson for depth there, with the return uncertain for veteran Harrison Smith. Cam Bynum has become a reliable young starter at the other safety spot, but beyond Murphy there isn’t much to lean on at cornerback.

Akayleb Evans struggled down the stretch. Mekhi Blackmon had a decent rookie year. But Andrew Booth has done little to secure a spot since his inclusion in a 2022 draft class that has not panned out well for the Vikings.