Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson rose through the team’s ranks and shined in his first season as a starter in 2020.
He tallied 122 tackles and tied the NFL lead among linebackers in combined interceptions (3), fumble recoveries (2) and forced fumbles (1).
Yet, Wilson saw his release from the Vikings as a necessary evil for the franchise trying to get under the deflated 2021 salary cap. In turn, Wilson agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $3.25 million with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday, Mike Garafolo reported.
Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald appraised Wilson’s 2020 production to warrant a deal worth a $9 or $10 million annual salary in a regular offseason, per Chris Tomasson. However, Wilson’s contract with the Eagles is worth less than his $3.26 million tender he played under with Minnesota in 2020 as Philadelphia potentially made away with a steal at linebacker.
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Writing Was on the Wall for Wilson
Wilson, 27, was a wild success story coming out of the Vikings organization.
Undrafted in 2017, Wilson earned a spot on special teams and quickly became one of the Vikings’ most valuable depth pieces. When Anthony Barr suffered a season-ending torn pectoral injury in Week 2 last season, Wilson finally got his shot and produced, garnering respect from teammate and All-Pro middle linebacker Eric Kendricks who called Wilson a “walking turnover.”
While turnovers are often a fleeting statistic among linebackers, Wilson provided needed durability in the 2020 season — playing 1,034 defensive snaps for 96% of the team’s total on defense.
But even before Barr agreed to restructure his contract (which freed up $8.5 million in cap space), general manager Rick Spielman spelled his doubt of keeping three linebackers at a premium.
“Keeping the Vikings’ defensive core together is the goal, according to Spielman, who admitted ‘it’s hard to spend that much money on three linebackers’ when asked about Wilson’s pending free agency after 25 starts in the past three seasons,” Star Tribune reporter Andrew Krammer wrote.
Wilson was the odd-man-out as Spielman doubled down on Barr’s value, calling him a “critical piece” to coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
“Anthony is a critical piece — I know Coach Zim has spoken about it — of our defense. Just him on the field creates some offensives coaches, they have to scheme for him,” Spielman said. “But it’s all going to depend how the pieces are going to fit in place.
“We went through a lot of different scenarios. If we got Danielle Hunter and [Michael] Pierce back, and then you have Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks back – you can’t fill every hole with expensive players.”
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Wilson is Not a Backbreaking Loss, But Linebacker Depth Must Step Up
The one knock to Wilson’s game this past season was his struggles to stop the run. He posted a 38.3 run-stopping grade by Pro Football Focus, ranking 85th out of 99 qualifiers. Wilson missed a second-highest 17 tackles, behind only Jeff Gladney, for a 12.2% missed tackle rate.
Minnesota signed veteran linebacker Nick Vigil to a one-year deal in the offseason a budget-free agent to add to the competition for the weakside linebacker spot. The bad news? Vigil, as a 16-game starter with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019, missed 21 tackles at a 15.9% rate.
Spielman pointed to second-year linebackers Troy Dye (No. 132 overall, 4th round) and Blake Lynch (undrafted) and Ryan Connelly as potential replacements for Wilson. Vigil likely joins the crop of competition which has no clear favorite entering training camp.
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