Vikings reportedly agree to Blake Cashman deal, further boosting defensive front seven


Minnesota’s run on defenders continued Monday afternoon. Needing an off-ball linebacker and with last year’s starter Jordan Hicks becoming a free agent, the Vikings agreed to terms with free-agent linebacker Blake Cashman, according to team sources.

Cashman, 27, played the last two years for the Houston Texans. Before that, he spent his rookie contract with the New York Jets after being selected in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. Cashman hails from Minnesota, where he attended Eden Prairie High School before playing in college at the University of Minnesota.

NFL Network reported that Cashman is set to sign a three-year deal worth up to $22.5 million.

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How he fits

Cashman is likely to start immediately in the center of the Vikings defense. Hicks operated as defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ signal caller on the field. Those duties are now likely to fall to Cashman.

As The Athletic’s Randy Mueller wrote in his free-agent rankings, “the Texans clearly leaned on Cashman for responsibility on defense, as he made all the adjustment calls, shifts to the front, etc.” Cashman excelled last season in his first season with Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans, who works closely with Houston’s linebackers. In fact, Cashman was graded sixth among 60 qualified off-ball linebackers in overall defensive grade, according to Pro Football Focus.

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Cashman stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 237 pounds, measurables that fit nicely for a linebacker in the modern era of pass-happy play. Mueller wrote that Cashman “can run, has very good twitch and sees the game well. His reads and reactions are consistent, and he has a good nose for the ball.”

2024 impact

Cashman’s presence should not stunt the growth of Ivan Pace Jr., the undrafted rookie who shined last season for the Vikings. If anything, Cashman should serve as another mentor and example for Pace in terms of what he can become.

Simultaneously, Cashman’s presence won’t thrust Pace into a role he’s not ready for. There is no question Pace can handle more — and a lot, in general — but having him fully operate the defensive controls at this point may be asking too much.

History

Cashman’s connection to Minnesota is the perfect place to start. He grew up in Eden Prairie and was an all-state player in high school. The Golden Gophers offered Cashman a preferred walk-on spot, but Cashman nearly turned it down to play at the University of St. Thomas (Minn.).

Playing cornerback in high school refined Cashman’s ball-tracking abilities, which showed up in college. Cashman played frequently as a sophomore, recording 7.5 sacks, and was named second-team all-Big Ten in 2018.

The Jets drafted him in the fifth round, but groin and hamstring injuries plagued his first several NFL seasons. But in 2023, Cashman became an impact player on a defense that surprised many.

Cap update

The Vikings have spent a considerable chunk of change on three front-seven players: edge rusher Jonathan Greenard, edge rusher Andrew Van Ginkel and Cashman. Needs still exist at quarterback, on the interior of the defensive line and at cornerback, and Minnesota should have enough space to fill some of those holes. Notably, the Vikings have stuck to the short term with most of these moves. Greenard was guaranteed $42 million, according to a league source, but otherwise the Vikings have worked similarly to last year with short-term, high-upside signings.

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Outlook

Minnesota’s defense continues to improve. Still, the Vikings are relying on good health, and, more than anything, the hope of climbing up in the draft to snag a preferred quarterback.

The Packers fortified their defense, signing safety Xavier McKinney. They also replaced running back Aaron Jones with Josh Jacobs. Detroit, meanwhile, remains on the upswing. So, the Vikings’ goal of contending in the NFC North remains difficult to gauge.

(Photo: Sam Hodde / Getty Images)





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