What are Vikings getting with new edge rusher Jonathan Greenard?

On the night of March 13, just hours after the Vikings officially signed their first wave of free agents at TCO Performance Center, those players, their families and some Vikings coaches had dinner together.

New edge rusher Jonathan Greenard, who signed a four-year deal worth up to $76 million, was among the intrigued guests. He had just agreed to join his fifth different head coach in five NFL seasons. He had seen many leadership styles, and right away Kevin O'Connell's seemed different.

"That was kind of newer to me," Greenard said. "That environment of coach sitting down with you, talking with you and stuff like that. Just having that open communication and knowing we all want the same thing at the end of the day. It's about getting the job done and it can be achieved through communication. I think having that and seeing them in their element outside of football was pretty cool and new for me. That was definitely a good feeling."

The Vikings prioritized Greenard, once a 2020 third-round pick, to revamp their pass rush. They agreed on a contract less than an hour into NFL free agency opening last week. Here's a look at what they're getting.

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Age: 27 in May

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 259 pounds

Jersey number: 58

Contract: 4 years, $76 million with $38 million guaranteed at signing

At a glance: Appeared in 50 of 69 NFL games through four seasons, including two playoff games; 33 tackles for losses, 23 sacks, eight pass deflections, three forced fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown.

Injury history: Greenard has yet to play a full NFL season; suffered a season-ending calf injury midway through the 2022 season; missed nearly all of 2018 at Louisville due to a dislocated right wrist.

Notable: Greenard isn't as tall as the 6-foot-5 Danielle Hunter, but he has longer reach. Greenard's nearly 35-inch arms tied for the longest among all defensive linemen at the 2020 NFL scouting combine.

'An explosive player'

Once an undersized linebacker in northwestern Georgia, Greenard has kept much of his athleticism while developing into a productive NFL edge rusher. On the field, acceleration is his "biggest thing," Texans defensive coordinator Matt Burke told Houston reporters last season. Greenard fires off the line quickly to get a step ahead of the opposing blocker and has the flexibility to bend his body around a tight corner to the quarterback.

His breakout season last year under Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans featured a career-high 22 hits on the quarterback, including 12.5 sacks that trailed only nine other NFL defenders. He was among the NFL's quickest to apply pressure, averaging 2.56 seconds to affect the quarterback, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

"Getting off the ball, I would say, is JG's biggest thing," Burke told Houston reporters on Nov. 2. "Like when he's launching and covering ground out of his stance, he sort of plays on his terms. He's an explosive player.

"So, when he gets out, he's like forcing linemen to make decisions earlier and he can get into the rush earlier," Burke added. "When he stutters at the line of scrimmage, or he's not quite as threatening, maybe he doesn't look the same. For him to go through that process and realize when the success is coming for him, when he plays with his length and when he's explosive, he's a pretty impactful player. The consistency for him to do that play in and play out, I feel like he's been trending through the whole season to this point, and hopefully he keeps growing."

Below is a five-play clip of Greenard's 2023 season, starting with a speed-to-power rush that results in a sack against Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley. While this is a highlight reel, there were some lowlights. Greenard has to clean up his tackling after missing 13 attempts last year, according to PFF. His missed tackle rate was the worst in Houston last year and would've been in Minnesota, too. Greenard is effective when wrapping up. He was among six Texans with at least 20 run stops for the NFL's No. 2 run defense (3.5 yards per carry).

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Been there, done that?

Greenard, a former team captain at Louisville in 2018, has been touted as an intelligent leader with a "worker-bee" approach. He said he's adaptable. He's had to be.

Brian Flores will be Greenard's seventh defensive coordinator in 10 years. He had three defensive coaches in four years at the University of Louisville. He reunited with one of them, Todd Grantham, when transferring to Florida for his last college season. The NFL team that drafted him, the Texans, got a new head coach all four years he was there.

"I've actually been dealing with D-coordinator changes since college," Greenard said. "To come to the league, it kind of helped me prepare for that and just understand to be versatile in any system. I think that's a great thing that I learned football in all types of schemes."

He'll have to be versatile under Flores, the second-year Vikings defensive play caller.

According to PFF, Greenard has mostly rushed wide against left tackles in his NFL career, very rarely drifting inside or dropping into coverage. It'll be interesting to see how Greenard fits into Flores' blitz schemes that have historically asked defenders to work through various responsibilities. Last season, Patrick Jones II led Vikings edge rushers with more than 50 snaps inside the tackles; Greenard has 10 such snaps in four NFL seasons.

"Thankfully my job is a lot easier than others," Greenard said about adapting to new schemes. "I can just rush and go get the quarterback. Not too much more thinking than that. But coming into a system like this, we are going to be using a lot of different [things] that I've done before and I think that's the best where you can showcase everybody's abilities."