The 2016 season became a year to forget for the Minnesota Vikings. Despite having a talented defense and making moves in the spring to improve the talent level of an unreliable and unbalanced offense, the team could only muster an 8-8 record and returned to the sidelines without a playoff berth.
Now that the Vikings have begun their offseason, many things will be discussed as to where they stand. How far are they really from a Super Bowl run? What do they need to do to get there? Who needs to be kept and who needs to go?
The crew of the cover32 Vikings’ writing team each have their own ideas of how Minnesota needs to go about improving the team. Each member will discuss five moves they would make if they were filling general manager, Rick Spielman’s shoes.
Vikings Weekly: Week 16 Preview: Vikings at Packers
Vikings Today: Know Your Enemy Week 17: Chicago Bears
Vike’s Bite: Week 16 Recap: Vikings at Packers
Purple Update: Five Questions Week 17: Vikings vs Bears
Vikings32 Exclusive: 2016 Season Reaction: Disappointment strikes
What’s Trending: Hall of Fame Gridiron Glory exhibit hits paydirt
Clayton Brooks II
The Vikings defense took a huge step forward in 2016, going from very good to elite. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the Vikings offense and special teams as both regressed, the offense more so than special teams.
Despite the clear issues, there were signs that this team is not too far from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Here are five moves I would make if I were the Vikings general manager:
1. Rebuild the Offensive line — the Vikings spent more money than all but two teams on their offensive line in 2016 at more than $32 million. Despite that, the Vikings had the worst running attack and wasn’t much better in protecting the quarterback. This unit has been subpar at best for the past three to four seasons. It’s time to rebuild it. Other than Alex Boone, no one would be safe from being cut. I would bring in a few low cost free agents and build this unit mostly through the draft, similar to how the Dallas Cowboys have done recently.
2. Fortify the defensive front seven — Despite the Vikings defense getting lauded for its stellar play for most of 2016, the unit still had a problem with stopping the run as the season wore on. Adding another run-stuffing defensive tackle would be a high priority come draft day, maybe even on day one if (when) I trade back into the first round.
3. Restructure or cut Adrian Peterson — the franchise running back has entered the downside of his illustrious career. 2016 was ruined by injury as he played in only three games. He’ll be 32 when the team plays it’s next game and may no longer be the back he once was. There’s no way the team can pay him $18 million after missing the bulk of two of the past three seasons. Even if he does agree to a substantial pay cut, the Vikings still need to address the position for the long term. I’d look toward the draft, possibly in the early rounds.
4. Keep versus Cut — The Vikings have 17 pending free agents, 13 unrestricted. In addition to them, the Vikings have key players who will be entering the final year of their rookie contracts. Adam Thielen is my top free agent priority, though he is restricted and a first round draft tender should be enough to scare teams away from making him an offer. I’d also look to re-sign Captain Munnerlyn, Rhett Ellison, Jeff Locke and Cordarrelle Patterson, so long as the money is right. There are very few free agents that I would classify as “can’t afford to lose” in this year’s free agent class.
Xavier Rhodes is not far from becoming an elite shutdown corner, the first the team has had since Antoine Winfield. He took another step towards that in 2016. He’ll be entering final year of his rookie deal. I’m getting his new deal done and signed before the 2017 season opener.
5. Trade a player or two for additional pick(s) — the Vikings aren’t far from being a contender, but need a serious infusion of talent on the offensive line and in the defensive front seven. With eight draft picks but no first round selection, the Vikings have a dilemma. Attempting to trade into the first round would almost certainly cost them multiple draft picks, likely to include their second round pick. If I’m the GM, then I look at trading a player or two. Such a candidate I have to consider is at quarterback. This one depends on the health of Teddy Bridgewater. If his spring medical reports show promise in his being ready in time for the 2017 season, then I’ll be looking to pull the trigger to trade either him or Sam Bradford. With a number of teams in need of quarterback help, and little of it available on the free agent market, there’s likely to be a decent trade market for their services.
1. Sign who I plan to retain — This is usually first on the docket as NFL teams are allowed to negotiate with their impending free agents immediately following the end of the season. In order to figure out what I need in free agency and the draft, retaining players I want quickly and quietly would start right now. As far as who that would be, would be up for debate, however I would start by looking at the guys that contributed the most to this past season. Cordarrelle Patterson, fresh off his All-Pro honors, would deserve a lengthy look. Other free agents like Adam Thielen and Jeff Locke will also be guys I try to get to before they hit the open market. Thielen is restricted but deserves the team’s extra time this year.
2. Name Pat Shurmur the offensive coordinator — this is not as easy to decide since I do not have first look at what the players are saying or feeling about the current interim coordinator. However, it is obvious that he and Sam Bradford have a great connection and delaying who will be calling the plays only hurts in the long run. This may not seem like a big move but for guys like Shurmur, this would give him a boost of confidence the team will need heading into the offseason.
3. Figure out what I’m doing with Peterson — Since this is my call, I try trading him to any team for anything I can get at this point. If it is obvious that I will receive nothing for him, I’m getting a feel for what he would take as far as a pay-cut is concerned. If that falls through, cutting ties quickly is the best option; that is what I do. Having a 32-year-old running back on the roster for 18 million dollars seems like a terrible plan; figuring this out quickly and correctly could save the season and my job.
4. Offensive line early and often in free agency — As of now, the draft looks pretty rough for teams looking for great offensive linemen. The free agency market looks a little more enticing as experience is usually the way to go when finding great offensive linemen. Other than Boone, all the players the Vikings signed either underperformed or were injured, at least once. This time around, looking for cheaper youth that can play any position along the line is where I’m starting.
5. Draft for now as opposed to the future — As they say, “the future is now,” the Vikings need to get youth that can play immediately. I’m not necessarily trading back into the first round this year but I’m doing all I can to get at least one defensive tackle, one offensive lineman and a running back early on. The Vikings were given high grades on their 2016 draft yet zero of the players made an immediate impact. When a team has a defense like the purple, it must be solidified immediately with players that can contribute early and often.
1. Trade Adrian Peterson — One of the biggest questions surrounding the Vikings as they head into the offseason is, what will they do with Peterson. In limited action last season, due largely to a knee injury, Peterson was mostly ineffective as was Minnesota’s running game as a whole. On the wrong side of 30, it’s looking like his best years are behind him and 2016 was the beginning of the decline. There are any number of teams looking to add a proven talent like Peterson to their squad. Trading him while he still has value makes the most sense. After moving their 2017 first-round-pick last season for Sam Bradford, the Vikings are in need of getting back into the first-round. Trading Peterson could get them there.
2. Rebuild the offensive line — Despite Spielman’s attempts to bolster a depleted and dilapidated offensive line last year, it still wasn’t enough as the Vikings’ season again was plagued by poor run-blocking and pass-protection issues. Minnesota cycled through players and shuffled their offensive line around as the injuries piled up. Spielman chose to address the offensive line in free agency as opposed to the draft, even though 2016 was one of the deepest and most talented offensive line classes. Missing out, the Vikings will have to look to this year’s class to rebuild the line and plug-in the holes through free agency.
3. Hire a new offensive coordinator — For nearly a decade, the Vikings have run one of the more conservative offenses in the league. Hamstrung by unimaginative game planning, Minnesota has lacked the offensive attack that is characteristic of most Super Bowl caliber teams. Year after year fans have suffered through predictable play calling that has limited the Vikings’ ability to drive the ball and score points. Short passes and handoffs, are rarely successful when attempting to convert the third and long situations that the offense continuously finds itself in. It is time to bring in some new blood; somebody who is innovative and can bring this offense into the modern era. An offensive-mind like Chip Kelly would be an ideal fit.
4. Appoint former alum to oversee player development — Despite receiving high marks for their 2016 draft, the Vikings’ rookies rarely saw the field and lacked meaningful contributions to the team. Minnesota spent a first-round-pick on a wide receiver who saw three targets all year. The Vikings would greatly benefit from someone who can offer guidance through their experience and assist in the development of their young players. A former alum who knows the organization and is familiar with the league would be ideal to help Minnesota’s rookies transition to the NFL. Fran Tarkenton might be the best man for the job.
5. Cut the dead weight — There are far too many members of the Vikings taking up valuable roster positions while underperforming on the field and failing to live up to their potential. Cutting them will give others a chance to make much-needed contributions and help take this team to the next level. Instead of overpaying these on-field liabilities, the money could be better spent on players who can deliver meaningful production. The Vikings have invested too much into guys like Matt Kalil, Sharrif Floyd and Andrew Sendejo, who continue to disappoint and fail to meet expectations. It is time to move on from them and find better fits for this team.