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Back to the Top: Why the 2021 Offseason is Crucial for the Vikings

  • 2021 NFL Draft
  • 2021 NFL Offseason
  • Danielle Hunter
  • Kyle Rudolph
  • Mike Zimmer
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • Minnesota Vikings Defense
  • Vikings offseason
By Nick Lawler February 22, 2021 0 Comment
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The Minnesota Vikings stumbled to a 7-9 finish in 2020, placing third in the NFC North and leaving many to wonder where the team goes from here. The team showed promise in 2019, going 10-6 during the regular season before winning a Wild Card showdown against the Saints in the postseason.

But now?

The Vikings mitigated fans’ excitement levels throughout 2020. Now, they need to recapture that momentum and get back on the winning track for 2021 (and beyond).

CURRENT STATE OF THE VIKINGS

The Vikings need a strong offseason to rebound from an underwhelming season, and it starts with their moves in free agency and the NFL Draft.

The team entered last season on a shortlist of teams who could make the NFC playoff race interesting. A few things would have to go right, and the team would have to play strong, but the pieces of a playoff team were there.

Fast forward, and we see nothing went right. In fact, everything imploded.

Danielle Hunter, the Vikings’ brightest star on defense, did not play a single snap. Yannick Ngakoue, his newly acquired rushing mate, was shipped out before they had the chance to suit up together.

Cornerback Mike Hughes couldn’t stay healthy, and high draft picks in Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney were in and out of the lineup. The safeties were asked to do more as the Vikings were forced to rely on third- and fourth-string corners.

Dru Samia was miserable at guard, and Ezra Cleveland, the heir apparent at left tackle, was forced to step into action. While his addition was better than Samia’s, both guards’ struggles were evident.

Dalvin Cook, the heart and soul of the Vikings offense, even gave his thoughts about the team’s efforts during the season on The Herd. Speaking with Colin Cowherd, Cook said, “…some games, we just didn’t come out ready to play.”

Not good.

The Vikings lost three of their games by a combined five points, two of which were to playoff teams.

Despite all this, the Vikings managed to win seven games and were in the race for the final playoff spot until Week 16.

So, what is next? Where do the Vikings go from here?

THE END OF AN ERA

Kyle Rudolph is a Viking great. The two-time Pro Bowler recorded over 4,400 receiving yards and 48 touchdowns during his decade-long tenure in Minnesota.

However, he expressed disinterest in restructuring his contract and seems unhappy with how the Vikings utilize him in the offense of late.

Does it hurt to know the best move for each party is to separate? Sure, but we need to look at this from the team’s viewpoint.

The Vikings are clearly using Rudolph less than ever, and he carries a hefty $9.45 million cap hit. Not to mention, former second-round pick Irv Smith Jr. is emerging as the top option at tight end. It makes sense to give him a larger role moving forward.

Cutting Rudolph could save the team $8 million going into an offseason where the Vikings’ pockets need some help.

The Vikings could find a strong blocking option at the position for cheap, such as Marcedes Lewis, to round out the position group this offseason.

Try not to think of it as cutting a legend but as giving that legend a chance to continue his legacy where he can.

PROTECTION = PRODUCTION

Remember the guards being one of the things that went miserably wrong for the Vikings last season? Well, it is time to stop ignoring the issues and fix them head-on.

The only way to make the group stronger is to add more talent, simple as that. For years, the Vikings attempted to bring in late cutdowns from other squads, Day 3 draft picks, and free agents they could sign for pennies on the dollar.

That strategy backfired. If the issue is not resolved soon, the Super Bowl window that comes with having an above-average quarterback, a premier running back, and one of the top wide receiver duos could close as quickly as it opened.

And yet, the Vikings held the fourth-highest mark in yards per game (393.3) and were 11th in points per game (26.9) in 2020. Their offense remained one of the best in the league despite having one of the worst positional units in the NFL.

Imagine the heights this offense could reach if the guards were just among the league average.

Step 1: Draft at least two offensive guards early and give them as many reps as possible over the incumbents in training camp. Think USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker or Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis.

That’s it. That’s the only step.

REGAIN DEFENSIVE STRENGTH

Primed with Hunter and Everson Griffen on the edges of the defense in 2019, the Vikings tied for the fifth-most sacks in the league with 48.

Unfortunately, the unit disappointed in 2020. With Griffen’s departure to Dallas and Hunter’s concerning neck injury, the Vikings’ depth was not enough.

Minnesota regressed significantly without them, collecting just 23 sacks. That number was fifth-worst in the league.

The rest of the depth chart proved they could not get the job done, regardless of Hunter’s projected return.

There’s certainly talent at the position, including DJ Wonnum’s intriguing play. However, the Vikings are in dire need of reinforcements.

The Vikings need to address this in the offseason, perhaps with Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins in the second round. Another name who comes to mind is free agent Haason Reddick, who recently found more success for the Cardinals on the edge.

And, hey, anybody know much it would cost to sign a guy like Yannick Ngakoue? Just wondering.

SAFETY VALVE OR TOTAL LIABILITY?

The Vikings enjoyed the privilege of entering the past two offseasons with one of the league’s strongest safety duos.

Due to the team’s hurting cornerback group, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris needed to tackle their tallest task yet in 2020.

While their efforts were noble, neither player provided his best season. Smith broke his five-year streak in the Pro Bowl despite a five-interception season.

Harris, meanwhile, enters the offseason a free agent for the second year in a row after playing last season on the franchise tag. Spotrac predicts Harris’ market value at $14 million per year. The Vikings need to work some cap magic to retain Harris on a contract of that size.

When you take Minnesota’s already-pressing need for depth at safety, this represents a serious problem.

An intriguing option that could give the Vikings some breathing room would be to organize a sign-and-trade with Harris to pick up some draft capital. Minnesota could then draft his replacement early, like UCF’s Richie Grant, to save some money.

DEPTH AT CORNER

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of last season’s team was the struggles at cornerback.

Going into the season with the top options including the oft-injured Hughes and two rookies was a risk upfront, but it spiraled further out of control quickly.

Hughes lasted four games before his season ended, and Dantzler missed five matchups. The Vikings released Holton Hill midseason and instead leaned on Mark Fields, Chris Jones, and Harrison Hand out of necessity.

The good news? Dantzler and Gladney flashed when healthy, with Dantzler proving his slim frame did not affect his play. Gladney was especially tough against the run, a trait that Coach Zimmer loves.

The bad news is the Vikings now head into their second offseason with these three as the top options with no noticeably strong names behind them.

Finding some veteran depth is a must this year, as Hughes’ health proves no guarantee.

Guys like Chidobe Awuzie and Breshaud Breeland make great options as reliable starters. And the Vikings just might be able to afford them.

THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS OFFSEASON

The result of this offseason could place the Vikings back into the playoff picture. If it’s executed perfectly, they might even end up on the shortlist of legitimate contenders out of the NFC.

Of course, players’ health once again will play a huge factor. However, assuming the injury bug is off their backs, this roster is legit.

Michael Pierce, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Mike Hughes return to replenish the defense. Cheap options in free agency could shore up the depth issues on defense, and the draft could provide a few key starters.

GM Rick Spielman loaded the offense with weapons. The defense features multiple studs at each level.

As such, there may not be a more pivotal offseason for Mike Zimmer and his staff than this one.

If healthy, there are no more excuses. Make the right moves this offseason, and the Vikings could have a strong title push for the first time since 2009.

Make the wrong moves, however, and a complete rehaul is imminent.

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I cover and write about the Minnesota Vikings.

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