So far in the 2013 NFL season, the Vikings defensive depth has been exposed as terrible. They have two different starting defensive backs that have missed time this season (one who is Chris Cook, who seems to never leave the trainer's table). This has left the Vikings with a very low tolerance for any further injuries to their defensive backs. This situation needs to be rectified as soon as possible, and the Vikings theoretically have the money to make it happen. According to overthecap.com, the Vikings (not counting any extensions that may happen) currently have about 75% of next season's cap already spoken for (I am not exactly sure what that number will be, so bear with me here).
While they must save a certain amount of money to spend on their draft picks (rightly so, because their draft picks have been doing very well recently), the Vikings have 19 different contracts coming off their books after this season is over (which may actually be 20, because Spotrac.com, one of the sites I am using for this info doesn't have the contract info for J'Marcus Webb). Joe Berger, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Desmond Bishop, Chris Cook, Larry Dean, Fred Evans, Jared Allen, Toby Gerhart, Everson Griffen, AJ Jefferson, Charlie Johnson, George Johnson, Marvin Mitchell, Brian Robison, Marcus Sherels, Jerome Simpson, Matt Asiata, Joe Webb and Kevin Williams all have their contracts expiring after this season.
Nothing has come out about the Vikings DE situation for next year, but I think most people are reasonably sure that Everson Griffen will be back next season. Of the rest of the people on this list, I can't honestly give an opinion about who might be back; such decisions will likely be easier to say towards the end of the season. The players in my opinion that are unlikely to be retained are Chris Cook (as good as he is, he is nearly constantly injured), Jared Allen (I highly doubt that he will return unless he is willing to give the Vikings a bit of a discount), and Toby Gerhart (obviously, as people have been saying for a while that he is gone after this season and will almost certainly be picked up by a team and could be a starting RB for a number of teams). The rest I don't know enough about to form any kind of conclusion. From a depth perspective, I wouldn't mind having George Johnson, Marvin Mitchell, Joe Webb and K-Will back. The rest is really uncertain to me.
I have taken a look at the depth chart for the Vikings, and I can honestly say that there are only a few positions that I can say for now don't need serious addressing. These are WR (we suddenly have more depth here than in a few years; Greg Jennings is great, Jerome Simpson is actually showing talent this season, Cordarrelle Patterson is just bleeping oozing with talent (though still raw), Jarius Wright is a serviceable slot receiver, Joe Webb should honestly be a red-zone-defensive-nightmare, but hasn't been used as such yet, and Greg Childs is working on returning from his patellar tendon tears), safety (I have said this many times before, but Harrison Smith is an uber-stud ball-hawk, and a rotation of Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo is fairly good at "holding down" (if such a rotation can be called that) the other safety position), place-kicker (seems to be no sophomore slump for Mr. Blair Walsh), kick-returner (Patterson is a stud, and though he is playing on a one-year contract, Marcus Sherels is a very good punt-returner), and fullback (Felton is great and Ellison is statistically even better). While I haven't counted it here, running back is also set (and everyone should know why).
This leaves many positions to be addressed. The rest of this article is going to be focused on the defensive side of things, because the offensive side is a hornet's nest that I have no interest in poking with this article.
Let's start with the defensive line. Long considered the bastion of the defensive scheme the Vikings run, the Tampa-2, the Vikings line has become somewhat porous towards the running game ever since Phat Pat left. The Vikings have been basing much of their pass-rush over the last few seasons on their superb defensive ends, Jared Allen, Brian Robison, and Everson Griffen (I am sure that others have played here, I am just not remembering them). The unfortunate part is, all three of these playmakers have their contracts ending after this season, and unless something magical happens, there is no way the Vikings keep all three of these. The fan consensus has the Vikings keeping Griffen and Robison more often than not, and I fully believe that this is the most likely scenario to happen, considering Allen's almost certainly large price tag. Currently, the Vikings have every single one of their DE currently on the team hitting FA after this season, so figuring out which ones to keep and which to toss will be an interesting storyline during this offseason. I feel like the Vikings have always done a good job of finding the DE that they need to fit into their scheme, so I will trust CGGM Rick Speilman to take care of picking the players here.
Defensive tackle was a huge reason the Vikings were so stingy against the run for most of the last decade. Ever since we lost our last true NT, we haven't been quite the same against the run. Speilman made the right move in picking up Sharrif Floyd as our first first-round pick this year, as he is now the obvious heir apparent to Kevin Williams, who certainly seems to be on his last legs. Unfortunately, K-Will plays the UT, or under-tackle position, and this position has stayed fairly stable for the Vikings for a long time now. I have looked at possible free agent D-Lineman on the upcoming offseason, and I honestly think that our time would be better spent finding a DTotF in the draft; there aren't players that could be on the market that fit our system well enough for me to say, "OOOOO, we have to pick him up!" Finding that run-stuffing NT might just be enough for our team to return the dominant defense against the run that Vikings fans were so accustomed to during the last decade. Of course, there could be someone that I am overlooking, and feel free to let me know if there is that one guy that should be declared a "Must Have." Otherwise, I will go on believing that our DTotF is coming out of the next draft.
On to the linebackers. So far this season, much has been made of our LB corps inability to cover anyone. To be perfectly honest, I only have the reports of others when talking about this, but from the results I have been seeing on the field and past history, this seems quite logical. I believe that Rick Speilman has started to work on this, as he has drafted Audie Cole, Mike Mauti, and Gerald Hodges. While AC hasn't seen the field much, I have heard this quote quite a bit about him: "You can only be so bad in coverage when you are 6'4" tall." I quite agree with this, and I feel that if Cole could get some development time, he might become an above-average cover linebacker (though he was drafted in the 7th round for a reason, so what the hell do I know?). Speilman has also drafted Mike Mauti, and while he has been injury prone, many people see him as the MLBotF, and I have to agree. If Mauti can stay healthy, and show enough to impress the coaches, I fully believe that he could be starting by sometime in 2014. Hodges is the most well-known of these recent draftees in coverage, as he began his college career as a safety before transferring to the Sam LB position. If he can develop along well enough, he should be able to take over the weak-side linebacker spot within the next two years. Chad Greenway, though nowhere near perfect in coverage, isn't someone that has often had to be worried about, though his recent play and seeming slow play is causing concern (mostly amongst DN followers, as I haven't seen much about this on any other site). Honestly, if two out of the three of Hodges, Mauti and Cole can develop into starting LB's, the Vikings should be set there. If not, well then it's back to the drawing board.
Now, onto the biggest area of concern for the Vikings defense right now: cornerback. The season started out with many fans gaining a creeping optimism that Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes, and Josh Robinson might just form a trio of developing corners to lead the Vikings secondary. Rhodes so far is the best of the bunch, Robinson is allowing blind people to catch balls on him (ok, not really, but still) and has regressed hugely from an up-and-down rookie season, and Cook is hurt again (no, really?). This leaves the Vikings with a starting lineup in their base defense of Josh Robinson (why is Rhodes not starting?) and Marcus Sherels. Yuck. Of course, in the nickel, Robinson slides inside and Rhodes is on the outside. Still, this is a serious area of concern, and I believe out of all the positions on defense that need assistance, cornerback is the one that I could see the Vikings going outside the organization to fill this offseason. With his injury problems, Cook is probably gone as the Vikings can't rely on his skills and Robinson will have to find a way to improve or be on the hot seat. That leaves Marcus Sherels, Xavier Rhodes, and AJ Jefferson. Yikes. Thankfully for the Vikings, there should be a nice amount of CB's to go out and pick from this offseason. Some of the top FA's available on the cornerback market include: Sam Shields (lol, next year's Packer's pickup?), Aqib Talib (Patriots), Charles Tillman (Bears, unlikely as he is on the wrong side of 30, but you never know), Tarell Brown (49ers), and others. While it is unlikely the Vikings will pick up more than one CB off the FA market, the addition of one of these guys would do a lot to help the Vikings out. I could also see, if the Vikings are truly desperate, trading up and grabbing a CB or two in next year's draft to make things even more stable.
All in all, the Vikings are in desperate need of reinforcements in the secondary, and could use upgrades at the Will linebacker, nose tackle, and middle linebacker. While several players already on the Vikings roster could conceivably fill these holes, I have a feeling Rick Speilman will have to be aggressive in both the draft and free agency to fill all the holes on defense the Vikings currently have. I have all the faith that Darth Speilman will surprise us all. SKOL Vikings!