Minnesota looked to be a team on the rise in the off season even in spite of trading a disgruntled Percy Harvin, and releasing its defensive leader Antoine Winfield due to salary cap issues. The Vikings also let Geoff Swartz and Jasper Brinkley walk without making either of them an offer. Not many liked Brinkley, in spite that in 2012; he was returning from a hip injury that kept him out the entire previous year, and in his rookie year in 2009; he actually played well down the stretch in relief for E. J. Henderson. Brinkley was solid against the rush, but like most Minnesota line backers; struggled against the pass. Geoff Swartz was also coming off a similar injury that sidelined him as well for the entire 2011 season, and was battling with second year guard Brandon Fusco. Fusco played solid at times in run blocking, and Swartz seemed more seasoned in pass blocking, as his play gradually got slightly better throughout the year. Whether, either Brinkley or Swartz would start today if they had been resigned isn't clear, but they would have both given Minnesota some much needed depth at a cheap price. They also switched Joe Webb from quarter back to wide receiver, which some felt was a move that should have been made years ago, especially with the needs at wide receiver.
They they did sign a more than viable option at wide receiver in Greg Jennings. With Webb being switched to receiver; the Vikings also signed Matt Cassel to hefty payday as the back up quarter back. The Vikings also resigned Jerome Simpson, Erin Henderson while switching him to the middle to fill the void of Brinkley, and also signed Desmond Bishop to help shore up the line backer position, Phil Loadholt saw a hefty payday as well for the team to retain his excellent road grading run blocking and sometimes questionable pass blocking. And another not necessarily popular move to retain Marcus Sherrals has proven to be a good signing. They also picked up Xavier Rhodes in the first round of the 2013 draft to help alleviate losing Winfield. Along with Rhodes; they Vikings also selected defensive tackle Shariff Floyd and wide receiver/return man Cordarrell Patterson. All three were at some point or another ranked as the best prospect of each of their respected positions. The team did not have another pick until the forth round where they surprised many choosing line backer Gerald Hodges. Then acquired punter Jeff Locke in hope to replicate close to the success the Vikings had the previous year in drafting Blair Walsh to replace Ryan Longwell. In the seventh round Minnesota selected their fourth round pick's teammate at Penn State Michael Mauti. If Mauti can get fully recovered even by next season, and stay healthy; it will prove to be a very good move As before tearing his ACL a second time; he was considered a late first to second round prospect.
It looked like was a team that was being structured for the long haul. And it looked like that this team would replicate a similar record in 2013, give or take a loss or two. As long as Ponder continued to progress as it looked like he had turned a corner in the last quarter of the season, especially in the season's finale against the rivaled Packers in which Ponder had is best game as a pro.
We know different now, and the wheels have fallen completely off. Watching the preseason games; there were tell tale signs of the team not being prepared, and still yet the majority of the starters saw very limited playing action. This continued throughout every preseason game, as the team looked flat, and the play calling, even for preseason looked questionable on both sides of the ball. Many shrugged off the signs assuming the coordinators just didn't want to tip their hat. A few others saw it very differently, as specifically Bill Musgrave had yet to have any success with his offensive techniques, and to hold out till the season opener to expose what tricks he had up his sleeve seemed a little crazy, as individuals like myself felt that maybe an offense might want to try some of the plays they had been working on in the off season during at least a preseason game or two to make sure that they were going to work in the first place, as he has had little, if any success his entire time in Minnesota other than jumping on Adrian Peterson's back. So, of course the season opener came around, and then the second and third game, and what many thought Musgrave has hiding in the preseason simply did not exist. The game planning and play calling by the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator had actually taken steps back in spite of having more offensive play makers at his disposal. Christian Ponder looked to be in last year's mid season form, and other than doing well in turnovers; the Vikings defense was looking terrible as well, and the defensive coordinator Alan Williams looks to be completely exposed with an entire year of film for teams to look at and are now picking it apart. On top of that, additions to the team were not seeing very much playing time. The coordinators refuse to change their approaches and head coach Leslie Frazier strongly believes in their strategies, backing them up in post game interviews blaming players for not executing properly.
While also in the midst of this debacle; Christian Ponder is anointed the fall guy, as first Matt Cassel replaces him, then Josh Freeman is signed for a hefty payday to finish the season and was thrown out prematurely into a Monday night game that televised the worst football I personally have ever seen from a Minnesota Vikings' team, and arguably the worst professional performance by a pro football offense of this era. Days before the game, head coach Frazier stated based on his knowledge as an NFL coach; that of Ponder, Cassel and Freeman, that Freeman in his judgement gave the Vikings the best chance to win, and when asked if he considered pulling Freeman at halftime, he responded saying, "the thought never crossed my mind." With a new quarter back only being on the team less than two weeks, with the reigning MVP and best running back in the game; most expected a heavy dose of Peterson and limited passes from Freeman, but unbelievably Vikings' offensive coordinator dialed up 53 passing plays that where seeing very unacceptable results the entire time, and Peterson's number was called only 13 times to run the ball in which every single time the box was loaded and the Giant's defense was right on top of the play calls. The play calling was so bad, the announcers of the game were telling the audience what the Vikings' play calls were going to be on both sides of the ball before the ball was even snapped. As bad as the Vikings looked the week before getting blown out in the Metrodome; the fanbase of the Minnesota Vikings had reached an all time high of outrage and disgust following the game.
If I looked at just the players; which ones are doing a good enough job that they should be considered to remain on the team next season? And we are not going to even look at the coaching staff, as the entire staff will be relieved immediately at season's end. First on offense Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco are not good enough. Johnson should be cut, and for Fusco to remain; it should only be for depth and he is still young as is the season and it would be nice to see improvement from him, but the bottom line is; the guys that are not doing a good enough job should be replaced by ones that can do better. Minnesota will finally be able to wash their hands of John Carlson, and he will be released around the same time as the coaching staff.
Matt Cassel will also not be retained, and in my opinion; I do not see Josh Freeman having a better game than any of Ponder's first three this season, and believe the team will also cut ties wit him as well. I think Ponder will be kept not only because he is cheap, but in spite of his inconsistent play; I think he has already established himself as a viable back up in this league. I think that Ponder will do fairly well Sunday night. I could very well be wrong, but I think he is the best quarter back on our roster, and the time on the bench has done him some good. Now, whether or not, we will all see soon enough Sunday night. And we still do have a coaching staff that makes terrible decisions, and even if Ponder wins us some games and gives us the best chance to win, a couple weeks at the latest; Frazier and company will start Freeman, and for the remainder of the season likely.
Toby Gerhart, who has been an absolute true professional will get to finally start, and of course will also leave the Vikings' roster. I for one would like to see the Vikings resign Joe Webb, but think it is very unlikely. Jerome Simpson has played his best so far for Minnesota, but am not sure he will be back either, and can see this going either way. I also think Jerome Felton will be let go as likely the team will look to Ellison and Line to share duties at full back, while also playing tight end. Matt Asiata will also be another offensive player I do not see being on the Vikings' 2014 roster.
On the defensive side of the ball the Viking will likely cut Desmond Bishop before season's end. They will also likely let go of linebackers Larry Dean, Audie Cole and possibly Marvin Mitchell. I wouldn't mind seeing Mitchell back as long as it is only for depth, not as a starter. I think Mistral Raymond and maybe Andrew Sendajo are both in danger of being released. I think we are watching Kevin Williams last year not just in Minnesota, but also the league, and see him retiring from the game, but wouldn't mind at all if something could be worked out with him remaining on the team in limited snaps to assist in the development of Floyd as well as likely another mid to high draft prospect. I cannot say the same for Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, and think at least one of them if not both will be gone next year. Of course, I thought that last off season too. I would like to see Jared Allen return, but that would require him to play for an extremely less amount than he is currently being payed. Not to say that it can't happen, but there will likely be other teams that will offer him a lot more money than we will, and I am not so sure that the Vikings even make him an offer, as they likely presume he will want a lot more than they can offer. Whether Chris Cook is back or not is another big question. I personally would like to see him back in spite of all of the playing time he has missed, but think it is likely that another team offers him more money than the Vikings will. It is hard to see A.J. Jefferson returning as well.
If all these players do indeed leave the Minnesota Vikings' roster along with the entire coaching staff, this would be the biggest player and coaching turnover the Minnesota Vikings have ever had, without even mentioning the possible replacements. And with an excellent draft that could finally give the Vikings their true quarter back of the future with Christian Ponder as a legitimate back up and also become close to as fortunate in their choice of the new head coach that will assemble an accountable staff, with the remaining solid core of players left in place; could this team actually turn things around fast enough so that Adrian Peterson actually does have a legitimate contender for a team before he retires? I think it is possible, but it is a long shot. I think making such bold moves and so many of them won't necessarily be that bold at all, as we all know what we have, and what we are doing with what we have is not working; so why should the team not see a drastic turnover? It is becoming more and more frequent that teams turn their franchises around quickly, and in some cases immediately. And is becoming more and more the case that some rookie quarter backs actually play decent, or even fairly well in their first year.
Will Minnesota make that many changes in one off season? And how fortunate will they be in their pursuit of a legitimate starting caliber quarter back, while at the same time hiring the right coach? I would say the odds are obviously against them, but I like those odds better than what the current state of the franchise gives us. No one knows what the Vikings will do, but looking at the problems and at the same time building off what pieces the Vikings do have in place; I think the Vikings can turn things around as quick as next season and when the new stadium opens; the Minnesota Vikings have a real shot at hosting the Super Bowl in their own house. Lets hope they can make half as many right decisions this off season as bad decisions we have seen over just the past few years.