When you're watching a debacle the likes of which we saw on Sunday Night Football a couple of days ago, you start to ask a lot of questions about the state of your football team. For example. . .
How in the hell did the Minnesota Vikings go 10-6 in 2012?
How can a team that didn't, on paper, get appreciably worse from 2012 to 2013 fall off the cliff this fast?
With all the obvious flaws it masked, was Adrian Peterson's 2012 season the greatest season by any athlete in any sport ever?
Those are just a few of the things I started to wonder about as the reality of this being one of the most disappointing seasons in Minnesota Vikings' history started to kick in. I was starting to have those reservations after the Carolina loss, and even more after the loss to the Giants, but this most recent one just sealed it. Since the 2012 regular season finale at the Metrodome eleven months ago, this team has looked overmatched in a lot of contests, and outright disinterested in others.
The Vikings chose to roll the dice going into this season on a lot of things. They gambled that Christian Ponder would take the next step forward in his development. That hasn't happened. They gambled that a lot of guys on defense would be able to slot into new positions (Erin Henderson at MLB) or new roles (Josh Robinson as the slot cornerback). That hasn't worked. Add in not having the same luck with injuries that the team has had the last couple of years, and a season where a lot of people expected to see the Minnesota Vikings challenge for the NFC North Division title (at the very least) has instead become one of the most precipitous falls from grace in recent memory.
Heads are going to roll at the end of this season, and it might start from the very top of the organizational food chain. Here is how I envision the end-of-season meeting between Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf and General Manager Rick Spielman going. (Language warning on this video.)
Look, I like Rick Spielman. And there's a very good chance he stays and is allowed full autonomy to pick the next head coach of this team. There's an equally good chance he's going to end up the General Manager of a 1-15 football team for the second time in his career. . .he was the GM of the Miami Dolphins when they went 1-15 a while back. . .and that was enough to get him canned after one year in the chair in South Florida.
I like Leslie Frazier, too, and I'm sure that he's the nicest guy ever to walk an NFL sideline (or, at least, he's on the short list). But at the rate this is going, he needs to clean out his office when the season ends, too. So does Bill Musgrave. So does Alan Williams. So does everyone else currently roaming the Minnesota Vikings' sidelines. Well, except for Certified Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman™. That guy needs a lifetime contract.
It's going to be an interesting off-season for the Minnesota Vikings. And if the head coaching job does come open. . .and there's no reason why it shouldn't. . .it's going to be a pretty attractive job for a number of reasons.
First off, this is one of the youngest teams in the league. Here's a list of all the current Vikings that are 30 or older, and their likely status for next season.
DT Kevin Williams (33) - Free agent after this year, probably won't be back.
LS Cullen Loeffler (32) - Long snapper, dude can play until he's 80.
DE Jared Allen (31) - Free agent after this year, probably won't be back.
G Joe Berger (31) - Free agent after this year, probably won't be back.
QB Matt Cassel (31) - Signed through 2014, won't cost the Vikings anything to cut if they choose.
DT Fred Evans (30) - Free agent after this year, may or may not be back.
LB Chad Greenway (30) - He's going to be an interesting case. It appears the Vikings can cut him with no cap penalty next year, but I'll have to look into that further.
WR Greg Jennings (30) - Anyone that thinks he's a bust after this season is probably pretty clueless. Will likely be much better in 2014.
DE Brian Robison (30) - Just signed to a contract extension.
Tight end John Carlson, linebacker Marvin Mitchell, and guard Charlie Johnson are all currently 29. Johnson and Mitchell are both free agents this off-season, and the Vikings can finally get away from Carlson's deal without penalty if they choose.
Second, that means this team is going to have a lot of cap space to play with (about $30 million or so), and probably some extra draft picks. They already have an extra third-rounder from last year's Percy Harvin trade, and I have a feeling they'll acquire more. Couple that with a high pick that will allow any new coach to take "their" quarterback to build around and a new stadium coming online during their tenure, and it would appear to be an attractive position.
Also, it's not as though this team is completely devoid of talent. Adrian Peterson is Adrian Peterson, and with him on pace to have less than 300 carries, he's still going to have some good years left. Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, and John Sullivan are solid pieces across the offensive line, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph remain solid, and eventually someone. . .whether it's this regime or the next one. . .is actually going to put Cordarrelle Patterson on the field as a receiver. The defense needs to be almost completely retooled, but youngsters like Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, and Sharrif Floyd are a pretty good place to start.
Is the rest of this season going to stink to high heaven? Probably. The defense is already on pace to allow 514 points, which is only 3 points fewer than the 2008 Detroit Lions. . .the team that went 0-16. . .allowed. In their final nine games, the Vikings have to play seven of the NFL's top 11 scoring teams, bad news considering they've held one opponents this year under 30 points. They're on pace to be the first team since the 1995 Cleveland Browns to allow teams to convert more than 50% of their third down opportunities. And they still have to make road trips to Dallas, Seattle (ouch), Green Bay (which will likely be much uglier than Sunday night's contest), and Cincinnati.
And to top it all off, even if the Vikings do manage to lose out and go 1-15. . .they might not get the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Heck, they might not even get the #2 pick, depending on how the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finish their seasons. Don't get me wrong. . .I will never cheer for the Vikings to go out and lose. If they're 1-6 now, I want them to finish 10-6, even though I know there really isn't a realistic chance of it happening. (And I've never been of the belief you can get a bunch of professional athletes and professional coaches to "tank" a season anyway, but that's another discussion for another time.) I'm simply pointing out that even the worst case scenario for the Vikings might not get them the "reward" that it would get them in most other years.
But, like I said, there's talent here. . .and if the Kansas City Chiefs can go from having the #1 overall pick in the 2013 draft to being the NFL's last undefeated team halfway through the 2013 season, there's a chance that things can fall into place pretty quickly.
So, yes, it's going to be a rough rest of 2013 for us, ladies and gentlemen. But we'll weather this storm, just like we've weathered all the previous ones. We'll look forward to a new regime with a new quarterback and a new defense in 2014, as well as two years of outdoor football for Vikings home games before the NFL's best stadium comes online in 2016. The 2010 season passed, as did 2011, and this one will pass, too. There's really no point in being angry about it. . .all we can do is hope for the best while expecting the worst.
We'll be here, regardless. . .hopefully you will be, too.