Well, I could say another season for the Vikings ended with a thud, but regardless of how bad the Vikings looked in the NFC Championship game, not many predicted this Vikings team would make it that far- or even to the playoffs. Especially after Sam Bradford went down. And Dalvin Cook. But they did. And any time your team makes it to Championship Sunday, and goes 14-4 overall, that’s a pretty good year- even if falling short of the ultimate goal of being Super Bowl champions.
But regardless of yesterday’s outcome, the Vikings were going to face some tough decisions at season’s end, and will need another productive off-season if they want to make it back to the NFC Championship, and beyond, next season.
Here are some of the key pieces the Vikings need to put together during the off-season.
Presumably Pat Shurmur is still on-track to be the next head coach of the New York Giants, which will leave a big vacancy in the Vikings coaching staff. Rumor is that former Denver OC and Chargers HC Mike McCoy is one of the candidates, along with former Giants HC and OC Ben McAdoo.
I’m not a big fan of McAdoo, as he didn’t really do much as OC or HC with the Giants. He benefited from the drafting of Odell Beckham, but beyond that, hard to say he had a big impact. He had been with the Packers before that, but again, hard to say he had much of an impact there either. Being a QB coach for an already great QB in Aaron Rodgers makes it hard to assess his impact.
McCoy is an interesting candidate for a couple reasons. First, he is an Erhardt-Perkins guy, although he has run west coast offenses too, which would mean potentially installing that scheme for the Vikings offense over the off-season. It has different nomenclature which simplifies play-calling by packaging a group of passing routes into one ‘concept’ which can be called with one or two words. The Patriots have famously run this system for decades, but only a handful of teams use it. It’s a lot like a west coast offense, has a lot of the same plays, just different terminology and approach.
But the other thing about McCoy is he worked with Kyle Sloter last year in Denver. It’s doubtful Sloter would be the starting QB for the Vikings next season, but anybody trying to figure out which QB would have played the most snaps for the Vikings the last couple years going into training camp would have been pretty surprised.
I suspect Vikings long-time assistant on the offensive side Kevin Stefanski might be in the mix, but he still seems like a long-shot to me.
There may be other candidates as well that emerge in the coming days/weeks. But I suspect the Vikings will want to get that coaching vacancy figured out soon, especially given their QB situation and other issues.
This is perhaps the most difficult situation for the Vikings to solve, in part because there’s no way to tell if either Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford can stay healthy enough to keep as a starting quarterback. At this point Bradford is the only one that has been a top-tier quarterback when healthy, but he may also be too expensive as a durability concern. I’m also not sure he’d be the player’s choice either.
Bridgewater said yesterday he wants to start somewhere next season, whether here or somewhere else. My guess is it will be somewhere else, but I’m not sure he will start week one next season. Whether it’s the Vikings or another team, I suspect he will come in as a backup, with the possibility of playing his way into a starting role.
That leaves Case Keenum, who I think the Vikings will keep as their starting QB. But they may have to franchise tag him to keep him. I’m sure Keenum will get other offers- John Elway in Denver apparently likes what he sees in Keenum, and there may be other suitors. Mike Zimmer’s reluctance to embrace Keenum probably hasn’t helped that relationship, and Pat Shurmur’s departure may leave Keenum questioning whether Minnesota is his best spot going forward. But he likes the team, the players like and respond to his leadership, he said he’d like to stay, so one way or another, I expect Keenum to be the starter heading into training camp this summer.
And then there’s Kyle Sloter. While the intrigue at starting QB has taken the spotlight, I’m also intrigued by Kyle Sloter as a potential starter, but more likely 2nd string QB next season. What intrigues me is how sought after he was after pre-season, the Vikings paying top practice squad money to get him, then putting him on the active roster to keep him- all while having three QBs ahead of him.
There has to be something the Vikings (and several other teams apparently) see in Sloter that makes him so desirable as a developmental/backup/potential starting QB.
He played only one year at QB in college- at that powerhouse QB breeding ground known as Northern Colorado, but had a pretty good showing in pre-season with Denver, where he seemed to prove some of his draft critiques wrong- not being able to throw into tight windows and accuracy issues in particular. But there isn’t much tape on him.
I did find an interview from Behind The Steel Curtain, which maybe throws more light on why Sloter was so highly sought-after, beyond his pre-season tape. He’s got a high football IQ, is more advanced reading defenses and setting calls than QBs normally are out of college. And he ran a pro-style offense using the same west coast terminology as the NFL.
In any case, I would not be surprised if Sloter enters training camp as the #2 QB behind Case Keenum.
While the Vikings offensive line improved this season, from an atrocious level last year, I give more credit for that to the acquisition of veterans Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, and continued good play of veteran Joe Berger. I don’t give a lot of credit to offensive line coach Tony Sparano for developing both the incoming veterans, or the younger talent.
The truth is that according to PFF, Nick Easton, Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Jeremiah Sirles, and Rashod Hill all finished the season will poor grades in the 40s. That may seem harsh, but the fact remains that none of these guys have improved much, and for most their performance deteriorated as the season progressed. Both Reiff and Remmers had worse grades than in previous years - especially Reiff. I think we can quibble with the PFF grades, but in both playoff games the offensive line was a clear liability. If not for Case Keenum’s elusiveness during the season, the sack totals would have been much higher.
All that being the case, it’s time for a new offensive line coach. I’m not sure it will happen- I suspect Zimmer likes Sparano- but I haven’t seen much development of the offensive linemen on the Vikings roster since Sparano took over. It would be great to bring in Bill Callahan, who I believe may have finished his current contract in Washington, but not sure that will happen either. I suspect Zimmer may defer to his new offensive coordinator if he really wants to make a change, but that remains to be seen.
While I think it is promising to have Mike Remmers move inside to guard, he’ll essentially be replacing the Vikings best lineman the past few years in Joe Berger. That would create a starting line going into next year of Reiff, Easton, Elflein, Remmers and Hill. Aviante Collins could challenge Hill at RT, but that should also be a priority in the draft, perhaps even the first-round pick. I like Hill better as a serviceable backup, rather than a starter. I’d look for free-agent acquisitions and using a later round draft pick on the OL as well.
But I’d really like to see a new offensive line coach with a good track record of developing players.
Jerick McKinnon, who’s now a free agent, said yesterday that he hopes to be a feature back somewhere next year. I really hope the Vikings are able to keep him somehow. I’d rather they kept McKinnon than Murray to be honest. McKinnon is an excellent 3rd down back who can block and could spell Dalvin Cook without a huge loss. Hard to say if McKinnon will find a feature back role with another team, but I think he’s definitely worth pursuing with a strong offer.
The Vikings will need to draft another cornerback, and develop to replace Terence Newman. Hopefully Newman will play another year, easing that transition, and MacKensie Alexander is developing into a starter in the slot, but there needs to be more quality depth beyond that.
Defensive line also needs more depth. I think Jaleel Johnson will develop as a quality interior lineman and possible starting 3-tech, and I’m hoping Dylan Bradley turns into at least quality depth as well. But there needs to be more talent in the hopper too.
Mike Zimmer also needs to assess his own duties as head coach. Perhaps he needs to give way to George Edwards as the defensive play-caller and focus more on managing the adjustments and other aspects of the game on game day. Delegating more of the game planning to his coordinators, under his direction, and focusing more on team development, preparation, systems, and in-game management, adjustments and chess match, could yield better results particularly now that the defensive unit is well established in both personnel and scheme.
The playoff games this post-season exposed some coaching deficiencies that need to be addressed if the Vikings are to be more successful going-forward. I suspect there have been games during the regular season as well where better adjustments and game planning would have made an impact. But more robust game-planning and in-game management/adjustments can only happen if Zimmer is willing to delegate the play-calling and focus on these duties himself as head coach. He needs to improve this area of coaching to get to the next level, and be more competitive in both game preparation and management.
But overall this isn’t an extensive list. The Vikings have the pieces to be a play-off team next year. They’re ahead of most teams when it comes to off-season priorities and things to work on. But they can’t afford to be passive in the off-season. They still need to improve in several areas if they want to reach the ultimate goal of Super Bowl champions.
Who will be the Vikings new offensive coordinator?
This poll is closed