Hi kids. I’ve waited a couple days to write this, as I didn’t want the emotion of the 27-10 pantsing at the hands of the 49ers last Saturday to cloud my thoughts on the upcoming off-season. To set the table for this piece, a couple days ago I went over some tough roster decisions the Vikings have coming due when the new league year starts. The Reader’s Digest version is that the Vikings could potentially lose five starters on defense, and have a couple of hard questions to ask on offense, particularly along the o-line.
When looking at the Vikings the past several years, and looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, I think we need to ask this question: Is the roster good enough to try and win a Super Bowl with just some work around the edges, or not? If it isn’t, then Minnesota should get ahead of the curve, and start planning for the future now. It will mean painful cuts, hard goodbyes, and maybe even a trade of a good player or two to have more draft capital and cap space so pressing needs can be addressed, and the dip isn’t a long one.
Let’s look at the two opinions about the Vikings and how these scenarios play out in the coming months and year. The only assumption I’m making is that Kirk Cousins is going to be the QB in 2020. He isn’t getting traded because he has a no trade clause in his contact, and he isn’t getting cut because he has a $31 million cap hit.
Opinion 1: Accept that this roster as constructed has gotten as far as it will get, and start turning it over
If you believe that this roster will not ‘get over the hump’, as it were, accept 2020 is a transition year. Based on how this team has underachieved the last two years after getting to the NFC Championship in 2017, I believe you can make that argument. If you believe that, then release almost all the guys identified on the piece linked above to free up cap space, take the 2021 comp pick for Anthony Harris (probably a third rounder) and whoever else for the 2021 draft, seriously look to trade a guy or two you can get a good return on, and start the rebuild a year early instead of a year too late. If you can trade a guy like Dalvin Cook or Harrison Smith and some picks to get in to position to get Tua or Jalen Hurts, do it and roll into the draft intent on getting your guy this year. Let Cousins play out 2020 with QB The Next on the bench, learning how to run the offense.
In this scenario the offense is still mostly intact, and if you can address the o-line, it might be a little better depending on whether or not any trades are made. With the turnover on defense, though, there’s going to see an overall drop in performance, and that probably costs the Vikes wins. However, if this is done right, you’ll probably have 2-3 extra draft picks that you can use to get the defense healthy in 2021 while somewhat offsetting the picks you traded to get a QB in 2020 and your QBOTF is ready to go in 2021. He’ll have one year under his belt learning the offense, with largely the same skill players still on the roster to help with the development. With no massive Cousins extension on the books, the Vikings have have cap flexibility to deal with a Dalvin Cook extension, if he isn’t traded and they want to go in that direction, and more money to compete with in free agency.
In short, you can build around the QB you draft now and gear up for another run.
Opinion 2: Make minor tweaks, because this is a championship caliber roster than has one or two more deep runs possible.
I think this is the direction the Vikings will go because I believe Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer know their jobs are on the line, and they will be fired if the Vikings miss the playoffs next year. Instead of looking long term to 2021 and beyond, they will maximize their chances to make one or two more runs, and worry about 2021 later, after their jobs are safe. I think you can just as easily talk yourself into thinking the Vikings have one or two more good runs left in them as you can the ‘blow it up early’ argument. The Vikings have a solid core of skill players on offense, and just need a couple tweaks on the o-line. The defense slipped, but it’s still a top 10 unit, this is a roster that was in the NFC Championship two years ago, and has won two playoff games in three years.
So, Spielman and Zimmer make just a couple adjustments to stay the course as best as possible with the current players, until they have no choice but to turn the roster over. And if I’m being honest with myself, if I were them I would probably do the same thing. I really wouldn’t care how the Vikings are set for 2021 if I’m not there to execute the plan, because I just need to be able to get to 2021.
Of the guys we identified as possible salary cap cuts in the piece I keep going back to, they have to release a couple guys, just because they’re too hard up against the cap to keep them all. I do believe they’ll try to retain as many as they can, and make every effort to re-sign guys like Anthony Harris and Mackensie Alexander. It seems like a daunting task, but if anyone can figure out how to get a chunk of these guys back and stay under the cap, Wizard Rob Brzezinski can.
For what guys they can’t keep, they’ll probably use the upcoming draft to get 2-3 new players to put in to Zimmer’s system, and not worry about drafting a QB, which is fine in this belief system, because they are assuming that Kirk Cousins will get an extension. Whether they start the tear down on defense now or hold off to the max extent possible, there’s still going to be a fair amount of turnover on that side of the ball. Because of that my feeling is that the defense will regress next year, just based on the experience level of new players and a decreasing performance of the aging players they retain. But the thinking here is that If the offense keeps producing and can get a little bit more consistent it will be enough to get the Vikings into the playoffs once again, the defensive guys you spent high draft picks on will develop nicely, and sometime between clinching the division in week 11 and the Super Bowl parade in February, Spielman, Zimmer, and Cousins all get extensions.
But...if just tweaking the edges isn’t the right answer, the Vikings drop to 8-8 or worse and miss the playoffs. They’ll be bad enough to miss the playoffs but probably good enough to be too far back in the draft to get a guy like Trevor Lawrence. Spielman and Zimmer will get fired, and Cousins walks as a free agent.
Instead of your QBOTF ready to roll with some really good skill players to help him out and five or six young players on defense who already have one year of experience, you’re starting from behind. Guys you kept one year longer than you probably should have are leaving a year later, and with Cousins gone, you have no QB on the roster for 2021 that will be NFL ready. The good news to that is that you’ll be really healthy cap wise, and can hit free agency with some significant spending money and a chance to fill some holes.
The bad news is that there’s probably not going to be a franchise QB available in free agency, so unless the new GM and coach want to make a huge splash with a blockbuster trade, they probably aren’t going to find their franchise guy in the 2021 draft. The new staff is probably bringing in new systems on both sides of the ball, so they’ll more than likely do a further roster purge to get guys that fit their respective offense and defense.
That monster trade to get a QB in the draft can’t be made because there are way too many needs, and they probably can’t be addressed in one off-season, there’s no QB you can use to sell hope and season tickets unless you want to market around someone like a washed Phillip Rivers, who’s now 100% YOLO on every throw, and what might have been a one year turnaround is now probably a four or five year deal trying to find a QB and build a championship level roster.
Look, you may call me a hater for this, or not a true fan, or whatever, I really don’t care anymore.
I’ve seen the 2019 Vikings about 20 times before, in different uniforms, with different players and different coaches, but always...ALWAYS the same result. I don’t think this roster has what it takes to get over the hump anymore, I just don’t. There are too many flaws that keep surfacing when it matters most, and they’re the same issues we see in every loss. I’m not laying the blame on any one player or coach, because everyone is equally guilty of faltering, right when they need to perform the most.
At some point this season, probably the second Packers game, I realized this roster isn’t going to somehow fix what’s ailing them. These problems have been around for two years now, and aren’t getting better. If you can give me a reason as to why I should think these same players and coaches won’t make the same mistakes next year they’ve made since 2018, hit me up, I’m all ears.
I would prefer they start turning the roster over now, while there are assets that can bring tangible value, like decent draft picks, and try to minimize the dip. The climb back up will be faster, and when you come out on the other side you’ll hopefully have a young stud QB on a rookie deal, and you can build your team around him and make another run.
I just don’t have the energy or patience for another lengthy rebuilding plan, and it feels like this is where we’re heading and dealying the inevitable. I’m 52 and have more days behind me than I have ahead of me, and I just want to see them win a damn Super Bowl. Just one.
As always, I would love to be wrong. I hope I am. Skol Vikings.
Thank you for listening to my TED Talk.