‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy.’
—From Murphy’s Law’s of Combat
Hey folks, I hope that for those of you that are being asked/forced to remain in place, you’re all doing okay and are getting along as well as can be expected. In one respect, I think it’s pretty cool that the Calling of Our Time is to sit at home and watch THe Tiger king on Netflix. Sure as hell beats Afghanistan, I’ll tell you that.
Anyway, I digress.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m having a hard time making heads or tails of the Vikings free agency period to this point.
Some players on the roster were getting old, and letting them go wasn’t unexpected. But a couple moves were a bit surprising, at least to me. There was a Kirk Cousins extension, a shocking trade, and a mass exodus of defensive backs. And to be honest, some of these moves seem contradictory to each other, and somewhat confusing.
Let’s break this down.
First of all, let’s talk about the Cousins extension. In a vacuum, it’s a good move. He’s the best QB the Vikings have had in back to back years since St. Francis of Bloomington, and he silenced some of his critics with that big playoff win against the Saints in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
On the surface, it’s a sound decision.
But when you compare it to what the rest of the Vikings off-season has been like, it feels like Minnesota is giving a bit of lip service to competing, while only partially acknowledging they need to re-tool, not rebuild. And maybe it’s just me, but this is feeling closer to a rebuild.
Next, let’s take a look at the key arrivals and departures, whether it was through trade or free agency moves, and who the Vikings signed to ‘replace’ the players that left:
Now, I know the word ‘replace’ is kind of a loaded word here, I get it. I’m not saying that’s what’s happening on a talent comparison, but those are the players the Vikings have added to backfill positions where they’ve lost players. That said, in most years, the Vikings have done a really good job of finding players that improved the roster, and gave you a reasonable sense of confidence that the team was getting better. Looking at this list, other than the Pierce signing, you cannot honestly say that’s happened, at least right now.
Secondly, Minnesota hasn’t addressed the offensive line; in fact they released Josh Kline, who I thought was the best interior lineman they had last year.
If you think Kline should have been let go, that’s fine, and it’s not an unreasonable opinion. He wasn’t an All-Pro or anything, but he was far from the main issue on the line. Unless they find Kline’s replacement in free agency or the draft, it appears they’re going to hand the reins to Dru Samia. I love the upside of Samia, andI think he’s going to be good. But if it doesn’t work out, they don’t have a realistic backup plan at the moment.
Thirdly, all three of their starting cornerbacks are gone. Regardless of what you think of them and their performance last year, that’s a ton of experience to lose in one fell swoop.
‘But Ted’, you say to me hopefully, derisively, dismissively, or however you speak to me on your screen, ‘the cornerbacks were terrible last year, and Spielman will just replace them in the draft.’
I agree with the first part, with maybe the exception of Mackensie Alexander. But the Vikings will find the replacements to Mac, Waynes and Rhodes in the draft? Let’s go with the assumption that Mike Hughes and Holton Hill will be the starters...because that’s about all they have left right now. There have been rumors they’re interested in Jets CB Darryl Roberts, but there has been no signing as of this writing.
The Vikings also need a CB or two, and even if they do sign someone during free agency, they’ll still need to look to the draft to fill up the CB room. Let’s look at the draft classes from 2012, the year Rick Spielman became the GM full time, through 2018 (too early to tell for the 2019 class, I think). Let’s compare how many draft picks...not just cornerback...but entire draft classes...the Vikings had versus how many players ended up being successful or working out:
Now, you can come up with your own definition of successful, but go back and look and come up with your numbers. We may disagree on a player or two, but your number probably won’t change much, if at all. If you guys have read any of my posts or comments, I’ve been, for the most part, a defender of Rick Spielman, and I think he’s had better than average draft classes. The point is that with the way free agency has unfolded to this point, it appears that the Vikings are going lean on the draft to fill some key spots. If they do that, Spielman and his braintrust will have to nail their first 3-4 picks, and those players will need to have an immediate impact, or close to it.
That just doesn’t happen very often, with the Vikings or most any team.
Besides cornerback, one or two of those impact areas will almost certainly have to be at wide receiver. Let’s take a look at wide receivers drafted since 2012:
Out of that group, I would argue that as receivers, the only guys that have worked out so far have been Jarius Wright and, of course, Stefon Diggs. Patterson was a great special teams guy, but I would argue he never really panned out as a receiver, especially for a guy drafted in the first round. They also found a rare gem in undrafted free agent Adam Thielen, and I think both Diggs (drafted in the fifth round) and Thielen working out as well as they did gives a lot of fans this false sense of security that the Vikings will ‘find someone’, throw them in there, and...poof, magic, or something.
But looking at that group, Diggs and Thielen were very much the exception, not the rule.
There’s also one thing we really need to factor in with this year’s draft, something unique that I hope we’ll never have to deal with again. Yes, the Vikings have 12 picks, and five in the first 105 selections, thanks to the Diggs trade, and that’s good! With the Coronavirus implications of social distancing, staying at home, and sheltering in place, things teams are usually doing right now to get prepared for the draft aren’t happening: physicals, player visits, Pro Days at colleges and universities, etc. Granted, all teams are facing these restrictions, but it’s a huge issue, to the point that most of the NFL GM’s wanted to postpone the draft. That’s not happening:
The challenge created by elimination of most pro days, workouts, etc., as team executives explain it:— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 27, 2020
30-40% of players on a team’s draft board won’t have verified measurements
15-20% won’t have a medical grade
As one exec told me: “Some teams are really gonna f*** this up.” https://t.co/nHuY5EYu25
And Pelissero brings up a very realistic scenario:
Let’s say you fall in love with a non-combine player’s tape and draft him in Round 3. Finally get to physical him months later and find a degenerative knee condition. Now what?— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 27, 2020
Bottom line: The draft is happening as scheduled and everyone faces the same issues. Just gotta deal. https://t.co/4FcYk66CKq
Spielman made the most of a deteriorating situation with Stefon Diggs by swinging a trade that netted the Vikings a nice haul of picks, but you have to turn those picks into good players.
Can Spielman draw four aces? We’ll see.