What’s subsequent for the Vikings, and the way shut are they to being true contenders?

The mud has settled a bit from the Minnesota Vikings’ early postseason exit by the hands of Brian Daboll’s Giants. A brand new collection of questions have emerged: Who’re these Vikings? Are they terribly totally different from the middling workforce Minnesota has gotten used to — one not ok to understand a Lombardi Trophy, however not dangerous sufficient to have a excessive draft choose? Is there a motive to really imply ‘subsequent yr’ together with your complete chest?

Forgive me for being the everlasting optimist, however I feel so.

Look, I do know I am new on this beat. I have never needed to endure by means of a number of agonizing and puzzling defeats. I have never needed to come *that shut” year after year. I haven’t had to live the reality of “pulling a Vikings” for a long period of time. So I understand why those of you who have don’t care for sunshine and rainbows from the new kid on the block.

But sometimes a fresh perspective is exactly what it takes to see the light.

What if I told you in a head coach and general manager’s first season they would lead a team to a 13-4 record, a division title for the first time in six years and a playoff berth?

That would sound pretty good, objectively. That’s exactly what Minnesota did. And just because that team wears purple and gold doesn’t mean it’s still not pretty good.

As thin as patience is wearing for a Super Bowl-starved franchise, you can’t hold the sins of previous regimes against this new one. Not that anything in this industry is fair, but they literally had nothing to do with it. They inherited a good, not great, team and have found ways to win all season long. They aren’t making the same mistakes they were, either. Kirk Cousins had a 112.9 passer rating in a nationally televised playoff game, for crying out loud.

This season featured different issues. What was once a defense-first team under head coach Mike Zimmer now struggled in most major defensive categories. They finished the regular season letting up the second-most total yards. The pass rush was anything but consistent despite having Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter on either edge. The secondary was a constantly rotating cast of characters that gave up an average of 209.3 points per game.

The saving grace for the Vikings in the regular season was that their defense could still generate takeaways. They finished the season tied for eighth in total takeaways with 25 (15 interceptions, 10 fumbles). Those takeaways also seemed to come just in the nick of time to help them pull out close games.

The Minnesota defense was the reason the Vikings were in so many one-score games. But they were also the reason the Vikings won so many one-score games.

Until they weren’t.

That steady-Eddie cover 2 scheme deployed for most of the year ran out of juice in the first round of the NFC playoffs. Minnesota failed to record a takeaway for the first time since their loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. Before that, it was their loss to the Detroit Lions. The Vikings went 1-3 when failing to record a takeaway this year.

It means they recorded at least one takeaway in all but one of the one-score games they played this season. That’s 10 of 11. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when they failed to do that, they lost.

Why Vikings’ biggest concern revolves around Justin Jefferson’s future

Why Vikings' biggest concern revolves around Justin Jefferson's future

The Minnesota Vikings fell quick in opposition to the New York Giants with a 31-24 loss at house. Regardless of Cousins’ strong sport, Colin Cowherd expresses an even bigger concern for Minnesota: Justin Jefferson’s future, with an enormous contract request imminent.

Change wants to return for the defensive aspect of the ball. Following the sport, O’Connell would not entertain any speak of constructing a change on the coordinator degree, however you need to assume it is on the desk. It is nothing in opposition to Ed Donatell, who has engineered some dominating defenses over the course of his 31-year NFL teaching profession. However with a irritating lack of changes over the course of this previous season, it is truthful to surprise if the sport has handed him by.

The Vikings can even assist themselves with personnel, which must be the highest precedence of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Their inside line of defense may use a greater rotation and so they positively want extra secondary assist.

Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson is because of be a free agent this offseason. Spotrac estimates his market worth is about $6.4 million per yr primarily based on comparable gamers and performances. Is that price it? Particularly when this seems to be a good sufficient cornerback class (particularly on the prime) popping out of faculty?

The Vikings are between a rock and a tough place in general capital this offseason. They’re estimated to be $8 million over the wage cap going into subsequent season and have simply 4 picks on this yr’s draft.

They’ll should make some robust selections on veteran contracts and the 34-year-old Peterson may very well be the primary casualty.

Broad receiver Adam Thielen may very well be one other, which might undoubtedly handicap the offense. Thielen, whereas older, was considerably of a safety blanket for Cousins, giving him a viable possibility when Justin Jefferson was double-covered. The trio of Jefferson, Thielen and T.J. Hockenson ended up being a reasonably deadly mixture, with Dalvin Prepare dinner serving to to get the play-action sport going. The offense wasn’t the problem this yr, and ideally, you’d wish to hold as a lot of it intact as you’ll be able to.

Thielen’s cap hit is scheduled to be $19.9 million in 2023. Nevertheless, if Minnesota launched or traded him post-June 1, they may save $13.4 million in 2023 off the cap. Thielen and his household appear to see the writing on the wall, too. His spouse posted that their time in Minnesota may very well be up.

The Vikings additionally should decide on middle Garrett Bradbury, who is because of be a free agent. His market worth is listed at $11.2 million, in keeping with Spotrac however his worth to this workforce particularly might be greater than that. Bradbury missed the final 5 weeks of the season and in that point, Cousins was sacked 16 occasions. Left sort out Christian Darrisaw missed a few of that very same time, as nicely, and proper sort out Brian O’Neill was misplaced for the season in Week 17 through the Packers sport. O’Neill will hopefully be again wholesome and Darrisaw already seems to be probably the greatest at his place going into subsequent season, however a middle to anchor all of it collectively — ideally one that’s already accustomed to Cousins — might be paramount to the offense’s success.

This is the place it will get much more fascinating, although. Cousins takes up the lion’s share of the cap subsequent yr, unsurprisingly, but when they had been to commerce him post-June 1, they may shave $30 million off the cap in 2023, in keeping with Spotrac.

The query that is still is, who may they commerce him for? As beforehand said, Cousins wasn’t the problem this yr. He appears to be flourishing in O’Connell’s model of this offense and has all of the assist he wants. Transferring him now would resolve their cap points, certain, however they’d be hard-pressed to discover a higher various for this offensive system. And in the event that they had been to hunt a brand new QB, he wouldn’t come low cost.

The excellent news is, and I do know most Vikings followers are going to hate to listen to this, however Minnesota is shut. They do not want a ton of additives this offseason to repair their points. O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah have earned the possibility to maintain success. The followers simply have to allow them to.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports activities. Carmen had earlier stops with The Draft Community and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, together with 2020, which added the title of Tremendous Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You’ll be able to comply with Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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