One of the toughest teams to figure out this off-season has been the Minnesota Vikings. They have made the playoffs 2 of the last 3 seasons (while the year they failed they were still competitive and had a shot to get in the playoffs the last week of the regular season). The story has been familiar for Minnesota in the seasons: good enough to get to the playoffs and win a game in dramatic fashion (beat New Orleans on the last play of the game), but not good enough to move any further (a blowout loss to Philadelphia and a decisive loss to San Francisco).
The Vikings are solid in almost every aspect of the game, both on offense and on defense. But they are not dominant in any aspect which is a slight problem. Teams who have a stronger advantage in one spot will take advantage of albeit a solid defense or a solid offense the Vikings had. We saw it with the 49ers in the playoffs last year as Minnesota could not really find a way to break San Francisco in the Divisional Playoff.
As the off-season occurred the Vikings were VERY quiet in signings. If anything they were more talked about for the roster losses: Stefon Diggs was traded to Buffalo. Everson Griffen opted out of his contract. Defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes signed elsewhere and Linval Joseph as released. Their biggest move was to get Michael Pierce from Baltimore to upgrade over Joseph and then Anthony Zettel from San Francisco at end. Minnesota went into the draft and answered the hole left by Diggs in getting LSU star receiver Justin Jefferson. They answered the cornerback depth by getting Jeff Gladney from TCU and later on Cameron Dantzler from Mississippi State. Again, nothing earth-shaking, but that’s how the Vikings do things.
So will the Vikings seriously contend in the NFC? I think there are factors that will say “yes” and “no” to that question. Let’s look.
#1: KIRK COUSINS: Cousins is a polarizing figure in the NFL. People think he isn’t anything close to elite while backers of Cousins think he is vastly underrated. For me? I think he’s an above average quarterback. He can make throws when needed and keep drives going when the game is close (whether up or down). But at the same token, if you are relying on him to take over a game or winning a huge game, forget it. Last year he came under fire from Diggs (though unwarranted) about his play and decision-making. The numbers for Cousins last year were solid (near 70% completion only 6 INT’s and a career high rating of 107.4), but he is in that area where the numbers won’t be going much higher as he’ll be 32 when the season starts. Cousins next year has to show he can win those big games outside of playing New Orleans. If he shows early on he can’t, there will be questions abound if he is any answer in Minnesota. However, when he does play, at the very worst he makes those needed passes to keep Vikings in games or staves off any rally from the other team.
#2: SECONDARY: Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are gone. However, most viewed them as two guys who couldn’t really stay consistent and be a dominant force in that secondary alongside Harrison Smith. They weren’t horrid by any means of the imagination but again, not what the Vikings had hoped for. So Minnesota opted to let go of both of them into free agency and then grabbed a couple corners in the draft (Gladney, Dantzler) hoping for different results on a passing defense that was ranked in the middle of the pack in 2019. But if the Vikes endure growing pains in the secondary, it’s going to be a red flag.
#3: DALVIN COOK: He was Minnesota’s offensive MVP in 2019. When healthy Cook is one of the best runners in the game without question and can really put defenses in a bind with a consistent Cousins. On the other hand a Cook that is not healthy does not bode great when he isn’t on the field and the Vikes kind of go “one-dimensional,” relying on Cousins too much. To add on, the contract situation with Cook and the Vikings may get a bit ugly which could lead to a situation similar to what we saw with Melvin Gordon and the Chargers. If Cook is nowhere to be found, the Vikes can really be in a hole
#4: STEFON DIGGS: Diggs void from a field standpoint will be felt unless Jefferson continues doing great things like he did at LSU. His loss will mean teams may zero in more on Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen who have been the cogs of the passing game until we see what Jefferson can do. On the other hand, letting go of somebody who was an unhappy camper is equally as big. It was no secret Diggs wanted out of Minnesota last season and when you have a player being that unhappy and takes it out in public like that, you kind of have to know when to cut your losses. Will it be hard to replace Diggs’s numbers? Yes. But when the unnecessary tension from a guy who was very unhappy is gone, you may see more of a fluent offense.
#5: NFC NORTH: I’m not saying the division is the best. But it is always the most unpredictable. You figure Green Bay will be the favorites to win the division, but if the Packers have a quarterback who is an unhappy camper on what the team did (which looks like he is very unhappy) there could be a bit of an issue there and having an offseason that was not well received gives the Vikings a great shot at winning. But then you have the Bears and their defense that carries them. Who knows, maybe Trubisky recovers from a mediocre season in 2019 OR Foles takes over and makes key plays you have to really worry with them. And while nobody seriously considers the Lions a threat (ever), they do have some years where they come out of nowhere and steal 10 wins and they do have some talent in Detroit. So the division could be really good or it could be really bad if the Packers implode, the Bears have issues at QB, and the Lions are the typical Lions.
I think the Vikings will get back to the playoffs in 2020. There is one reason why of all else: Mike Zimmer. The guy is an excellent coach and I would say a top 10 coach at that. He gets the most out of his players and really don’t have anything in the way of a superstar on the team. The team comes to play every time out and is a solid all-around group. But the only question is, can the Vikings be a dominant squad? Time will tell.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat