Wednesday, February 15, 2012

NFL Offseason Preview -- Minnesota Vikings

Since I'm apparently doing logos for each team's 2011 season...the Vikings!
Though the Super Bowl is over and games don’t begin until next fall, the NFL season never truly ends. In many ways, the “game” that goes on in between the games is just as important, if not more so, than what happens on the field. Here, in the offseason, is where the course of all 32 NFL franchises is determined. To highlight the importance of this period, and to take a peek at what each team is facing, I’ll be embarking on an ambitious series in which I briefly preview each team’s offseason. We’ll examine the major questions each team faces, what type of cap room they have, who they should be targeting in the draft, etc. My goal is to complete this prior to the start of free agency (March 13)…..which will likely not happen. Oh well.

We continue the previews with the second most cursed franchise in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings. In case you missed them, here are links to each of our past previews:

Indianapolis Colts             St. Louis Rams

*Cap figures are taken from South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  Estimated cap is $124 million.*

Minnesota Vikings

2011 Record:  3-13
PPG For:  21.3 (19th)
PPG Against:  28.1 (31st)
2012 Cap Number:  $116,078,422
Draft Position:  #3 Overall Pick

It seems like forever ago, but the Vikings are just a few short years removed from having what could easily be called the best team in the NFL. Of course, that season went up in flames thanks to a Brett Favre INT (Prince would like you to send him You Tube links to that clip). Last season went up in flames thanks to…well, pretty much thanks to everything. The Donovan McNabb experiment was inglorious and short-lived, the Christian Ponder era has far more questions than answers, and the team’s best player, Adrian Peterson, appears to have a long road back to superstardom. And for all his hard work, Rick Spielman, the man who got Minnesota in this mess, was promoted. Gotta love the NFL!

The Good: 

Jared Allen, and….umm…Jared Allen’s beard? Seriously, there isn’t a whole lot of positive going on in Minnesota at this point. Any young talent they do have is either dead (Adrian Peterson), soon to be dead (Percy Harvin), or brain dead (Joe Webb). However, since this is the section where I’m supposed to say something nice, I will mention that at least the Vikings have young talent at the QB position. While neither Webb or Ponder have looked particularly dazzling for more than a couple quarters at a time, they both clearly have ability. That’s a lot more than certain other teams can say!

The Bad:

Wouldn’t it be nice, Vikings fans, if you could just pencil in Adrian Peterson as part of “The Good,” as you have for the previous four offseasons? Instead, AP makes his first appearance as part of “The Bad.” As in, his injury looked really, really bad, and his knee is probably really, really bad. Quite honestly, it’s a honest to goodness shame that it had to happen to him, as there aren’t many players as fun to watch as AP. Even if he returns in time for the season, it’s severely doubtful he’ll be Adrian Peterson this season…if ever again. Of course, that’s not the only troubling thing. The offensive line featured Charlie Johnson at LT, the secondary featured both Prince and I at safety by the end of the year, the receiving corps is extraordinarily thin, there are injury/age concerns all over the field, and the QB situation is far from resolved. As if that weren’t enough, the Vikings are facing a rebuild at the worst possible time with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford laying claim to the NFC North for the foreseeable future. Looming over all this is the uncertainty surrounding their stadium and a potential relocation should things go south on that end.

Other than that…

Key Free Agents:  S Husain Abdullah, WR Devin Aromashodu, LB E.J. Henderson, LB Erin Henderson, TE Jim Kleinsasser, CB Benny Sapp, TE Visanthe Shiancoe

3 Key Questions:

#1 – Does Minnesota have their QB of the Future?

If the Vikings accomplish nothing else in the 2012 season, they absolutely MUST adequately answer this question. Both Christian Ponder, whom the Vikings used the 12th pick on in last year’s draft, and Joe Webb had moments last season, but they were too few and far between to say that either has staying power as an NFL starter. After watching both of them, I personally don’t believe either are the answer. Ponder has all of the physical qualities you’d want, but issues with his accuracy and decision making are evident, and the combination has spelled doom for many a promising QB. The same can be said for Webb, who just looks clueless in the pocket. Nevertheless, the team seems intent on giving them one more chance to establish themselves.

#2 – How can they keep the QB upright?  

Remember how I said they needed to find out if Ponder or Webb was the guy? Yeah, well that’s kinda tough to do when both spend the majority of the game flat on their back. The Vikings have had protection problems for years now, and have inexplicably settled for slapping Band-Aids on the gunshot wound during each offseason. Charlie Johnson was their big answer at LT? Really? Not gonna cut it guys. Matt Kalil is the most obvious solution, but he might not make it past St. Louis at #2. If that’s the case, then Minnesota will need to look elsewhere for reinforcements. Giving RT Phil Loadholt a shot at LT seems to be a logical move, and there are several veteran free agents (Jeff Saturday, Kareem McKenzie?) that would be excellent short term fixes. Draft picks are obviously the road to long term viability on the offensive line, but a stop gap must be put in place in order to give Ponder and Webb a fighting chance.

#3 – How does Minnesota manage workloads for their top playmakers?

This is always an interesting question for NFL teams, as the pursuit of both short term and long term goals is a delicate balance. For example, the Vikings would most assuredly be more effective on offense if Percy Harvin touched the ball 20 times. However, he’d probably die by Week 5. With Peterson’s injury, the balance is even more delicate. Assuming AP is not 100% next year (a safe assumption), that leaves Minnesota with Harvin and Gerhart as their only two effective offensive weapons. Even then, Gerhart isn’t a big play threat. Unfortunately, Harvin hasn’t been the most durable player, and they can’t risk giving him too much work. Somehow, they must find one or two more guys who Ponder can work with, or they risk falling into the Cleveland Browns zone of bad offense.

Draft Thoughts: 

Scenario #1: St. Louis trades the pick – In this scenario, Matt Kalil falls to Minnesota at #3 and there really is no question as to what they should do. Kalil and Loadholt would be nice bookends and the Vikings could focus their attention on the much simpler pursuit of guards and a center.

Scenario #2: St. Louis drafts Kalil – After a good cry, the Vikings will realize they’re actually in a great spot. Their pick becomes infinitely valuable thanks to the presence of Robert Griffin, and the lack of a slam dunk pick makes it a no-brainer for them to deal the pick. Depending on how things shake out, they could both address a huge need (Justin Blackmon, Morris Claiborne, Riley Reiff), AND gather a ton of additional assets. In my mind, the following deal is best case scenario:

Cleveland trades: #4 pick, #22 pick, 2013 2nd round pick
Minnesota trades: #3 pick

Sure, that seems like a ton to move up just one spot, but the crowded market for Robert Griffin definitely drives up the value. If I’m Minnesota, I’m charging #1 overall price, because I feel certain I can get it from at least one team (Washington, for sure). The advantage of dealing back just one spot is that, in addition to getting plenty of value, I KNOW I’m going to get the guy I want with my pick.

That guy would be CB Morris Claiborne. Reiff would be intriguing, as I’ve already stated that LT is a huge priority, but he seems like a reach at #4. I’d strongly consider Blackmon, as I’ve already discussed Minnesota’s lack of offensive weapons, but having the league’s 31st ranked scoring defense clearly tells me where I need help. The secondary had all kinds of problems last year, and Claiborne’s size and pure cover skills make him the best choice here, especially for a team that faces Rodgers and Stafford four times a year.

Summary Thoughts:

It really is amazing how far things have fallen in Minnesota. A couple years ago, it appeared as if they had a group that would stay competitive in the NFC North for years to come. Alas, I didn’t take into account the curse that hangs over the Vikings. With a healthy Adrian Peterson, I’d give Minnesota a chance to surprise people next year. Maybe that only means 6 or 7 wins, but at least they’d have the chance to be respectable. Without him, it’s conceivable they could have the worst record in the league. Seriously, what hope is there for improvement? Beyond the QB’s, there is no developing offensive talent to speak of. And unless Jared Allen somehow manages a second straight all time great season, it’s conceivable that the defense could be even WORSE! All I can say is you better hope one of those QB’s is the answer, or else this will likely be a total throw away season.

1 comment:

  1. I don't need the Youtube clip...that play is burned into my memory forever.