Photo courtesy of vikings.com

Today’s “Three Questions” segment belongs to our good friend Joe Johnson over at Purple PTSD whose personality and passion for all things Vikings are things I personally find mighty enjoyable.

In case you missed the first two installments of this series, here they are:

Nik Edlund On Kalil’s Injury Impact, A Possible Vikings Draft Target, & The Play Of The Year
Matthew Coller On Norv Turner, Cordarrelle Patterson, And Vikings Craziness

Now, onto Mr. Johnson’s time to shine.

1. You’ve done some fun Vikings interviews on your podcast this year. Which one was your favorite and why?

I’ve been pretty amazed that we’ve gotten the level of guests that we have on our show, the Purple Journal Podcast, this year. From Ragnar to Tommy Kramer, Moritz Boehringer to Nick Swardson, we’ve had a lot of people either on the site (www.purplePTSD.com) or on the podcast (The purpleJOURNAL Podcast) so it’s hard to really name a favorite, so I’ll cheat. I’d say from a personal perspective the Nick Swardson interview was a favorite as we had to reschedule a couple of times and a lot of people actually thought that I made up the interview for … profit? So, when he did show it was just gratifying in that regard, and then as he started really expressing how he feels about the team in a way that resonated with me (Not solely because it was extremely NSFW, but that didn’t hurt) and a sect of Vikings fandom that I do feel is under-represented or even shamed for”caring too much”.

Our most recent interview was with Chris Kluwe, who I’ve interviewed in the past for the site itself as well. While many people went into the show, as listeners, with this idea of what Kluwe would talk about, we mostly focused on football or gaming related topics and that the insight he provided, especially on the former, was amazing. He’s an amazing communicator and he was dropping so many (to me) big stories about the good old days of the late 2000’s to early 2010’s that I truly felt and still feel that it was a must listen for Vikings fans. Hearing him talk about Brad Childress vs. Brett Favre was a personal favorite and at times I forgot to ask a follow up question because I was in awe of his answers. 

 

2. The defense. What is your best explanation of why things got so inconsistent with that unit after the bye week?

This is truly the million dollar question and was something that we tried to nail down after the bye pretty much every week on our Podcast. Some people blamed the offense, for leaving the defense out on the field all the time, but I think it was more than that. Without really having a lot of proof on my side (a great way to start an argument!) the malaise of the defense seemed more like a mental issue, or rather a lot of mental lapses that came either from over-confidence, pressure or exhaustion. There were times during the season where typically nigh-perfect players would just be completely out of position (I’m looking at you, Harrison Smith) or completely not show up at all for either super important drives (the end of the second Lions game) or entire games (The first Bears game).

While you’d think that that’s a coaching issue, I more blame the players. The Vikings defense started out on a tear that was unlike perhaps any in team history. There were conversations as to whether or not this was the best Vikings defense in the 50 plus year history of the team, especially considering the type of league that they play in, and then suddenly the Bye happened and things went pear-shaped. This Vikings team has fallen victim to it’s own press before (The 49ers game from 2015) and either got lazy or cocky, either way, the result showed on the field and while they did mostly right the ship at the end of the year and if the issue was something like other teams “solving” the Double A-Gap Blitz scheme or something, I think things would’ve gotten worse, not better.

So, what’d be the solution? Check the next answer!

 

3. If you could upgrade one spot on offense and one on defense through free agency this year, which two Vikings starters would you be looking to replace and with which free agents?

I do believe that the Vikings need some more depth on Defense. People have been looking at the defensive line so far this off-season, saying that the once super deep unit was mostly down to five players in 2016, but I do think that picking up a shut down safety to play alongside Harrison Smith could turn the already stout Vikings DB’s into the best in the league. The question is with who(m)? I’ve been having trouble finding the name of free agents for articles thus far this off-season, I believe a lot of that is based on the fact that the list of who is actually going to test free agency is ever changing. So, keep that in mind as I make my choice for safety and whichever offensive player I choose.

Unfortunately, from what I can tell, there really aren’t going to be any game changing strong safeties out there so I may have to change my approach to linebacker, a position that is in need of both depth and starter level players (thanks to the assumed retirement of Chad Greenway and injuries to both Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr). According to Sportrac.com, there a lot of outside linebackers set to be available that while ageing, are huge names. From Julius Peppers to DeMarcus Ware, Dwight Freeney or even Robert Mathis these are bigger named guys who from what I can tell are mostly looking to retire. So, while I’m starting to feel bad for ripping on Rick Spielman lately, I have to make a choice! That choice would be… Paul Kruger of the Cleveland Browns.

I know. But Kruger is still mostly young or in his prime at 30 and has shown flashes of amazing potential in his career. While he did under-perform after his second season in Cleveland, he did play for CLEVELAND. I believe that in the right system he could be the player that many in the league thought he’d be in Baltimore or during his first full season as a Brown (Where he recorded 11 sacks). He’d also be relatively cheap, not costing much more than Chad Greenway, so he wouldn’t muddy up the Vikings needs on offensive, namely in fixing the offensive line and that’s where my thoughts obviously go when it comes to what position to replace on the offensive line.

Obviously the left tackle position is the most important on the line (with center coming in at a close second, depending on who your players are or who your team is). According to Sportrac, the Vikings have two left tackles that are going to be free agents this season in Matt Kalil and Jake Long. If Long could’ve stayed healthy he may have usurped Kalil’s role and helped the Vikes ditch the most overpaid player/highest paid left tackle in the league, but because he can’t he can’t be relied upon for a full season we have to look elsewhere for respite. Because of the importance at the position and the lack of depth, there really aren’t many free agent left tackles to choose from. Sportrac only has 11 left tackles listed as unrestricted free agents this year, two of which are Vikings roster already, so really outside of The Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth, who is 35 and due almost $10,000,000 this season, there really isn’t much to choose from outside of Kalil. So, to make this more interesting I’ll go after a skill position, because I came up during the Moss and Carter years and still think of those teams as the best in my lifetime.

The question is whether or not we should invest in another wide receiver or a replacement for Adrian Peterson at running back. Like the above, it comes down to availability. While the Sportrac list has Le’Veon Bell on it (as an unrestricted free agent), there’s no way that he’s going to hit the market. Really, there are some other decent names on this list. From Bell’s more than serviceable replacement in DeAngelo Williams, to one time best running back in the league 1B Chris Johnson, the list is a veritable whose who of 2008’s fantasy football draft. The issue is, as my joke implies, they’re all on the wrong side of 30, so it’s looking like we’ll have to look at wide receiver, my favorite position to write/speculate about.

While the Vikings are seemingly set at receiver, their number one receiver in Stefon Diggs isn’t really a true number one. He’s more of a neo-possession receiver, thanks to his size and style. Sure, he’s 6′, but he’s very thin and relies more on precise route running than blazing down the field speed or winning jump balls. That’s why a lot of his yards are based on yards after the catch, not on down the field bombs or fights for contested balls like a Randy Moss. If we’re going to use that comparison I’d say that he’s the Cris Carter, so which available wide receiver would be Randy Moss? To me, it’d be Alshon Jeffrey.

The Bears receiver checks a lot of the boxes that Diggs and company do not. At 6’3″ he’d be the biggest receiver on the Vikings roster not from Germany, and while he is around the same speed as Diggs (4.48 40 yard dash) he can go up for the ball when he needs to. He’s also the poster child for what can go wrong when a player gets franchised in an attempt to play for a bigger contract, as he was suspended for a PED violation this season and was mostly inept for the rest of his time, going without a touchdown for the longest streak in his career. While that doesn’t really concern me and will lower his asking price, the only real thing that concerned me about Jeffery is his history of soft tissue injuries. With Diggs also showing that he accumulates similar injuries it’d be risky to have two receivers with similar injury issues lining up to one another. However, the idea of Jeffery lining up with Diggs, Thielen and Patterson makes me incredibly happy and with Sam Bradford slinging him the ball at a nearly 72% completion rate, I do believe that Jeffery could bring the true down the field threat that this team needs and that Bradford can actually take advantage of.

While I’d never advocate replacing Diggs with Jeffery I do believe that he’s an obvious gigantic step up from what the Vikings wanted Cordarrelle Patterson to be. While Patterson has endeared himself to many fans for his mediocre comeback of sorts, I do believe that he may end up on another team in 2017 anyway. If there’s anything that other NFL coaches/GM’s love it’s the idea of a diamond in the rough that just hasn’t found the right coach yet. That’s why high profile busts always have second or third chances, because other coaches believe that they can help a player produce, or at least produce better than whatever team drafted him. While I am a fan of Patterson and do believe that he has more potential than he’s shown, the Vikings do need a player like Jeffery on their roster and while the more prudent move would be to invest that money into the offensive line (especially as if they don’t, they’ll never have time to get the ball down the field) the idea of having a starting three of Jeffery, Diggs and Thielen would give the Vikings one of the better receiving corps in the league to go along with the league’s most accurate passer, ever. Can’t shake a stick at that! Or you can, I don’t even know what that means… 

For more insights from Joe Johnson be sure to check out Purple PTSD and follow along on Twitter.