Spielman & Zimmer Let Important Players Leave … Which Is New.
Since Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer joined forces in Minnesota, as general manager and head coach, respectively, the masses have scrutinized the on-field performances with a watchful eye. The reviews have largely been positive when it comes to talent acquisition, and save for a few clock management hiccups and a suspicious stuffed animal rumor, Zimmer has enjoyed a Minnesota honeymoon that has been almost unanimously celebrated by Vikings fans.
This season will mark the beginning of a new era, however, and Vikings fans will be analyzing decisions in a way that has yet to occur since their head coach was hired in 2014.
This is the first year of Zimmer’s tenure that a substantial number of highly-regarded Vikings players have left for other teams, some of whom are amid the prime of their career from an age standpoint. The franchise’s best running back of all time, a left tackle selected in the top five, a popular and gritty veteran nickel corner, a kick returner that could be the NFL’s best before his career is over, a punter that finally seemed to be grooving and a blocking tight end whose dad might be inclined to describe this as an “exodus.”
Their presumed replacements have now been acquired through free agency and the draft, but only 16 games of football can give us all a real idea as to whether or not this has all been a net upgrade.
In a way, this sort of doubles Spielman and Zimmer’s chances for failure. Even if a replacement does well — which is of course no guarantee — a departing player thriving in his new surroundings can leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Vikings fans.
In a recent episode of VT Roundtable, I expressed the offseason narrative that perplexed me the most was the Vikings’ handling of their kick returner situation. The team seemingly allowed a historically-great returner in Cordarrelle Patterson to head to Oakland, which will pay him a relatively modest salary on a two-year deal that is actually just a one-year deal if they so choose.
This resulted in the Vikings having an extra hole in their roster this offseason, with a recent attempt to fill it taking place during the fifth round of the NFL Draft when the team invested in South Florida’s Rodney Adams. Of course, we hope that Adams goes onto be a great fit for the Vikings, but it simply strikes me as sure-fire downgrade at the specialist position when the team willingly let Patterson leave, in his prime, knowing that he may go on to be the most statistically productive returner in NFL history.
The result of such scrutiny does not have to equate to criticism, however, and could instead turn into praise fairly quickly.
For example, the decision to let Adrian Peterson flounder in free agency and replace him with Latavious Murray and Dalvin Cook could end up being a hugely positive thing for the Vikings. Replacing their aging centerpiece with a more explosive committee has all the makings of turning a stagnant running game into a strength. People will discount how hard this decision had to have been — because the money made it a no-brainer — but it should not go unnoticed if Minnesota’s offense indeed thrives this upcoming season.
Similarly, many signs point toward Matt Kalil’s departure and Riley Reiff’s arrival being a lateral move at worst — and possibly even a sweeping improvement. Reiff landed a contract in Minnesota of slightly greater value than the one Carolina signed Kalil to, but if he can prove more reliable and consistent than Kalil, the swap will be a gold star for the Vikings front office and coaching staff.
Coming hot off of a very active draft, Spielman and Zimmer have a plethora of new pieces to attempt to work into the mix in 2017. That said, however, they will also have to figure out how this is all going to work out in relatively short order. Fans and analysts alike will be keeping a watchful eye on how all of it works out, of course, but it is only natural that another eye will be keeping tabs on how the now-former Vikings are faring with their new teams.
This critique dimension will play the role of a new way evaluation method for the Spielman-Zimmer tandem — something we haven’t had a chance to track yet — and the individual results will be almost as interesting to tabulate throughout 2017 as the NFC North standings.