Sunday, February 14, 2016

teddy bridgewater

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Kelechi Osemele's free agent fit
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Brandon Fusco made the switch from right guard to left guard for the Minnesota Vikings last season, and his transition was as smooth as Adrian Peterson trying to hold onto the football in a playoff game. In simpler terms, he struggled throughout 2015, and his difficulty shifting to the opposite side of the line has raised questions about the unit as a whole.

Specifically, the Vikings must decide what to do with three players this offseason: center John Sullivan, right tackle Phil Loadholt, and right guard Mike Harris. The first two will make their return from injuries in 2016, but an instant rebound isn’t guaranteed for either player. And given their large salary cap hits, general manager Rick Spielman may decide to move forward without them next season.

That leaves Harris, who is set to become a free agent. The four-year veteran should garner a healthy contract from the Vikings or another suitor in March. Letting Harris, Loadholt, and Sullivan walk would allow Spielman to spend more money in free agency. It’s a strategy he rarely employs, but a strategy that potentially makes sense with the rare talent hitting the market next month.

Meet Kelechi Osemele, a free agent guard-tackle hybrid who immediately patches a hole on the Vikings’ offensive line.

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Vikings 2016 Offseason Plan Part 1

[In part one of this three-part series, Austin Belisle and Brett Anderson team up to put together an in-depth offseason plan for the Minnesota Vikings.]

Blair Walsh lined up to kick a 27-yard field goal, a routine chip shot that would’ve won the Minnesota Vikings their first playoff game in nearly seven years. But the ball didn’t sail through the uprights; it veered left, and just like that, the team’s promising 2015 season was over. Visions of Mike Zimmer hoisting the Lombardi Trophy faded from memory as an exasperated fan base watched in disbelief. “How could he miss that kick?”

Lost in the heartbreak was the fact that the Vikings didn’t just exceed expectations in 2015 — they shattered them. Minnesota entered the year as a darkhorse playoff contender, a young team that flashed promise in 2014 and would only get better with the return of Adrian Peterson. They did, winning 11 games and snatching the NFC North title from the Green Bay Packers for the first time since 2009. With a mix of young talent and veteran leadership, the Vikings emerged as one of the league’s surprise teams last year.

Their success started in the offseason, where general manager Rick Spielman assembled one of the NFL’s deepest, most talented rosters. Rookies like Eric Kendricks and Stefon Diggs became immediate contributors, while second-year free agent acquisitions like Captain Munnerlyn and Linval Joseph elevated their respective games to new levels. In order to take the next step in 2016, the franchise will need to continue its steadfast approach in free agency and the annual NFL Draft.

But in order to do that, it’s critical the team establishes a clear vision. Every organization’s ultimate goal is the same — to claim a Super Bowl victory. Some, like the Vikings, may be closer than others like the Cleveland Browns or Tennessee Titans. Regardless, each begins a new season with a 0-0 record. It’s the path they take that separates them.

Bad first round picks for the Vikings
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The first round of the NFL Draft is a marquee of top prospects and college football’s best players. Over the past five years, the Minnesota Vikings have taken advantage of the talent pool, selecting nine players in the first round since 2011. And while most of those picks have been successful for general manager Rick Spielman, some failed to pan out. Names like Christian Ponder and Cordarrelle Patterson come to mind, if only because the price Spielman paid doesn’t match the return on investment.

Ponder was the 12th-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, while Patterson went 29th-overall in 2013 behind a trade that sent four Vikings draft picks to the New England Patriots. Minnesota can’t afford to make a similar mistake this year, especially when tantalizing names like Jaylon Smith and Josh Doctson may be available when the Vikings select 23rd-overall. But other, more trendy players may fall; players the Vikings shouldn’t draft in the first round. Who are they? Well, I asked the VT Team, and the answers may surprise you!

Who is one player you DO NOT want the Vikings to draft in the first round?

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How have teams fared after moving into a new stadium?

US Bank Stadium opens in 2016
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The opening of U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016 provides a sense of optimism for the Minnesota Vikings. Standing nearly 30 stories tall and covering more than 1.75 million square feet, it represents a bright future for Mike Zimmer’s team; it’s a home that finally matches the Vikings’ recent progress on the field.

Designed as the epicenter of downtown east Minneapolis, it’s a fitting stadium for the Vikings and a welcome attraction for local Minnesotans. With a Super Bowl coming to Minnesota in 2018, U.S. Bank Stadium may become the first venue to host its own team in the big game in NFL history.

Looking back, 13 franchises have opened new stadiums since 2000, and each has done so with similar aspirations of success and revitalization. Under Zimmer, the Vikings have gone 18-14, all while playing outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium. Does history suggest their winning ways will continue, or does a move spell disaster for a team on the rise?

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Second only to the NFL Draft, the first week of the league’s free agency period is one of the most exciting parts of the NFL offseason each and every year. Sometimes it works out and other times it does not for a team and their expensive new player or players.

It is always fun for fans to hope that their team goes out and signs the top available free agents, but that is not always the best strategy for their favorite team. Some fans need to be more realistic when it comes to who they think their team could sign.

When the free agency period for this upcoming NFL year begins on March 9th, there will be a few players that could land with the Vikings. Who are some of the more realistic options in free agency that could fit with the team in Minnesota?

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