Vikings Territory writer Drew Mahowald presents the 24th edition of the Skol Scale following the Minnesota Vikings’ activity in the first wave of free agency.
The Minnesota Vikings are all in on 2018.
Fell send. YOLO. Pushing every chip forward.
The Vikings’ most recent free agency activity has raised team’s expectations to a level unprecedented in the franchise’s last 40 years.
General manager Rick Spielman entered the 2018 offseason with multiple pressing needs that needed addressing. He began by attacking perhaps the most bizarre quarterback dilemma in the history of the NFL.
The Vikings had three quarterbacks set to hit free agency after 2017, each with his own strong argument to be the Minnesota’s starter in 2018 and beyond. They also had their own question marks, whether it be due to injury or on-field performance, and Spielman ultimately decided to forego dealing with any risks of keeping one of his three in-house options.
Instead, Spielman decided to sign Kirk Cousins to one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history.
Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million deal Thursday to become the Vikings’ starting quarterback, providing further evidence that Spielman and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski are not messing around. Cousins is the only quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. The former Washington Redskin has a career record of 26-30-1 as a starter and led Washington to an NFC East title in 2015.
Minnesota paid the big bucks for Cousins, and with good reason. He was the best possible solution to Minnesota’s longstanding lack of stability at the quarterback position. Additionally, Cousins has virtually no injury history to speak of — a breath of fresh air for the Vikings.
The structure of the Cousins deal left room for the Vikings to make yet another free agency splash this offseason, which seems preposterous after having just handed out a deal worth $28 million annually. However, Spielman and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski worked the Cousins deal to give the quarterback $24 million in 2018, $29 million in 2019 and $31 million in 2020. This made a run at arguably the best 3-tech defensive tackle in free agency possible.
Sheldon Richardson signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Vikings on Friday to bolster quite possibly the only weakness in the Minnesota defense. The former Pro Bowler pairs phenomenally with Linval Joseph as one of the best, if not the best, interior linemen duos in professional football. His pass-rushing prowess against the middle of opposing offensive lines will provide more one-on-one opportunities for Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter on the outside.
It didn’t seem possible, but the Vikings have already improved their No. 1 ranked defense from 2017 by adding one player. The one-year deal for Richardson was essentially created by the back-loading of Cousins’ contract. Had Cousins’ deal been front-loaded, the Vikings would not have been able to make any more noteworthy additions in free agency.
It’s not hard to assess Minnesota’s activity since the Super Bowl and come to the conclusion that the ownership and front office are going all-in on a Super Bowl this season. They actively recruited the most sought-after young offensive mind in John DeFilippo to be offensive coordinator despite the high likelihood he’s only around for one season. Then, they pursued one of the best free-agent quarterbacks in recent memory with high aggression and structured that deal to allow for a one-year deal to arguably the best defensive player in free agency.
Maybe the front office knows that it won’t be able to retain all of its core pieces that are due extensions the following season. Maybe added motivation has set in after falling one game short of a Super Bowl berth just over a month ago. Maybe it’s a combination of those things. Regardless, Minnesota is shoving all of its chips forward for the 2018 season. Expectations are higher for the Vikings than they have ever been.
Key Additions (so far)
QB – Kirk Cousins
DT – Sheldon Richardson
QB – Trevor Siemian
Key Departures (so far)
QB – Case Keenum
QB – Sam Bradford
QB – Teddy Bridgewater
RB – Jerick McKinnon
WR – Jarius Wright
DT – Tom Johnson (likely)
Skol Scale Figure: 9
The Vikings are on their way to completing a championship roster. The starters on defense are there on all three levels. The offensive skill positions are there. The special teams are there.
The primary remaining soft spot that needs to be addressed is the offensive line. Joe Berger’s likely retirement opens a spot in the starting lineup. Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Nick Easton and Mike Remmers (whether at guard or tackle) have solidified their starting jobs at this point. However, more “ham” is needed. The Vikings need to strongly consider drafting a starting-caliber offensive lineman with the No. 30 overall pick and investing at least two more draft choices on offensive linemen this April.
The rest of the roster construction is basically complete. The final step is finding an offensive line that can reliably and consistently protect the $84 million quarterback and open holes for the second-year running back of the future.
The Vikings have the draft to finish that final step and add more depth elsewhere.
More Skol Scale Figures
7. A couple great pieces, but we lack depth at almost every position. Especially along the offensive line, defensive line and CB pic.twitter.com/SoG5HBa3WP
— Ian Parrague (@Superskolfan) March 20, 2018
Let's see it's the offseason after free agency but before the draft so obviously I'm at like an 8.5 right now but after the draft it's gonna be a 9.5+ and a 14-2 record. I mean 17-2 record.
— Jonathan Judeich (@Gizanked) March 20, 2018
8: Excited about upside, but wanting to see how pieces fit.
— Isaac McCarney (@TheRoadRunner9) March 20, 2018
How your replies should look! SUPERBOWL HOMEBOY!!!!! pic.twitter.com/WvmKOYWnpD
— Adam Canfield (@ajcanfield) March 20, 2018