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2019 is Make or Break for the Vikings in Every Sense of the Word

While it May Not Be "Now or Never", the Vikings Best Chance to Win the Super Bowl is Definitely this Season

One of the main stories of the off-season thus far, which is as omnipresent and increasingly frustrating as gopher warts in the dorm rooms of the East Bank at the U of M, is the “will they or won’t they” story surrounding Kyle Rudolph. The story has been written about multiple times on our network (and every other Vikings news site) and from every angle, so we won’t delve into the details here (thank god). The Rudolph story, while interesting (at first) and important in terms of the Vikings offense this upcoming season, is actually a great example of a larger story that people have alluded to but not necessarily confronted head-on — like the first of many gophers warts — and that is that the Vikings are clearly all in when it comes to their goal of winning a Super Bowl this season. In every sense of the word. From the roster to the salary cap. While it may not necessarily be “now or never” for the purple and gold, this upcoming season may very well be their best chance to win the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

There have been other times, especially recently, where it seemed like the Vikings were all in. But to really understand what makes one season more “all in” than another, we first should define exactly what I’m talking about when I say that, as there are multiple meanings and levels of doing so. A good example is the first-round pick that the Vikings traded to the Philadelphia Eagles after Teddy Bridgewater’s knee (and subsequent career in purple) exploded during a non-contact drill at Winter Park (and not the Twin Cities Orthopedic Center, which’d be too ironic, even for the Vikings).

Articles from that time mention the Vikings’ Super Bowl hopes being dashed by that injury, and so it’s important to remember that the Vikes’ Super Bowl “Window of Opportunity” has been open at least since Blair Walsh’s kick somehow sailed wide left on a 27-yard field goal during the 2015 playoffs. The Vikings have been aptly aware of this, and after Teddy “crumpled” to the field at Winter Park, they used a first and fourth-round pick to snap up the Eagles’ Sam Bradford. That move felt like a win-now and screw-the-future move, especially since Vikings general manager Rick Spielman loves him some draft picks, especially first (and seventh) rounders. So when I say they were all in, I mean that.

The Bradford move, which was made out of a mix of desperation and the belief that the Vikings couldn’t take a year off from their league domination plans, showed that the Vikings’ ‘powers that be’ really did consider the team to be on the cusp of something special at the time. That feeling only increased when they started that season 5-0, and the subsequent season when they made it all the way to the NFC Championship game with Bradford’s back-up Case Keenum. Despite those glimmers of hope (and proof that they were on the right track), there was always some cap space left the following off-season for the team to improve their points of weakness and to sign some of their young core to long-term contracts. At no point during the past few off-seasons did the Vikings risk losing some of the players that they’d developed. That simply isn’t going to be the case next off-season. And frankly, it isn’t really the case right now (hence all the restructures to simply re-sign players or to even sign draft picks).

With the roster quite possibly being the best it’s ever been to the amount of cap space the team has left, the 2019 Vikings are the apex of what general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and team cap guru Rob Brzezinksi have been building this decade.

That previous financial flexibility and the belief that they were super close to finally winning a Super Bowl explains why they offered the largest contract (at the time) in NFL history to Kirk Cousins. And it’s his contract that people point to when they talk about the current salary cap issues that the Vikings have. That’s where the Kyle Rudolph situation comes in.

The Vikings have reportedly asked Rudolph to restructure his contract to lower his 2019 cap hit in order for the team to do simple things like, you know, sign their 2019 draft picks, or enter the season with enough cap space to sign a veteran should the team lose a key piece to injury. Luckily for the team, other players have been willing to restructure, whether it’s been taking less money like defensive end Everson Griffen or converting their salary to a “signing bonus” ala Eric Kendricks (to sign first-round pick Garrett Bradbury). This proves that while Brezinski has been masterful at making the numbers work, the Vikings have clearly run out of money.

That’s not a good sign for next season as there are a few core players that the team will need to re-sign regardless of how the 2019 season ends. The following notable Vikings will be unrestricted free agents after the 2019 season (as of the writing of this article):

  • Kyle Rudolph
  • Trae Waynes
  • Anthony Harris
  • Laquon Treadwell
  • Mackensie Alexander

The team will also have the option of adding another year to Everson Griffen’s contract. While that list might not necessarily strike fear in the hearts of some Vikings fans, especially when it comes to Treadwell, we’ve all seen how long it takes Vikings corners to acclimate to the NFL. So with 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes coming off of an ACL tear, it’s safe to say that he won’t be able to replace Waynes or Alexander’s output this season or next.

On the other side of the ball, second-round pick tight end Irv Smith Jr. simply isn’t the same style of tight end that Kyle Rudolph is, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to become the reliable end-zone target that Rudolph has been — especially as it typically takes time for tight ends to acclimate to the speed and strength of defensive players in the NFL.

Then there’s Everson Griffen, who the Vikings have the option of resigning (club option). Whether or not that happens depends on how well Griffen bounces back from a down season where he missed multiple games, and in which his impact dramatically declined in the games he was able to play in. There’s no reason to think he won’t bounce back, which means that he could be up for a relatively large contract (as he has flirted with breaking records in recent years). Even if he doesn’t match that output he still could land a large contract via free agency (as pass rushers typically cash in and he’d only be around 32 next off-season).

Sure, there are a lot of ways that the Vikings could make all of this work. They’ve shown the ability to make the numbers work in recent years and the NFL’s salary cap does increase every year. For example, a lot of people are pointing towards Cousins’ contract (again), and/especially if things don’t pan out this year it’d be surprising if he didn’t take a pay cut (or if things do go well they could offer him an extension beyond 2019 that’d include a lower 2020 cap hit). Then again, Cousins is one of a couple of Vikings players that are on Cameo.com, which is a site where you can pay famous people to send 15-to-30 second video notes to family or friends (or in the case of Brett Favre, white supremacist groups). Despite his massive contract, Cousins is on that site, spending his limited free time to get $500 a pop to say Happy Birthday to people’s dads. That’s not a joke (not that being frugal or liking money is a bad thing, which is why we offer a playMGM bonus code, but still, the fact is that he doesn’t really need the money). Then again, some have said that Cousins is over-prepared when it comes to the game. So maybe we should look at any amount of time he doesn’t spend obsessing about football as a positive…

The point of all of this is that the Vikings roster as we know it, and have known it in recent years, will definitely be different next season. That’s always the case in the NFL. But what’s been special about the Vikings under Spielman/Zimmer/Brzezinksi is their ability to keep their core players together more so than any other team.

While it looked like that was going to change this year as defensive leader Anthony Barr was set to join the Jets (who seem obsessed with Vikings players recently with Teddy Bridgewater joining them and even practice squad players like Jeff Badet almost joining them before the Vikes stepped in and paid him to stay), he ended up staying with the Vikings, a sign that the players are also all in when it comes to winning a Super Bowl this year.

It’s safe to say, though, that the Vikings simply won’t have the money to keep some of those leaders next year. So, if they’re going to make another deep playoff run, 2019 is the year. It’s at least their best shot at doing so.

That might be asking too much of some of the rookies they added in last month’s draft, namely on the offensive line. With Garrett Bradbury starting at center at this week’s OTAs and former center Pat Elflein moving to guard, that leaves the right guard position — which is arguably the easiest position on the line to acclimate to (or at least the position with the least amount of pressure on the line) — to rookie Dru Samia, who played on the best line in the country last season at Oklahoma, to other recent free agency signees like Josh Kline, who hasn’t missed a game in a few seasons. Brian O’Neill is entering his second year at right tackle and he’ll have more help next to him regardless of who ends up starting. Bradbury is a stud and shouldn’t have any (major) issues transitioning to the NFL and Elflein had a stereotypical sophomore slump but he’s going to be healthy this season and he said that he feels more comfortable at guard. That leaves left tackle Riley Reiff, who should get more help on the blind-side.

The Vikings roster will be relatively stacked at each position in 2019. While it might be stressful to think that this is the year that they’ll have their best chance to be the best team in the NFL, it’s also safe to say they arguably have the best or most complete roster in the league. That brings us back to the Kyle Rudolph situation.

Losing a leader on the offensive side of the ball, especially for a team that has big question marks at the third wide receiver spot, would be a big loss. But, it could be a sign of things to come. Thankfully, the irritating fact that this situation seems to never end means that the window to trade Rudolph is probably closed. So, one way or another, Rudolph should be in purple and gold come the start of the season. Dressed for a team that has the most talent on a per position basis in my lifetime. That might change next year, for Rudolph and the team in general, so the Super Bowl window has never been more wide open.

Let’s hope they finally take advantage. It may never be this open again.

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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started purplePTSD.com back in May of 2015 and has talked Vikings online since the advent of the internet, namely on Reddit's /r/MinnesotaVikings section under the username p_U_c_K. He purchased VikingsTerritory.com before the 2017-18 season, used to write for VikingsJournal.com and is the host of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast, as well.

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4 Comments

  1. I hate hearing the term ‘all in this season ‘ that is rediculous and stupid no team will ever tell you that they are not all in, every team is all in every year so people quit using that stupid statement, next you try to build the best roster you can every single year, some teams are heavy on free agents some rely mostly on the draft, it really doesn’t matter losing players because the years before you should have been planning to lose them so you draft responsibly and smart so you can develop there replacements and good teams ie patriots, Seattle lose players every year but draft and develop so well that it really doesn’t matter because they have a plan in place the Vikings because of reacher Rick have put themselves in a bind by not trusting there drafting and development and have overpaid for players they shouldn’t have ie Barr, and that has them up against it, look at the ravens they let go of there star lb mosely who is better than Barr because they would not overpay for players and they are smart because of that and have drafted well and brought in key huge free agents, the Vikings have old players on overpaid contracts and time will tell if there plan or lack there of will bite them in the ass. The constant remains who has been here through all the coaches and players and has yet to win a super bowl but keeps getting a pass reacher Rick Spielman!!!!! So all the morons saying if we don’t win this year zimmer should go are idiotic and don’t know football, he is a great coach ask anyone player, the main constant proven problem is spielman and his lack of having a solid plan in place and overextending funds to overpaid players that you don’t overpay!

  2. I’m cautiously optimistic on the 2019 Vikes. I think the talent of the interior of our OL is vastly better than last year. Elflein is healthy and able to spend some quality time in the weight room, versus recovering from two surgeries. Bradbury has the quick feet and put up 32 reps at the combine, so has strength, too. In addition, having Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison will absofreakinglootly help and I think both Reiff and O’Neill are well suited for the zone blocking scheme, having been former TEs. I see our O going as our OL goes (Captain Obvious).
    On D, the good news is that EK, AB, LJ, and XR are all healthy. The bad news is that I’m concerned about the pass rush from our DTs. I’m hoping LJ was just banged up in 2018 and can get back to his 2017 form. I do think that having SS at the 3-technique will make us better against the run, setting up more 2nd and 3rd and longs than in 2018. Presumably, we’d then bring in JH or JJ to get QB pressure. I’ve read where JH is up to 300 lbs of good weight. Might make him more ready to be an every down player, but hoping the extra weight doesn’t slow him down. My fear is that we lost our two best pass rushing DTs in SR and TJ. Does that get replaced?? Does EG play like 2017?? I won’t fall out of my chair when DLine is our R1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (despite MZ wanting another CB). EK and AB not having hammy issues will make them more effective and I predict we see them back to their 2017 form. Would sure help thing if the same is true of XR. TW drives me freakin’ nuts as he always has great coverage, but never plays the damn ball. Hoping 2019 is the year that changes! I was never an AS fan at S and was thrilled to see AH break out last year. I think we’ll see even better play from him in 2019 opposite HS. Secondary should be pretty solid, particularly when HH comes back in week #5 and MH gets back up to speed post his 2018 ACL. I see us as a 2019 Wild Card team, but not yet sold we’re better than the Bears. Time will tell and I AM ready for some football!!

  3. Hey Bob!

    I’ve seen your posts around lately and wanted to thank you for your support and activity! We’re close to launching a massively upgraded message board/community (within the next couple weeks) so stay tuned for that as it’s going to be BIG!

    I wasn’t sure if you were responding to my piece or more generally, but wanted to also respond to it as I think you were doing the former, so I hope you don’t take this as me being defensive or saying “how dare you question me!”, or something. But rather to dignify your response with a response of my own as we do read all the comments in general, but as the owner I really take what you guys say to heart as our brand locally is super important to us!

    The best way for me to respond is to copy and paste your comments and respond that way. I’m not attacking it or anything, I really started these sites because I wanted to create a great online resource that’d allow people to have debates about the NFL without people getting all weird and personal about it.

    So here goes!

    “I hate hearing the term ‘all in this season ‘ that is rediculous and stupid no team will ever tell you that they are not all in, every team is all in every year so people quit using that stupid statement”

    Okay. In reading this again I can see you are responding to my article directly (as opposed to similar general points of view). I wasn’t sure because I think you took some of what I said the wrong way, so I wanted to clarify.

    When I said “all in” I don’t mean that the team will cease to exist or something next season. Just that if they’re going to win or make a deep run, this season will be their best chace at doing so. Sure, every team has a shot each year and it’s hard to predict that, but the team as we know it, especially the defense, will be different next year unless there’s some drastic changes in terms of money.

    All in means best chance in this regard. That’s all. Every team “Says” they’re all in as you said, but really as I’ve learned from talking to former players (and as we all know anyway), a lot of that is bluster mixed with people saying what they’ve been coached to say.

    I’m not talking about them being all in as a concept or some pre-season rallying cry amongst the team, but rather in terms of finances and their roster. Sure, I mentioned that they were all in also as a team because of Barr screwing the Jets and Griffen taking a pay cut, but again they have their best chance this season as at least one of our core players, be it Waynes, Rhodes, Rudolph or even Harris could be gone. I mean, they had to have Griffen and Kendricks restructure just to sign Bradbury, so, they’re basically all in financially. That won’t be the case next year, sure they will be, but they won’t have the stacked roster they have now.

    It’s meant to be a positive, as in, it’s all lead to this and it’s time for them to come through, basically.

  4. Part 2:

    “next you try to build the best roster you can every single year, some teams are heavy on free agents some rely mostly on the draft, it really doesn’t matter losing players because the years before you should have been planning to lose them so you draft responsibly and smart so you can develop there replacements and good teams ie patriots, Seattle lose players every year but draft and develop so well that it really doesn’t matter because they have a plan in place”

    Agreed.

    “the Vikings because of reacher Rick have put themselves in a bind by not trusting there drafting and development and have overpaid for players they shouldn’t have ie Barr, and that has them up against it, look at the ravens they let go of there star lb mosely who is better than Barr because they would not overpay for players and they are smart because of that and have drafted well and brought in key huge free agents, the Vikings have old players on overpaid contracts and time will tell if there plan or lack there of will bite them in the ass.”

    I’m not a huge fan of Barr either, but I don’t think you can objectively say that the Vikings haven’t trusted their drafting or development, at all. They’ve developed nearly every starter on this team. Outside of Reiff at left tackle and Cousins at the QB spot, the offense is all drafted (Elflein at LG, Bradbury at C, Samia at RG, Oneill at RT… Cook/Mattison at RB, CJ Ham at FB, Rudolph/Smith Jr. at TE, Thielen/Diggs/Treadwell/Mitchell/etc. at WR)…

    On the other side of the ball?

    Even more so. And they aren’t overspending for anyone they’ve developed (Linval was a free agent). They’re paying what the market dictates, Barr could’ve cashed in at LB but he probably took less to stay here. That’s commitment. But your point makes it seem like they’re heavily reliant on free agents or something, they aren’t. At all. The Vikings might be THE best example for the opposite of what you’re saying they are, or a better example than the Ravens anyway.

    “The constant remains who has been here through all the coaches and players and has yet to win a super bowl but keeps getting a pass reacher Rick Spielman!!!!! So all the morons saying if we don’t win this year zimmer should go are idiotic and don’t know football, he is a great coach ask anyone player, the main constant proven problem is spielman and his lack of having a solid plan in place and overextending funds to overpaid players that you don’t overpay!”

    Reacher meaning what? That he reaches for players in the draft or something? Or that he reaches by overpaying? Who did they overpay? And what do you mean by that?

    Overpaying by your subjective standard or overpaying in giving more than other teams would’ve? Because that’s not true in the case of Barr. It just isn’t. And again, I’m no Barr fan.

    Also, I didn’t say that if we didn’t win the Super Bowl Zimmer would be done for. I only praised him.

    So, you think that Spielman has doesn’t have a plan? Or that Zimmer isn’t really involved in that plan and is succeeding despite him? I’d argue the reason that the Vikings haven’t invested more in the offense (namely in the line, up until recently) is because of Zimmer’s obsession with the D. He’s a great Defensive mind and coordinator but he’s too involved there and not involved enough in the offense. He has his freaking microphone on Mute when the Vikings have the ball which is crazy considering that he could/should be pointing out what the other team’s defense is doing on each play, considering again his defensive knowledge.

    I get why you don’t think that this year is make or break, although not for the reasons you mentioned but rather because you think this team is aimless, with zero plan, full of overpaid players that only ever win because Zimmer is amazeballs. So, it’s not all-in because they’re all-out, with no direction or general chance in hell to actually win anything, so how could they be basically in an all in season when, by your logic, they have no chance?

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