How the Vikings Can Retool to Make a Serious Run at Super Bowl LV
The Minnesota Vikings surpassed a few expectations in 2019. They managed to finish ahead of the Bears in the division, landing second behind eventual NFC North champion Green Bay. A 10 win season earned them the second wildcard and a trip to New Orleans.
In the Bayou, the Vikings upended a trendy favorite to win the NFC crown and represent the conference in the Super Bowl. However, a couple of season-long Viking weaknesses reared their head in the divisional round, and San Francisco ended Minnesota’s season.
Making the playoffs, especially when you’re not necessarily an odds-on favorite, must be considered a successful year. However, in pro football there is only one ultimate prize, to play in the final game of the season. Here are some thoughts on how the Vikings can retool to make a serious run at Super LV. Lineups.com has the Super Bowl 55 Odds posted and the Vikings are at +2500 odds to win. They have the 13th best odds alongside the Rams, Titans and Texans at the time of this article. You can find the odds updated throughout the year at William Hill Sportsbook as well. The value is there for a Vikings flier. Bet $10 to win $250.
The first question when we talk about teams and the NFL free agency is money. Minnesota has a big problem in that aspect. Adding up all their existing contracts of record, they are at least a couple million dollars over the cap. Not a good formula for bringing in experienced talent.
One way to clear away some room on the salary cap is to let high-priced, underachieving players seek greener pastures. Minnesota has a couple of those types of situations. The Vikings own two players ranked in the top-50 heading into the 2020 off-season.
Both are defensive backs. Trae Waynes has not lived up to expectations since Minnesota took him off the big board with the 11th pick in 2015. However, Anthony Harris has actually played at or above his expectations.
Harris picked off six passes in 2019 and is deemed one of the better safeties in the NFL. Most indications point to Minnesota’s front office to be hoping to keep Harris long term. That means, according to the rules, the Vikings must trim some fat off their payroll elsewhere.
There is a glimmer of hope when we look at three Viking free agents who may have played their last game in purple. Irv Smith Jr was drafted to be the Viking’s tight end of the future. His statistics across 16 games mirrored those of Kyle Rudolph.
Smith Jr started slowly, but mid-season he was getting a half a dozen looks from Kirk Cousins. The former Alabama star is a prototype NFL tight end. Most importantly, giving him his chance to shine will free up much-needed salary-cap space.
Another offensive star may have played his way out of Minnesota as well. Viking fans know well the discontent early in the season of Stefon Diggs. Diggs led Minnesota in most receiving categories.
However, many wonder if his numbers warrant the second-biggest cash expenditure on Minnesota’s payroll. Another defensive back will have his contract front and center. Xavier Rhodes has the sixth fattest paycheck on the team.
While it would be hard to retool a defensive backfield changing two key players, look for the Vikings D-backs to have different names in 2020. That brings us to how Minnesota will address these problems, the salary cap dilemma and where replacements will come.
If the Vikings cut some payroll, there is a possibility they will look towards fortifying their defensive backfield and landing a pair of hands for Cousins to target. However, the draft is also a place where Minnesota is going to look to retool for 2020.
One place most mock drafts feel the Vikings should focus is at left tackle. Riley Reiff proved to be too much of a liability. Former Washington Husky tackle Trey Adams is a massive and talented tackle. He has experienced some injury concerns, which has damaged his draft stock.
Another target, and most-likely after the first-round, is North Carolina tackle Charlie Heck. Heck matches Adams as a physical specimen but may have quicker feet. There is also mention of Ezra Cleveland out of Boise State.
Cleveland’s biggest knock is his lack of upper body strength. Some think he’ll be too easy to push around in the NFL. No one would be surprised if Minnesota figures out a way to get multiple young linemen into camp.
Most feel parting ways with Stefon Diggs is a foregone conclusion. However, he was the Vikings number one pass receiver. Outside of creativity in the free-agent market, look for Minnesota to add pass catchers to Kirk Cousins fold.
A small school product may be a perfect addition. Antonio Gandy-Golden from Liberty University may not conjure up Jerry Rice comparisons, but he is big, and he is physical. This is something the Viking’s receiving core lacks.
Built-in the same mold as Gandy-Golden, Michael Pittman Jr is the son of a former NFL player. The former USC Trojan has the pedigree. The only knock on Pittman Jr is his route-running precision. This is a talent that can be taught, but you cannot teach size and physicality.
Another possible draft target could be a player who already has a connection in Minneapolis. Former Nebraska wide-out JD Spielman wouldn’t provide the big-body type receiver, but he is a talent Minnesota won’t ignore on draft day.
Free Agent Additions
Rookies are usually not a quick fix to immediate problems. The draft picks mentioned, however; may have the talent to step in on day one and contribute. There are also some affordable options Minnesota should consider, to improve the current roster.
Minnesota is a strong defensive team with a ball-control offense. One free-agent receiver that will have a price tag far below Diggs is Danny Amendola. Sure, Amendola is 34, but he still has a knack for finding gaps in the opposition’s secondary.
The other obvious need was at left tackle. The 49ers made that fact blatantly clear when they eliminated the Vikings. Riley Reiff may have played his way onto the cap casualty list. If he does get axed, look for Minnesota to approach former Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo.
Depending on which players the Vikings decide to hold on to in their defensive backfield, three pending free agents may be appealing. Adding another Harris would be one option. Former Denver Bronco cornerback Chris Harris may be available and affordable.
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Marcus Peters may also earn an interview to wear purple. Peters was actually on the Viking’s draft radar in 2015. There are some other rumors flying around about how Minnesota could get creative with the salary cap problems they currently have.
If Stefon Diggs gets his mid-season wish to play elsewhere, don’t be surprised if Minnesota looks to be the team that can create the right atmosphere for Josh Gordon. Gordon has been a poster child for issues, but he is flat-out good.
His track-record is going to make him affordable. Oddly enough, a focused Gordon might be a better talent than Diggs, and at a far cheaper price tag. As a couple of recent seasons, Minnesota is going to need to be creative with their salary cap problems, but there are options.
Minnesota proved to be a very good team in 2019. However, there were a couple of obvious weaknesses that better teams exploited. Kirk Cousins was the master of efficiency. If he can get another split-second behind an improved O-line, he could be even better.
The Vikings also had another good year defensively, but the bank balance is going to dictate they make some changes. The salary cap woes are obvious as well. However, Minnesota has proved adept at being creative with the bank account.
To better last season’s 10-win, one playoff scenario, all Minnesota needs to do is retool. They have a steady quarterback and elusive running backs. An upgrade at pass protection and some sticky hands might be just what the doctor ordered to retool and make a run at Super Bowl LV.