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I hate to Break it to you. But this is what the Start of a Rebuild Looks Like

Shedding core players for cash and tons of picks? Yeah. Not just normal off-season turnover.

Update: The Minnesota Vikings just announced they cut one of the few bright spots on an otherwise atrocious OLine in 30-year-old RG Josh Kline to save $1.4ish million. So. I was wrong. This isn’t a rebuild. It’s a tear down.

I’ve been writing about the Vikings since back in the dial-up days. Granted, back then I had a bed time, but the point is that I’ve debated the purple and gold on nearly every format the internet has allowed. From chat rooms to message boards, social media to my own sites, there are things that I’ve found are subjective ideas and objective truths in that process. While you can get A LOT of clicks from exploiting the former (especially if you end the title with a “?”), I try to spend as much time as possible pointing out objective truths to those, who I empathize with, who are in denial about the state of things because they’re not ready to accept the reality in front of them.

Now is one of those times.

I’ve been writing a lot these past few days for obvious reasons and at some point I mentioned that the team was now in rebuild mode. I’ve received a few comments on social media that the Vikings are NOT in rebuild mode, and I thought that I’d spend a few paragraphs explaining exactly what a rebuild is and how the Vikings are definitely now a day into that mode (at least publicly).

First it may be helpful to define what a rebuild is. Some have literally told me a team is only rebuilding, and I’m not kidding, if they get rid of everyone including the coach and GM. That’s not a rebuild, that’s a plane crash.

To me, the reason this is so obviously a rebuild is that the Vikings are now letting players leave or trading players they need even though they don’t have to. When you’re amassing cap space and draft picks instead of, you know, keeping core players that helped keep your Super Bowl window open for multiple years, there’s change afoot.

There’s also the changes to the defensive coaching staff, and the fact that this is the last year on Zimmer and Spielman’s contracts. It’s clear they wanted to show improvement, and apparently their strategy was to bring in enough youth to convince the Wilfs that they should be kept beyond 2020.

What’s another word for change? For a massive infusion of youth? Of cutting, not resigning or trading core players, again, for cash and tons of draft picks. So, yeah, Cousins is still here. That doesn’t change anything.

It rhymes with tea spill…ding?

We all knew that the cap situation this off-season was bad. But how many of you really thought that as of the day before the official start of free agency that the team would be without half of their starting defensive line in Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph, both starting corners in Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, that they’d have traded Stefon Diggs for picks (again, FOR PICKS) and also… and perhaps most importantly (in terms of this argument), attempting to trade the recently franchised Anthony Harris for a mid-to-late round pick turned second or third rounder (which makes way more sense).

What team that isn’t in a rebuild does that? Any of it?

Let me break it down this way…

On defense… Where I should point out you can solely have a rebuild. Which, considering the time it takes for corners to, again, acclimate to Zimmer’s system? How aren’t they rebuilding with question marks and depth issues and half their positions?

Because… Cousins? Also, if the defense played that meh with the talent it’s had, how are people expecting rookies and cardboard cut outs of John Randle to do anything but be not good?

D-line? They have Hunter and… tons of questions. Odenigbo was good in flashes, people are saying Jaleel Johnson can take over for Linval. But they already had nothing at the three tech DT spot and now need a starting DT, and DE.

Corner? They lost two 6’2” corners for a 5’10” Hughes, and who? And that’s assuming Mackenzie Alexander stays. Then there’s the Harris trade stuff. So, they probably will be out three of their four starters in the secondary in a system that requires multiple seasons to grasp.

Linebacker? They’re okay. For now.

On offense they are still rocking a bottom five line. Now they also have major questions at receiver. Thielen will be 30 soon, and they’ve been unable to find a third receiver but now need to score a rookie that can somehow replicate Diggs’ numbers and impact on the offense.

So… what. Because they’re set at LB, and… tight end/running back and quarterback. It’s not a rebuild?

Or some have said that because they extended Cousins for $X, it’s not technically a rebuild. Since when does having a franchise QB locked down while there are more questions than answers at every other position, is that not a rebuild?

You can rebuild around a quarterback.

But back to what I was saying/screaming at text to type…

Sure, they started the off-season with less than negative $12 million dollars. But, after they allowed Griffen to opt-out of his deal they were back in the black, albeit barely. After they moved on from Joseph and Rhodes they had nearly $20 million in cap space, then they extended Kirk Cousins and lowered his cap hit in 2020 by $10 million. That’s $30 million in cap space cleared in a matter of days.

The franchising of Harris took that total down to $13 million (as of the writing of this article), so it might make sense to let him go and to have franchised him so you get something instead of nothing (especially for a second rounder since he’d garner a third round compensatory pick in 2021). It also might make sense to let your safety go because you’ve already lost your starting corners and half your defensive line. Meaning, why give a safety such a massive amount of money when your defense will be… What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah…


Outside of the undersized and super hit-or-miss Mike Hughes, and the troubled Holton Hill, what do the Vikings have at outside corner? Sure, they may be able to resign Mackenzie Alexander and then move him to the outside, but there’s a reason why they put him in the slot and it’s not because he was behind Waynes and Rhodes. I get what people think, because Rhodes was a complete liability in 2019, losing him wasn’t a big deal.

Waynes has always been criminally underrated by the Vikings fanbase because he had some pass interference penalties in the Hall of Fame pre-season game his rookie season (as in, his first pre-season game ever). But he was the only consistent and solid force in the Vikings cornerback group in 2019. Mackenzie Alexander, while improved, still has major lapses, and the aforementioned Mike Hughes has been underwhelming outside of a few splash plays here and there.

The defensive line isn’t any better. They didn’t even have an option in 2019 at the three-technique next to Joseph, let alone someone to replace Joseph. Everson Griffen is a major loss, as well, as he bounced back admirably in 2019. So, you’re looking at a line that is Danielle Hunter and a bunch of question marks or rookies. The same goes for the cornerback spot, which I’ll remind you is a position that takes YEARS to learn under the guidance of Zimmer (assuming he’s even around after 2020).

If they trade Harris, which I can’t imagine they won’t (who wouldn’t want that ball hawk for a 6th or 7th?), they’ll be down at least five of their 11 starters on defense with very few answers behind them. That’s just on defense. Sure, letting Harris walk would’ve meant a compensatory pick most likely in the third round in 2021, but the fact that people like’s Kevin Patra said of the franchising of Harris:

“It turns out, the tag could just be a short-term placeholder to get the Vikings a modicum of return for losing the rising safety.”

This means that the team would rather have a mid-to-late 2020 pick than a compensatory third-rounder in 2021. That might mean that they hope that they can put together… Well, you’ll see my theory on the logic behind these moves below as it applies to Zimmer (more so than Spielman).

On the offensive side of the ball, they also just lost one of the best wide receivers in the entire NFL who wasn’t the number two receiver on the team but rather the 1AAAB to Adam Thielen’s 1AAA. Sure, they extended Cousins for some stability at the position, but now they’re going into the draft with a gigantic amount of needs and considering general manager Rick Spielman’s inability to draft receivers (especially with higher picks), and the fact that the team has struggled mightily to even find a third receiver behind Diggs and Thielen (let alone a number two guy)… And again, how isn’t this a rebuild?

The Vikings had everything they could’ve wanted in 2019. They maxed out their cap, they had talent at nearly every position, and while they did upset the presumed NFC favorites in the New Orleans Saints, they ran headfirst into the still yet to peak San Francisco 49ers and yet again were exposed on a national stage.

How are we to expect improvement in 2020?

How isn’t this a rebuild?

When you’re trading and cutting massively talented, CORE players to for picks and to open up cap space, that’s like two-thirds of the definition of a rebuild. I mean, read any article about the Vikings and their “Two windows of opportunity”, the second window is all about the core players that were locked up until at least 2023. Core players like… You know where I’m going with this.

If every move you make during the build-up to the official start of free agency is to cut, cut and cut and also trade, or offer trades, for picks, picks, and more picks… I mean, come on.

This isn’t some natural churn. This isn’t normal year-to-year turnover. This is a head coach and general manager that has realized that the status quo clearly wasn’t working and in a latch ditch effort to save their jobs. That’s why long-time “defensive coordinator” George Edwards was fired. Why Gary Kubiak got the offensive coordinator job, why they brought in Dom Capers. Because they realized massive change was in order.

Some are calling it a “one-year rebuild”, I think Zimmer and Spielman hope it is, but we’ve seen how long it takes players to acclimate to Zimmer’s system, as we’ve seen the peak of what those players do once they have. It’s called the 2017 NFC Championship game, or the 2019 49ers Divisional Round game.

Apparently that above-mentioned change means putting together a promising enough group of young players to hopefully get an extension beyond 2020, as both Zimmer and Spielman have contracts that expire at the end of 2020. While Spielman is most likely safe, Zimmer clearly sees the writing on the wall and had two options.

Hunker down and save as many people as possible to hopefully fill a couple of holes in the draft, improve the line and see what happens, or tear down what took over half-a-decade to build and hope that the ownership gives him a second chance.

That, also, is the definition of a rebuild.

It’s not a mini-rebuild, whatever those may be. When you’re losing almost half your defensive starters, all of which were considered core players recently, and you’re trading away… Okay, now I’m being repetitive.

This just checks every box possible for a rebuild. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t like Diggs because of his social media nonsense, or if you thought Rhodes and Waynes were garbage, or Joseph and Griffen were old and overpaid. The fact is that they have no answer behind those guys and thus have to use the draft to… what’s the word I’m looking for again?

Or better yet… You tell me, how isn’t this a rebuild?

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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started back in 2015 & in 2019, and purchased before the 2017-18 season , used to write for and is the host of the ’Morning Joes’ & ‘About the Labor’ Podcasts, as well. Follow on Twitter: @vtPTSD

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  1. Last time I checked Mr. Diggs did not want to be here and was becoming a cancer to the team. Rhodes was a huge disaster last year and was owed a fortune this year. Love me some Griff but he is getting very old. Waynes just got 42 fricken million, nuff said. Wish we could have made it work with linval but when teams have great rosters its hard to keep everyone. The great teams find a way to get younger and still make it work. (Hello Belicheck and the Patriots). i don’t think Zimmer and Spielman are on as hot a seat as the press makes out. Ownership has to see that both are doing a good job and giving our team a chance every year.

  2. Agreed, every team goes through changes every off season, it’s the vikes turn to go through more than a normal year. Players are going change period.

  3. That still doesn’t mean they now don’t have more holes to
    Fill on D than not.

    I get why they did it.

    But again, it doesn’t change the fact that you just listed core players that underperformed, hence, the rebuild.

  4. Zimmer has had the run of the team for over half a decade and has peaked at getting embarrassed in the playoffs.

    Do you really want more of that?

    Do you want him hoarding picks for his defense?

    Meanwhile the line has and still is why this team couldn’t et an offense that could’ve helped the good defense advance.

  5. If you pay attention to how they structure their contracts they always front load the deal and leave themselves an out to cut these guys. Anybody that looked at the salary breakdowns for the players that left could see this coming 3 years ago. I would accept the term retooling, but this isn’t a rebuild. Zimmer can make the most out of athletic defensive linemen in the draft and there will be corners to fill in for depth. The vikings paid captain munnerlyn 5 million a year and he got paid after being with us and then he got released. Zimmer makes the players look good and they get money when they leave. Belichick has been doing this with brady for years and they always find a way to be competitive. Pure clickbait article.

  6. Rebuilds are accompanied by losing seasons and getting high draft picks. That will not happen here.

  7. I wouldn’t be so sure. Yes. The Vikings historically have never been awful for any stretch that’d allow them to amass no brainer QBs or, outside of Kalil at 4, some blindside monster. Etc.

    But, I have a feeling they’ll be a top 10 team in the 2021 draft. If they went 10-6 last year with that roster, 3 games behind the Packers… Don’t you think they could win half those games? With two new starting corners? A weak weak D line, Harris gone. Diggs gone. This THIELEN doubled.

  8. Let’s face it, this defense has been around the block a couple of times. At no time this year did they look like the defense that played the seahawks in the NFC finals. They were getting a step slow and old. It was very obvious in the 49er playoff game. The lack of speed, or old legs really showed. They need an infusion of younger faster talent. The time comes, father time takes its toll, so does the salary cap. Patriots do it all the time, with the exception of Brady and a few others. It is time.

  9. You’re forgetting that Brady always took less money than most QBs will. also that Brady is the best QB of all time. Don’t compare anything the Vikings do to the patriots. We will never see a franchise run like that again, from anyone. This is coming from someone who hates the Patriots.

    I believe in Zimmer and Rick and don’t want to see them go. We have had up and down years with this staff but it takes time to build what we have now. I’m not saying I love everything they do and agree Zimmer needs to get over his affinity to just use high draft picks on defenders.

    I’d like them to have one more shot at this. Another 5 years. I really believe they can figure this out with all of the high end coaching minds we have now.

  10. Half way through 2019, Dalvin Cook was in MVP convo. Diggs was my absolute favorite player to watch since Moss at WR or Adrian at RB. Diggs kept me glued for his lightening quick types of plays. Diggs chose to burn his bridge here and now play 10 games a year out doors in the upper Northeast instead of 9 games a year in a dome. Focusing on running Kubiak’s offense now instead of keeping who is appearing to be the future “Antonio Brown” might be worth it. The defense leaders who we let walk/released have had since 2015 to get it done and have not. If this is a rebuilt, are you sure it’s not the right move?

  11. I agree with you about the rebuild. Was already thinking about calling that myself. I am hopeful it is a one year re-tool but a lot will need to go right for that to happen.

    That being said I guess I am not as unhappy about it as you seem to be. This team needed to get younger and there was no way we were going to be able to pay everyone. Good teams find ways to get picks for players while their value is still relatively high. The Patriots are absolute masters at selling high. The Vikings while not as good at it do seem to be getting there.

    No one was going to give us a pick for Rhodes as his salary was far too high for the production he provided. He hasn’t found a team yet and likely will need a one year make good contract to try gain value for 2021. I thought they could have gotten at least 7th for Joseph but I guess they couldn’t get anything for him and getting younger at the nose position seems like a good idea to me. Joseph’s production hasn’t been elite anyway. I hated losing Waynes as he was good tackler and always stayed with his man. If he could’ve ever learned to turn his head he would have been an elite corner but he still ended being paid like a top 6 corner and that was something we couldn’t really afford at this time. He should help add a third round pick next year have to wait and see. OK on Josh Kline you got me. Makes no sense to draw a line in the sand to restructure and then get upset and bump him off the roster to gain essentially 1M in cap space. That just reeks of idiocy, but whatever.

    Diggs was the nail in the coffin for a rebuild to me. He is elite receiver. A great route runner, great deep ball catching WR the whole package and we have no one to fill in behind him. Theilin is no spring chicken and showing his age was hurt most of last season and Hamstring injuries always come back so there is that. Diggs was in his absolute prime on a good contract it just hurt to see him go and the offense with it. Once that trade was made to me the rebuild was on.

    The team as constructed was not going to win a super bowl. The defense was good but not great and the offense crumbled against better than 500 teams last year. They have to find better players.

    If and it is a big if the Vikings can do well in the draft this year this could be a one year blip. If they screw it up then this is just the beginning of a longer rebuild process. I think you are right that this team will likely have a top 10 pick next year. Just too many new players to compete with teams that will make fewer mistakes. Next year hopefully we are in range to get a quarterback of the future that works out. This coming year might be tough to watch. I guess we will just how good these guys are.

  12. Getting younger is a requirement for the Vikings to be super bowl contenders in the future. I am happy to see the team making these moves now. I think the front office knows that we are not going to win a SB with how the roster was constructed prior to FA. As a lifelong Vikings fan, I am tired of being good and not great. We need to start taking some swings at being great instead of upholding the status quo of 8-10 wins a year and popping up for an NFC title game every decade. That starts with getting a new, dynamic QB.

    The Cousins deal is not as binding as his first contract. He can be traded after the 2021 season for a dead cap hit of 10M, which is a lot, but we just took a cap hit of 9m to trade diggs and the salary cap is expected to be close to 300M by 2022. I would not be surprised to see us draft a QB in rounds 1-3 this year and sit them behind cousins for the next season or two. If we don’t like him, he can be traded, become our backup, or we can take another swing at QB in the 2021 draft. signing cousins gives us security at QB for the next few seasons, while we look for a dynamic solution.

  13. 1. The Kline move is puzzling – without some unknown factor, it seemed like a poor idea.
    2. Going into the draft with 12 picks is pointless since most won’t make the team. I’d love it if they could use every pick below the fifth or sixth round to move up in earlier rounds or gain high picks next year.
    3. It is hard to imagine the Vikings contending in 2020. A weak offensive line will be weaker, they need two starting caliber receivers and help at corner.

  14. Also, Cousins needs protection to thrive. No blocking and Thielen doubled on every play is going to be a disaster. Teams will load the box to stop Cook on 1st and 2nd downs and then the Vikings will struggle on 3rd and long – attempting three yard passes and screens. Long story short, Cousins isn’t the right guy for this team. They need a mobile QB who can make something happen on his own.

  15. Great read. I agree that its a rebuild, but I think they (Spielman and Zimmer) stilll expect the team to be respectable for the next two years as they wait (and hope) for both lines and secondary to improve. It’s clear to me that the window closed for any realistic shot at a championship, and it was our defense that failed us… Our offense line was a huge problem these past few years, but our defense stopped carrying this team back in 2016. We had a lot of good defensive players in their prime the last handful of years (Harrison, Barr, Griffin, Hunter and Joseph, but they just weren’t good enough to control games and carry the team. Now only Hunter has his best years ahead of him, so it would be silly to expect this team to improve. I’m glad they recognize it and aren’t pretenders. A rebuild is in order and makes sense.

  16. After 46 years watching this team the results are always the same… Failure. I mean just look at the talent that’s been with this franchise over the years, same outcome. And now the future looks bleak, this team will be lucky to see 500 next season. Unfortunately never winning the big one is the only constant with the Vikings. I just hope I’m alive to see the day they finally take home the Lombardy trophy. Whatever business model Spielman and Zimmer are employing now don’t seem too promising to me. I hope I’m wrong… Go Vikings!!

  17. The beyond belief drafting of Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011 and Spielman’s attempt to make up for it have left a devastating paper trail of thrown away draft picks, including 3 first rd picks, and the signing of a tad above average QB who caves when the pocket collapses. Spielman taking Ponder 12th overall should have put him on double secret probation and the paper trail he has created trying to make up for it has failed and stinks of desperation

  18. I think the team needs to be stripped to its core and rebuilt. I’ve been a die hard vikes fan since I started watching football(Moss & Carter days). And with the way the team has been so back and forth, can’t get on the same page half of the time, and the defense not performing the way they were expected to, maybe it’s time to shake things up. There are more than enough replacements for Diggs in the draft. He’s a crybaby. Personally, I’d LOVE to see Minnesota trade up for Jerry Jeudy or Chase Young. Those two guys are game changers.

  19. I like a few others see this as a retooling. I am pleased with the playoff berth & victory over the strongly disliked Payton’ s saints. Too many of you are sour pusses who probably believe the sky is always falling. Management is on the right track, a playoff berth and a playoff win are good building blocks. Shedding less performing & malcontents is normally a very good thing. The team will be fine. Just think back to what many of us thought after the loss in chicago.