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