After advancing to the divisional round last season, it was expected that the Minnesota Vikings would once again make it to the playoffs.
Since Mike Zimmer took over as head coach in 2014, they have never made it there in back-to-back seasons and it is now more than likely that trend will continue after the Vikings disappointing loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Not having Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce has really hurt this team. Anthony Barr being out since week three has hurt too, despite the fact he has not been the same player since 2015. Losing Eric Kendricks the past three games has really hurt as well, but in the end this team has not been very good this year. Their failures to make big plays when it matters most is the main reason why this team is 6-8 right now, along with the play of the defense. Offensive line the past two games has gone back to being very bad.
The losses against Tennessee, Seattle, Dallas and Chicago were all very winnable games. They did not make plays when it mattered most. Had they done so in even two of those games, they would have been 8-6 right now. The play of the defense has really hurt too, but despite that they still had chances in those games.
Despite this season being a disappointment though, the biggest positive though has been the play of the rookies especially Justin Jefferson, who has been spectacular. Cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler are looking they have a chance to be very good. Ezra Cleveland has looked good at guard, despite the fact that his natural position is tackle. D.J. Wonnum has also showed a little bit of promise.
Added experience for the rookies along with second-year players Garrett Bradbury and Irv Smith Jr. will certainly help. Having Hunter and Pierce back next year will help as well. It will be interesting to see what happens with Barr.
They certainly need to add a good guard as well though. Perhaps two. Dakota Dozier has struggled mightily all season at left guard and Cleveland has filled in nice at right guard, but before he took over at that spot, Pat Elflein and Dru Samia also struggled.
The Vikings drafted Cleveland to be their left tackle, since it was also unknown what they would do with Riley Reiff. He has had a very good season, but is also due $13.95 million next season. If he is released, there will only be a dead cap of $2.2 million.
If the salary cap drops at $175 million, the Vikings will be $5.4 million over cap. They could perhaps try to restructure Reiff again or just release him and start Cleveland at left tackle next season. Either move will be fine. If they were in a much better cap situation, there would not have been any reason to consider releasing him.
Barr is due $15 million next season. If released he will have a $7.8 million cap hit. Maybe they will save more if they are able to work out a restructure.
Releasing Kyle Rudolph will save them a little over $5 million. Rudolph has done a lot for this organization both on and off the field, but given he is 31 years old and the team already having Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin, it does not make sense to keep him around.
They would also save nearly $4 million by releasing Shamar Stephen. Releasing Harrison Smith would free up $10.25 million, but do not expect the team to do that. A restructure could very well be a possibility though.
Once again they may not have enough money to sign some impactful free agents (perhaps one), but could still find some good low-flier ones and once again have another solid draft.
Rob Brezezinski has done a wonderful job managing the cap.
Will this team be a Super Bowl contenders next season? Maybe not. It is still very early, but if they can stay healthy for the most part and add a good guard or perhaps two, they could very well be in the mix.
The play of the offensive line will once again be one of the question marks (broken record). Will Kirk Cousins also continue to play the way he has since they started 1-5, or at least close to? That is another big question. The defense has been bad this year and although they will be improved with key pieces returning and the rookies improving, can they also return to near the same level they were at in 2017?
Still a lot of questions to be answered, but if all or most get answered, the purple could be in Super Bowl contention next year.
Again, this has been a disappointing season, but next season could be much better. A lot also changes very quickly in this league.