Opinion

What a Vikings Roster Rebuild This Offseason Would Look Like

There is no doubt that the Minnesota Vikings have not achieved what they wanted to in the last few seasons. In 2017, they made an improbable run to the NFC Championship with a third-string quarterback and more than a few holes in the offensive line. Now, after two seasons where they failed to get even that far, the Vikings are left with a tough choice. Tear it all down and start again, giving up a couple years to mediocrity in favor of a brighter future, or try to cut salaries and reload for one last run at a title with most of the current roster intact.

I’ll be taking a look at the first option, as there’s a lot of buzz about giving up on many current players to try to bring in new, younger talent. This is what I think a rebuild might look like position by position to get the Vikings back to having a championship window in 3-5 years.By then it should be safe to check what line bet365 has on the Vikings to secure a spot in the Super Bowl.. I will not be getting into coaches and front office personnel, I feel that topic will be covered a ton this off-season, nor giving concrete numbers on cap as I’m not entirely confident in that situation myself but I will allude to it when it is relevant.

Quarterback

Starting it off with the most important position on the offense, and one that Minnesota hasn’t had consistency at in my entire lifetime. Kirk Cousins has brought stability to the position, but his lackluster record in big games, age, and fat contract means he isn’t long for Minnesota. Cousins unfortunately has a full no trade clause and a ton of guaranteed money in 2020. Unless Minnesota were to somehow work around that clause, Cousins’ $31 million salary will be eaten by the team and he will hit free agency.

It also doesn’t get better when you look past Cousins on the depth chart. Sean Mannion should be a career clip-board holder, and Jake Browning is a completely unproven, undrafted free agent. If the Vikings are going into full rebuild, it may be prudent to move up in this year’s draft to snag a higher caliber arm like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, but it may make even more sense to tank this season and hope for Clemson’s Trevor Lawerence, or somebody of a similar caliber while shoring up the offensive line or defensive backfield.

Of the three quarterback the Vikings currently have under contract, zero should be counted as long-term options.

Running Back/Fullback

I assume most won’t read past this section when I say that Dalvin Cook will not be in the Vikings plan if a full roster rebuild is in the cards. Cook, although electrifying and a fan favorite, has yet to stay healthy a full season and may have the most value he will ever hold right now. You can’t build a team around guys you can’t count on, and the Vikings should be able to pry away a second rounder and then some from a team for Cook.

It’s much more likely that the Vikings use Alexander Mattison as their new feature back and look for another round two-to-four stud. Mattison is young and can carry the load for at least a few seasons before a better solution is found. He may even pan out to be better than Dalvin Cook when all is said and done.

Ameer Abdullah should be in nobody’s future plans as he doesn’t bring enough to the table, outside of being a serviceable receiving back and a mediocre kick returner. Mike Boone can be another bridge player while better options are found. 

The only other backs that the Vikings have are fullback C.J. Ham and reserve/future player Tony Brooks-James. Ham has been an excellent fullback, and if the Vikings want to keep rostering one, he should continue to stay with the team until a better option is found. Brooks-James is another unknown, but I don’t foresee him panning out to be much more than a preseason body.

Of the six backs the Vikings currently have under contract, three should be in the plan, but only Mattison is a true starter.

Wide Receiver

One of the biggest tragedies or triumphs for the Vikings could be what happens with their two biggest weapons on offense. Both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are loved in Minnesota and the fans want them to be on the field and making plays. Realistically though, I think only one can stay through a multi-year rebuild. If we assume the Vikings keep one and move the other for picks, the more likely option to be moved is Stefon Diggs.

Diggs, although beloved for being the “miracle man” has ruffled feathers for being a “diva” and missing practices when things aren’t going his way. I don’t know that I buy that Diggs doesn’t just expect more from himself and needs to find a better way to express it, but I do know that some players can buy into their own fame and become unbearable locker room cancers, and the most glaring cases are usually wide receivers.

Thielen is just the more palatable option, and the more likely to take team friendly deals in his decline, which may come sooner than fans like. Diggs also holds more value than Thielen and would command a much better price.

After Diggs and Thielen, there isn’t much to rely on. Treadwell and Beebe have both shown that they are flops. Of the rest, only Olabisi Johnson is a sure bet to even hold an NFL roster spot. Alexander Hollins, Davion Davis and Dillon Mitchell are all question marks, but Mitchell probably has the best chance at holding a spot to be a bandage until more help arrives.

Of the seven receivers the Vikings currently have under contract, three should be in the plan, but only Thielen is a true starter. The team should be looking to stash more talent in the draft and free agency.

Tight End

The Vikings took steps to improve the long-term success of the tight end position this season, but there is still work to be done. Irv Smith Jr. showed that he has the skills to be relied upon and should have an expanded role in the future. 

Even Kyle Rudolph rolled back the clock to show he’s still got some left in the tank, but not enough to convince me that he shouldn’t be moved on from. The Vikings should take a hit in the cap to cut Rudolph. It sucks because Rudy is a great guy and deserves a ton of praise for his charity work, but in a full rebuild it doesn’t make sense to hold onto him any longer

Really, only Smith will be in the Vikings plan as a true receiving threat, but they have Tyler Conklin and a returning David Morgan to be blockers while better options are found. The question will be whether they need to find another solid receiver behind Smith or not. Either way, they should be able to use later round picks and undrafted free agents to solve the issue.

The final tight end the Vikings have under contract is Brandon Dillon. Dillon made the 53-man roster out of camp and should be interesting to watch going forward, but we don’t really know his ceiling and can’t count on him to pan out.

Of the five tight ends the Vikings currently have under contract, three should be in the plan, Smith as a receiving option and Conklin/Morgan as extra blockers.

Offensive Tackle

Now we cut to the heart of the Vikings issues with the offensive line. The tackle position has actually been one of relative consistency in the past two seasons with Riley Reiff taking a majority of snaps at left tackle and Brian O’Neill taking almost all snaps at right tackle.

For this rebuild, I would say O’Neill can stay and hold down the right side for the next few years and Reiff can be moved on from when his contract ends in 2021. This gives plenty of time to pick a better left tackle through the draft to keep O’Neill at a position he is comfortable with and upgrade Reiff.

As far as backups go, I’m not big on holding onto anybody besides Oli Udoh in the long run. Aviante Collins and Hill have both been serviceable at times, but bring no true upside and the room should be cleared for guys with a future who can be acquired via the draft.

Of the five offensive tackles the Vikings currently have under contract, three should be in the plan, with Reiff being let go after his contract is up to free up space for a new, higher drafted or free agent left tackle.

Offensive Guard

I’ll keep this simple, Pat Elflein has got to go. The Vikings knew that guard would be their weakest offensive position, and instead of finding a true solution they threw on the band-aid of moving a current starter to a different position. Sound familiar?

Elflein looked good when he first got to Minnesota, but that was also with a very patchy offensive line that was looking for any hope. Now, he is an undersized guard who can’t open holes and can’t keep pass rushers out of the pocket. Elflein is not the answer at any position on the offensive line.

Luckily outside of Elflein, there is some hope. Josh Kline looked excellent this season and can hold down the right guard position until Dru Samia is ready to step up and play. It may even be feasible to split snaps between Samia and Kline while having Dakota Dozier play some left guard in the interim.

Sadly, Kline is already 30 years old and will likely see a decline or career-ending injury. Dozier is nothing more than a band-aid. The true solution here, if it is to be found on the current roster, may be to take Oli Udoh and teach him to play guard now before he is locked into being a tackle.

Of the four offensive guards the Vikings currently have under contract, two or three should be in the plan, with Samia being the only one being groomed for the future and Kline/Dozier being bridge players.

Center

Finally, an easy one! Garrett Bradbury should be the future at center, for now at least. I’m not sold on Bradbury not being able to be upgraded in the near future (look at how we thought Elflein would be the future) but for now he should be counted on as the starting center to keep cohesiveness in a time of upheaval, which is really what a rebuild is.

The only other center that the Vikings have under contract is Brett Jones, who is serviceable if the need arises, but the Vikings should really be looking to move with some later round picks to train up.

Of the two centers the Vikings currently have under contract, only Bradbury should be in the long-term plan, but Jones should be held onto while more bodies are brought in via the draft/free agency.

Defensive End

Defensive end is another position where I think the Vikings have almost the whole plan in-house. Danielle Hunter is an absolute star who the Vikings should try to hold onto for his entire career. Likewise, Everson Griffen is an aging star who deserves to retire a Vikings, assuming he is willing to take team-friendly deals to do so.

Both Stephen Weatherly and Ifeadi Odenigbo have shown flashes in their limited playing time and should continue to be rotation pieces for the team. The only player who is a question mark is Eddie Yarbrough who the Vikings didn’t pick up until the postseason. The Vikes can look to upgrade at the right time in the draft by sniping players like Hunter who have teachable attributes but fall due to one reason or another. 

The final defensive end the Vikings have under contract is Stacy Keely. At 24, Keely can hang around and try to develop, but shouldn’t be relied upon to become anything more than a camp body as of now.

Of the five defensive ends, the Vikings currently have under contract, four should part of the plan, with more talent brought in as Griffen moves out.

Defensive Tackle

This is an underrated need for the Vikings. Linval Joseph is aging into obscurity, Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson are mediocre place holders, and there’s talent in the wings that may pan out to nothing.

Jalyn Holmes, Armon Watts and Hercules Mata’afa have all flashed when given a chance and should be kept on to develop. Linval Joseph may stay with the team with the right restructure, but as I said before, his age keeps him from being a long term solution.

Overall, this is a position that is so crucial to both stopping the run and rushing the passer. The Vikings should be looking to upgrade through the draft or free agency. Luckily, they have some talent to cover and could wait a year or two until they find the right guys.

Of the six defensive tackles, the Vikings currently have under contract, three should part of the plan, with Joseph possibly holding a spot until a better option arises.

Linebacker

Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks still bring a ton on the defensive side of the ball, particularly Kendricks. Luckily, the Vikings shouldn’t need to address the starting linebackers for a while.

So, Barr and Kendricks are locks, but nobody else is safe. Kentrell Brothers and Eric Wilson are both veterans who have been excellent on special teams but don’t bring enough upside at this point. Ben Gedeon has trouble staying on the field and isn’t the answer to the Vikings third linebacker spot. Cameron Smith should have a spot for a few years, but it’s unclear as to whether he’ll turn into any more than a spot starter and special team’s player.

Of the five linebackers, the Vikings currently have under contract, four should part of the plan, with Kendricks and Barr being starters and Wilson and Smith being kept to fill until more talent is found.

Cornerback

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A couple years ago, the Vikings had the best defense in football due in large part to their dominant defensive backfield. Now, the Vikings may lose all of their starters in a year or two. Of course, you can’t release everyone, but it feels like the Vikings should consider it.

Starting at the top, Xavier Rhodes is under contract through 2022, but could and should be released for a smaller cap hit. The former superstar has fallen off a cliff in the last couple of seasons. Sure, some of it can be attributed to rule changes not allowing corners to be so physical, but Rhodes hasn’t made plays even when he’s been in position. It seems that the step he’s lost has been enough to take him from elite to mediocre.

Trae Waynes is 27 and about to get paid. In a league that often overvalues the pass game, Waynes will be hitting the market as a hot commodity, but I think he might be overlooked by some. It’s possible that the Vikings try to cut salary cap space by making some cuts I’ve already mentioned or restructure some players to keep Waynes. If however, you’re looking to be competitive in 3-5 years, I don’t think it is the right move. We’ve seen Rhodes fall off already at 29. Better to let Waynes walk and get paid big than to eat a big contract.

After Waynes and Rhodes, the outlook gets even bleaker. Mackensie Alexander is set to be a free agent and may be the guy that the team decides to keep, as he won’t demand the money that Waynes or Rhodes do. Mack works best in the slot and shouldn’t be relied upon as an outside corner. I think he could be held onto and let Holton Hill and Mike Hughes be your outside guys until better options can be found.

The only other corners left under contract are Marcus Sherels, Nate Meadors, Kris Boyd, Mark Fields, and Marcus Sayles. Sherels will almost certainly be able to hold a spot for a couple years until he retires due to his punt returning and being a hometown guy. Meadors and Boyd have both flashed occasionally, Meadors in preseason and Boyd on special teams and should be kept to see what they become. The other two are big question marks who can hold a spot for now but might not be more than camp bodies.

Of the ten cornerbacks, the Vikings currently have under contract, three should part of the plan unless you can get Waynes to stay for a reasonable contract. Of the three, all can hold starting spots for now, but all should also be upgraded as soon as the opportunity arises.

Safety

The Vikings are in a bit of a tough spot at safety with Anthony Harris’ contract expiring this year, but with how well he’s played there is no doubt that re-signing him should be priority number one for the team. At 28, Harris is just hitting his stride and should remain on the elite level he showed this year for at least a few more. Pair him with Harrison Smith, who is another player that should remain a Viking until he walks away, and your starting safeties are set for at least the length of this rebuild.

The issue will come in with depth at safety. Jayron Kearse and Andrew Sendejo are both set to become free agents. Kearse has already made it abundantly clear that he wants to play somewhere where he can be on the field most of the time. If the Vikes re-sign Harris, that isn’t going to happen and he is likely to walk. It would not be great because Kearse is young and a great special teams player, but the Vikings should be trying to find guys who are better in coverage than Kearse. Sendejo should be allowed to walk again as his age keeps him from being a true answer, and we don’t want more self-inflicted injuries.

Kemon Hall is another “defensive back” that the Vikings have under contract and could be a camp body, but for now, is a big question mark. With this lack of depth and an aging Harrison Smith, the Vikings should look to bring in fresh talent, perhaps the legacy Antonie Winfield Jr from PJ Fleck’s Gophers.

Of the five safeties, the Vikings currently have under contract, two should part of the plan.

Special Teams

Keep Colquitt, Bailey, and Cutting until further notice. Special teams can be replaced quickly when the need arises. They may not be replaced by better players, but it feels like luck of the draw with specialists anyway.

Of the three specialists the Vikings currently have under contract, all three should be part of the plan.

Conclusion

Of the 66 players that I saw that the Vikings have under contract, I only counted 34 as “part of the plan” if a rebuild started this offseason. Of those players, a good chunk are just what I consider “bridge players” until better and younger players can be found. Where the real concern lies is at the quarterback position, the defensive tackles, and the defensive backfield. These are problems not just because the starters that are there aren’t up to snuff or going to be around much longer, but because the depth just doesn’t have concrete talent. It doesn’t seem like there is anybody left to step up.

A rebuild would be tough right now given a lack of cap space. It would be especially tough after watching some quality football in the last few seasons, but if the team doesn’t make some major noise in next year’s playoffs, it’s coming either way. It might be better to do it now and get it over with.

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Kirby O'Connor

Kirby O'Connor is a graduate of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, where he studied Electronic Publishing and minored in Art. Kirby is a lifelong, die-hard Vikings fan thanks to his father. You can find him on Twitter @kjocon14.

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6 Comments

  1. I half way agree with the Cook decision but with Viking Luck as it always is, I am afraid of this:
    Two years from now we are in the Suberbowl against the Steelers(a rematch of the1974 superbowl)
    SOME OF US HAVE BEEN TORTURED BY THE PURPLE FOR A LONG TIME!!!! VIKINGS are ahead
    20 – 17 with 28 seconds on the clock. Steelers have the ball on their own 35. The give to Cook–he cuts
    to the outside and goes all the way out running everyone in our secondary!!!!!

  2. I think we’re an offensive line away from being very good. This has been the problem for too long. Does anyone else think that Spielmann might be the problem?

  3. Great assessment, Kirby. I am in complete agreement. The best franchises in the NFL are in constant rebuilding mode. The cap and free agency demand expert cost-benefit analysis meaning that even good players and well liked players need to be cut loose when the price is too high to keep them. When I buy the Vikes I will hire you as my GM.

  4. Patriots rebuild their roster every year and are always competitive and favored to win the super bowl. Why haven’t other teams tried that approach. Just sayin

  5. I understand the Cousins deal
    But the up and down
    The lack of being Teddy Bridgewater to fire up players fans coaches etc
    I want Bridgewater back
    Somehow

  6. Don’t get me totally wrong
    Cousins when on his game is Excellent
    But when off it’s horrid from passing to looking uncomfortable
    I don’t get a pro who folds in on himself
    I’ve seen him hurry the Offense and I’m like wow this is Great
    I’ve also seen Teddy restrained by a org Turner then allowed to runs great Saints Playbook
    Who knows…..Just a Fan SpeakingOut

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