You are told each year at this time specific time that the Minnesota Vikings have the roster to make a run in the upcoming season.
Since 2015, under head coach Mike Zimmer, the team is habitually constructed to win. Then, the team alternates rather good seasons with mediocre ones. The latter part is disappointing. The 2015 defense matured ultra-quick, propelling the Vikings to a division title and the postseason — before the organization’s kicker prevented playoff advancement. Every season thereafter has stakes that involve the playoffs.
And 2021 is no different.
In fact, this season is more crucial to the future of the team than any of the previous seven seasons. It’s a litmus test on Zimmer’s coaching acumen. Should the Vikings fail to reach meaningful January football, Zimmer is likely headed to his next destination. That is not a knock on the man, but should instead be perceived as a confirmation that the product would be “stale” as some folks even insist now.
Yet, that make-or-break menu is not totally exclusive to Zimmer. The roster is comprised of players that will play for the team for one year. That certainly isn’t all of them — Justin Jefferson, Cameron Dantzler, Dalvin Cook, etc. will be with the franchise for 2022 and beyond.
These “big names” are not contractually committed for 2022:
- Danielle Hunter
- Harrison Smith
- Anthony Barr
- Brian O’Neill
- Patrick Peterson
- Sheldon Richardson
- Bashaud Breeland
- Xavier Rhodes
- Mackensie Alexander
- Tyler Conklin
It’s those men that create a sense of excitement for the 2021 team. They could very well be purple ghosts if the Vikings bumble to another 7-9 playoff-less campaign.
Now, the big names — Hunter, Smith, Peterson, O’Neill — will presumably be back in 2022, but the verdict on all free agents is contingent on the success of 2021. Why would Peterson want to re-up with Minnesota if they pumped out an 8-9 record or so?
In fairness, a lot of free agents leaguewide inked dinky deals this season, holding off for the March of 2022 when the money will be more plentiful than the 2021 skimpy coronavirus salary cap. The Vikings 2021 season could materialize marvelously, enabling the bulk of the aforementioned players to return for a sequel. However, that is dependent on positive 2021 vibes.
The Vikings are due for a playoff season — if the odd-even year voodoo is to be believed. It really should be. Like clockwork, the Vikings were damn good in 2015, 2017, and 2019 while showcasing an average record in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020. The process is extremely peculiar.
Zimmer’s bunch this season isn’t necessarily old. Not long ago before rosters expanded to 90 men for the summer, the Vikings were the second-youngest group in all of the land.
According to rosters on all 32 team websites, the #Colts currently are tied for the eighth-youngest roster in the NFL, with an average age of 24.98.
— Andrew Walker (@AWalkerColts) May 15, 2021
Ergo, the team is not comprised of aging vets on last hurrahs. Instead, the team is currently assembled with men on the docket to make a one-year impact, merely with high hopes from the front office that they will return in 2022.
Thankfully, for any folks that are paranoid about the prospect of a full rebuild (if that is even required after 2021), the drafting of Kellen Mond ensures the Vikings already put themselves in an intelligent what-if standing. Consider the hypothetical once again of Minnesota underwhelming fans in 2021. Well, that probably means that Kirk Cousins and Mike Zimmer would be seriously reevaluated, perhaps signaling an exodus.
Mond wasn’t drafted to be a flunkie. He would be groomed — alongside Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook — for life after Cousins and Zimmer. That should save about 1-2 years of growing pains on a normal rebuild calendar.
But keep an eye on the effectiveness of the 2021 team — because all these men in Minneapolis for one-year gigs will, too.