One thing I learned while refining my Minnesota Vikings debate chops on /r/MinnesotaVikings was that no one likes when a writer hops into the comment section of their own articles to get all defensive with people who read their stuff. That’s something that I typically abide by, because I also learned from Reddit that my Vikings takes are … Let’s just say… Outside the mainstream.
Or, instead, they were outside the mainstream. I was the first person to call out the team on the offensive line, to call for the team to sign Kirk Cousins, to defend Cousins’ play, to predict that the 2020 Draft wouldn’t propel the team to an improved record, to predict a sub-.500 2020 record when others predicted Super Bowl, etc.
Now? My takes are either mainstream or just objective fact. And here I am, beating my head against the wall not because I like to be negative for da clicks, but rather because I believe this team is just an offensive line away from actually contending and am anxious AF that they’ll yet again blow the remainder of the off-season by yet again leaving the line as the last priority.
I bring this up not because I (at least solely) want people to give me credit. Instead, I get a lot of comments like this and wanted to address the “logic” therein because I think it’s important.
I love this team. I want them to succeed. I am as excited as anyone about this off-season, but I feel like I and we do this every off-season only to wake up after a Draft in which the team yet again prioritizes the defense and trades down to amass 7th-round picks instead of drafting guards who … Have played guard before.
I don’t care whether our readers agree with me (in terms of the personal ego aspect). I know that of the millions of clicks we get each year, the comments we get are typically derived from an emotion. Typically a negative emotion (hence the lack of ‘slightly agree, also disagree at points a bit. Well done’), to boot.
But I think that far too many people, like the above, conflate blind optimism with fandom or good journalism. That is by definition the opposite of both; especially the latter, and when it comes to the Vikings why would I sacrifice my prime earning years covering a team I actually loathe?
I’d argue very few people love the team more than I do. I just feel like I’m reliving the same off-season over and over again and that I’m seeing all the same optimism (genuine or otherwise) from the same people, about the exact same roster prioritization and that’s something that terrifies me.
With Riley Reiff gone the Vikings no longer simply are “just the interior of the line away!”, which is more complicated and terrifying that it already was. While it’s common sense that the left tackle spot will be harder to fill and is much more important… The fact remains that this team has only drafted five guards since Zimmer was hired and since losing both Joe Berger and Nick Easton this team has done everything imaginable to fill the guard spots outside of … using a day 1 or day 2 picks on players who had actually played guard before.
Let’s look at the five actual guards the Vikings have drafted under Zimmer.
Those guards are:
David Yankey – 5th round (2014)
Danny Isidora – 5th round (2017)
Colby Gossett- 6th round (2018)
Dru Samia- 4th round (2019)
Kyle Hinton- 7th round (2020)
While guards obviously aren’t as coveted as tackles, and a lot of teams find good guard talent in the mid-rounds, it’s time that the Vikings bite the bullet and use a first rounder on someone like Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis. Why? I mean. We could wait two years and see Davis as an All-Pro for the another squad, only for me to say see?
After all. I was the one who named FOUR interior lineman the Vikings could’ve traded down and taken for in lieu of drafting unmitigated disaster Mike Hughes. I was also the guy who started our live chat during the 2016 Draft by literally saying: ANYONE BUT TREADWELL!
But, I’m a hack because I’m not looking at the Vikings yet again spending every limited dollar on the defense this off-season. Which leaves the Draft. Bide your time, Joe, they have a plan. I’ve heard that every single season since the above guards left for the golf course and the Bayou.
Because, honestly, this off-season has aligned in such a way that the Vikings really only (I don’t mean that lightly) have starter level needs on the offensive line (perhaps only at tackle, depending on what happens with Ezra Cleveland and Mason Cole). But, I’m not convinced that Cleveland is the answer at right guard or left tackle. He graded out okay in the run game, but was atrocious in pass protection.
It should. Instead everyone is drooling over free agents that rank from the 50th to… unranked in PFF’s 2021 Free Agency rankings as covered in the piece that inspired this one.
Despite having negative cap space weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings have yet again found a way to move money around and in the process sign free agents that have got Vikings social media in a tizzy.
While I argued on my weekly appearance on Bob Sansevere’s ‘BS Show’ this morning that the team had spun mid-level free agents into PR gold, I also said that I thought that those players would have an outsized impact on the Vikings’ 2021 prospects.
— Bob “The BS Show” Sansevere (@bobsansevere) March 29, 2021
A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Vikings defense will look nearly completely different in 2021 than it did in 2020. In almost a complete flip from last season, the Vikings will most likely have four different starters on the defensive line than played in 2020.
Presuming Danielle Hunter returns, the Vikes will also have an immunized Michael Pierce, free agent signing Dalvin Tomlinson, and whomever the Vikings inevitably draft in the first round (bet on it) at the other edge.
Other new/healthy players include Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson, Xavier Woods, and Mackenzie Alexander.
Don’t get me wrong. I think they’ll be much improved. I do. But, we’ve seen a more stacked defense under Zimmer fail when things mattered most. More than once. I’ve argued for years that this team needs an elite offense to offset a good defense that gets exploited in big spots but is good in the regular season.
They still can have both. They’re frustratingly close.
With the combination of Pierce and Tomlinson clogging up the previously paper thin middle, Patrick Peterson acting like the coach on the field the Vikings needed for promising second year corners Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, and the return of (once reluctant) nickel Alexander, it’s safe to say the 27th-ranked unit should catapult back into/near the top 10 in 2021.
That leaves the offense. Well, the offense and special teams. But, for the sake of simplicity let’s say presume that special teams improve for the Vikings (because it can’t get much worse).
The offense was the main bright spot in 2020 despite the fact that the offensive line graded out worse in pass protection than it had in 2018 and 2019, with quarterback Kirk Cousins having his best year in purple in my humble opinion.
Sure, he’s had statistically better years, and 2020 was the worst record that he’d posted as a Viking, but his ability to orchestrate the long methodical drives the Vikings requested (to keep opposing quarterbacks off the field) while scoring a disproportionate amount of touchdowns in the process was masterful.
This stat, alone, proves that Cousins has earned his contract and could be an elite passer if he, you know, had a pocket to throw from.
With Dalvin Cook getting better by the year, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen being the best 1-2 punch at the wide receiver position, and Irv Smith Jr. emerging as a legitimate threat at the tight end spot (along with Tyler Conklin), the time has come for the Vikings to shore up their O-Line and learn from their past successes and failures.
As our very own Dustin Baker (who is now also the editor of our general NFL site, FranchiseTagged.com) pointed out recently, the Vikings have tried to solve their line issues via the draft these past few seasons.
You can read that take here:
I wrote a counter-point to that piece here, explaining that while the Vikings have drafted players like Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland, they’ve dropped the ball on the other aspects of developing a successful line.
You can skim/comment how awful I am at life here:
As I’ve said in most of my articles, I’m not negative for effect nor do I even think that I’m actually being negative. I think, rather, that I’m being realistic about a team that everyone but me predicted would improve on their 2019 10-6 record in 2020.
When I wrote this before last season I was roundly mocked by those that predicted the Vikings would make it all the way to the F… B… I… wait. Sorry. Went full ‘Silence of the Lambs’ for a second. I meant all the way to the Super Bowl.
I mean. Read this and tell me if it sounds familiar…
I was the first person in Vikings media to start bemoaning the offensive line and now that that is the topic that everyone covers as objective fact. Sadly, I’m still here saying what I’ve been saying for years.
Trading for Mason Cole was a good start, but this line desperately needs someone like Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis or left tackle Penei Sewell (who Mel Kiper Jr. recently attached to the Vikings not at 14, but 9).
They’re genuinely that close to actually and finally potentially getting over the hump. While the Danielle Hunter situation could throw a wrench in the gears, the reality is that free agency was most successful, as I said on Sansevere’s show, in my opinion because it limited the ability of Zimmer to use the first three picks on the defense.
While Sansevere disagreed with me and thought Zimmer would find a way to still prioritize the defense (I told you my misanthropy was spreading!), what makes me as anxious as I’m sure to be frustrated a month from now, is that it really is that simple and yet the Vikings keep blowing it.
That’s not to say it’s simple in that whomever the Vikings could draft in those rounds for the offensive line would end up working out, but rather that this team as currently comprised feels like a team that simply needs a left tackle/guard, perhaps a third receiver (and that edge rusher) and some special teams/depth pieces to genuinely contend.
You would think that any team that is due to pay it’s quarterback $45 million guaranteed in 2022, and that also has Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, would bend over backward to give that offense time to throw the ball down the field. Because it’s 2021, with all it’s pass happy rule changes, not 1985 (as hard as Zimmer wants it to be).
In fact, insider secret. Zimmer actually hurt his eye not during the Chicago Bears game as reported, but rather because he got into a fist fight with a Mayan Calendar.
The potential positive impact by that O-line investment clearly outweighs the impact of drafting/signing any other players anywhere else. Period. So, while everyone in Vikings media suddenly agrees with the “worst Vikings writer. Bar none”, it is clear that the team has yet to pick up on that fact.
That’s what makes this so frustrating and is the reason why I was the sole writer to not laud last year’s draft as a “slam dunk final piece Super Bowl baby hashtag Tampa baby”.
When other writers reacted to my takes as me being so far out of pocket that I was on an island, I responded that I’d save the Tweet until the Vikings flamed out and missed the playoffs.
I lost the Tweet. But. This article sums it up well.
So, I’m actually not even patting myself on the back nor bemoaning the reality of having a site with a comment section. Instead, I’m really hoping that this will be the last article and off-season where I’m covering the exact same thing.
You’d think I’d feel validated that everyone suddenly agrees with the Vikings media equivalent of Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’, but considering the fact that the Vikings line has gotten WORSE in pass protection while people celebrate the fact that every free agent signing was… Gasp… on the defense, again.
That leaves the line.
Let’s hope they finally get the message. Cause, for everyones sake? I need to stop writing about this/patting myself on the back. Clearly no one enjoys this, myself included.