Vikings Remain in No Man’s Land
The Vikings are a team that is in no man’s land in more seasons than not. Since Mike Zimmer took over as head coach of the organization, the worst win total in his era was seven. In his tenure, the Vikings finished twice with seven wins and thrice as an eight-win team.
The team had its best year in 2017, with 13 wins and a trip to the NFC Championship Game. In 2015 and 2019, Zimmer’s squad reached the playoffs after winning 11 and 10 games. The 2015 playoff game will forever be connected to Blair Walsh and his missed game-winning field goal, while the Vikings upset a heavily favored Saints team in 2019 just to get blown out in the upcoming week.
The record of 72-56-1 is the 10th best among NFL teams since 2014. Never having a bad season helps in that regard. In the last 20 seasons, the Vikings rank at the 13th spot with their 164-155-2 record, which is close to average.
The Vikings replaced the leadership. Adofo-Mensah is in for Spielman, and O’Connell replaced Zimmer. But how are the Vikings set up for the near future? ESPN released future power rankings that look ahead at the next three seasons. It takes the quarterback, the roster around the QB, the coaching staff, the drafting ability, and the front office into account.
Vikings Stay Average
The Vikings organization comes in 19th, right in no-man´s-land. And not just the commutative result is average, but also every single subcategory. Overall roster without the quarterback and the quarterback each ranks 17th. That doesn’t mean that Cousins is the 17th best quarterback in the NFL because it takes age and contract into consideration.
Coaching is 19th. Nobody knows how good of a head coach Kevin O’Connell will be. Draft and front office is each 21st. Like O’Connell, Adofo-Mensah doesn’t have a track record and is unproven. Some people in the front office, however, are long-time members of the organization, like Rob Brzezinski.
Added to the rankings and gradings, ESPN provided a long explanation.
Why they’re here: The Vikings began this offseason with a question to ask: Do they begin a rebuild or largely run things back with their roster from this past season? They opted to keep the roster band together under new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell, extending quarterback Kirk Cousins by a year and making win-now moves, including signing edge rusher Za’Darius Smith in free agency. The question surrounding Cousins has long been whether he is a quarterback who can carry a team deep into the playoffs or if his ceiling is simply reaching the postseason. The next two seasons are Cousins’ best chance to prove he is more the former than the latter.Field Yates, ESPN
The organization opted to keep the roster, with some changes, largely together and changed the leadership instead. Attempts to fix the offensive line in recent years all failed. Adofo-Mensah’s goal was the same but changed the approach. Instead of just bringing in one underwhelming candidate for the right guard job, he brought in three competitors for the job – free agent signings Chris Reed and Jesse Davis, and second-rounder Ed Ingram.
The weakness of the team in the last two years was the defense. A new defensive coordinator with a new scheme and multiple new starters were added. Za’Darius Smith, Harrison Phillips, Jordan Hicks, Lewis Cine, Chandon Sullivan, and Andrew Booth were all brought in to contribute.
Cousins has shown for seven years that he’s a good quarterback. The teams around him haven’t always been pretty, and overall the franchises with Cousins at the helm always fell short. The goal of the new regime is to find a better combination of the roster and the quarterback play for more success.
Biggest worry: Can O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah truly build the productive partnership that leads to wins, division titles and titles? There appears to be a culture shift, and the arrival of O’Connell bodes well for the productivity/versatility of the offense, while the defensive additions this offseason in the veteran free agent market (Smith) and the draft (safety Lewis Cine) by Adofo-Mensah look great on paper. Now it all has to come together.Louis Riddick, ESPN
In recent years, never everything came together. While in 2018, the offense struggled, the defense took more than one step backward in 2020 and 2021. 2019 is the only somewhat successful season since the Cousins signing. That is not solely on the passer, but it is to some extent. Aging players deciphered schemes, and toxic culture didn’t help. O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah had a great start to their new journey by bringing a positive culture and mindset to the franchise. That can be a big factor in turning things around.
The addition of O’Connell, an innovative offensive mind, can also unleash some parts of the offense. Especially a dynamic passing offense should be the way to go with players like Cousins, Jefferson, Thielen, Smith, and Osborn.
What could change for the better: Make the full transition to Ed Donatell’s 3-4 defense. After the Vikings spent eight seasons in a 4-3 formation under Mike Zimmer, O’Connell turns to Donatell – Vic Fangio’s former coordinator in Denver – to retool the D. Minnesota has made several moves to accommodate this switch, including the signings of Smith and rangy linebacker Jordan Hicks. But some people around the league wonder how edge rusher Danielle Hunter, more of a traditional 4-3 defensive end, will fare in the new scheme, or what awaits long-time Zimmer lieutenants Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith.Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
The scheme changes will take some time. Struggles at the beginning of the season should be expected, especially in Week 1 when Aaron Rodgers comes to town. He had problems with Zimmer’s schemes, but the games against Fangio’s Bears were much easier for him. The additions and the scheme change could help to bring the Vikings’ defensive unit closer to the 2019 level than the disastrous 2020 and 2021 campaigns. However, there’s also a chance that it won’t work.
The organization faces an important season. The new leadership and the other changes need to show some promise. If they don’t, a complete rebuild is not beyond the realm of possibility to avoid more Vikings seasons in no-man´s-land.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt