The Vikings Must Make a Fundamental Decision

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Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell and team owner Ziggy Wilf talk at training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Starting the season 0-2 is no longer a death sentence with the addition of the 17th game and a seventh spot in the playoff picture. However, the Vikings started 0-3, putting the season in serious jeopardy as reaching the postseason likely requires a 10-4 record in the remaining 14 games. That record could lead to some consequential decisions.

The Vikings Must Make a Fundamental Decision

A disappointing start to the season could lead to a huge change in philosophy. Sitting at the bottom of the standings, the Vikings can go in two different directions from here.

The Vikings Must Make a Fundamental Decision
Sep 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) talk after the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The first one is the desire of many fans who want the team to enter a serious rebuild phase and just tank for the remainder of the season to secure the best possible draft position and perhaps the best possible shot at a franchise quarterback.

But that is not as easy as some folks think. Players and coaches will not suddenly try to lose games–the front office must make that decision with the approval from ownership. The Vikings as currently constructed are good enough to theoretically win every game they participate in and the best evidence is that they lost three one-possession games and a single bounce in each of the contests could’ve changed the outcome. On the flip side, they aren’t good enough to convincingly win and they haven’t been for years.

To change that .500 level of play in which both a loss and a win are real possibilities on a weekly basis, the franchise must part ways with enough good players until they aren’t good enough to compete anymore. And this is where things get complicated.

Of course, that would mean the organization must ship Kirk Cousins somewhere else, although he could veto that with his no-trade clause. Everyone who is in favor of a rebuild accepts that premise. The New York Jets lost starting QB Aaron Rodgers and Cousins would be a serious upgrade from Zach Wilson. The tanking strategy would also cost other Pro Bowl-caliber players like Danielle Hunter and possibly one of the offensive tackles.

Crazy Trade Idea
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) warms up before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

One remaining asset the team must make a decision about is the superstar, Justin Jefferson. Will he stick around for a rebuild with a mystery at QB and waste his prime or does he want out in that scenario? A rebuild is a lot easier with a bunch of additional first-round draft choices that Jefferson would certainly be worth in return.

If the two or three best players are off the team, it would be hard to be competitive and much easier to secure a high draft pick. That is how tanking works in the NFL–getting rid of valuable assets and exchanging them for assets for the future (draft picks).

The other possibility is obvious. Minnesota could opt to keep going. The Vikings are historically not an organization that wants to rebuild and tanking doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of the ownership. It would be something they generally don’t want to do and involve a serious paradigm shift. Regardless, they might have realized that always trying to do the same thing doesn’t work, and taking a shot at a QB early in the draft would be a solid change.

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Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) talk during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches and players will claim that they try to fix things and compete until they are eliminated from playoff contention and that is their job. That’s why the decision must be made without them, on the ownership level and in the front office.

The regime started with a competitive rebuild, last year they were competitive and they tried to continue that trend. But it might be time for the rebuild phase. The most likely scenario is that the team will get another week or two but at some point, the organization must choose between those two alternatives.

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