The 7 Biggest Surprises of the Vikings Offseason to Date
The Minnesota Vikings have welcomed six newcomers via free agency, allowed six players from the 2022 roster to depart, and re-signed 13 others.
Indeed, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has effectuated his “competitive rebuild” philosophy in the flesh, preparing the team for a 2023 playoff push while keeping an eye on 2024 and beyond.
The 7 Biggest Surprises of the Vikings Offseason to Date
Not everything was totally expected, though, on the offseason calendar. These are the seven biggest surprises for the Vikings offseason so far, ranked in ascending order of importance.
Note: Releases of Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, etc., were not included because most in-the-weeds Vikings fans expected the moves. Minnesota started the offseason underwater with the salary cap, and veterans on fat contracts usually get chopped when that happens. And it happened.
7. Adam Thielen Does Not Chase Rings
When most thirtysomethings hit free agency for the first time after a fancy career to their name, they chase Super Bowls. But not Adam Thielen.
He’s heading to the Carolina Panthers at the age of 33, pairing with Andy Dalton — yes, him — and a rookie quarterback from the 2023 NFL Draft. The Panthers will not contend for a Super Bowl in 2023, although Thielen claims they can.
Thielen secured a decent payday, WR1 status, and a fresh start. Most thought he’d latch onto the Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills to chase some ring hardware. Nope.
6. Cameron Dantzler Waived
Listen, if the Vikings had good cornerbacks coming out of their ears, waiving Cameron Dantzler two weeks ago would make sense. But here’s the deal — Minnesota does not have a CB surplus. Nothing of the sort, in fact.
Waiving Dantzler didn’t save much money, and the Washington Commanders scooped him. Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the Vikings have Byron Murphy, Andrew Booth, and Akayleb Evans on the depth chart as startable CBs. Where are the rest? Getting rid of Dantlzer should’ve implied “more than just Murphy” was on the way.
Minnesota electively kicked Dantzler to the curb and now has CB depth concerns. That is weird.
5. A Tight End the First FA Signing
Every obsessed Vikings fan had popcorn ready for the first day of free agency on March 13, with thumbs pulsating on REFRESH via the smartphone Twitter app.
The only things Minnesota didn’t need were offensive tackles and tight ends — plenty of those in the cupboard. Then, the first signing was a TE from the Baltimore Ravens, Josh Oliver, and a fairly expensive one at that.
Head coach Kevin O’Connell will evidently run the ball more in 2023, and signing a run-blocking TE like Oliver signaled an upcoming tweak to the offense — that not many predicted.
4. No Duke Shelley Sequel
The NFL’s fourth-best cornerback in 2022 was Duke Shelley, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Vikings did not want to spend $1.3 million on him. Chump change in NFL-speak.
He signed with the Raiders and will play with a chip on his shoulder in 2023 because “the Vikings didn’t want him.” He did the same thing in 2022, but the Chicago Bears were his arch-nemesis.
Shelley deserved a purple sequel in 2023, he won’t get it, and the decision left Vikings fans thinking, “Do what, now?”
3. Ham, Hicks, Mattison Retained
Some believed the Vikings would let go of several unrestricted free agents to pursue a phantom, all-out rebuild. That didn’t happen and was never going to happen in the first place because Adofo-Mensah doesn’t believe in burn-it-to-the-ground rebuilds. He espouses “live in today and tomorrow” for roster building. You know, like storied organizations do, such as the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Still, C.J., Ham, Jordan Hicks, and Alexander Mattison were players who could’ve fell by the wayside of the Vikings offseason. That’s not the case, as all three will return, evidence that the Vikings really care about their locker room leadership.
When the story on the Vikings offseason is written, the “big change” will be that expensive, aging veterans were jettisoned — not everybody and especially not locker room leaders under the age of 30.
2. Vikings Sign Top EDGE Rusher on Market
A few hours after TE Josh Oliver was acquired, the Vikings improved the defense by signing Marcus Davenport from the New Orleans Saints. Davenport arrived four days after Za’Darius Smith tweeted goodbye to Minnesota. Although Smith hasn’t been released or traded, Davenport is now the Viking to potentially become “the new Za’Darius.”
Davenport was nowhere near anybody’s radar pertaining to Vikings free agency, and the cash-strapped purple and gold team found a way to land the top pass rusher in the marketplace. Whoodathunkit?
1. Kirk Cousins Not Extended
The non-extension of Kirk Cousins likely means the end is nigh for No. 8 in Minnesota. Barring a wild trade, he’ll be the QB1 in 2023, but beyond that, it’s up in the air — and leans toward Adofo-Mensah drafting a rookie quarterback in the 2023 or 2024 NFL Draft.
It wasn’t terribly surprising that Cousins’ contract remained intact with 2023 punctuation, but it is the most important moment of the offseason. His theorized 2024 departure signals tremendous, first-time-in-10-years change for the Vikings. The club drafted Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, and if Cousins winds it down in 2023, it will be 10 years even between starting rookie-QB eras. 2014 was the year of Bridgewater, and 2024 could be the dawn of a new era involving Unknown Quarterback X.
For the first time in five years — the spring of 2018 was the last time when Cousins came aboard — Vikings fans can earnestly fire up their “who’s the next guy at QB1” theories. They’re applicable.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).
All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.
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