NFL Dead Period And Thoughts on Off-The-Mark Vikings Tanking Claim
The summer lull in the NFL is here as players and coaches have scattered across the country for vacation time after two months of offseason training, OTAs, and minicamp. I always enjoyed this mid-June to mid-July period before we began ramping up for training camp.
NFL Dead Period And Thoughts on Off-The-Mark Vikings Tanking Claim
There were a few contracts pending for me this time of year, but I had time to wrap them up in the two weeks before training camp (as is the case for Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah with the two big deals on his plate — the extensions for Justin Jefferson and Danielle Hunter).
My biggest concern in the six weeks from minicamp to training camp was whether I would get the dreaded 2:00 am phone call from my staff or the police saying a player had been busted for driving drunk or some other transgression. Fortunately, it only happened a couple of times in my NFL management career, but it is on the minds of team execs when players have this downtime.
The vast majority of players continue working out during this period so they can report to training camp in top condition. There’s too much at stake contract-wise to risk pulling a hamstring or something worse that could derail their training camp work in preparation for the regular season.
In my work with the agent firm IFA, I tell our players to enjoy this time off and get away on vacation but ramp back up with their workouts after July 4th in anticipation of their best season yet.
Weighing on the Vikings tanking for a high draft pick theory:
Mike Florio of NBC Sports/Pro Football Talk stirred it up recently when he wrote that the Vikings seem to be willing to “make a temporary visit to football hell, in the hopes of busting out of limbo” and putting themselves in position to jettison Kirk Cousins after this season and draft their future franchise QB.
Florio placed the Vikings in the Cardinals’ category, saying they “aren’t prioritizing winning as many games as possible in 2023.” He says the team wants to “deliberately take a major step back in 2023, in the hopes that it will lead to multiple steps forward in 2024 and beyond” by setting themselves up to pick their next QB—”a year-in and year-out best in the league or close to it passer and runner they haven’t had since Fran Tarkenton.”
I know national commentators like to make controversial statements to create traffic to their website and rile up the football-crazy audience. I’m just not buying what Florio says. It obviously stems from the veteran players who have been released or traded this offseason, with Dalvin Cook the latest on the list. Plus, Cousins’ contract has not yet been extended beyond this season.
I’m sure Zygi and Mark Wilf, Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell would like nothing more than another 13-win season coupled with several playoff wins and a trip to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas next February for the first Vikings’ Super Bowl appearance since 1977 and—they hope—the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.
In my 20-plus years as an NFL GM and President in Minnesota and Tennessee, I never thought of purposely tanking a season to set the stage for drafting a quarterback in the top five the following April. I would’ve worried I’d be fired after a terrible season and not be around to make that pick. And I was far too competitive and hated losing too much to do anything that would force me to endure a bad season.
It was inevitable the Vikings would have to make some tough choices in order to free up salary cap space this year after keeping so many high-priced vets in 2022. They have a few voidable deals on the books with players like Cousins but not to the extent the Eagles are doing such contracts, which will cause major cap pain down the road (as the Buccaneers are feeling this year with $35 million in dead money on Tom Brady after his retirement).
I believe Adofo-Mensah will get long-term deals done with Jefferson and Hunter, the team’s best offensive and defensive players. I think the team will be fine at running back with Alexander Mattison leading the way (he was the team’s best short-yardage back last year). And even though he’s still a quality back, Cook’s production declined last year to his lowest yards per carry average (4.4) in his career, thus making his $14 million cap hit untenable.
Za’Darius Smith was a non-factor down the stretch last season, and Eric Kendricks was not as effective as he’s been with the shift from a 4-3 middle linebacker to a 3-4 defense. Adam Thielen is a high-quality receiver, and I think he’ll be missed.
The Vikings spent a first-round pick to replace him, but if I’m Adofo-Mensah or O’Connell, I’m a little nervous Jordan Addison can stay healthy so he can be productive after already having a minor injury that kept him out of OTAs and minicamp. It often happens that rookies pull hamstrings or have similar nagging injuries that hurt their first-year progress before they figure out how to stay healthy.
Dalvin Tomlinson was an OK player, but Dean Lowry could be just as effective at a much lower cost. Patrick Peterson had his good and bad moments in coverage last season, and we’ll see if the younger and faster Byron Murphy can stay healthy and get the job done at corner while talented youngsters battle it out for the other corner spots (I like Akayleb Evans’ talent level and third round corner Mekhi Blackmon looks like a solid prospect but it appears Andrew Booth Jr. will always be in and out of the lineup battling injuries as he did last year and in college).
Marcus Davenport’s injury history also is a cause for concern, but he did have nine sacks and 16 QB hits two years ago with the Saints, so the potential to help the pass rush is there (but Hunter is still badly needed on the opposite side).
A team doesn’t pay significant free agent money to players such as Murphy and Davenport or be prepared to send $30 million plus per year Jefferson’s way if they’re not committed to winning. There’s plenty of talent on this Vikings team led by their offense—including the best receiver in the league in J.J., a Pro Bowl tight end in T.J. Hockenson, a promising O-line, especially at the tackle spots, and a top 10-15 QB in Cousins.
There’s also an astute coaching staff led by O’Connell and DC Brian Flores (who should get the defense to play better even with so many young players and question marks on that side of the ball). The Vikings have a tough schedule—especially early in the season—but I think they should be able to defend their NFC North title by holding off the over-hyped Lions and the Packers in Jordan Love’s first season as starting QB.
It’s evident to me that Florio is off the mark in his doomsday assessment of the Vikings’ thinking and chances for success in 2023.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl