The Biggest Mistakes from Vikings 2023 Season
After looking at the positives, it’s time to consider the biggest mistakes from the Vikings 2023 season. It’s easy to pick out the errors with the benefit of hindsight, so it’s essential to also look at how accountable the decision-makers are and what can be done to fix things in 2024.
The Biggest Mistakes from Vikings 2023 Season
Minnesota appointed young and inexperienced leaders in GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and HC Kevin O’Connell. They didn’t arrive as the finished article, and both had to learn on the job. Any expectations that they would figure everything out immediately would have been naive. Year 3 lessons need to be understood, and improvements must be made. Adofo-Mensah inherited a bad cap situation and has worked hard to drag Minnesota out of that hole — something he doesn’t get enough credit for.
Veteran players were let go, and contracts were restructured just to get the Vikings into positive cap and able to shop in the bargain basement of free agency.
This upcoming offseason, the Vikings start in a much healthier position cap-wise, even with big decisions to be made on Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and Danielle Hunter. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell make the decisions; ultimately, the accountability stops with them. Any honeymoon period there might have been is now over, and nobody needs to tell the Vikings GM that this is a big offseason.
Some decisions were made that didn’t work and will need readdressing before the start of the 2024 season. Greg Joseph was brought back as the Vikings kicker and showed inconsistency for a third year. There is a case to be made that Harrison Smith was kept a season too long. The Vikings fan favorite was kept around while other veterans were shown the door.
Harrison Smith was by no means bad in 2023, but outside of the 3-sack game in Carolina, he didn’t have the impact the big money he is being paid warrants. Smith’s $19 million cap hit can’t remain in 2024.
Given what they had to work with, Minnesota did reasonably well in free agency. Their big free agency additions were Byron Murphy, Josh Oliver, and Dalton Risner, who arrived during the season. Lastly, Marcus Davenport sits at the top of the tree of the mistakes made.
Signing Marcus Davenport
The Vikings couldn’t afford to pay a top edge rusher, so they took a flyer on the former New Orleans Saints to replace the outgoing Za’Darius Smith. Davenport is a talented player, but he came to Minnesota with a sketchy injury history, which immediately reared its ugly head, with Davenport missing the season’s opening game. He was ready for Week 2 in Philadelphia but then missed the next game before returning in Week 4 at Carolina.
The start of a three-game run would be his last participation. Davenport played the least games of his six-year career — disaster.
A trip to injured reserve with an ankle sprain wasn’t expected to finish Davenport’s season, but it did. Davenport showed what he could do on the field with 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 4 QB hits, and 2 sacks from just the three full games he played in. That level of talent is why the Vikings offered him a 1-year $13 million deal. Unfortunately, injuries made this a costly mistake that the Vikings will still pay for in 2024, with $6.8 million of his cap hit pushed back to this year.
After the most injury-affected season of an injury-plagued career, Davenport won’t have much leverage in free agency and could be worth bringing back on a very cheap deal — veteran minimum with incentives in the contract for actually playing if no other team is willing to take a risk on paying him more. The talent is there, but it’s no good if you don’t see it.
With Danielle Hunter and D.J. Wonnum also set to become free agents, the Vikings have a major headache with the edge rush department. Whether it’s bringing back Hunter, looking to free agency, or early in the draft, Minnesota needs to put significant resources into the position.
Alexander Mattison as RB1
It was a tough ask for Alexander Mattison to follow, as he took over from Dalvin Cook as the Vikings RB1. Cook had been one of the best backs in the league for several years, and even though the decline was setting in, Cook still produced special moments in 2022. With Adrian Peterson before him, Vikings fans were accustomed to a big-name running back dominating the game. Mattison would never be that, and it wasn’t what was asked of him in O’Connell’s pass-first offense.
However, if you told me before the season that Mattison — who had 11 rushing touchdowns to his name as the Vikings RB2 in four seasons — would fail to reach the end zone a single time rushing all season, I wouldn’t have believed it.
That’s what happened: 16 games and zero touchdowns. Mattison did have three receiving touchdowns, 192 receiving yards, and 700 rushing yards at an average of 3.9 yards per carry — his career average is 4.1.
Overall, Mattison was okay; there were some bad games and some reasonably good ones. He wasn’t far off what I think O’Connell was hoping for, apart from that one damning stat. Mattison became the first player in 20 years to have 180+ rushing attempts and 700 rushing yards without scoring a touchdown and only the seventh in NFL history.
Mattison stepped out of the side in Week 15 with an injury, and although he was back for Week 16, Ty Chandler remained the starter for the rest of the season. It would be a major surprise if Mattison returned to RB1 duties for 2024. Chandler surpassed him with an encouraging finish to the season, but it’s a position the Vikings should look to strengthen.
I don’t think the Vikings will be in the market for any big-name/expensive FA running backs like Saquon Barkley or Josh Jacobs. However, a player like Zack Moss would be a good option. Alternatively, the Vikings could look to the draft.