Janik Eckardt’s Endorsement + Plan for Vikings’ 2024 Offseason

Vikings Is Sweet
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy makes a pass against Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner during the first half of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024.

After failing to make the postseason in 2023, the Vikings reached a crossroads in their franchise history, with multiple integral parts of the organization scheduled to be free agents in less than a month. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will try to build the best possible team in the upcoming season while keeping an eye on the future. Will he continue the competitive rebuild or steer towards competing or rebuilding instead?

Janik Eckardt’s Endorsement + Plan for Vikings’ 2024 Offseason

The outcome will differ wildly from the following endorsement + plan, but this is the preferred result for the future.

Please Note: These are not predictions. This is a general endorsement.

It’s Time to Say Goodbye

Endorsement + Plan for Vikings’ 2024 Offseason
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports.

Kirk Cousins has been the closest thing to a franchise quarterback the Vikings have had in a long time. He has climbed the leaderboards in franchise history, steadily playing decent football to keep his Vikings in the mix for a playoff spot. Just last season, Cousins was on pace to break his personal milestones, and he threatened some team records before his Achilles injury ended his and virtually Minnesota’s season.

That injury, combined with the age, is a massive factor in why the Vikings should head in a different direction after six seasons. He will be 36 years old when he steps foot into an NFL stadium in Week 1 of 2024, and nobody knows how the injury will affect his future outlook. But one thing is certain: A decline is inevitable. It might not happen in the upcoming season, but he has reached an age in which a physical decline could be encountered at any moment.

Considering his usual demands of fully guaranteed salaries, signing him to another long-term contract would be a significant risk. It is better to end his tenure a year too early instead of a year too late and having to pay a hefty compensation to a subpar passer.

Break the Bank for Two Franchise Players

Hunter Buzz
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota has a couple of All-Pro caliber players whose futures are uncertain at this point. Danielle Hunter is a pending free agent after nine years with the Vikings. He has been fairly durable besides 2020 and 2021, in which a pair of serious injuries kept him out of the majority of the two campaigns. However, he is coming off a career-best season in sacks, tackles, and forced fumbles.

There will be a massive demand for a player of his caliber in free agency as those usually aren’t available as teams can use the franchise tag and keep the defender under control. But the Vikings gave up that right when they raised his salary last August. He will command a high cap number, but he deserves it.

Every defense needs a good pass rusher, and the Vikings shouldn’t try to fix the hole with rookies who rarely impact players from day one or, worse, free agents. Keeping the best available players in the building should be a priority.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Even more critical is Justin Jefferson’s contract extension. The wide receiver is one of the brightest stars in the NFL and certainly the best player on the team. Just like Hunter, he has earned every penny of his possible record-breaking deal, and it is a no-brainer. Letting Hall of Fame talent leave the building is never a winning strategy.

Re-Sign 12 Players

The Vikings should re-sign the following in-house free agents:

  • Blake Brandel (OL)
  • Jonathan Bullard (DE)
  • Danielle Hunter (OLB)
  • Theo Jackson (S)
  • Johhny Mundt (TE)
  • Nick Muse (TE)
  • Brandon Powell (WR)
  • David Quessenberry (OT)
  • Austin Schlottmann (OL)
  • Khyiris Tonga (DT)
  • Oli Udoh (OT)
  • D.J. Wonnum (OLB)

Let These Players Walk

Their tenure in Minnesota should be over.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
  • Hakeem Adeniji (OT)
  • Cam Akers (RB)
  • Anthony Barr (LB)
  • Kirk Cousins (QB)
  • Marcus Davenport (OLB)
  • Joshua Dobbs (QB)
  • Troy Dye (LB)
  • Jordan Hicks (LB)
  • Greg Joseph (K)
  • Cut: Dean Lowry (DL)
  • James Lynch (DL)
  • K.J. Osborn (WR)
  • Chris Reed (OG)
  • Dalton Risner (OG)
  • T.J. Smith (DT)

Besides Cousins, Marcus Davenport, K.J. Osborn, and Dalton Risner are the most notable names. Davenport’s injury history makes it unjustifiable to re-sign him for another season. Osborn has been too inconsistent to warrant a second contract. Risner played well in his lone Vikings campaign, but his salary will exceed his level of play.

Harrison Smith either retires or takes a massive pay cut in this scenario. If neither is the case, Adofo-Mensah should release him to save the majority of his $19.2 million cap hit. Although his veteran leadership would be missed, defensive coordinator Brian Flores could still field a functioning defense without him as Josh Metellus and Camryn Bynum are employed.

Sign These FAs

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

There will be many more signings, but the following players highlight the group.

Bryce Huff, EDGE (NYJ), 3-Year, $50 million
Jacoby Brissett, QB (WAS), 1-Year, $6.5 million
Quinton Jefferson, DT (NYJ), 1-Year, $3.5 million
Maurice Hurst, DT (CLE), 1-Year, $1.75 million
Josh Reynolds, WR (DET), 2-Year, $10.5 million
Greg Van Roten, LG (LV), 1-Year, $1.75 million
Austin Hooper, TE (LV), 1-Year, $2 million

Despite re-signing Hunter and Wonnum, the Vikings need a second force on the edge. Flores has a wonderful pass-rush combo with Hunter and Bryce Huff that will threaten quarterbacks on every down. Huff has posted insane pass-rush win rates but was stuck in a timeshare. It is time to unleash the 25-year-old.

As Cousins leaves in free agency, the Vikings need a so-called bridge quarterback. Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall have shown that they aren’t reliable enough to run the offense for an entire season, and Jacoby Brissett can do that. He is insurance in case the QB acquired in the draft isn’t ready, or the Vikings miss out in April.

The top defensive linemen are expected to draw the franchise tag, and the Vikings shouldn’t invest close to $20 million per year into 30-year-old tier-two linemen, so they settle for cheap pass-rush specialists. Injuries have slowed down Hurst, but when healthy, he has shown flashes, while Jefferson provides the needed pass rush but can’t stop the run. Playing him on obvious passing downs will still give the defense a boost.

Uplifts Weird
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports.

Josh Reynolds played under Kevin O’Connell in Los Angeles and has proven to be a solid contributor. While he won’t rack up a 1,000-yard season, he has produced 600 yards twice (in 2020 with O’Connell and last year) and helped Detroit’s explosive offense last season. He dropped a crucial pass in the NFC Championship Game but still had a productive postseason. Reynolds isn’t a significant upgrade over the departing Osborn, but he is more dynamic.

Greg Van Roten is a veteran in the league, and even at age 33, he had a wonderful 2023 season in Las Vegas. The Vikings should add a guard in the draft but also sign Van Roten to have someone in the building who can play right away at a solid level. He is also a scheme fit.

Austin Hooper is a depth-tight end who can take over the pass-catching duties until T.J. Hockenson returns from his knee injury.

Draft J.J. McCarthy

It is time for a new era in Minnesota. After six years with Cousins under center, the Vikings must find their next franchise quarterback. J.J. McCarthy certainly has the resume after guiding the Wolverines to a national title.

the QB to Avoid
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy looks to pass against Iowa during the first half of the Big Ten championship game at Luca Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

He has the requisite athleticism to make plays with his legs, either throwing outside of the pocket or gaining yards as a runner is available. While he wasn’t asked to light up the stat sheet in Michigan’s run-centric offense, he still managed to showcase his arm talent in his collegiate career as well as his unique poise and understanding of offenses and defenses at age 20.

Because he just turned 21 and has the skills to become the quarterback of the future, the Vikings shouldn’t hesitate to grab their guy. He has gained some steam and rumors about teams loving him much more than casual observers; a slight trade might be required.

Select This Draft Class

R1: J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan
R2: Leonard Taylor III, DL, Miami
R3: Bucky Irving, RB, Oregon
R5: Sataoa Laumea, IOL, Utah
R5: JD Bertrand, LB, Notre Dame
R6: Joshua Karty, K, Stanford
R6: Jha’Quan Jackson, WR, Tulane

Note: The Vikings use their two fourth-round picks to trade up into the end of the third round to secure running back Irving.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

Adofo-Mensah adds his franchise quarterback while also bolstering the defensive line in the second round. Taylor is a great athlete and has the potential to become a true impact player. Irving is a dynamic playmaker and will make a difference in the terrible running game. Laumea has plenty of experience and is a versatile lineman. The goal is for him to be a serviceable guard down the road. Linebacker Bertrand is a smart football player who provides depth behind the young linebackers Ivan Pace and Brian Asamoah. Karty is the new hope to fill the cursed kicking game, and wideout Jackson is a depth receiver in the slot.

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