Great Coaching Will Be Critical with 8 or 9 New Starters Likely on Revamped 2024 Vikings

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As I read the Vikings press release on their 27-member coaching staff last week and then pondered the likelihood of the team having at least eight and possibly nine new starters in 2024, it indicated to me how critical it will be for the Vikings to have outstanding coaching this coming season if they are going to return to the playoffs.

Great Coaching Will Be Critical with 8 or 9 New Starters Likely on Revamped 2024 Vikings

When I started my NFL front office career in the late 1970s, our coaching staff consisted of Bud Grant at the helm with only six assistants, three each on offense and defense. Our running backs coach, Bus Mertes, also handled special teams.

We usually had only five or so new players make the final roster in those years before free agency came to the NFL. We had a veteran-laden, perennial playoff team that went to four Super Bowls in eight seasons from 1969-1976.

New Starters
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It’s incredible how NFL coaching staffs have increased in number in the past 40 or so years. Now, just about every position has a main coach and an assistant, such as Vikings quarterback coach Josh McCown and Assistant quarterback coach Grant Udinski.

Of course, team revenues have increased substantially since my early years in the league with ever-rising media rights, stadium revenue, and sponsorships. All areas of NFL organizations have many more staffers. In my GM years with the Vikings in the 1990s, I negotiated all player contracts and managed the salary cap myself. Now, most teams have three or four people working in these areas.

The challenge coming up is immense for Kevin O’Connell and his assistant coaches. The most critical task is working a new starting quarterback into the mix, whether that is Sam Darnold or, more likely, J.J. McCarthy after the Vikings trade up to get him (or another top quarterback in this draft).

Aaron Jones will be the new starting running back. K.J. Osborn is gone, so the third wide receiver will be Jalen Nailor, Brandon Powell, Trent Sherfield, or a draft choice unless the Vikings add another bargain-bin free agent at the position. If Dalton Risner is not re-signed, there will be a replacement at left guard.

That’s four possible new starters for the Vikings’ offense, which ranked 10th last season and was ranked higher before Kirk Cousins suffered his Achilles injury.

The defensive changes will be even more dramatic. I count at least five new starters for DC Brian Flores to work into his aggressive scheme.

Flores Flourish
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One of two free agent signees–Jonah Williams or Jerry Tillery–should start on the defensive line with Harrison Phillips and Jonathan Bullard. Big bucks OLB/Edge players Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel will replace Danielle Hunter and D.J. Wonnum while Blake Cashman steps in for Jordan Hicks at inside linebacker. Vet Shaquill Griffin is expected to win a starting outside cornerback spot in place of inconsistent Akayleb Evans, and it’s a good idea if the Vikings sign another vet corner to play slot corner or outside if Byron Murphy moves into the slot in obvious passing situations.

The Vikings also may have a new kicker in recently signed former XFL kicker John Parker Romo. In 2023, he spent training camp with the Lions and was on the Bears practice squad for a few weeks last season.  

Every season, all teams in today’s NFL have several new starters as players come and go in free agency and via the draft. But the two top NFC North teams from last season—the Lions and Packers—are not looking at as many changes as the Vikings. And they have Jared Goff and Jordan Love coming off excellent seasons (especially the last half of the 2023 season for Love) at the most important position of quarterback.

How Many QBs
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The Bears are more in the Vikings boat with having a new starting QB (likely No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams) and a bunch of new starters on both sides of the ball. But this Bears team is clearly on the rise talent-wise.

It sets up a fascinating season ahead for the Vikings, with the coaching staff in a pivotal third year. How quickly O’Connell and his assistants get the new QB playing at a high level will be the most crucial factor in the team’s success or lack thereof in 2024. That will start in May OTAs, June minicamp, and training camp leading up to the early September season opener.

But with all these lineup changes, the entire coaching staff is under pressure to get the eight or more new starters up to speed with the offensive and defensive schemes and playing excellent football in short order for the team to be successful in 2024.

Around the NFL Observations:

1. The NFL’s annual league meeting this week in Orlando included some interesting coaches’ quotes. Of prime interest to the Vikings and their fan base are the statements by Denver Coach Sean Payton and Los Angeles Chargers Coach Jim Harbaugh regarding quarterbacks and next month’s draft.

After dumping Russell Wilson and having vet Jarrett Stidham as the current starter, Payton said trading up from No. 12 overall in the draft to get a quarterback is a “realistic” option. “It’s good to be Monti right now,” Payton said in referring to Arizona GM Monti Ossenfort, who holds the No. 4 overall pick that is expected to be sought after by the Vikings (with their two first-round picks at No. 11 and No. 23) and the Broncos as both teams could have their sights on McCarthy.

Speaking of the QB for national champion Michigan last season, Harbaugh, who was, of course, the Wolverines’ head coach before leaving for the Chargers, said of McCarthy after he participated in Michigan’s Pro Day last Friday, “The workout J.J. had—I’ve been to a lot of pro-day workouts—that’s the best I’ve ever seen a quarterback do at pro day.” Harbaugh furthered his praise by calling McCarthy the best quarterback in a strong QB class, saying he “plays quarterback the best” of the group.

Vikings Fans
Nov 25, 2023; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) throws during the second half of the NCAA football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium. Ohio State lost 30-24. © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Harbaugh has his own not-so-hidden agenda since the Chargers already have a franchise QB in Justin Herbert, and Harbaugh would love to see QBs go on the first four picks since his team holds the No. 5 overall pick. If the Vikings or Broncos trade for the Cardinals’ No. 4 pick and QBs are selected with the first four picks for the first time in NFL history, then the Chargers would be able to draft the top non-QB in the draft with the possibility of taking their highest-rated receiver (likely Marvin Harrison, Jr. or perhaps Malik Nabers) to help replace the departed Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

Harbaugh said as much with this quote: “If four quarterbacks go in the first four picks, that’s like the No. 1 pick in the draft for teams that have a great quarterback already.”

The bottom line is that you can expect a lot of continued chatter about McCarthy and the other top quarterbacks up to and into the early first round on April 25.

2. The most controversial rule change at the league meeting was the ban of the hip-drop tackle, defined as “a player swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body and landing on and trapping the runner’s leg(s) at or below the knee.”

The NFLPA spoke out against banning such a tackle. Good luck to game officials trying to enforce this rule, which makes it even more difficult for defensive players to tackle (as they already have to guard against head shots, hitting defenseless receivers, and going low on QB hits). The likelihood will be more fines after the league office reviews game tapes as opposed to penalties called during games. 

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.