vikings

Previous Story Rochester Manager Mike Quade and Catcher John Ryan Murphy Big Believers in J.O. Berrios Next Story How much does the Vikings’ passing game have to improve to be Super Bowl contenders?

Grading the offseason: Vikings accomplished top goals

Jan 1, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks on during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Bears 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The signing of wide receiver Michael Floyd likely wraps up major offseason moves for the Minnesota Vikings. So after picking up a number of free agents and completing another draft, we are probably safe in asking: How did they do?

An unscientific poll on the 1500ESPN Twitter account found the majority of Twin Cities sports fan voters would give the Vikings a solid mark for their offseason. Those higher and lower were split.

Admittedly, grading an offseason is a little like grading a draft: We won’t know whether it was good, bad or somewhere in between until at least the end of the 2017 season. However, we can evaluate whether the team completed its offseason goals and whether key pieces were lost to free agency.

So here are the three biggest goals and “demerits,” which are lost players or holes that went unfilled.

Goal:

Markedly improve the offensive line

It would be polite to say the Vikings’ offensive line struggled last year. Even before the line battled a slew of injuries, they were still well below average despite the team’s belief they had fixed things up front last offseason. Sam Bradford was constantly under pressure even when the Vikings flipped their offense to focus on short passes and the Vikings also finished dead last in yards per carry in the run game.  Pro Football Focus ranked Minnesota’s line 30th in the league. Fixing the line was the No. 1 goal of the offseason by a mile.

Fix: 

Sign Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, draft center Pat Elflein 

While there are question marks around all three players the Vikings acquired to improve the O-line, odds are that they made a large step forward from last season. Both Reiff and Remmers were forced to play out of position in 2016 and had below average years, but it’s reasonable to expect them to bounce back to the strong run blockers and middle-of-the-pack pass blockers that they were in 2015. The Vikings did have to spend a big chunk of their cap room on Reiff and Remmers, but neither player’s contract locks the team in long term.

Elflein is expected to start at center Day 1, which will be a big challenge, but starting him in the middle allowed the Vikings to move Joe Berger to right guard, which acts as another upgrade from Brandon Fusco, who was cut at the beginning of the offseason.

The only way the Vikings could have done a better job with their top goal would have been to sign star left tackle Andrew Whitworth, but he elected to sign with the L.A. Rams.

Goal: 

Add weapons for Sam Bradford

Both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were excellent for the Vikings last year, both ranking in the top 20 by Pro Football Focus’s ratings, and Kyle Rudolph set a career high in catches, but it was clear that Bradford needed more help in order to maximize his talents. Cordarrelle Patterson was effective early in the season, but teams started to gameplan for short passes and screens coming his way. And while a major portion of the run struggles could be attributed to the offensive line, the Vikings needed to improve from injured Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata in the backfield.

Fix:

Draft Dalvin Cook, re-sign Adam Thielen, sign Latavius Murray and Michael Floyd, draft two receivers and a tight end 

The Vikings made a major effort to surround Bradford with better talent. It’s hard to know whether Rodney Adams, Stacey Coley or Bucky Hodges will have an impact this season, but there’s a good chance Dalvin Cook could become the star of the Vikings’ offense. Cook gives Minnesota’s offense a big-play threat out of the backfield, which was not there last year as they ranked last in runs over 10 yards.

Latavius Murray’s skill set fits nicely with the West Coast offense. He’s an excellent pass blocker and has the size to improve the Vikings’ short yardage running game. The presence of Murray and Cook should allow the Vikings to use Jerick McKinnon as a Swiss Army Knife in the offense.

Keeping Thielen was huge for the Vikings. He was an RFA, which opened up the possibility of another team giving him an offer sheet, but he returns to Minnesota on a reasonable contract. PFF tweeted that the Vikings’ quarterback had a 122 quarterback rating when throwing Thielen’s way. Michael Floyd is a wild card. When he’s at his best, the long-time Cardinal is a high-quality deep threat. But his history of off-field issues with DUIs is a major concern.

The Vikings did pursue Alshon Jeffery in free agency. He chose the Eagles on a one-year deal instead. Adding the former Bears star would have been the only way the Vikings could have done better with this goal.

Goal: 

Keep the defense in tact

The Vikings’ defense may have slipped down the stretch in 2016, especially with Harrison Smith dinged up, but it still finished as one of the league’s elite, ranking sixth in points allowed and third in yards against. Sure, the O-line and weapons are improved, but Minnesota’s ticket to the postseason is on the defensive side.

Fix: 

Re-sign Terence Newman, sign Datone Jones, draft LB Ben Gedeon and Jaleel Johnson 

Whether Newman can continue to play at a high level at age 39 is yet to be seen, but he was terrific for the Vikings in 2016, ranking among the best in the NFL in Yards Per Attempt Against. Newman and Trae Waynes often split series, which is what we should expect this year.

With serious uncertainty surrounding Sharrif Floyd, the Vikings needed to find a three-technique defensive tackle in the worst way. Jones had been playing outside linebacker for the Packers, so it’s still yet to be seen whether he can hold down the position. But the Vikings drafted Jaleel Johnson, a DT from Iowa, to provide more depth.

Gedeon had great mesaurables at the Combine and might be used in key run situations to replace Chad Greenway.

Demerits:

Losing Captain Munnerlyn and Cordarrelle Patterson to free agency, failing to find a future tackle or add veteran insurance on the O-line and defensive secondary

When Captain Munnerlyn signed with the Carolina Panthers, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Vikings would bring in an experienced nickel corner like Nickell Robey-Coleman to replace him. Instead it appears they will turn the keys over to Mackensie Alexander, who didn’t see much of the field last year and hasn’t played the nickel role before. Unless there’s a plan to bring in another corner before camp, they might be playing with fire. Teams use three receivers between 60%-70% of the time in the NFL, meaning the nickel spot is as valuable as another other starting defensive position.

Patterson isn’t seen as a huge loss, but he was the best kick returner in the NFL and added a playmaking element that the Vikings might have been able to work with even more – whether that meant running the ball more often or getting more creative in the passing game. Fifth-round pick Rodney Adams played a similar role in college, but the role might not be easy to fill. Patterson was special with the ball in his hands.

The draft was very weak with offensive linemen, so it’s understandable that the Vikings did not select a tackle, but behind Reiff and Remmers there are huge questions. Failing to add another veteran or draft a player who could be molded into a starter may prove to be regrettable.

Bottom line:

The voters probably have this one right. The Vikings did everything they could this offseason to support their quarterback, who was often left out to dry in 2016 and they did not lose any tough-to-replace players like Adam Thielen.

 

 





vikings

Previous Story Rochester Manager Mike Quade and Catcher John Ryan Murphy Big Believers in J.O. Berrios Next Story How much does the Vikings’ passing game have to improve to be Super Bowl contenders?