Home > News > Sports > NFL > Minnesota Vikings In Win Now Mode? Our writer examines

Minnesota Vikings In Win Now Mode? Our writer examines

There are some teams that are capable of building an NFL dynasty, with periods of success lasting through se

There are some teams that are capable of building an NFL dynasty, with periods of success lasting through several years. Super Bowl appearances come easily to those teams. The Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, the Steelers in the ‘70s and the New England Patriots in the new millennium are just a few that spring to mind. But other teams just have to win right now. They’ll have the odd star player with a few talented guys around them, and they’ll throw all their eggs in one basket in an attempt to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. In 2016, that team is the Minnesota Vikings, a franchise with a tortured past when it comes to the Super Bowl. Since joining the league in 1961, they’ve appeared in four NFL championship games, in Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX and XI, without winning a single one. They’ve even come close a couple of times, notably in 1998, when for the first time that season, Gary Anderson failed to kick the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship against the Atlanta Falcons; and in 2009, when Brett Favre’s ill-advised pass across his body ultimately led to the men in purple falling short in overtime against the New Orleans Saints. But this year is different. Sure, there’s no big name QB under centre any more like Favre, and Blair Walsh’s kicking leg doesn’t have the metronomic quality that Anderson’s once did, but with star running back Adrian Peterson now the wrong side of 30 yet still coming off a league rushing title in 2015, what better time to throw caution to the wind and try to get that ring? The Vikings have already begun to plan for life post-Adrian, having drafted reams of young, talented players in the last few years, but a running back of his calibre only comes along once in a generation, and they’d be fools not to mount a solid Super Bowl run while they still can. Conventional wisdom in the NFL says running backs tend to drop off in production once they hit 30, and while All Day has the advantage of having missed 15 games in 2014, it feels like his 10th season in the league could be his last throw of the dice personally too. What better way to cap what already feels like a Hall of Fame career than to ride off into the sunset as a Super Bowl champion? But while Peterson is arguably already the best player in Vikings history, no one man is bigger than the team, and the franchise as a whole has plenty of reasons to want to go all the way in 2016. For a start, Minnesota will have a brand, spanking new stadium to play in come September, and to be able to put the Lombardi Trophy in the US Bank Stadium trophy case would be a fantastic way to mark the team’s first season there. So what have the Vikings done to ensure success in 2016? Well, all those young talents they’ve drafted the last few years are starting to come into their prime. Although they made it in as alternates, safety Harrison Smith, linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive end Everson Griffen were all tremendously unlucky to miss out on selection for this year’s Pro Bowl following the initial public ballot. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is also starting to flourish in Norv Turner’s offensive scheme, so much so that there are already calls for the coaching staff to officially make him the focal point of the offense, rather than relying on the workhorse-like Adrian Peterson. The one thing Bridgewater appears to be lacking in his passing attack is a deep threat to stretch the defense vertically and open up the holes for other players to attack underneath. Mike Wallace was supposed to be that threat in 2015, but was unproductive and left for the Ravens last week. Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson have also been mooted, but are as-yet unproven as number-one receivers. So it looks like the Vikings will go for a wideout in the draft next month, with many experts’ mock drafts leaning towards Josh Doctson as the guy to go for, should he fall as far as Minnesota at #23. But even if they get their man out wide, whether with their first draft pick, lower down the order, or even via a trade, the Vikings still struggled to keep Bridgewater on his feet in 2015; in a run-heavy offense, Teddy was sacked 44 times and pressured on 46.9 percent of his dropbacks. And while the sacks can sometimes be put down to an inexperienced QB hanging onto the ball for too long, the pressures point to inconsistent play on the offensive line. To that end, as well as the grateful return of starting center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt, the Vikings have signed guard Alex Boone from the San Francisco 49ers on a four-year, $26.8 million contract, as well as the Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Andre Smith on a one-year deal that could be worth up to $4.5 million. Including left tackle Matt Kalil, right guard Brandon Fusco and all their backups, the Vikings now have the most expensive offensive line in the league, with upwards of 28 percent of their entire salary cap devoted to the big men up front. Obviously the hope is that price will translate into production. The franchise has also replaced its offensive line coach of the last five years, Jeff Davidson, with erstwhile Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, previously the tight ends coach at the 49ers. Away from the line, they’ve re-signed safety Andrew Sendejo on a four-year, $16 million contract, although only $3.95 million of that is guaranteed, essentially making it a one-year, ‘prove it’ deal, while former Titans safety Michael Griffin has also been signed on a one-year, $3 million contract. Most of the Vikings’ free agents from 2015 have re-signed with the franchise, the only real remaining targets being OLB Chad Greenway and FB Zach Line. But all of that is only what the franchise has done to strengthen its roster. What makes them the real ‘win now’ team of 2016 is that of the 17 free agents the Vikings have signed or re-signed this offseason, 13 are on one-year deals, and with the situation regarding guaranteed money – as with Sendejo – a couple of those with multi-year deals could be cut after the 2016 season with no cap hit in future seasons. It’s a risky situation to put your team in, with the Vikings set to have 31 players hit free agency come 2017, and while the Wilf family and general manager Rick Spielman would dearly love to adorn US Bank Stadium with the Lombardi Trophy next February, even if they succeed, it’ll be that much harder to retain those free agents when the hands they use to sign their new contracts are adorned with the heftiest bargaining chip of all: a Super Bowl ring. They’ve been lent a favour with their schedule, though, with games scheduled against teams from the NFC East and the AFC South, the two weakest divisions in the league in 2015. Games against NFC North opponents are always tough, but the Vikings go into 2016 as division champions, and thus as favourites to win it again. But winning the division comes with pitfalls as well, as the two biggest tests on the Vikings’ 2016 schedule also won their divisions in 2015, and indeed met in the 2015 NFC Championship Game: the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers. Despite those two games, the roster improvements the Vikings have made even before the draft, plus the relative weakness of eight of their 2016 opponents will give them plenty of confidence that 2016 will finally be the year that they end 55 years of Super Bowl hurt.

Related Reading

Tom Parry-Jones

Despite growing up as a soccer fan, Tom is now a fully fledged NFL reporter, having followed the sport since 2008 and started writing on the NFL in 2012. His primary focus is the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings In Win Now Mode? Our writer examines

Send this to a friend