The Minnesota Vikings were spectacularly good in 2017. With a deep and balanced defense together with a surprisingly effective offense they were one of the toughest, most well-rounded rosters in the NFL.
That depth and quality resulted in the NFL’s #1 defense by yards allowed and points allowed, and the #2 defense by DVOA. Mike Zimmer’s unit was electric all year despite playing some legitimately tough opponents. They destroyed the Saints in Week 1 and took the Rams apart in Week 11. They went 13-3 on their way to the NFC North title and the #2 seed in the NFC. In the playoffs they were somewhat fortunate to survive a visit from the Saints, needing a Minnesota Miracle in the shape of Case Keenum slinging a bomb to Stefon Diggs on the sideline that he then turned up field and scored on.
While the Vikings were dominated by the Eagles in the NFC championship game, 2017 was a successful year for the franchise, and with seven draft picks and $51 million in cap space this offseason they have a lot of ammunition to improve things. Where are they going to focus their attention? And who are they going to put in their crosshairs?
Let’s start with the obvious place. With their trio of 2017 passers all hitting free agency, the Vikings have the chances to reset their offense this year. They have already stated that Case Keenum will not be receiving the franchise tag and have reportedly only suggested a low-ball offer would be on the table for Teddy Bridgewater.
Their likeliest path to a competitive 2018 passing game seems to lie with free agent Kirk Cousins, who has completed 65.5% at a strong 7.7 yards per attempt in his six years in the NFL. Cousins is likely to carry a hefty price tag, but the Vikings are in the unique position of having a talented and competitive roster and enough cap room to offer him a big, perhaps record-setting contract.
While having Cousins on the books for a $26 million cap hit in 2019 and 2020 will severely hamper their ability to keep their strong defense together, the Vikings could copy the Jimmy Garoppolo model and massively front-load the contract with a huge 2018 roster bonus to get the bulk of the cap hit out of the way this year when they have money to burn.
Minnesota is likely to be Cousins’ ideal destination as well, with a brand new dome to play in and two young, quality, receivers to play with. It is just if they can get a deal done that doesn’t cripple the Vikings moving forward.
After the quarterback position, this is the next place the Vikings are going to need to invest in. They added Riley Reiff to play left tackle last season and he has given them a solid return, but they lack talent inside and could use an improvement on Mike Remmers at right tackle as well. Should the Vikings solve their quarterback position in free agency then this is, barring a quality player falling into their lap, where Minnesota should invest their first round pick in the draft.
At #30 they aren’t exactly going to be in position to get Quenton Nelson, but the likes of Orlando Brown, Billy Price (albeit with a torn pec), and Austin Corbett could all be available to help strengthen the Vikings’ offensive line.
If they end up missing on Cousins and having cap space to work with then Justin Pugh and Andrew Norwell suddenly become intriguing free agent prospects and have the chance to be as impactful additions as Steve Hutchinson was a decade ago.
The Vikings defense has been predicated on a dominant run-stopping force for a long time. From the Purple People Eaters to the Williams Wall, the Vikings have always had monsters in the middle that can shut down a rushing attack. In 2018 they have Linval Joseph, who is one of the best run-playing defensive linemen around, but next to him is a big question mark.
Sharrif Floyd’s career may be over due to nerve damage in his quad following knee surgery in 2016. If he can’t play then that leaves Jaleel Johnson as the only other defensive tackle to put next to Joseph, which is far from ideal.
The Vikings could be the perfect home for a reclamation project such as Bennie Logan or Dontari Poe, who both found new homes in 2017 and were underwhelming. Bringing them in on a cheap deal and exposing them to Mike Zimmer’s no-nonsense world could well bring the best out of them. If not, then veterans like Tom Johnson, who played in Minnesota last year, or Clinton McDonald could be brought in as well.
They are unlikely to leave it there, and a day two defensive tackle could be the perfect rotation partner for a veteran alongside Joseph. They could use a more third down friendly option as well, but they are tough to come by at the top of the NFL draft, nevermind at #30.
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