Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Vikings.com Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Vikings.com Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.
The Vikings are concurrently evaluating options for their defensive coordinator position, reevaluating the good and bad from 2022 and cycling through the college all-star game circuit as part of pre-draft preparations.
The 2023 NFL Scouting Combine will open in less than a month, and free agency will quickly follow in March.
The Vikings last week confirmed interviews of Ryan Nielsen, Sean Desai, Mike Pettine and Brian Flores for the defensive coordinator position (we'll get to a little more of that below). Nielsen was hired by the Falcons for their defensive coordinator position on Friday evening, so he's off the table.
We'll be sure to update you when a decision is made, but I'd like to start today by circling back to the question that ended the Jan. 23 Mailbag.
Credit to Chris Pellerito for posing the following scenario: "You're part of the realistic decision regarding the following Vikings players: Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks. We must choose to cut one, re-work/re-sign one, and trade one (presuming its viable – a market, contract, etc.). What would you do?"
The following were two interesting responses from fans:
In my opinion, I would cut Eric Kendricks only because I think he has the least trade value. I would be trying to trade Dalvin Cook and signing [Alexander] Mattison immediately. Cook is getting older and has had health problems. I would like to see what Mattison/and the next man up get a chance. Defense needs to add younger/speedier talent, making him the cut option.
I would try to rework/extend Thielen's contract. I believe he is still a team leader even if that means he goes to No. 3 on the depth chart. He can still play ball, but K.J. [Osborn] might be a better No. 2 at this point. If Adam is unwilling to rework his contract or take on less on the field, then we could trade/cut him also. There are plenty of quality receivers out there.
I'm sure glad that I'm not the one having to make these decisions because they wouldn't be easy to make. You have to save money to sign "better" players, and the only way to do that is part ways with older players that may be making too much money for the position/caliber of player that they now are. I personally don't know salaries around the league, but I would think you could take a receiver's salary and possibly sign two quality corners for that money??
Bottom line, we are spending plenty on offense. We have Kirk, and we need to sign [Justin Jefferson].
Dalvin & Adam are expendable and high cost. Dalvin's money will be used for Mattison. Adam & Eric's money could be used to bolster a need on D. We will still need to find a way to extend J.J. & T.J. [Hockenson].
I liked the moves that Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] made last year, and he's had a whole year to prepare for the decisions that he and [Kevin O'Connell] have to make this year! I like the way you think also. … Let's just sit and see what plays out. Everyone has a thought or two, but people get paid to make the big decisions and don't need to see what couch QBs think!
I really enjoy the Monday Mailbag every week. It's the one thing on the internet that I try to read every week!
— Troy Harder
I am responding to Chris' question and assume there are no other options. I would trade Cook, cut Kendricks and re-work Thielen. Rationale: Cook is most tradeable and would likely yield the most return. Let's see what the other RBs can do. Kendricks is still a good player but older/slower, and I noted he got dragged a couple of times on tackles, which never would have happened when he was younger. [He] has a high cap hit, a low dead cap. I might view it differently if they went back to a 4-3. Thielen still is a weapon, but the cap hit is too big for what he is able to do. The Thielen decision is also based on getting the cap hit cut in half or more with a restructure, which I do not know can be done or not under the NFL rules.
— Bruce in Palm Harbor, Florida
The number of potential moving parts in an NFL offseason is what makes things so compelling and captures our attention once footballs aren't being snapped for a while. The cadence of a team evaluating who it is positioned to return (either by existing contract, an extension or a re-signing), what it might lose and evaluating who will be available in free agency or the draft.
While we historically have not gotten into specifics of contracts on Vikings.com, there are some resources elsewhere on the internet that have some user friendly information about contracts. Spotrac.com is one that is informative and easy to use if you want to check it out at some point.
Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell will have to approach the myriad of decisions, balancing quantitative (past and projected production, potential for replacement) and qualitative (leadership, intangibles, etc.) information as they decide how to create the roster that gives the Vikings the best opportunity to establish a championship standard next year and beyond.
View the best photos of Vikings wide receivers, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor during the 2022-23 season.
Elements that make an argument for Cook returning — like him recording the seventh-fastest speed by a ball carrier in 2022 and the third-most yards above expected on a play (21.68 miles per hour and plus-72 on his 81-yard touchdown run at Buffalo) and ranking sixth in incredible yards after catch (66 on his 64-yard receiving touchdown against Indianapolis, which was 55 more than expected) — are the same ones that might make him enticing to another team.
We're currently doing our position recaps of the 2022 season, and I hit on receivers last week. Thielen recorded 70 catches for 716 yards and six touchdowns on 107 targets. That number of receptions would have led nine teams (Giants, Packers, Bears, Patriots, Broncos, Panthers, Texans, Titans and Cardinals).
Osborn recorded 60 catches for 650 yards and five touchdowns on 90 targets, and he would have led the Giants, Bears, Texans and Titans in receptions.
As for Kendricks, a significant part in the answer to that question may hinge on the new defensive coordinator and whether the Vikings return to a 4-3 base or double down on last year's foray into a 3-4 base. Although one could say that the nickel was the base defense, given that Minnesota was in it on more than 80 percent of its plays. Kendricks wore the green dot helmet with the communications device in it, relaying the calls to the defensive huddle. That was a responsibility that Anthony Barr primarily handled in his time here. There were times when I thought Kendricks was right at the level we've seen him at for years, and there were some times when it didn't seem quite what we've expected.
Jefferson and Hockenson are under contract for next year, and the team still has a fifth-year option on the table for Jefferson, as well, but based on what we've seen with where the football went, those players could be in the long-term visions for the Vikings.
Lastly, a big thanks to Troy and so many consistent readers of the Mailbag for checking in every week.
I hope there's an economical way to keep Adam. I remember the clutch catches he makes again and again and yet feel very frustrated watching Adam's role in the offense become less and less as focus on Justin Jefferson's connection with Kirk Cousin increase more and more. Not sure why Adam is open often and yet the throw goes to Justin hoping he can make a contested catch. Is it because Cousins does not have time to find him, play calling, or something else? It's almost as if Cousins has tunnel vision only for J.J. I remember a recent throw where Justin was underneath Adam on a long throw, was double covered, Justin went up for the catch and didn't make it, and Adam was wide open behind him. It looked as if J.J. ran the wrong route or Cousins didn't look for Adam? Confused. Thanks for consideration.
— Scott Murray in Bloomington, Minnesota
Over the final four games of the regular season, Thielen totaled seven catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 16 targets. He, however, followed with three catches for 50 yards on four targets in the playoff game.
I think the play Scott is referencing was the fourth-and-2 from the Giants 44-yard line in the fourth quarter of the regular-season game with New York. O'Connell went for a kill shot on fourth-and-2. The play involved Thielen and Jefferson on the same side of the formation. Thielen was actually supposed to stay shallow, and Jefferson was supposed to run the deep corner. When Thielen saw his defender sit, he streaked down the sideline. Thielen beat his defender but wound up in the same general area as Jefferson. The congestion may have enabled Darnay Holmes to break up the pass.
View the best photos of Vikings tight ends during the 2022 season.
At first glance, it could appear that Jefferson was in the wrong spot, but immediately after the play, Thielen tapped his chest and had a quick talk with O'Connell.
I personally wanted the Vikings to use the exact same set up against the Giants in the playoff game, but have Thielen go deep again if the corner sat and have Jefferson break inside instead of to the outside.
So many things can affect where the football goes, from offensive scheme to the pre-snap look from the defense and the post-snap activities. There's also plenty of established reasons for the football to go toward Jefferson, Thielen, Osborn and Hockenson, who each totaled 60-plus receptions this season, with Hockenson doing so in 10 games.
Cousins was asked directly about Hockenson after the playoff game and said the following:
"In this system, the Y, the tight end will always, especially someone of T.J.'s ability, will always have a big role," Cousins said. "We're grateful to have a guy who's that capable, and we're going to give him a lot of opportunities."
Easy call on firing Ed [Donatell], but you can't ignore the old and slow players he had to force into a 3-4. Tons of injuries and very little production out of the new GM's first draft. The defense is old, slow and soft. None of that was Ed's fault. Also, to attempt to go 3-4 without a stud nose was a mistake. Donatell was told to go 3-4.
— Mike Griffith
Firing someone is usually not easy, particularly when it's someone of Donatell's high personal character. There's the decision part, and then the process part makes it tougher.
While it is clear changes are needed to elevate the defense beyond its statistical performance on so many metrics, the change in coordinator is probably just part of the approach. Lots of emailers have been wanting the defense to be more aggressive, particularly over the final couple of months of the 2022 season.
So much was discussed about 3-4 vs. 4-3, but the nickel usually involved using four on the defensive line and two linebackers (most commonly Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks).
About half the starting defense was new to the Vikings; those who returned like Kendricks, Hunter and Harrison Smith had spent all of their careers in a 4-3, with only Smith having had any pre-Mike Zimmer experience with the Vikings.
Instincts and knowledge can make up for aging to a degree, but if a player is caught out of position, there might be a reduced athleticism to rely on for recovery purposes.
O'Connell and Donatell both thought what they envisioned would be more impactful with the personnel Minnesota had, but the number of changes in scheme, personnel and assignment would usually lead to expectations of a transitional year.
My question for the new DC is what will be different than what we did last season? It seems that last season that most of our players did well individually, but not as well as a group, so I'm wondering what will we do to change that.
— Thank you, Vikings fan Calvin
Please don't get another soft defensive coordinator. Get someone who is aggressive and will coach these talented young men accordingly!!!
— Kendrik SKOL
We need bigger, faster defense. And try and get a 4-3 defense. Work on that and our corners.
— Luis Arce
The new coordinator will bring a coaching philosophy (scheme and how to maximize available players) to the position, and we look forward to relaying comments from the new hire. There were numerous solid individual campaigns, like Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith each recording five interceptions. It seemed that opponents were good at finding open space when the Vikings utilized zones, and teams are getting better and better at forcing opponents to cover the entire width of the field. That will be true for multiple Vikings opponents in 2023.
The person hired will probably assess who is scheduled to return, determine priorities for who must return under ideal circumstances or who can be offset if he departs. Then, it will be up to collaboration with the pro scouting department (free agency) and college scouting department (draft) to find players who best fit the desired scheme.
In terms of trying to get bigger and faster, those can sometimes be exclusive choices (either/or decisions), particularly in certain spots, so it might come down to specific traits for the system the coordinator wants to implement. The Vikings had their depth tested at cornerback multiple times, with Cameron Dantzler, Sr., Andrew Booth, Jr., and Akayleb Evans all missing time due to injuries.
After trying to find the best fits for the next year and beyond, it will be about putting everyone together to optimize the function of the entire group and adjusting to each week's top challenges.
It probably won't be a snap fingers moment, and I'd like to remind everyone who will be looking for immediate results that the stats this past year weren't too far off from the previous two defensive seasons.
View home and away photos of the Vikings 2023 regular season schedule.
Hope the Vikings hire a defensive coordinator who creates T-Rex players who are capable of devouring opponents as a snack, every second they are out on the field. The defense should equal the offense — then neither can be blamed for losses.
Kirk Cousins needs to watch films of the "Scrambler" Fran Tarkenton, get out of the pocket and create opportunities. Quarterbacks have to be mobile and take chances — not reckless ones, but show some grit once in a while. Quarterbacks are evolving into warriors, and Kirk needs to step up, yes, even in this "advanced" stage in his career. Silence the naysayers, Kirk!
— Omi K.
We see the teams that have the best success have mobile quarterbacks, let's get one.
— Herbert Street
Opposing offenses get paid handsomely, too, and should be expected to make plays within a game, but there are definitely more opportunities for the defense to improve its fierceness and challenge more plays next year.
I think by now we've seen Cousins is not at his best on improvisational scrambles, but he does have an ability to throw on the move when it's part of the play design. I also think he made strides of navigating within the pocket, utilizing subtle movements while keeping his eyes down the field to find teammates. Cousins definitely stood tough in the pocket — he often was on the turf as a great catch happened down the field — on numerous plays, and we saw him tuck and run a few times when a man-to-man scheme by the defense left yardage for grabs.
That said, he's not going to get lumped in with the "mobile" quarterbacks.
View the best photos of Vikings quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Nick Mullens during the 2022-23 season.
I think a much-overlooked fact of the play of Kirk Cousins is his durability. He has never missed a game due to injury, which is a surprising fact while enduring 287 sacks over the course of his NFL career. There are a lot of factors that go into a QB's win-loss record (and, in particular, the big game) – defense, special teams, offensive line, turnovers, drops and often time just pure luck. Kirk Cousins gets undeniably an A+ for durability! Skol!
— Joe in Alberta, Canada
Joe piggybacks right off the comments from Omi. Ideally, Cousins will not take as many hits next season. He endured a whopping 46 sacks in 2022, resulting in 329 yards lost. Those numbers were up from 28 and 197, respectively, in 2021.
The Vikings threw the ball more under O'Connell, and that will probably be the case in future years under the former QB.
One of the best abilities is durability, but it would be great to not test that so frequently with your starting QB.
I have two observations.
No. 1: I enjoyed this season. I have been a fan since I was 10 years old. Purple People Eaters. I know the game has changed since then, however, though Kirk's stats are good, I still think we need a mobile QB, and if we are going to stick with him for another few years, then we need to sure up our O-line.
No. 2: Our secondary gave up too many third-down plays for first downs, and it seems to me we don't have a bona fide pass rusher. We just give up too many points and have to play catch up in too many games. These things make our defense OK and not feared, like back in the day.
Thanks for letting me share.
On point one, there's probably a sliding scale of attributes, between mobility, accuracy, durability, etc., through which trying to gain in one area might result in another attribute not being as strong. The teams that use QBs on multiple designed runs run risk stacking too many hits on the player. It's possible that a second season in the system will help everyone involved. Maybe Cousins can get through his progressions faster, maybe the team works in a few more safety valves, maybe the line takes another step forward.
On your second observation, rush and coverage go hand-in-hand. Opponents attempted 160 passes on third downs against the Vikings and converted 51. That's a tolerable rate of 31.9 percent, but one aspect where Minnesota could improve is third-and-4-to-6 yards. Foes opted to attempt passes on that down-and-distance range 35 times and converted 16, a rate of 45.7. Generating more pressure or tighter coverage on those plays next year could be an area to make some ground.
Za'Darius Smith started strong with 9.5 sacks in his first nine games with Minnesota. He finished the season with 10 total, so that was just 0.5 over the second half of the season. Danielle Hunter started slowly in the new system but wound up finishing with the team lead of 10.5 sacks. Hunter is up to 71 career sacks and is still only 28 years old.
I don't know that the Vikings defense — or anyone's — will be as dominant as the Purple People Eaters because offenses and quarterbacks have gotten so much better over the years and because the rules generally favor the offense, but there is room to raise the intimidatory level by the group and create more havoc.
Why do they keep extending [Cousins]? He is a LOSER. What has he done? He has one division title and one playoff win. They need to let him walk after this year.
— John Poindexter
Told you! We're not going to or winning a Super Bowl with Kirk as the quarterback! I told you! Now do you see?
Someone has to has to say it. For years we've heard the mantras, "Kirk chokes in big moments, Kirk can't perform in prime time," etc, etc. The talking heads were forced to go deeper and say Kirk can't win late-start games.
It went beyond ridiculous this year.
Kirk Cousins showed why he's an NFL quarterback and why he is, whether you admit it or not, one of the best.
He led a top 10 offense this year while playing from behind more often than not, when the opponent knew he had to pass, and being hit more than any other QB in the league while never missing a start. Someone has to throw all those passes to Jefferson this year, and it wasn't [Tom] Brady, [Patrick] Mahomes or [Aaron] Rogers.
You never hear him complain in public about receiver dropping a pass, a lineman missing a block or the defense allowing an untimely touchdown. (They're all untimely).
The 2022 "Iron Man of the North" award goes to Kirk "Clutch" Cousins! Thanks for an awesome year!
— Chris O. in Burnsville
Combining these varying viewpoints on Cousins. Reminder, we recently produced a Cousins-specific Mailbag at the end of the season in which we tried to take a comprehensive look at the QB. I feel like his detractors will always find something to criticize, and his supporters may at times overlook some areas where he can improve.
One of the things I appreciate is Cousins seems to continue to look for ways to improve his game, and I think he gives himself an honest evaluation. Not all people this far in their careers do that, but I think those aspects have helped him have the career he has had so far.
Cousins now ranks 28th all-time in passing yards and 23rd in career touchdown passes. When his team was in position to do so or needed a bump from the offense (an NFL record eight fourth-quarter comebacks), Cousins elevated in multiple fourth quarters this season.
We'll find out later this offseason if the Vikings and Cousins work on an extension or ride out 2023 and then circle back.
I love Dalvin Cook as much as the next guy, but we know that his time in Minnesota may be up. Is the answer at running back in house with [Kene] Nwangwu or [Ty] Chandler? Or do we invest in Mattison and sign him to a big contract this offseason and have him take over the starting role?
Also, is J.J. WR1 in the league by now or WHAT?!?!
— Jake Bachrach
Coaches, including Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips, said this season how they appreciate Cook and Mattison enabling the team to run its full offense when either is in the game.
The first question remains to be seen. Chandler was part of the draft class that was unable to avoid injury this season, so maybe we didn't see him mix in as much as we might have. Nwangwu is certainly a premier kickoff return specialist, but in games where teams can force touchbacks, it wouldn't be the worst to be able to utilize his speed in some ways on offense.
Regardless of who is back there, it will be helpful for the team to reduce its number of negative runs next season (I have some stats on that coming out in the offensive line position recap that will post today).
Good morning. No matter if we lost, I thank you all for the magical year we had. Always a Vikings fan. I love my Vikings.
— Sylvia Guzman
Appreciate the support and positivity toward the team. Every year, all but one team falls shy of the ultimate end zone. That's why I think it's so important to enjoy the journey as the team tries to reach the desired destination.
Can someone explain offensive lineman as fullbacks. Train linemen to be battering rams for running backs or wide receivers who have to go 3 or fewer yards to score. Plus, it will teach linemen to attack the opposition.
— Michael Dawkins
Every once in a while we'll see a hoss lineman come into a game for some team as a fullback for short yardage situations. If the Vikings wanted to go heavy, what about someone like Blake Brandel as a lead blocker for C.J. Ham out of the I-formation? That probably would have some steam, but the opponent also probably would be alerted to that.
An over reaction would allow for a classic play fake to set up a pass.
Remember when Dallas traded their proven player Herschel Walker and got in return enough players and draft picks to create a literal Super Bowl dynasty? The Vikings should try the same with J.J. We need a lot of new players, and we have other good receivers.
— Byron Anderson
Minnesota Vikings need to re-sign and bring Jefferson back to the roster. He is too dynamic and explosive to let get away. Even if Cousins has to restructure his contract.
— Ronald Carthorn
Combining these two emails because they involve two completely different approaches toward Jefferson.
I don't think anyone involved with the Vikings can forget the Herschel Walker trade. Mistakenly believing the Vikings were one player away from a Super Bowl, Minnesota dealt five players and eight total picks (including first and second rounders in 1990, 1991 and 1992) to Dallas in exchange for the running back and four picks.
The Cowboys emerged from the fleecing to win three Super Bowls in four seasons.
Out of the entire roster, it's arguable that Jefferson would command the largest ransom, but that would be a huge immediate void to fill, and just because Minnesota landed a star like Jefferson with one of the picks it received from trading Stefon Diggs to Buffalo, there's plenty of examples of first-round picks at that position and others not working out.
Based on the comments from Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell, it seems like Jefferson will be in the long-term plans of the team.
We supposedly have four picks. [Rounds] 1, 3, 4 and 5. I like to think we have three more — Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans lost last year to injury. We have a top-notch training staff that will help them better and stronger than the players we drafted last year. Your thoughts?
— Gerald Goblirsch
Gerald is correct that Minnesota has a selection in each of those rounds. There's also a possibility of Minnesota garnering compensatory picks for net losses through free agency last year. NFL Media Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein made a projection in May that Minnesota would be awarded two sixth-round comp picks, but we'll see if that holds. Those will probably be announced near the NFL Scouting Combine.
As for the more philosophical question, then yes, getting Cine, Booth and Evans back from injuries that cost most of their rookie seasons is like injecting three more draft picks who have already had a year in the building, which should help even if the defense changes.