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Monday Morning Mailbag: Fans Lay Out Vikings Offseason To-Do Lists

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Super Bowl LVIII is set, with a rematch of Super Bowl LIV (Chiefs and Niners) heading for Las Vegas.

Kansas City advanced to the big game again with a 17-10 win at Baltimore, despite not scoring in the second half.

San Franciso prevailed at home over Detroit 34-31, thanks to a 27-nothing run from the start of the third quarter until less than a minute remained in regulation.

We have a wide array of thoughts from folks, so let's get rolling.

I've been avoiding sending my thoughts because I had hoped they'd be echoed elsewhere within the submitted commentary, and because I'm sure there are better minds than mine working on the Vikings offseason, who have their jobs for a reason. In other words, I trust the front office.

I know they've made curious decisions in prior offseason and trade-deadline moves, but those are clearly in the "competitive" department of the competitive rebuild. You can't forecast an edge-rusher's malaise after signing a large free agent contract; for example, [the player and his agent's] job is to fight for maximum value, and "doesn't really want to play football anymore" isn't part of that pitch. You can't forecast a devastating leg injury to a rookie that essentially resets his development trajectory. You also can't forecast literally all your starting offense, except for your center, being injured for meaningful portions of the season. I do suspect that the replacement of the Head Athletic Trainer is borne upon some of these freak challenges. If there's an injury problem, you could absolutely point to an injury-prevention problem, but that's inside baseball I know nothing about beyond logical deductions.

As for the contracts, the QB room, the draft and the playoffs, 2018 third overall pick Sam Darnold (same year as Kirk Cousins signed with Minnesota) is backing up 262nd overall pick of 2022 Brock Purdy. I can't find the stat for how many times Darnold has led his team to the playoffs, but I suspect Kirk's numbers are better.

There are a lot of outliers and random events here, but one thing is certain: every game without the full starting roster is handicapped in the opposition's favor. When those players are game-makers like QB, WR and TE, those handicaps can become exponential. The fact that almost all our losses were by one score indicates that not only were these games almost finished with a different result with second-string personnel, but if any one of those starters were active, those exponential differences may have been relatively easily overcome. Also, defensive production fell off a cliff at the end of the season, and special teams were aggressively middling all year. If all those elements were improved, we'd be an almost-guaranteed playoff team. But who knows?

I think taking a QB in the first round is an unreasonable risk given the number of holes that need to be filled elsewhere. We can't afford an early QB pick to bust, which happens every year, unless they develop behind a star and a leader like Kirk to hedge against the bust. Love, [Patrick] Mahomes, and others are prime examples of the effectiveness of this. Also, cap space isn't consumed by a player's total salary, so there seems to be plenty of room for Kirk, Danielle [Hunter], and [Justin Jefferson] to be extended with guaranteed money, bonuses, offsets, etc. and do more meaningful work in the offseason.

Here's how I'd build the offseason:

  1. Take a close look at our scouts and development staff, make sure they're working in the best interest of the organization, and ensure they have the skills to identify and grow players into NFL leaders.
  2. Extend Danielle and J.J. to premiere contracts, extend Kirk two or three years, and the rest of the healthy difference makers to their market contracts or better. Add 2-3 void years to those top 3 re-signings.
  1. Cut, restructure or trade the surprise unproductive players. Let Harrison Smith do what he wants (I wouldn't object to him in a "veteran backup" role if not a starter, or a coaching position, if he doesn't get into broadcasting, and I think he's self-aware enough to make the right choice for himself & the team regardless).
  1. Draft center, edge, nose or tight end in the first; while we don't have a "need" at TE, we could use a star to take some of the heat off [T.J. Hockenson] — otherwise don't take a TE at all. Those other positions are dire needs. A QB in the first would only make sense if they can go up and get exactly who they're looking for — and develop him behind Kirk (any other veteran free agent QB is a downgrade from Kirk). If there's an opportunity to trade down for more first/second/third round picks while getting our center/edge rusher/nose tackle in the first, take it.
  1. Get our QB, defensive backfield, and potentially RBs & WRs in the second & third (with the trade-down).
  2. The balance of picks, UDFA, and offseason can be spent on other lesser needs. I think our corner/safety should come from free agency. Our rookie development in those areas has been bad.

I know this is a small pamphlet, and I wouldn't begrudge you not sharing or only sharing a portion; I just had to tell someone who cares. I'm excited for Round 2 with Brian Flores, and for Kevin O'Connell's continued development as head coach — I'm sure he has a rich vein of teachable moments to mine from 2023, and I think he and the rest of the leadership are conscientious self-scouters.

Happy new year. Skol!

— Adam Davis in Atlanta, Georgia

I smiled a little bit at Adam's "small pamphlet" remark. There's quite a bit to get to in his message (and I'll touch on a few topics he mentioned in replies to other emailers below.

First, always appreciate the effort and energy from people to send in their thoughts, regardless of length. Adam's comment about telling "someone who cares" applies way beyond me and to our readers, whether or not they submit questions/comments.

The 2023 season will be a reminder that no matter how much forethought goes into process and preparation, more than one fix on the fly is necessary from week to week.

The injuries sideswiped Minnesota's best laid plans that had been built on offensive continuity and defensive ingenuity with a blend of veterans and newer players.

The contrast between Darnold's success or lack thereof so far and Purdy's fast career start is an example of draft position not always matching output. Darnold is 21-35 as a starter, having spent three seasons with the Jets and two with the Panthers before landing with the Niners this season. High picks often go to teams that aren't the strongest.

The absolute scarcity of first-round picks for each team includes some risk, regardless of position, because of how valuable that currency is to teams. The need to hit on first-round picks sooner in their career than later is important. As mentioned, there are holes the Vikings will need to fill beyond the QB position, and that priority changes quite a bit if Cousins returns.

As for the six priorities listed, I'm not trying to make counterarguments, but I do thing it helpful to follow the numerical format to cover topics.

1. The work of the scouting department is extensive and less sparkly than the glitz and glamour of the made-for-TV-dramedy that has become of the NFL Draft. Much of the work is intended to remain within the team's knowledge so it doesn't reduce potential competitive advantages or place the team at a competitive disadvantage. I've been fortunate to officially interview several members of the personnel department and have casual conversations, as well. They are driven professionals who want to help the team win it all. I'll be part of the Vikings Entertainment Network group heading to Mobile, Alabama, today for the Reese's Senior Bowl. I hope our coverage (some content this week, some for future content) will further illustrate the commitment of the personnel department. That group also benefits from coaching continuity, so they can look for system fits.

2. The Vikings have been able to come up with creative issues against the cap in previous years. Hunter and Cousins have expiring contracts. Jefferson is entering a fifth-year option exercised by the team. Negotiations with any of those players could limit cap space this year or beyond.

3. We'll be sure to follow along for any developments with Smith's decision-making process. He's worked with the team multiple times in years past and is coming off a season in which he played a career-high 1,113 defensive snaps. He recorded 93 tackles, and essentially took-over the game at Carolina (Michael Jordan style) with 3.0 sacks to stop a frustrating three-game losing streak to open 2023. Teams can scheme away from a six-time Pro Bowler if there are other areas to attack. Could fewer snaps turn into more impact? Possibly so.

4. Garrett Bradbury bounced back from injury in Week 1, and the offensive line was starting to make quite a bit of progress near the midpoint of the season before a rotation of injuries elsewhere on the line nipped at the group. He signed a three-year deal last year that goes through the 2025 season. The Vikings have used most high picks in recent years on offensive line, receiver or in the secondary.

Since selecting Hunter 88th overall, here's the highest pick used each year on an edge or defensive lineman:
227 in 2016 (DE Stephen Weatherly)
109 in 2017 (DT Jaleel Johnson)
102 in 2018 (DE/DT Jalyn Holmes)
190 in 2019 (DT Armon Watts)
117 in 2020 (DE/OLB D.J. Wonnum)
90 in 2021 (DE/OLB Pat Jones II)
165 in 2022 (DL Esezi Otomewo)
141 in 2023 (DL Jaquelin Roy)

Minnesota used free agency to add players like Linval Joseph and Dalvin Tomlinson (and missed when trying the same with Michael Pierce) on the interior, which reduced the need for using high picks on the defensive interior. Hunter's prowess, along with teammates like Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, put that position down the need list for several seasons, too, but the signing of Marcus Davenport last year didn't go as planned.

5. I know there's some hesitancy with moving down, particularly if a team doesn't plan on picking as high as 11 on a regular basis, but acquiring more picks could help address holes.

6. It will be interesting to see what the second-year plan implementation for equipping Flores will be, particularly in the secondary where the Vikings were multiple in their personnel groupings.

On a recent podcast, I heard a brief mention of changes in the Vikings training staff. However, I haven't seen it in any written articles. Have changes occurred? If so, do you know why?


— Thomas Hellie in Portland, Oregon

Thomas is correct that a change in the Vikings Health and Performance Department has occurred. The team released the following statement to external media outlets:

"The Minnesota Vikings have parted ways with Head Athletic Trainer Uriah Myrie. We appreciate Uriah's commitment and contributions to the organization and to Vikings players over the past two years. We wish him personal and professional success in the future."

The change was not connected to the injuries of 2023.

Vice President of Player Health and Performance Tyler Williams and football leadership will determine the staff structure going forward.

There is a lot of talk about new QBs, but what about improving the health and pieces on our offensive line? We lost quite a few players to injury resulting in more QB hits and sacks as the season progressed. Detroit does a great job of protecting Jared Goff. Is he that much better than our current QBs or just better protected?

I read a great article on our offensive line this year. One of our biggest problems was health and continuity. Our O-line played very few games together. I am pretty sure the starting five was intact when we beat the 49ers. It shows what could have been with better health. What are they doing to make sure next year is healthier?

— Gerald Goblirsch

Gerald sent these messages separately, but I combined them since they both circle around the offensive line.

The San Francisco game in Week 7 was the second time in 2023 in which the five who started on the offensive line played every snap (Austin Schlottmann filled in for Bradbury in Week 3 when the starting five played every snap; Bradbury missed one snap to his disdain against Kansas City in Week 5).

View the best photos of Vikings offensive line during the 2023 season.

The line of Christian Darrisaw, Dalton Risner, Bradbury, Ed Ingram and Brian O'Neill had a great night against the Niners, arguably Minnesota's most impressive win of the season.

Detroit and Minnesota have made similar investments of high picks along the offensive line in the past several drafts, but the Lions run game yielded more results, which also helps protect passers, and Goff gets the ball out quickly to pressure valves when an opponent does apply some heat.

View home and away photos of the Vikings 2024 regular season opponents.

As a Season Ticket Holder since 1961, I have seen it all. Moving forward, it's obvious we have many position needs on both sides of the ball. My fear is trading up in the draft to the top 3 and having no draft capital in the future and being like Carolina this year after their draft with a questionable QB and no picks.

Chicago looks pretty smart with many options. We need to trade down if a blue-chip pick is not there at 11 and accumulate more currency. As we move down and a [J.J.] McCarthy, [Bo] Nix, or [Michael Penix, Jr.] is there at a slot worthy of the draft ranking, take the flyer on them. Then sign a stop-gap guy to protect yourself.

We are behind Detroit and Green Bay for next year anyways. Hopefully our GM can make better picks than what we've seen with the capital he has and we finally have something to look forward to in 2025-26. Your thoughts?

— Rick S.

Newcoming general managers often inherit extremely high picks or ample cap space (or both), but Kwesi Adofo-Mensah hasn't had tons of cap space. He's worked on creating more for future years.

Maybe if granted a do-over, he would have stayed at 12 in 2022 instead of trading down to acquire more selections. The Vikings only made six picks in 2023 and didn't have much wiggle room for navigating the draft board. Having nine selections for 2024 offers a bit more maneuverability.

Nix and Penix are among the quarterbacks who accepted invites to the Senior Bowl.

As I watch the playoffs, I can't help to think what should or could have happened. The 2022 (partial 2023) draft has haunted us. We must be smarter in the picks. No. 1 pick must be All-Pro if not a [Hall of Famer]. There's the challenge for [Adofo-Mensah] and [O'Connell]. If No. 1 isn't a QB, it must be another Hall of Fame edge rusher?

Suggestions that Vikes trade Jefferson is unthinkable. If one could be thinking of that, I would accept nothing less than a team's entire, all, draft picks for 2024 and a number one for 2025 for J.J. Even then, it may not be worth it.

If my mind, if Cousins and Jefferson don't give a hometown contract, like Brady did in New England, then maybe they don't want the Super Bowl ring as much as we do.

What salaries would be available for Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Christian Darrisaw, Jordan Hicks, Dalton Risner and Danielle Hunter if all would be contracted for 2024?

— Gill Sorg in New Mexico

Jefferson earned escalators (through his high-level play) to qualify for the franchise tag amount toward his fifth-year option, which is north of $19 million for 2024. He could stay there, or the team could reach a long-term deal with him. Again, the team has expressed interest in Jefferson being here for the foreseeable future. I'm not sure what other teams might offer for the phenom, or if anyone among the Vikings leaders would even entertain such thoughts.

Darrisaw will be entering the fourth year of his rookie deal and could have the fifth-year option exercised by the team for 2025.

I don't want to speculate on contracts for pending free agents, but Cousins, Hicks, Risner and Hunter are respected in the locker room and expressed interest in returning to Minnesota.

Vikings should spend on two free agents. Justin Madubuike and Antoine Winfield, Jr. Outside of those two, re-sign Hunter and Wonnum. Get an inexpensive corner. Also re-sign [Anthony] Barr for one year. During training camp Barr can get a full understanding of the defense. Thanks for listening.

— Rodger in Sacramento, California

Thanks for sending in those thoughts.

Madubuike has started 47 of 59 games with 21.5 sacks and flourished in his fourth pro season, recording 13 sacks and 33 quarterback hits while providing pressure from the interior of the Ravens defense.

Many were interested in Winfield in 2020, given his connection to the Gophers and his father, who starred for the Vikings from 2004-12.

Wonnum also was part of the class of 2020 who flourished this season. He's been rehabbing the unfortunate quadriceps injury he suffered in Week 16. After Wonnum's injury, I wondered if the Vikings might try to have Barr take even more snaps as an edge rusher.

Is it possible to draft one or two offensive lineman that can give the QB time in the pocket. Don't know what expense account is, but it would be nice to see QB have time once in a while for receiver to do their pattern. Lastly the tush push. Oh my goodness [Ty Chandler] ran the ball all the way down the field. Let him finish please. Hope for another exciting season (only team in NFL, I think, where you can watch every weekend, Monday, Thursday or Saturday game and it's decided in last two minutes every game. SKOL!!!!!!

— James Kotab in Dante, South Dakota

The Vikings played 14 one-score games for the second time in three seasons (also went 6-8 in 2021) after going 11-0 in such contests in 2022.

If the Vikings can consistently establish a run game from week to week, it will help the offensive line's pass protection efforts and slow down the rush. It's also possible down the stretch that Cousins could have navigated away from a few of the pressures.

The Week 18 game is kind of tough to gauge. Minnesota was using its eighth different starting combo of the season on the road at Detroit and was relying on reserves at right guard and right tackle, which played into the Lions hands.

Hey, if the Vikings can sign Kirk to a team friendly deal, I say do so. Two years guaranteed but without a no-trade clause. Trade back and pick up an additional second-round pick. Then with our first pick, take whatever edge is available (Florida State's Jared Verse, Alabama's Dallas Turner). Let Harrison walk. It's time. No more emotion. Kwesi's drafts have been questionable at best but where he has excelled is shedding Viking favorites who no longer produced for the money they wanted or were getting paid.

We need an edge, center, interior DL (or two), a bruising RB to pair with Chandler, and of course the elusive solid CB. I'd open the bank for [L'Jarius] Sneed in FA. Regardless we can fill many of our holes through the draft and FA. Michael Penix would look good in purple. Jayden Daniels would look divine.

— Anthony C.

If Cousins is motivated on the "team-friendly" approach, it's probably because he genuinely (as he's said) enjoys being a Viking and playing in Minnesota, so the no-trade clause may continue to be in the deal as it has in previous years.

The good thing about free agency and the beginning of the new league year in March is that it should provide the Vikings with some guidance for the draft at the end of April.

Note: Tons of talkers and view points regarding Kirk and the future of the position in Minnesota. I'm grouping several below to show the varying sentiments and will try to tie things up at the end.

View the best photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, Joshua Dobbs, Nick Mullens, and Jaren Hall during the 2023 season.

Do you think Cousins should sign back?

— Logan Grams

My thought is start fresh. Just bring someone else as a new QB.

— Rowena C.

Try and pick up J.J. McCarthy. Maybe he can make some improvements for the quarterback.

— Amelia W.

Always talk about Cousins. Everybody knows he's one of the best there is, and if anything, just take him. He said he's willing to take a cut, so take him and end the talk.

— Andy S.

Lots of fans say to get rid of Cousins. I'm not one of those. If you look toward the end of the season, our defense and O-Line were doing great! We finally have a good team, just didn't have a quarterback.

Kirk was playing his best football this year, by far.

If it's possible, why not do some sort of ultimatum contract, a year or two more? If he can get the Vikings to minimum the second round of playoffs, he gets to stick around.

I would hate to see him go.

— Desiree (SKOL for life in Cali)

I would offer Cousins a contract but for less money, reason is no other team will invest in him, so he has nowhere to go but retire. I followed Kirk since he was in high school, and his personality tells me he will sign for less or retire. Give him a bonus if we win the Super Bowl. We need to draft a RB, which is a bigger need than QB, as I feel our current staff (not Joshua Dobbs; let him go) will be fine since whoever wins the starting job will prosper if we have a good RB. So RB is number-one pick followed by linemen on each side of ball. Linebacker and safeties. And then best players after that. I am the longest and oldest Viking fan in Michigan (Grand Rapids). I Live the Vikings.

Detroit, now Green Bay are back, and we need to keep pace with them. Skol Vikings!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

— Robert Scribner in Grand Rapids, Michigan

If we are not able to bring Cousins back, what are your thoughts on going after Justin Fields? I don't feel drafting a rookie to fix everything is the best option. Jefferson is in his prime, and O'Connell's offense seems to require a veteran QB. Field would add the Josh Dobbs dynamic, and he did not look that bad the second half of the year. Your thoughts?

Thank you,

— Blaine L.

I am wondering about the possibility of trading for Trey Lance, signing a vet as insurance. If he was good enough to play for Coach [Kyle] Shanahan before injuries. Can he recapture that level of play? This would help with salary cap issues if he pans out. Maybe it's the kind of "karma" it will take with local Minnesota boy taking team to the Super Bowl?

— Perry H.

What quarterback do you think will start, Dobbs, Kirk or a star rookie, for example Michael Penix, Jr.? And I hope you re-sign [Jefferson] because he and Addison are so good.

— Michael White in Riverview, Florida

I absolutely believe that we should keep Kirk Cousins for two more years. He sounds like he's willing to take a deal. I also think that we should get Derrick Henry even if we have to lose K.J. Osborn, and I think the rest of our time, money and energy should be focusing on the offensive line. SKOL.

— Mike H.

It's been a while since I have sent comments to the mailbag so here goes.

Captain Kirk, if you see this, give the front office a hometown deal. You profess to like it here and what quarterback wouldn't being able to throw to elite wide receivers and tight ends like Jefferson, Addison and Hockenson. You have become a rich man during your tenure with the Vikings. How many more kajillion dollars do you need??? Doing this will enable the front office to sign other key free agents and not be hamstrung with the salary cap.

My take on the draft for the quarterback situation is not to give up the farm to draft early but rather to stay in place at 11 and draft QB J.J. McCarthy to learn behind Cousins. Or if the front office feels he will drop a few notches, trade down and get a third-round pick back. McCarthy brings a lot to the table, and his abilities with his legs make him especially appealing.

With Cousins and Jefferson going down this past season along with other Viking injuries the handwriting was on the wall as far as our post-season aspirations. I am tired of saying "next year."

Best regards,

— David Bond in Rochester, Minnesota

Appreciate all the different thoughts and viewpoints. Some want Cousins back, some want to explore the next era, and some are willing to run it back, as long as the financials allow for the roster to be built at other positions.

Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell both spoke in depth about the need to build more depth throughout the roster so the team can withstand future injuries.

If the Vikings future is confirmed to have Cousins before the draft, it still wouldn't be unwise to always consider the long-term vision at the position. O'Connell's experience as a former NFL QB who went through the draft process and spent time with multiple teams should be helpful as the team evaluates QB draft prospects every year.

If that evaluation leads the Vikings to conclude it's still worth trying to trade up, then maybe they will execute such a deal. The evaluation, as well as trying to accurately predict what other teams might do, could prompt a trade down, particularly if Cousins is back.

With Lance and Fields under contract with other teams, I really can't comment much on either of them, but both are former first-round picks who impressed the teams that selected them.

There will be no shortage of storylines to follow this offseason for the Vikings and across the NFL.