The Vikings have turned the page to the 2021 season and are prepping for this year's NFL Draft and free agency market.
The new league year will start on March 17; where will Minnesota look to possibly make some free agent additions?
ESPN recently asked its beat reporters to weigh in on biggest needs for their respective teams, and Courtney Cronin pointed to "help in the trenches" – on either side of the ball – for the Vikings. She wrote:
Some will argue that getting pass-rushers is priority No. 1. Others will say the need for a high-quality guard is most important. Either way, the Vikings need to focus their efforts in free agency (once they make moves to free up cap space) and the draft in shoring up both their defensive and offensive lines. Minnesota generated a franchise-low 23 sacks this year [since sacks became an official stat in 1982] while members of the interior of the O-line were responsible for 20 of the 39 sacks that quarterback Kirk Cousins took in 2020.
It's never good when your season leader in sacks hasn't been with the team since Week 6. But also worth noting is that Minnesota lost Everson Griffen in free agency and Danielle Hunter to a neck injury for the entire campaign, last spring's free-agent signee Michael Pierce opted out due to COVID-19 concerns, and Shamar Stephen was moved from 3-technique to nose tackle. If Hunter and Pierce both are back in 2021, that at least will bolster the Vikings defensive line a bit.
Minnesota's offensive line had its ups and downs throughout the season, to be sure. The unit helped the Vikings rank in the top five in total offense but struggled mightily in pass protection on certain occasions.
PFF pinpoints free agents each team should prioritize re-signing
In addition to potentially signing new names to the roster during free agency, the Vikings can look to re-sign current players due to hit the market in two months.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently identified one free agent from each NFL team that should be retained by his current club. For the Vikings, PFF's Brad Spielberger pointed to safety Anthony Harris. Spielberger wrote:
Harris was the subject of significant rumors at the trade deadline once the Vikings season appeared to be all but over, but nothing materialized in a quiet market.
Since the undrafted free agent turned star became a full-time starter with Minnesota in 2018, he has the second-best coverage grade among all NFL safeties (93.0).
Nevertheless, the Vikings cap situation will certainly pose a big challenge to this extension.
As for the Vikings NFC North rivals?
Spielberger said Chicago should re-sign receiver Allen Robinson II, Detroit should prioritize receiver Kenny Golladay and Green Bay should work to keep center Corey Linsley.
Linsley was named a first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career this season, and that certainly is in line with his massive advantage in terms of PFF grade among centers. Linsley finished the season with an 89.9 overall grade, 9.6 points higher than the next best center.
View the best wide receiver photos from the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.
Souhan: Plenty of Minnesota connections in NFL playoffs
Minnesotans haven't been able to watch the Vikings in this year's postseason, but there are several familiar names remaining in the race.
Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune spotlighted Minnesota connections in the playoffs, starting with Bills Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier. Frazier was part of the Vikings coaching staff from 2007-13, including as head coach from 2010 (interim) and 2011-13. Frazier has experienced significant success in coordinator roles, and his time in Buffalo is no exception; Souhan pointed out that Frazier's defense scored one of Buffalo's two touchdowns in the Bills 17-3 defeat of the Ravens Sunday.
Former Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, the star of the Minneapolis Miracle in Minnesota's defeat of New Orleans in the Divisional Round game on Jan. 14, 2018, has sparked Buffalo's offense.
Souhan also pointed out the connection to a member of Kansas City's coaching staff. He wrote:
Long before he became the Chiefs offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy was the Vikings running backs coach who drove Adrian Peterson batty with his detailed critiques. … Bieniemy has the best résumé of any NFL head coaching candidate. He won a ring 11 months ago and on Sunday called plays that allowed Chad Henne to run out the clock on another playoff victory after Patrick Mahomes left with a concussion.
The Browns were eliminated by the Chiefs on Sunday, but Souhan pointed out the success of Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, who took the helm in Cleveland after serving as the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2019 (and holding various roles on Minnesota's coaching staff since joining Minnesota as an assistant to former Head Coach Brad Childress in 2006).
Don't forget about Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the son of former Twins pitcher Pat Mahomes, whom Souhan called "one of the Twins' most polite players," as well as Buccaneers teammates Tyler Johnson and Antoine Winfield, Jr., who played together at the University of Minnesota. Not to mention, Winfield's father played for the Vikings from 2004-12.
Now, the two rookies are headed with Tampa Bay to the NFC Championship game next weekend.
[Johnson and Winfield] had cameos in the Bucs 30-20 victory over New Orleans, with Johnson making a spectacular fourth-quarter catch and Winfield forcing a fumble that Tampa Bay turned into the tying touchdown.