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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings 'Important Offseason' Begins

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Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah finished the 2023 season with exit interviews with players and coaches last week, as well as holding a joint end-of-season press conference, covering the quarterback position and status of Kirk Cousins, as well as where the conversation is with Justin Jefferson.

Adofo-Mensah referred to the upcoming offseason as "big" and "important" as both men enter their third year in their roles, because of some possible pending free agents, as well as the desire to improve on a 7-10 showing. He was asked if there's added pressure this year because of how decisions could affect the franchise for the next five to 10 years.

"I would argue that I put that pressure on myself every offseason, but I think it's of the utmost importance, I would say, to say the five to eight to 10 years probably depends on what positions you address and different things like that, but it's an important offseason," Adofo-Mensah said. "I can't really run from that in any kind of way. We'll continue to battle, we'll continue to identify where we're lacking in terms of where we want to be and where we are now, and that's the mindset we take. The two of us up here are the most inward-looking people you'll ever meet. I don't think there's a day we see results and we don't ask ourselves how we can be better. That's what I'm going to keep doing, and we'll go from there."

They'll design plans for improvement, ranging from their process to executing decisions, as well as trying to build a roster and approach that can withstand future adversity, even if it piles up the way it did during the 2023 season.

Best laid plans don't always come to fruition within a season. You may have seen last week's story about how quickly the plan for continuity on offense shifted to contingencies. If you didn't and prefer to keep rolling in the Mailbag, the short version is Minnesota's first-team 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers) grouping from Week 1 was on the field for nine of the team's 1,071 offensive plays. Nine!

A couple days removed from the final attempt of navigating the lack of continuity, O'Connell said he intends to grow from it.

"I'd like to think that all experience is good experience if you use it the right way, and that's what we transitioned to now as we get into this offseason and start building 2024 roster," O'Connell said.

Lastly, the NFL on Thursday announced the Vikings are one of the designated teams that will be playing in London, along with the Bears and Jaguars, as part of the 2024 International Series.

Minnesota's opponent and the week of the season for that contest will be announced later this year, but the foe will be one of the teams the Vikings are scheduled to host (Bears, Lions, Packers, Cardinals, 49ers, Texans, Colts, Falcons or Jets).

As a diehard Vikings fan, I find myself in a position of the after party, needing to allow the smoke/emotions to clear before speaking objectively. And while I sometimes wish I had the opportunity to become a coach like [Browns Head Coach and former Vikings assistant] Kevin Stefanski through the ranks learning from the best, I'll try to give a perspective of what I see.

[O'Connell] has done a great job this year with a stacked deck. Last year, the ball bounced the team's way in many if not all the single-score games. And to be honest, it had to with a defense that struggled to slow anyone down. This year the opposite was true. Not many things went our way, injuries, losing Kirk when we did, the defense held us in many games. They receive quite a bit of criticism, but when the offensive struggles, the best part of your team (the defense) is now under the microscope. Of course, the defense will have its bad games, same as the offense. The question that keeps surfacing: Can we build a team to adjust, and adjust quickly, so if we are put in this situation again, the season isn't lost.

Nick Mullens has an upside despite the turnovers. He goes through his progressions, but when nothing is there it's as if the panic button gets pushed. Similar to what Kirk has had to work through these past few years. Being able to play backyard football when the play breaks down. [O'Connell] has had the benefit of designing an offensive scheme around an experienced quarterback. And that quarterback in turn making adjustments at the line of scrimmage to get the most out of the offense. Some of that cannot be taught but only experienced. There does seem to be a benefit of a young quarterback sitting behind a veteran for a few years like [Brett] Favre to [Aaron] Rodgers, Rodgers to [Jordan] Love, [Drew] Bledsoe to [Tom] Brady, etc. It's a [Bill] Parcels trait, I believe. But most franchises are too impatient to develop their QBs and their scheme. Everyone wants to win NOW. Sometimes it's because the talent of the personnel group does not want to be wasted. There are very few Jimmy Johnson-like coaches who can come in and hit the right amount of circumstances to get three Super Bowl rings in four years. It just doesn't happen. Could the Vikings do it? Possibly, but there is a template.

Kirk Cousins is a veteran QB. Is he the greatest? No. There are others in an elite class who are better, however, he is a good leader, has the character a team needs and is a good teacher. Draft a QB to sit behind Kirk for the next two to three years with the understanding in the contract. This is assuming his Achilles has healing for longevity. You need to pay Justin Jefferson. And other athletes. Are they going to be like Brady and the Patriots core that were willing to take less money in order to get players who are able to win?? You need a better solid O-line, not just for pass blocking but running the ball. I understand everyone wants the ball. There seems to be a necessity for a dual running back threat plus using the fullback and TEs. My opinion, the offensive scheme is lacking in those areas. Herb Brooks said like "players don't necessarily look to score but for an open patch of ice." I believe this concept could be true of the offensive scheme and creativity. I believe the game of analytics, though helpful, can also hinder schemes of both offensive and defense.

[Brian Flores] has a good thing going with the defense, but it was the players first year in that system. A second will tell more about the scheme, how the players in the system respond and continue to grow and be aggressive. If the offense is good this coming year, it will change how aggressive the defense can be, it changes situational football. It's easier to scheme blitz packages if your team is up by 20 or 15 points compared to if they are trying to prevent the other team from pulling ahead. Playing defense is like playing poker. You have to assume the money isn't yours or that you won't get it back. You just have to play aggressive and hold to your strategy. It's the mark of a good defense.

[O'Connell] and [Adofo-Mensah] have their work cut out for them. I think the Vikings, had Kirk stayed healthy, it would have been an interesting finish. But coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Good luck next season!

— Tim

Appreciate Tim's in-depth thoughts after taking a few days to process the season. We were starting to see what a second year in the system was doing for Cousins, even without Jefferson available for multiple games. He was able manage pre-snap challenges and distribute the football while mitigating some risks.

The depth of experience in O'Connell's system also showed in Mullens' ability to move the football in multiple games. Cousins said Mullens "played his guts out" in Week 18 at Detroit. It's also worth noting Mullens wasn't the only Vikings QB who threw interceptions this season.

The trajectory that Love has shown over the last half of the season has people high on the transition, but folks were a bit uproarious over the use of a first-round pick who would not be playing for multiple seasons. Development occurred behind the scenes. O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips made it a point to say they are not putting a period on Jaren Hall's development. That will be true, regardless of whether Cousins is re-signed or if the Vikings draft a high pick or both. I'm not saying developing quarterbacks always turns out like the sequences that Tim mentioned — just that it is so important to continue to develop the position.

Defenses are usually better off if they can play with a lead. Injuries stacked up on that side of the ball, too, and they timed with the point in the season where there was plenty of film on the system that Flores introduced with the Vikings.

I saw where the Vikings signed a number of players to futures/reserve contracts. All were members of the practice squad. Are these contracts to prevent other teams from poaching these players?

— Kevin in Mississippi

Yes, the Vikings signed 10 from their practice squad last Monday and then followed by also signing running back Myles Gaskin to a futures contract. All 11 players were on Minnesota's practice squad and will proceed toward the offseason as a member of the team.

I've followed the Vikes all my life from growing up in Minnesota to spending two years in California and 22 in Colorado as an adult. I've been to U.S. Bank Stadium once. What an awesome venue!

Anyway, like most Vikings fans, we're just hoping to see them win one Super Bowl before we die. As I think how that may happen in this day and age versus during the '70s, when you could hold your team together year after year without fear of losing key pieces every year through free agency.

So, looking forward, as much as I hate to think about it, it would appear that trading J.J. would bring the kind of (Herschel Walker) draft haul we need to get multiple first-round picks or at minimum a first and two seconds over a two-year period.

I'm not claiming to be an expert, but it sure seems to be the only real option to build your team up to the Super Bowl level quickly and not deal with so many holes in the roster year after year. Free agency has priced us out for the top players for many years, and the draft is to some degree always a crap shoot.

Your thoughts?

— Jeff in Littleton, Colorado

For anyone unfamiliar, the thought former Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn had was that the team was a star running back away from making it back to the Super Bowl and agreed to send first- and second- round picks in three consecutive drafts (1990-92), as well as other selections and players to Dallas in October 1989. Instead, that trade helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls in four seasons.

The Vikings traded a top-notch receiver less than four years ago when they dealt Stefon Diggs to Buffalo for a collection of picks that included the selection used on Jefferson. It pretty much worked for both teams.

Some say there's a price for everything, but everything we've heard so far is the Vikings intend for Jefferson to be in purple for the long run. His talent is elite, but the absolute passion he has for playing football and being great at it is even better.

His all-out hustle to recover a fumble at the end of the home game against the Lions is an example of how much he cares.

Kirk's last season with my Vikings ended with a whimper. Literally and figuratively. For a man who has made almost a quarter of a billion dollars, he has won one playoff game. His career regular season record is [77-71-2 including playoffs]. He is consistent at winning and losing football games. He is also consistent at never losing a dime at the negotiating table.

It is plain to see this team has way too many holes to fill to pay Kirk whatever he and his agent think he's worth. We also unfortunately have a GM who has proven he cannot fill those voids through the draft.

The time has come to draft J.J.'s last quarterback. Kwesi needs to extend his stay in Minnesota. The only way he does this is by getting a franchise QB. He is smart enough to see the mediocrity another Kirk extension will bring. That mediocrity will lead to a new head coach and GM duo.

— Ryan Christensen

Well, we have nearly two months to see how things shake out with Cousins and find out what his asking price might be. Wins are a tricky thing for quarterbacks. I understand why they are tied to the sport's most important position, but football is the ultimate team sport.

Matthew Stafford is viewed in high regard, but his record as a starter is 102-110-1. Stafford has recorded 44 game-winning drives in 98 regular-season victories.

Cousins has 28 game-winning drives among his 76 regular-season victories, including eight for Minnesota in 2022. Joshua Dobbs recorded the only game-winning drive for Minnesota (at Atlanta) in 2023.

Cousins likes it here, and players (and many fans) have rallied around him. It's true, he is business savvy, but I also expect he will prioritize opportunities to win and have more opportunities at the postseason.

What are the odds that Harrison Smith will return for another year? I have appreciated his excellent and versatile skill set for many years, and now I hope that he will agree to a lesser contract in order to return for another year. His leadership and impact on our young safeties and corners is invaluable in the long haul. However, IF he chooses to retire (and I sincerely hope the Vikings will allow HIM to make that choice), he deserves nothing but praise and honors from the Vikings organization. Thank you, Harry!

— Dan in Cocoa Beach, Florida

I've joked with a couple of people — even going back to 2022 (perhaps earlier, but I specifically remember a key breakup of a pass at Buffalo a week after his clutch interception at Washington) — that I want to cryogenically freeze "The Hitman" and thaw him John Spartan-style in Demolition Man for future moments of need.

He said after the Lions game — if you missed this **great read** by colleague Lindsey Young, please check it out — he had not made any decisions.

The appreciation shared by Dan is a shared sentiment for so many.

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

Vikings need to sign Kirk Cousins NOW!! He is loved by the team and has another great season in him. If there at 11th pick, then grab J.J. McCarthy.

Sign Kirk now!! He will help get the offensive players to buy-in.

— Tony Tracy in Kettle River, Minnesota


Out of the top six prospects, Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, Michael Penix, J.J. McCarthy, or Bo Nix, who would be the best fit for the Vikings?

Thanks, SKOL!

— Rayaan in Blaine, Minnesota


What are your plans for the draft? Are you planning on trading up to get a solid QB or keep Kirk or possibly get a new WR so you can have the best WR corps?

— Hunter

I'm combining these thoughts from Tony, Rayaan and Hunter since they all deal with the draft and quarterbacks.

Among the Vikings options, the team can re-sign Cousins and use a higher or lower pick at the position or opt to move on from Cousins.

The public dialogue about draft-eligible players seems to start earlier every year. It matches the advance work teams have been doing for years on prospects.

I honestly don't have personal opinions on any draft picks at any position yet. I usually postpone taking a look until after the Vikings season ends, but the scouting department has been busy. Personnel departments will hit up the college all-star games this month and convene in Indianapolis at the end of February/early March for the NFL Scouting Combine.

There are probably other spots on the roster beyond receiver that Minnesota is likely looking to boost with use of its early picks.

En verdad están satisfechos con los resultados? Con razón nunca serán un buen equipo adiós equipillo mediocre después de 60 años voy a cambiar de equipo.

Are you really satisfied with the results? No wonder they'll never be a good team. Goodbye mediocre team, after 60 years I'm going to change teams.

— Hector Hernandez

I wanted to include Hector's message, but I don't know Spanish, so I relied on an online translation service to better understand his communication, typed a response in English and translated it into the Spanish below.

I don't think anyone is satisfied with 7-10, regardless of all the factors that led to that outcome.

No creo que nadie esté satisfecho con 7-10, independientemente de todos los factores que llevaron a ese resultado.

As most of us know, we can have the best receivers, best QB, best play caller, but if the beef up front can't keep a clean pocket for at least two seconds, this team will have a hard go. Build the O-line and go from there. I miss the Minnesota Moving Company!

— Rick in Stillwater, Oklahoma

The offensive line seemed to improve in some aspects but also could have benefited from more continuity.

Minnesota used eight different starting combinations of five, and the goal is to always have five players work as one unit. Teams that finish shy of their goals evaluate everything in the offseason.

The position group can be a force multiplier or detriment for the skill groups.

Defensive coordinator needs to be replaced. Defense played too far off — always gave opposing team a 10-yard head start. They did it all year long.

— Marvin

Flores took over a group with a young secondary (minus Smith and cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr., to a degree). Some defensive plans call for keeping everything in front and not letting anyone get behind the defense.

The defensive coordinator was clever in the ways he tried to generate pressure and offset being thin at positions that usually produce while rushing passers.

View photos of Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah addressing the media during a press conference to close out the 2023 season.

How many former Minnesota Vikings were in the NFL this year and how many are on teams in the playoffs. Baltimore has [Dalvin] Cook and [Laquon] Treadwell.

— Gerald Goblirsch

We'll limit this answer to the 14 teams who qualified for the postseason and include active, practice squad and reserve. Based on a review of the rosters for those teams, the total I counted was 31.

Ravens (3): Treadwell, Dan Chisena (PS) and Cook (PS)

Bills (5): Stefon Diggs, Linval Joseph, Latavius Murray, Greg Mancz (PS), Zach Davidson (Res.)

Chiefs (2): Blake Bell, Jerick McKinnon (Res.)

Texans (2): Kris Boyd, Case Keenum

Browns (4): Za'Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, Kalon Barnes (PS), Riley Patterson (PS)

Dolphins (1): Parry Nickerson (PS)

Steelers (2): Patrick Peterson, Chandon Sullivan

49ers (2): Jesse Davis (PS), T.Y. McGill (PS)

Cowboys (1): Jayron Kearse

Lions (4): Teddy Bridgewater, David Blough (PS), Craig James (PS), Shane Zylstra (Res.)
Buccaneers (2): Chase McLaughlin, Cephus Johnson III (PS)

Eagles (0)

Rams (2): Troy Reeder, Duke Shelley

Packers (1): Eric Wilson

Given the way players do move around through free agency or necessary team decisions/cap limitations, I wouldn't say that's an uncommon number of players. Nine of those players were part of the 2017 NFC North Champions.

Lifetime fan 57, I just want one Super Bowl in my lifetime, but it will never happen until we have a consistent QB, dominant O-line and D-line and a mentality that we never lose to our division — but especially to the Packers and especially in our house! Never!

— Jack H. in Coon Rapids, Minnesota

All the above are important factors. Minnesota went 8-1 in regular-season home games in 2022 but only 2-6 this season. Restoring the home-field advantage the Vikings have generally enjoyed is going to be important. Protect the ball, protect the house.

Is it just my perception, or has C.J. Ham been really underutilized this year? He's a great dual threat but I can't really recall anything he had done this year.

Thanks for your work this year.

— Jim Alcock in Malvern, England

Thanks for reading and the continued support of the Vikings, despite the distance and time zone differential.

Ham finished the season with seven catches for 25 yards and one rush attempt for 7 yards. The number of catches tied the fewest of his career (2017), and this was the first time he had rushed fewer than four times in a season.

He played 216 offensive snaps, with Minnesota turning to him as a third-down running back to help pick up blitzes as a pass protector. Ham also played 244 special teams snaps.

My Vikings offseason to-do list:

  1. Re-sign Kirk 1-2 years
  2. Extend J.J. for 5-plus years
  3. Extend Danielle Hunter
  4. Beef up D-line through free agency
  5. Get a new guard
  6. Get new corners through free agency/mid-draft picks
  7. Keep Flores

Overall, this was a tough season. I think [O'Connell] did the best he could with the QB injuries, but we have to have backups that can win us a game. Dobbs was great for 1.5 games, but we need more depth. Defense was great for three-fourths of the season but failed to be great in the most important moments against Cincinnati, Green Bay and Detroit (our most important games). This will be a very important draft, and I can see trading up to get a Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels type, staying where we are and getting Michael Penix, or even trading down and getting Bo Nix or J.J. McCarthy. The rookie should be developed under Kirk for a year or two. Thanks for everything this season!

— Dave in San Francisco, California

Dave's list helps illustrate several things Minnesota must consider this offseason. The Vikings won't publicly reveal their list before putting plans in motion, but the team's actions will eventually unveil the plan.

Minnesota has come up with creative ways to solve salary cap issues in the past and has freed up some space for this year and beyond, but it could be allocated rather quickly among a few players.

With nine selections in this year's draft, Minnesota also will have more wiggle room for navigating the draft board.