This just in: The Vikings have top-tier talent in their receivers room.
That's not really news, of course, being that Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson have established themselves among the league's best wideouts. But it's always interesting to see where NFL pundits rank the Vikings position group among the 31 other teams.
NFL.com's Kevin Patra recently did just that, separating teams into various categories based on their wide receiver situation heading into the 2021 season. Patra put Minnesota in the "Bigger Fish to Fry" category. He wrote:
The Vikings WR corps is in a good spot. Jefferson is a star, yet it feels as though he hasn't even reached his peak. In Year 3, Jefferson should contend for the title of top WR in the NFL. Injuries held back Thielen in 2021, but he remains as reliable a receiver as there is in the league when healthy. The emergence of [K.J.] Osborn gives the Vikes a solid trio to build off of in new [Head Coach] Kevin O'Connell's offense. Don't be surprised if [2021 draft pick Ihmir] Smith-Marsette carves out a bigger role in Year 2.
Patra also listed Dede Westbrook, whom the Vikings signed last spring, as a "key free agent" for the team.
The only squad listed in a grouping higher than Minnesota was the Bengals, who fell to the Rams in Super Bowl LVI. Patra called Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd "the best trio in the NFL."
And how about the Vikings NFC North counterparts?
The Packers landed in "Add a Piece or Two or Three" because so many receivers – including star Davante Adams – are slated to hit free agency next month.
Adams is the biggest potential free-agent receiver. It would be a stunner if the Packers let him hit the market, with the franchise tag looming if a long-term deal can't be struck before the March 8 tag deadline. Would that perturb the star receiver enough that he would demand a trade rather than play on the one-year tender? Outside of Adams, there are questions up and down the Packers receiver corps, with key contributors in line for new deals. [Randall] Cobb could be a cut candidate, especially if Aaron Rodgers leaves. Like much of the Packers offseason, things could look drastically different in the coming months, or [General Manager] Brian Gutekunst could go all-in once again and find a way to bring most of the crew back.
Patra put the Bears and the Lions in the "Need Immediate Help" grouping. In Chicago, Allen Robinson II and Marquise Goodwin are among pending free agents.
[Darnell] Mooney shined in his second season, breaching the 1,000-yard mark. It was the type of Year 2 leap that foreshadows big things for the Tulane product. But there isn't anything behind Mooney to help quarterback Justin Fields. Robinson is poised to leave, as could the rest of the corps. Chicago could look at adding a Michael Gallup- or Christian Kirk-type boundary presence in free agency while also adding a receiver early in the draft. To develop Fields in Year 2, the new brass must add pass-catchers who help out the quarterback more than the 2021 crew.
When it comes to the Lions, Patra said Detroit needs help in addition to Amon-Ra St. Brown, Quintez Cephus and Trinity Benson.
St. Brown exploded down the stretch, generating 90-plus receiving yards in each of the final four games while catching eight-plus passes in the final six. St. Brown is a tough route runner who can bowl over defenders after the catch. The fourth-round pick is the ideal building block in Detroit. Now, the Lions must add more weapons. Cephus played just five games but has shown potential. Still in rebuild mode, expect [General Manager] Brad Holmes to look toward the draft to add more talent while filling out the bottom of the roster with flyers.
Barnwell proposes contract extension for Cousins
With the Vikings under new leadership, everyone seems to have an opinion on what the team should do with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Retain his current contract? Trade? Sign him to a contract extension? ESPN's Bill Barnwell opined the latter. He said Cousins "isn't an exciting quarterback" but is "solid at worst and excellent at his best." Barnwell wrote:
He ranked fourth in the league in average net yards per attempt (ANY/A), which adds sacks to passing yardage, touchdowns and interceptions. He ranked fifth in passer rating. If you think he was taking advantage of garbage time, situation-adjusted stats such as DVOA (eighth) and QBR (14th) suggest that he is more than capable of holding his own.
The hiring of Kevin O'Connell, who worked with Cousins in the past, suggests that he is likely to stick around. Given the fact that he has a $45 million cap hit in 2022, Minnesota needs to either restructure his deal by adding voidable years or hand him an extension with a signing bonus to reduce his 2022 number.
The ideal scenario for the Vikings would be signing him to a five-year pact that they can reexamine after 2023 without having to eat an ungodly amount of money. It might be more realistic to shoot for 2024. Either way, with a team that finished ahead of the Bengals, Titans and Raiders in DVOA in 2021, I'm not sure I would be desperately anxious to blow things up and go in a different direction at quarterback.