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Monday Morning Mailbag: Early Draft Takes and a Schedule Suggestion

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag. Remember to include your name and town on the email. The questions below have been edited for clarity.

You can also send Eric a Mailbag question via Twitter.

Kirk Cousins had a great year, and I'd like to see him stay as a Viking quarterback for a few more seasons. But when will the Vikings get serious about drafting a franchise quarterback?

— Hans Luckoff in Danbury, Wisconsin

We'll start this Mailbag with the starting quarterback, who is seemingly always in the spotlight no matter what time of year it is. As with any offseason, especially with the NFL's free agency frenzy to start in less than six weeks, there's plenty of speculation and chatter.

And while there's a lot of outside noise about Cousins' status in Minnesota, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer quieted much of that Friday morning when he appeared on Good Morning Football and was asked about his quarterback.

"As far as the quarterback position, Kirk's our guy," Zimmer responded. "He had a terrific year – we were fourth in the league on offense.

"We have to get better on defense – we had a lot of injuries and young guys, but that's my job to get that fixed," Zimmer added.

I think we can all agree that if we evaluate Cousins' season overall, it was a strong year. He threw for 4,265 yards with 35 touchdowns and was the eighth-highest graded QB by analytics website Pro Football Focus.

Was he perfect? No. But he certainly played well, especially in the final 10 games when he cut down on the turnovers.

Hans suggests that he wants the Vikings to keep Cousins around but also implores the Vikings to draft a big-name quarterback. That's a little contradictory to me.

At some point, yes, the Vikings are going to have to think about life after Cousins, and the team would likely be wise to draft a quarterback a year early rather than a year late.

But I don't think we're at that point yet. Adam Thielen ranked third in the NFL with 14 receiving touchdowns, and Justin Jefferson finished with 1,400 yards, which ranked fourth overall in just his first season with Cousins as his QB. There are already high expectations for the Vikings offense going into 2021.

With Cousins at the helm, there's no reason why the Vikings can't field a top-five offense in the league once the 2021 season rolls around.

View the best quarterback photos from the 2020 season from Vikings photographers including stories behind the photos.

Recognizing that I'm not an expert on young players like the Vikings brass is, I can only offer my thoughts from the perspective of a long-time fan. The draft prognosticators are touting at least four offensive linemen, including a couple who could excel at tackle or guard, to be first-round picks. With the Vikings emphasis on pounding Dalvin Cook through the line, I pray to all football gods great and small that they go with one of these guys to resolve the left guard position once and for all. Don't wait for a later round; go early and get a blue-chipper.

That said, if they do focus on defense early, how about this scenario: trade our first-round pick plus possibly a third to Houston for J.J. Watt. That's the only move they could make on defense that would make me leap from the couch and yell, "SKOL!"

— Dan Callahan in Burlington, Connecticut

I wrote in my season recap of the offensive line that it's almost a yearly tradition for the position group to be in the spotlight in Minnesota. It appears that will be the case once again.

Here's what we do know: the trio of Brian O'Neill, Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland are viewed as long-term building blocks. We'll see what happens with veterans Riley Reiff and Dakota Dozier this offseason. If the Vikings do chose to go with an offensive lineman with the 14th overall pick, getting someone who is ultra-athletic and offers position flexibility would appear to fit their recent mold.

I mentioned above that the Vikings have the potential to be a high-flying offense in 2021. If the Vikings allocate resources toward the offensive line (whether in free agency or the draft), that's a way it can happen. It's worth noting that what the team does in free agency will likely decide the direction they go in the draft.

It's early February, a typically slow month in the NFL, but things will start to heat up soon. Does that mean a trade for J.J. Watt? He's due a hefty contract figure in 2021, so while it's intriguing to envision, perhaps the Vikings choose to go the younger and cheaper route to try and improve their pass rush.

Hello Eric, I've got an idea for the 17th regular-season game, and I wanted to see what you thought about it. Before adding Game 17 to the schedule, I believe the NFL should eliminate the two games played within the conference against the teams who finished in the same place in the previous year. I believe those two games, and Game 17, should be played within the division … so three games against each of the three other divisional teams. The other eight games against another a division in each conference should remain the same. The third divisional game will be played on a neutral field. These games can be played overseas or at other team's stadiums — being a Chicagoan, I would go to Soldier Field to see the Vikings vs. Lions, or Vikings vs. Packers. What do you think?

— John Burchardt

Before we get too deep into this interesting idea from John, it's worth pointing out that there is nothing definite on a 17th game being added to the 2021 schedule. Here's what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said about that topic last week:

"We are looking at the 17-game schedule. ... We've already agreed to that in the Collective Bargaining Agreement," Goodell said. "There's still more work to be done on that. Once the [Super Bowl] is done, we'll turn our focus a little bit more to that. Even though we have that option, we're going to continue to talk."

With that said, John certainly brings up an interesting point. He argues to have nine divisional games instead of the current six, and then play a division in each conference to equal 17 games.

While I like the idea, I do think the logistics of that third divisional game will create more headaches than anything for the league and teams, simply because of the fact John proposes the game be played at a neutral site or overseas.

I can tell you the planning that went into the Vikings 2017 game in London against the Browns was a massive one, and one that a team usually only has to deal with every few seasons. To ask every team to figure out a neutral site or overseas game each season would be a tall ask.

Now, if that third game was a rotation between home stadiums each season (meaning the Vikings played the Packers twice at U.S. Bank Stadium one year, and then twice at Lambeau Field the next season), that's something I could see as more reasonable.

Either way, we shall see what the league decides to do about the potential 17th game in 2021 and beyond.