Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said Monday that the team isn’t entering a full rebuild a few hours after Head Coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager were relieved of their duties.
He made it clear the Wilf family fully expects Minnesota to be competitive in 2022.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler agrees. He does think, however, that the Vikings might need to reevaluate some things when it comes to the roster for next season. Fowler recently defined the "NFL Overhaul Tiers" and placed teams eliminated from this season's playoffs into one of six categories: "Time for a major rebuild, New coach taking control, Time to reassess, Stuck in QB purgatory, Comfortable despite losing season and On the right track (mostly)."
Fowler slated the Vikings into the "Time to reassess" group. He wrote:
This one is easy. With quarterback Kirk Cousins' $45 million cap hit staring the front office down, Minnesota must decide how it feels about life in the middle. Cousins symbolizes steady QB play and the occasional playoff berth. Is that worth nearly one-fourth of your salary cap? It might be time to reinvent things.
Extending Cousins can lessen that cap hit, but he would have a trade market if the Vikings want to enhance draft capital. It's hard to fault the Vikings if they want to go all in on 2022 with one more year of Cousins, letting him play out his deal and banking on the quartet of Cousins, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, running back Dalvin Cook and wideout Adam Thielen fueling a playoff run. But that hasn't worked the past two seasons.
Regardless of the direction Minnesota goes offensively, Fowler opined, "the Vikings also must figure out an aging defense."
Most of its key players are 29 or older, and the best player who isn't – Danielle Hunter (27) – has played seven games in two seasons. The Vikings have to decide on Hunter's $18 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the league year. He is a premier talent, but that's a hefty number for a largely unavailable player.
Fowler listed linebacker Anthony Barr as the Vikings "big-ticket free agent" and safety Xavier Woods as a "low-key important free agent."
Interesting to note is where Fowler placed the Vikings NFC North rivals.
The Lions landed in the "Time for a major rebuild" category, with Fowler emphasizing an upgrade on defense as Detroit's should-be offseason priority. Chicago fell under "New coach taking control," though Fowler said the Bears problems "run deeper than Matt Nagy's coaching."
David Montgomery is the perfect running back to lessen the burden on a young quarterback, yet he is averaging 3.8 yards per carry because the offensive line isn't good enough. Chicago has to upgrade up front to give Montgomery space. Additionally, quarterback Justin Fields needs at least three vertical threats, and for 2022, he has one reliable option at wide receiver: Darnell Mooney. Acquiring weapons on the outside should be a priority.
NFL.com's Judy Battista ranks head coach openings
The Vikings aren't the only NFL team already looking for a new head coach.
Six teams have either seen the departure of their head coach or relieved the coach of his duties: Chicago, Denver, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Miami and Minnesota. Although Las Vegas is in the playoffs, the Raiders are being led by Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia, who went 7-5 after Jon Gruden's resignation.
NFL.com's Judy Battista recently ranked those openings from most-to-least desirable, and she also emphasized advantages for each of the openings.
Battista interestingly slated the Vikings job at No. 6 on the list, largely because of cap space the team will have to work with heading into 2022. She wrote:
Minnesota's not a bad team, but after a second straight sub-.500 season, the Vikings cleared house by firing Zimmer and Spielman. Zimmer just completed his eighth season in Minnesota, while Spielman had been with the franchise going back to 2006, so it's a brand-new day for the Vikings.
Players like Cook and Jefferson – plus patient, stable ownership – will make this job enticing. The big question for a new coach: What does he think of Cousins? The 33-year-old is better than the quarterbacks on most of the other teams on this list, but he has an expensive contract, and the Vikings have been to the playoffs just once in his four seasons – and that makes his future with Minnesota uncertain. The Vikings invested a load of guaranteed money in their defense last offseason and it underperformed, which means it will likely have to be retooled. And the Vikings are among the teams with the least amount of cap space.
The Raiders topped Battista's rankings.
One thing the Raiders learned in the wake of the early-season resignation of Gruden: They have a resilient team, which just earned a playoff berth after an incredible finish on Sunday night. Bisaccia deserves serious consideration just for navigating so much drama and trauma. The success also speaks well of the talent level despite some questionable recent draft decisions, and that will make this an attractive job.
The Raiders have the best quarterback situation of any of the available jobs with Derek Carr under center. A big question is what becomes of General Manager Mike Mayock. But the Raiders remain one of the most popular franchises in football, with a fantastic new stadium and a devoted fan base.