The wheels of the NFL calendar are slowly starting to churn, as the start of the new league year (and free agency) is a little over three weeks away.
Teams will begin to tweak their rosters in the coming weeks, whether it's adding some names in free agency or letting others go to fit under a salary cap that is expected to be lower than the 2020 mark.
Jordan Dajani of CBS Sports recently took a look at the areas of need for each NFC North team, and noted he expects the Vikings to address the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Dajani opined that Minnesota's top concern should be a defensive line that struggled to both stop the run and get to the quarterback in 2020.
View the best offensive line photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.
The Vikings have plenty of holes to fill this offseason, but my focus immediately goes to the defense. Minnesota had a ridiculous amount of adversity to deal with on the defensive line this past season … Danielle Hunter went down with a season-ending injury, and Michael Pierce took advantage of the COVID-19 opt out. Jaleel Johnson, who was more of a reserve player heading into 2020, started in all 16 games and recorded 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks and is now a free agent. Additionally, Shamar Stephen could be a cap casualty, so the Vikings have some work to do on the defensive line when it comes to their starters, reserves and rotation.
A few defensive linemen potentially looking for new homes are Ryan Kerrigan, Solomon Thomas and then Kawann Short, who was just released by the Carolina Panthers. As for the cornerbacks, I do like the young duo of Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney. They just need more time to develop, but adding to this position group wouldn't be a bad idea either.
But Dajani also noted that the Vikings shouldn't forget about their offensive line, too, as some tweaks there could take the unit to another level.
View the best defensive line photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.
Dajani wrote that questions remain on how Minnesota's line will look in 2021.
It's interesting that the Vikings offense was still able to find success with a lesser line, but that doesn't mean the front office should just ignore the offensive front this offseason. This unit was hard to watch at times this past year. What happens with Riley Reiff? Does Ezra Cleveland move to permanent tackle? The Vikings also have to sign a legitimate starter that can hold down the interior at guard.
The Vikings also currently hold the 14th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Josh Edwards and Chris Trapasso, Dajani's colleagues at CBS Sports, both have the Vikings taking Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye with that pick.
Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports has Minnesota taking Alijah Vera-Tucker of Southern California. He played both guard and tackle for the Trojans.
Graff outlines Vikings reasons for 2021 optimism
The start of the 2021 NFL season is still six-plus months away, but fans are always clamoring for insight on how people think things will play out.
Chad Graff of The Athletic recently fielded questions on his reasons for optimism going forward, beginning with a fan question how the Vikings can be competitive with the current leadership in place.
Graff responded that he believes Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Kirk Cousins can help the team get back on track in 2021.
Zimmer is for sure a top-10 defensive coach in the NFL, and I'd argue he's in the top five. While defensive success doesn't translate year after year the way offensive success does, Zimmer has a track record of producing top-five defenses. It's certainly possible for the Vikings to get back to that level in the next three years.
Now you need to match that with offensive success, which, based on recent Super Bowl participants, is more important than defensive greatness. But by most measures, Cousins actually played like a top-10 quarterback last season, somewhere in the No. 8-10 range. He did that despite a brutal start. If he can improve that just a bit, that would go a long way. He already has elite weapons around him with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook. Then you need good play calling, which is very much up in the air since the Vikings have a new offensive coordinator who has never called plays, and you need an improved offensive line, which isn't out of the realm of possibility as we enter free agency and the draft.
So is it possible they can combine to make a winner? Sure. You just need a better offensive line, good play calling, small improvements from Cousins and the return of a dominant defense.
Zimmer is 64-47-1 in seven seasons in Minnesota, and has won a pair of NFC North titles in his tenure.
Cousins finished eighth among all quarterbacks with a passer rating of 105.0, which was the second-highest of his career, and ranked eighth overall with 4,265 passing yards.
He also orchestrated a trio of game-winning drives in 2020, which was the most of his career, and tied for the fourth-most among all NFL quarterbacks this past season.