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Monday Morning Mailbag: Super Bowl LVIII Caps 2023 Season Before Quick Turn to Combine

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Another NFL season is in the books, completed Sunday when Kansas City walked off San Francisco in overtime on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Mecole Hardman. Mahomes essentially took over in overtime, completing all eight passes for 42 yards and rushing for 27 big ones.

The Chiefs became the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003-04 Patriots and the eighth franchise to ever repeat. Kansas City will try to become the NFL's first to win three consecutive Super Bowls.

Now the entire NFL will take a deep breath before gathering in Indianapolis for the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine in two weeks.

This little window means I'm on vacation this week, but special thanks to Jake Reed and everyone who sent in questions this past week, we'll have a special edition of the Mailbag featuring the Vikings Legend next Monday, Feb. 19. The traditional format will return Feb. 26, as we head to the combine.

Let's get rolling on this edition.

Skoal Vikings! Reading all the opinions on the draft and offseason moves needed really makes me appreciate all the paths forward that [General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah] and [Head Coach Kevin O'Connell] have to consider. I mean, some of the fans are even considering ticket sales resulting from possible losing seasons if they take the "competitive" part out of the competitive rebuild. Anyone who factors ticket sales into the equation of how to win a Super Bowl is obviously doing the math wrong. I also see fans saying "Just sign X..." over and over as if there's no salary cap, which is also frustrating to see. The reason teams can spend huge amounts on blue chip free agents is that they aren't spreading their cap money out on the rest of the roster. This means that you MUST have talented draft picks, well-coached players, or both if you want to play in February. My question is, would you give up two (or three) losing seasons to be NFC Champions, on your way to the Super Bowl? The 49ers gave up THREE first round picks for a QB that flopped just three seasons ago and are still finding themselves in the big game. Could the Vikings replicate that success if their pick hits?!

I think Cousins is the Vikings best option to remain competitive next year, and maybe the year after, but too many big contracts do not allow enough depth to win a Super Bowl. I think [O'Connell] and [Adofo-Mensah] need to trust themselves to take chances, otherwise the Vikings will remain a top-10 NFL record-holder in wins without winning the Lombardi.

I love Cousins, but I think a lot of fans only remember the more recent losses without him, not his 4-4 record in 2023. These fans hated [Joshua] Dobbs after his second loss and already think [Jaren] Hall is a wasted pick. Similar fans in Green Bay hated [Jordan] Love for his first two-and-half seasons. But Matt LaFleur said he wasn't surprised by the late-season success. Love made mistakes, and he learned from them — I'm paraphrasing. QB turns out to be challenging. Gasp! Dobbs has the physical skills; we saw them over and over. A half-second faster read or half-yard difference accuracy on a throw, could have made a huge difference. How much better could Dobbs or Hall be with more practice in KOC's system? If the Vikings spent 40 million dollars on free agents (instead of Cousins), how could those additions have made either QB look better (with wins in close games?)?


— Jacob S. in Minneapolis

We're about two weeks and two months from the draft and only a month from the start of the new league year, which will kick-start free agency surges across the NFL.

Adofo-Mensah has been working on Minnesota's tight salary cap situation since he arrived, and the Vikings have made the numbers work in each of those two seasons.

Detroit definitely won several games this season and has built its roster, but that construction was made possible with the high draft picks that were awarded from some really rough seasons.

Because so little is ever guaranteed from enduring losing seasons, I don't know if the trade-off is worth it. San Francisco seems to have consistently rebounded from a couple of down seasons and certainly reaped rewards when the Niners were down.

Their 4-12 showing in 2018 was rewarded with Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel with San Francisco's first two picks. The 49ers also definitely hit on punter Mitch Wishnowsky (110 overall) and linebacker Dre Greenlaw (148) that year.

The Niners only had five picks in 2020, but a first-round selection of Brandon Aiyuk and a seventh-round try on Jauan Jennings worked out well, too.

I think I mentioned last week how accuracy is always going to be a desired trait in a quarterback to maximize O'Connell's system.

I sure hope the Vikings do not waste draft picks to move up for a QB. Think of all the Super Bowl-winning QBs that were not selected in the top 9. Like this year and last year and…the obvious. Takes a team to win. If Cousins can return to his pre-injury health, hard to see any rookie QB matching his combination of experience and ability. Give J.J. the money he deserves within reason. But if negotiations end up with a contract that significantly affects the future of developing a very competitive team, it's time to consider the unpopular options. Obviously the coaches know better than any of us the current and future needs to maintain and develop a winning program. Looking forward to free agency and the draft. Wondering if we maintain the current defensive starting lineup would priority on the defensive side be DT, S, CB, LB?

Wish the NFL would designate the "tackle" zone to be above the knee and below the neck. First illegal hit, 15-yard penalty. Second illegal hit in a game, ejection. Even then with the speed and power of modern NFL football injuries will happen. Hopefully less often and less severe. NFL stadiums should not become a gladiator pit.


— Noel in Bayfield, Wisconsin

Jacob's reference to Trey Lance, the Minnesota native whom San Francisco drafted at No. 3 overall by sending firsts in 2021, 2022 and 2023 (along with a third in 2022) is a reminder that it doesn't always go to planned, even when vaulting up the draft board. There must be a level of certainty in everyone's mind to make that kind of a leap. Lance wound up being traded to Dallas last August.

Top 9 was an interesting line of demarcation, given Mahomes was selected at No. 10 overall.

Of the quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl, Bart Starr (200th overall) and Brad Johnson (227th overall) are the only players picked later than Tom Brady (199th) to win a Super Bowl. (Kurt Warner also won one as an undrafted player, and Steve Young was selected in a supplemental draft).

Every team that didn't make it as far as it wanted will have a wish list of aspects to improve its chances next season.

I'm curious to see if there's any chatter with the suggestion of a tackle zone. I know defensive players have a tough job, but it seems like there would be plenty of opportunity to effectively tackle an offensive player.

It seems the Vikings don't run much motion and tend to run the play clock down late. Do you feel that the Viking offensive system has too much verbiage and limits them? I would think that regular motion moving J.J. would create some advantages or jet motion for Brandon Powell.

We don't do nearly the amount of motion as most teams and was curious as to why.

— Rick in Blaine, Minnesota

I'm not sure we can effectively evaluate the Vikings offense based on what was shown in the second half of the season because there were so many injuries and adjustments.

I do believe O'Connell, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and others are great at scheming opportunities for Jefferson. He averaged 107.4 yards per game on his way to his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season (in just 10 games this time!).

Even a QB as experienced as Cousins has gone to an armband to help with the verbiage and checks.

According to Next Gen Stats, Minnesota implemented motion on 589 offensive plays (55.6 percent) in 2023, comparted to 672 (63.9 percent) for Kansas City and 790 (79.2 percent) by San Francisco.

The Chiefs and Niners obviously have tailored their efforts toward the use of pre-snap motion.

I believe O'Connell and others are nimble enough to adjust to try to maximize the strengths of their team from year to year.

How about drafting Kool-Aid McKinstry? He would make a great addition to the Vikings defense. He's a pretty good punt returner, too.

Also, I feel the majority of fans would agree, we need the original purple back! Dark, almost black purple!!! This will bring excitement to fans, believe me. That, and could you imagine an interception by Kool-Aid, sounds Kool to me!

— Gary R.

Through two rounds of our Mock Draft Tracker, we've seen McKinstry's name pop up once (Version 1.0).

He's entering the draft after three seasons at Alabama in which he played corner and returned punts.

We did see a deeper purple return with the introduction of the Vikings Classic uniforms. The deeper hue from the Purple People Eaters era definitely is a special part of the Vikings identity.

For what it's worth, growing up, my favorite flavor of Kool-Aid was grape, which may have steered me just a touch to purple being my favorite color.

View photos of Vikings DL Harrison Phillips at the 2024 NFL Honors red carpet event.

I've read through the first three mock drafts for this year on, and every one of them seems to think the Vikings need to draft an edge player in the first round. But they're ignoring the fact that we need a long-term answer at quarterback.

If memory serves, the last time the Vikings took a quarterback in round one was Christian Ponder, and someone obviously didn't do enough homework on that one. And despite the fact that [Caleb] Williams, [Jayden] Daniels and [Drake] Maye are likely to go in the top five selections, I personally wouldn't trust them. That's because a dearth of evidence shows that most of these quarterbacks (this century) are lucky to have one full year as a starter in college.

That's why I thought the Vikings should have taken Hendon Hooker last year, in spite of his injury, because he started for multiple seasons in college. And that's why I believe Bo Nix is probably the best prepared and experienced of this year's prospects.

Sure, re-sign Kirk to another two years, but draft Nix in Round 1 to learn behind him. Minnesota needs to stop being the NFL equivalent of the elephant graveyard, where quarterbacks go in the twilight of their careers.

— David in North Carolina, (but my heart's forever in Minnesota)

I guess some mocks elaborate on their premise when they are projecting what each team will do. Perhaps there's an assumption that Cousins re-signs with Minnesota, which could change the order of priorities at No. 11.

It's kind of interesting to see names at quarterback emerge early in the process and circle back and see where they land at the end of April.

Fans could probably see Detroit work its way down the board last year, correctly counting it could do so and Hooker would still be available.

Ponder was a first-round pick in 2011, but the determination had already been made by the 2014 NFL Draft that he was not a long-term solution, so the Vikings traded back into the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater.

I'm sure the Vikings will keep an eye on the projected availability of quarterbacks if Cousins re-signs or if he signs elsewhere.

Hey MMM,

So after yet again another disappointing season as a Vikings fan, I got to thinking why this team can never make that leap to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. I'm sure there is more to it than my analysis :-). But it seems we always are prepping for that one lucky year and draft to just fill immediate holes on the roster.

1) So why not just cut ties with Kirk and have that extra $40M bucks in the bank to grab a vet signal caller (that doesn't cost $40m/year), like a Baker Mayfield or Tyrod Taylor?

2) Draft a Round 1 QB of the future and have them learn behind the vet? And we will still have plenty of cap space to re-sign J.J. and Danielle [Hunter]. And grab some free agents to fill all these extra holes we have.

3) As it seems, Kirk's salary is preventing this team from looking toward the future and stacking our roster accordingly. Because who are we kidding here, the Lions and Green Bay and maybe even Chicago (after the draft) are better teams than we are. So let's get rid of this almost 40-year old QB that hasn't won any significant games and is fresh off of an Achilles tear?

— Cyrus Sutherland

I don't think all the work that goes into draft preparation is efforted with only the goal of getting lucky, but the Vikings (and all teams) have had hits and misses. Some teams have definitely gotten more immediate production out of picks in the past couple of years.

Because Cousins and the Vikings agreed to add void years to provide cap release for other parts of the roster, the money still due on his contract will count a considerable amount toward Minnesota's salary cap in 2024, whether he's with Minnesota or playing elsewhere.

Tampa Bay was able to bargain shop on Mayfield, who helped the Buccaneers win the NFC South.

"Almost 40" is little bit of a round-up for a quarterback who will be turning 36 in August. It looked like Cousins' Achilles was plenty healthy for NFL Honors.

View photos of QB Kirk Cousins, WR Justin Jefferson, and DL Harrison Phillips at the 2024 NFL Honors.

Just wanted to put in my 2 cents. I hope the Vikes can re-sign Cousins but only if they truly improve the O-line. If not, then they need to move on. I get the grades on linemen and all that, but he is a guy that needs the comfort level in the pocket. He can really throw a ball and really can't when under pressure. Upper leadership blew this when they brought him in all those years ago. As much as they think they tried in the draft, they needed a top-tier free agent or two along with the draft. I believe Cousins would have brought the Vikes a Super Bowl in his first three years had [former General Manager Rick] Spielman not wasted all the draft capital trading down for a billion low-end picks.

You want to win, secure the trenches. Funny how that works in all aspects of life.

There are many schools of thought, but I am curious on your take with my thoughts.


— Nate Morrison in Mt. Vernon, Iowa

There's instances across the league of later-round picks hitting and missing, so it seemed like more bites at the apple was part of the draft philosophy.

If the assumption that the value doesn't match where a team is picking, I understand the notion of moving down.

Minnesota swung big in 2018 in bringing Cousins here but then went through multiple offensive coordinators.

The Kevin Stefanski/Gary Kubiak/Klint Kubiak years (from late in 2018 through 2021) prioritized mobile offensive linemen for their preferred outside zone rushing attack. The past couple of seasons have directed plenty of focus toward mid zone and gap runs.

O'Connell has just completed his second season, but he's also had two defensive systems in as many years.

Cousins' increased comfort with this system (despite standing in and taking hits) showed in his second season with O'Connell.

With Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores set to return for a second season, both sides of the football are poised to have a little more continuity heading into this year's draft.

Who needs March Madness when you have Mock Madness? It's fun to read, and I would like to see some of the predictions come true, but there are 31 other teams picking and we really do not know for certain which way they will go. I really like the drafts where we get pass-rushing nose tackles or defensive ends. One of the best ways to improve defensive backfield play is to make the QB get rid of the ball faster than they want to. I wonder if we will get another Ivan Pace-type player. He does not have the height and weight you are looking for, but he has the intangibles. Only time will tell.

— Gerald Goblirsch

Pass rush and pass coverage certainly go hand-in-hand, with one able to become a force multiplier of the other.

After recording 1.5 sacks with Buffalo, Harrison Phillips has recorded 4.5 over the past two seasons with Minnesota, but there could be opportunities to create more interior pressure with additions along the front.

Minnesota moved Hunter around quite a bit (and probably would have done so with Marcus Davenport had he been available) to try to create some mismatches.

With Kirk Cousins looking to be paid big money for two years and the Vikings don't want to spend that much because of the salary cap, who could we get that would be able to work with the rookie QB they draft? On those lines, if the top six quarterbacks are taken by the time the Vikings get to their pick, could they consider Spencer Rattler at all? He would need a couple of years behind a veteran.

— Matt W.

There's a chance that an extension with Cousins could actually provide some cap relief, or at least again delay the impact.

Rattler seemed to generate buzz in the media with his showing at the Reese's Senior Bowl practices, but those will be part of the overall assessment teams make on him.

The Vikings will create their grades on each player and predict what other teams might do to project the best use of each pick to help the team.

Do you think the Vikings may go after this kid [Laiatu] Latu from UCLA? He looks very impressive.

— "Nighthawk"

Latu was projected to the Vikings once in each of our first two Mock Draft Trackers. He really turned up his production in 2022 and 2023, going from 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss to 13 and 21.5, respectively, for the Bruins.

The Athletic's Dane Brugler mocked Latu to the Vikings, and Version 2.0 of our Mock Draft Tracker included that projection from A.J. Schulte of Pro Football Network.