EAGAN, Minn. – Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores helped the Vikings forge a style of play that captivated those around the NFL this season.
The Athletic's Alec Lewis examined Flores' path to joining Minnesota last offseason. Lewis wrote about Flores' formative years in New England and Miami before he reshaped the Vikings defense in 2023.
"What the hell is this defense?" Jason McCourty asked.
He was sitting inside a third-floor conference room at the Westin Hotel in Cincinnati, about a mile from the Bengals Paycor Stadium. Smiling mischievously across from him was Flores.
The two go back a ways. Beginning in 2010, Flores coached McCourty's twin brother Devin in New England. Jason joined the fold in 2018, the year the Patriots last won a Super Bowl. He then played in Miami in Flores' third year as the Dolphins' head coach. They've kept in touch. Their families remain close. But now, it was time for business.
McCourty was a color commentator for the Vikings Week 15 game against the Bengals. To prepare, he and the production crew lobbed questions at coaches. Few were as forward as the one he just asked.
McCourty read aloud some statistics scribbled on the paper in front of him. Most six-man pressures in the NFL. Most drop-eight coverages. More players aligned on the line of scrimmage pre-snap than any other defense. More rotations from one-high safety to two-high safeties than all but one other defense. And all of this with a bunch of overlooked veterans and inexperienced late-round draft picks.
"Flo, I've been in your defenses," McCourty said. "This is so different."
Lewis explained that Flores crafted an exotic defense by combining playbooks from all three of his stops before Minnesota, including his one year in Pittsburgh last season under Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
The Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh share a practice facility. That's where Tomlin absorbed college concepts from Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi.
The 2023 defense was a max-pressure, max-coverage system that, in the words of linebackers coach Mike Siravo, consisted of "not standing there like it's 'Tecmo Bowl' " but not being so complex.
Click here to read The Athletic's full story on Flores.
Star Tribune weighs Vikings Quarterback options
In the NFL, it's often about the quarterback.
The Vikings enter an offseason with several viable options to consider at the game's most important position. Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan explored what he considers are the Vikings four options, two of which involve retaining Kirk Cousins.
Souhan ranked them in the following reverse order: 4. Start Over, 3. Go all-in on Cousins, 2. Go with a rookie, 1. Go big, go for both.
Here's a little more on his thoughts of the two options that would involve Cousins returning.
Go all-in on Cousins
The Vikings could re-sign Cousins and decide to try to win now. Cousins won 13 games in his first year in Kevin O'Connell's offense and was putting up career-best yardage totals this season before tearing his Achilles tendon. Had he been healthy all season, the Vikings likely would have reached double-digit victories again.
Cousins has become a leader and beloved figure in the locker room and says he wants to stay in Minnesota. This is the test. If Cousins wants top dollar, the Vikings likely will let him leave. If he really wants to stay in Minnesota and play for O'Connell and with Jefferson, he can sign a team-friendly deal that could make Jefferson's deal easier to close and leave room for other signings.
If the Vikings keep Cousins and don't use their first-round pick on a quarterback, they could draft defensive help and hope that their 2023 failures were caused mostly by injuries.
Go big, go for both
The Vikings could bring their favorite phrase — "competitive rebuild" — to life by keeping Cousins and drafting his successor.
The draftee could learn under Cousins for a year or two and be ready to perform whenever he takes over as starter. He would also be an upgrade at backup quarterback.
Yes, the Vikings have other needs they could address with their dollars and draft picks. But just about every NFL team has personnel flaws. The ones that win make up for their flaws with coaching and quarterbacking.
Nine of the top 11 quarterbacks in ESPN's QBR — an overall quarterback effectiveness rating — made the playoffs. The two who didn't? Cousins and Chargers star Justin Herbert.
Should the Vikings keep Cousins or draft their future quarterback?