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Lunchbreak: The Athletic's 10-Step Guide to The Vikings Offseason

EAGAN, Minn. – The NFL offseason is underway and will gain momentum next week at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The Athletic's Alec Lewis devised a 10-step plan for the Vikings present and future. Like most offseason agendas, Lewis starts with addressing quarterback.

Present Kirk Cousins with a short-term offer

The fork in the road for this Vikings offseason is the Cousins negotiation. If they come to terms on an extension, one path will unfold. If they don't, that will set in motion a different set of necessary maneuvers. If you think the Vikings are close to contention, that a healthy Cousins paired with an improved Brian Flores defense could contend in the NFC, then your preference likely would be to re-sign Cousins. Conversely, if you have doubts that the Vikings can contend in 2024 and 2025 — a justifiable feeling in many ways — your suggestion would likely be to move on from Cousins.

Had the Vikings added more high-end young talent over the last two years, it would be easier to view the contention option more optimistically. So, this choice aligns more with the latter perspective. The plan? Attempt to extend Cousins at a cost that allows the team to dedicate the appropriate resources to building a contending-level roster around him — but not at the expense of the future.

Lewis transitions from Cousins to outside linebacker Danielle Hunter. For Hunter, he's in a what Lewis considers a "similar situation to Cousins."

Prioritize the contention window in negotiations with edge rusher Danielle Hunter

Hunter, too, has a sizeable cap hit (around $15 million) for 2024 that the Vikings will have to pay whether Hunter is on the team or not. Unlike Cousins, though, Hunter is younger and likelier to receive long-term interest from a contending team in need of an edge rusher.

Hunter proved in 2023 that he is a game-changer, but this is more about whether or not he can continue to be one as he ages. Paying a premium for an older and previously injured player doesn't make sense if the present is not as important as the future.

The Vikings have more than 20 players set to become free agents. Lewis mentions several of them including D.J. Wonnum, Jonathan Bullard, Jordan Hicks, Dalton Risner and K.J. Osborn as he lays out steps three through seven.

Lewis concludes with a fan-friendly plan for Justin Jefferson and Christian Darrisaw.

Extend Justin Jefferson and Christian Darrisaw

Jefferson is seeking top-of-the-market receiver compensation, which means more than Tyreek Hill's four-year, $120 million contract. It's a steep cost, but Jefferson is as blue-chip a player as there is. Paying him won't prevent the team from being aggressive in the future, especially if the Vikings are operating with the flexibility of a rookie quarterback contract.

Because Darrisaw is entering his fourth season, an extension with him may be harder to consummate. But the team could benefit further from committing to him now and potentially even absorbing heftier cap hits on the front end to provide wiggle room for a future contention window.

Click here to read The Athletic's full story.

View the best touchdown photos of Vikings players during the 2023-24 season.

ESPN's NFL Overhaul Tiers: All 32 Teams from Contenders to Rebuilds

Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and the Chiefs will try to become the first team in NFL history to threepeat next season. But luckily for the Vikings, Mahomes is an AFC problem. In the conference, Minnesota recorded a 2-4 record against the final four NFC teams. The Vikings split divisional games against the Packers but were swept by the Lions. Minnesota defeated the 49ers on Monday Night Football but lost to the Buccaneers by one-score in the season opener.

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler grouped all 32 teams into tiers following the Super Bowl. Starting with the Lions, ESPN grouped Detroit with the Ravens, Chiefs and 49ers as teams that are still "major contenders." Each team breakdown includes the roster's average age, the team's projected salary cap space and their total number of 2024 draft picks.

On the Lions, Fowler wrote:

Average age of roster: 26.9

Salary cap space: $46.4 million

Total 2024 draft picks (projected): 7

What's next: The offensive line is among the league's best, the skill positions are loaded, and the defensive front seven is among the best against the run. Detroit is here to stay. Extending quarterback Jared Goff, who has been arguably a top-10 passer over his past 30 games or so, will be a priority. Continuing to improve the secondary should be paramount. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and right tackle Penei Sewell are eligible for extensions, and the money allocated to those two could affect whether the team can bring back free agent guard Jonah Jackson.

Staying in the NFC North, the Packers were grouped in a tier titled "Headed on the right track" along with the Browns, Texans, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Rams.

On the Packers, Fowler noted:

Average age of roster: 25.8

Salary cap space: minus-$4.0 million

Total 2024 draft picks (projected): 11

What's next: The league's youngest roster has intriguing playmakers all over the offense and a defense that should improve under first-year coordinator Jeff Hafley. The Packers need cap space and could save nearly $21 million by releasing left tackle David Bakhtiari, who can't stay on the field because of knee issues. He's a legacy player, but it might be time. Green Bay also can save $4.7 million by releasing running back Aaron Jones, but he looked great late in the season. All of that space will be helpful when the Packers give Jordan Love a market deal some time this offseason.

Up next were the Vikings. ESPN grouped Minnesota with the Colts and Seahawks in the "Stuck in the middle but a move or two away" tier.

On the Vikings, Fowler highlighted:

Average age of roster: 27.2

Salary cap space: $19.2 million

Total 2024 draft picks (projected): 8

What's next: The first order of business is pretty clear-cut, and one the entire league is watching: Whether or not to re-sign Kirk Cousins. Minnesota will attempt to sign him. Coach Kevin O'Connell and Cousins seem to have a good thing going. But Cousins and his agent, Mike McCartney, have proved deft negotiators over the years, so anything feels possible here. If they can't bring him back, moving up in the draft for a QB comes into play.

Paying Justin Jefferson should be an easy call. One potential hurdle: where the top of market lies. Tyreek Hill's four-year, $120 million deal includes a $43.9 million, non-guaranteed base salary in 2026, which the Dolphins will most likely never pay. Here's to guessing Jefferson will try to hit or surpass the $30 million threshold without such back-loading. The Vikings could be in the market for a tight end due to T.J. Hockenson's lengthy rehab on a surgically repaired knee. Adding secondary and pass-rush help in free agency or the draft will help the defense.

Fowler classified the Bears as "Yep, still rebuilding."

Average age of roster: 26.8

Salary cap space: $41.0 million

Total 2024 draft picks (projected): 6

What's next: The Bears showed modest progress in Year 2 of the Matt Eberflus-Ryan Poles regime but still have plenty of work ahead. Both sides of the ball are a few players away. Most league evaluators say Chicago takes USC's Caleb Williams with the first pick, leaving the Bears with a decision: Keep Justin Fields or gauge his trade market. Fields should have enough value to garner Day 2 capital for Poles' coffers. Pairing DJ Moore with a top-shelf young receiver seems like a sensible play. The Bears will likely upgrade both lines, including adding an additional pass-rusher to complement Montez Sweat. The Bears are dedicated to bringing back free agent corner Jaylon Johnson, which might require a franchise tag.

To read where the other NFL teams land, click here.