The Minnesota Vikings have spent this offseason trying to stay competitive in the NFC. After spending $40 million to revamp their defense, they backed it up with an impressive draft class that solidified the offensive line and found a potential replacement for Kirk Cousins.
But even after free agency and the draft, the Vikings still appear to be in the same spot they were a year ago. Take it from NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal, who believes the Vikings can be really good or really bad next season.
“I see the Vikings as one of the highest-variance teams in the NFL,” Rosenthal said in his NFC North roster review. “Eleven wins wouldn’t be a shock; 11 losses wouldn’t either.”
It was this time last year when the Vikings had the same feeling. After letting five defensive starters walk in free agency and trading Stefon Diggs, they still had enough talent to win the NFC North. But with a roster loaded with developmental projects, things went haywire and they finished the year 7-9.
So it shouldn’t have been surprising when things went south right away. Michael Pierce opted out while Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter suffered season-ending injuries. The Vikings elevated Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jaleel Johnson to starting roles. But neither of them produced, and their defense went from sixth in points allowed in 2019 to 29th in last year.
While the Vikings made plenty of moves to avoid a similar fate this offseason, many of their decisions could lead to similar results.
The Vikings’ defensive line is still paper-thin and depends on the resolution of Danielle Hunter’s contract demands. If Hunter sits out, the Vikings will have to rely on D.J. Wonnum and Stephen Weatherly.
The secondary also could become a detriment if Patrick Peterson turns out to be the 2019 version of Xavier Woods. Jeff Gladney has run into legal issues, and Cameron Dantzler struggled to stay on the field at times during his rookie season, so the Vikings could be relying on a trio of Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, and Mackensie Alexander to revive one of the worst defenses in the league.
The issues extend to the offensive side of the ball as well. Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis are projected to be Day 1 starters on the offensive line, but that shouldn’t be taken for granted. If Darrisaw and Davis need time to get caught up or an injury occurs elsewhere on the offensive line, the Vikings will be left with Dakota Dozier or Mason Cole at guard.
They are also blessed with one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL, but that could change in a hurry. While Jefferson has an encore planned from his record-breaking rookie season, Adam Thielen will turn 31 during training camp and is two years removed from a hamstring injury.
If Thielen or Jefferson were to go down, it’s unlikely that Ihmir Smith-Marsette would be ready to step into a starting role. In that event, the Vikings would send in the immortal Chad Beebe or Bisi Johnson to re-live the first two weeks of last season.
The Vikings are facing a similar situation at quarterback. Kellen Mond is an intriguing prospect but needs time to work out the kinks in his throwing motion. Although Mond could develop into their quarterback of the future, it’s a better bet that Minnesota would bring in another backup if Cousins got injured. Even then, Mond may be closer to Brett Hundley than he is Dak Prescott.
Then there’s the coaching staff, which is similar to last year’s. Gary Kubiak resigned, but his son Klint will take over. It’s possible that the younger Kubiak has some modern-day principles to incorporate into the Vikings’ offense, but it may be difficult to do with Mike Zimmer screaming at him to run the ball more.
With a 17-game schedule, it’s not unreasonable to think Dalvin Cook could eclipse 500 touches this season — but that assumes he stays healthy. If he doesn’t, the Vikings would turn to Alexander Mattison and fourth-round pick Kene Nwangwu.
The lack of depth on the Vikings makes this roster a boom-or-bust preposition. It’s possible that with the current state of the NFC North, the Vikings could stay healthy and make a run toward the Super Bowl like they did in 2017. But even with their offseason additions, it’s possible they could be in for another disappointing season.