Minnesota 'Competitive Rebuild' Isn't Really A Rebuild

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

When Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took over after the 2021 season, the media understandably pressed him about the current state of the roster and his plan to build a contending team. Adofo-Mensah responded with general manager-speak for the most part. But throughout his media session, he labeled his plan a “competitive rebuild.” At the time, that sounded like an unrealistic wish.

Competitive rebuilds don’t happen. Look around the league, and it’s easy to decipher if teams are trying to contend or rebuilding. A quick look at the offseason transaction wire will give you a good idea of the direction each team is headed.

The Vikings are in rebuild mode — or at least that’s what most would argue at first glance. Adofo-Mensah thoroughly pruned the roster in the offseason, identifying the most harmful contracts and making Minnesota eat a large chunk of dead money this year.

According to Spotrac, of Minnesota’s $211 million in salaries, over $44 million is dead money the Vikings are eating this season. That’s allocated toward players like Adam Thielen, Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Cook, Dalvin Tomlinson, Eric Kendricks, and others.

From that angle, yes, it appears the Vikings are in rebuild mode. It’s a tried and true rebuild tactic – spend a year or two eating dead money to eliminate harmful contracts. In doing so, the team builds up assets and creates cap space for itself in future years. And Adofo-Mensah has done just that. After years of living at or past the maximum cap threshold, Minnesota has over $38 million available for 2024, 15th in the NFL.

Due to Adofo-Mensah’s decisive action on the players’ contracts mentioned above, the Vikings now have the 15th-most cap space entering next season after many years of living near or even past the maximum threshold.

From another perspective, though, the Vikings aren’t in rebuild mode at all. In fact, the roster is pretty reminiscent of most contending rosters in the league as it’s currently structured. In essence, it’s already built.

A quick peek at the rosters of the past several Super Bowl-contending teams and the trends emerge regarding where a large chunk of money is dispersed. These teams invest in quarterback, wide receiver and tight end, offensive tackle, pass rushers, and defensive back.

The Vikings have put added resources into many of these positions. They spent a first-round draft pick this year on Jordan Addison. If all goes according to plan, they’ll make superstar Justin Jefferson the highest-paid receiver in league history. Meanwhile, they traded for T.J. Hockenson last season and have made him the highest-paid tight end.

The Vikings have arguably the best offensive tackle duo in the league. Brian O’Neill recently signed a five-year extension worth over $90 million, and it’s safe to assume Christian Darrisaw is in line for a contract that will exceed that.

On the defensive side of the ball, Danielle Hunter signed a one-year deal before the season that’s worth around $20 million. The three-time Pro Bowler is making that look like a steal through 11 games, lurking about the league lead in sacks and also serving as a reliable run-stopper.

At defensive back, the Vikings have invested several draft picks in the last couple of years to acquiring key players such as Akayleb Evans, Mekhi Blackmon, and Andrew Booth Jr. Plus, they acquired veteran Byron Murphy in free agency and extended long-time Viking Harrison Smith.

Adofo-Mensah has done a remarkable job allocating resources to the positions most essential to winning championships. But it’s worth pointing out that this roster already had many key cornerstone pieces required to qualify as a contender.

The crucial next step is to take care of the quarterback position. Adofo-Mensah’s decision will ultimately determine whether his first couple of years leading this franchise was a rebuild or not.

Kirk Cousins has been the guy for head coach Kevin O’Connell over the last two years. The argument could be made O’Connell has brought out the best in Cousins. Last season, Cousins led the team to a 13-4 record while putting up some of the best numbers of his career. More importantly, he performed at his best in crunch time, saving multiple games during the season.

Cousins was playing at an MVP level this year before suffering an Achilles injury in Green Bay. It’s probably not a coincidence that Cousins’ best ball came in the last two years playing for O’Connell.

After a tough start that included some unlucky losses, the Vikings rebounded and were red-hot, led by Cousins’ outstanding play. They were among the best teams in football in October, and they’re still showing they can be a competitive team even while Cousins and Jefferson are sidelined.

The Vikings can easily build a contending roster in 2024. And it wouldn’t even require them to add remarkable outside talent.

There are star players at several key positions that are up for extensions. Jefferson is the most notable. Hunter has also earned one, and so has Darrisaw.

And then, of course, there’s Cousins. If the Vikings complete extensions for each of those four players – Jefferson, Darrisaw, Hunter, and Cousins – that’s four franchise cornerstone-type players. The type of players that contending rosters have.

Competitive rebuild? It’s not even a rebuild. Adofo-Mensah rinsed the roster of harmful contracts and smartly invested resources into the most valuable positions.

Bring back Cousins and draft a quarterback. Extend the superstar receiver. Extend the franchise left tackle. And extend the dominant edge rusher. By making those moves, paired with the decisions he’s made in the last 18 months as Vikings general manager, Adofo-Mensah can create a contender in 2024.

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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