5 Things We Know About the Vikings as the NFL’s Draft Month Arrives

Vikings Get a Decent Grade
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

At times, the Minnesota Vikings have been an enigma, stubbornly refusing clear-cut characterizations and descriptions. Living in the intentionally murky “competitive rebuild” instead of a more binary rebuild or full-out contention can have that effect.

Nevertheless, there are still things we know about the Vikings.

As the offseason has continued to progress, we’ve been learning more and more about what things will look like in 2023. Gleaning insight from the signings, salary cap manoeuvring, and interviews (among other bits of info) helps to demystify the future.

Take a peak for at 5 things we know about these Vikings as we get into April.

1) The Team is Relying on Free Agency in Tandem with Internal Growth to Improve

In an interview with Gabe Henderson of Vikings.com, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah indicated that the additions of TE Josh Oliver and CB Byron Murphy help to make life easier for the other players: “One of the other things we had was a theme of versatility, but versatility that allows other people to be better. What I mean by that is somebody like a Josh Oliver who can actually make Justin Jefferson better.”

Shortly thereafter, the GM brings up Murphy because of the corner’s ability to move inside and outside.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars
Nov 27, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the fourth quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin O’Connell, for his part, notes that Oliver will enhance the running game. Finding more “balance” on offense, according to the head coach, “takes the pressure off of two people: the quarterback and offensive line.”

The basic idea is that Oliver’s capacity to open run lines – while still posing a threat in the passing game – will force defenses to abandon going all-out on Jefferson. Carve out a more dangerous, efficient run game and then Jefferson will be more dangerous and efficient in the pass game.

The broader point, folks, is that the additions haven’t been all about just the individual players themselves. Rather, the hope is that the new additions can help talent already present on the roster to shine more brightly.

2) The GM is Comfortable with Void Years

Not too long ago, I cautioned against becoming overly reliant on void years. At some point, a team needs to pay the piper, so borrowing from future budgets too often can be an unwise approach.

The general manager seems to disagree.

The Vikings Still Have Work to Do in Free Agency
Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The deals for Murphy and Marcus Davenport rely on void years to lessen the cap charges in 2023. More significantly, Kirk Cousins got a hefty portion of his deal – $16 million – cleared off the current budget because of a signing bonus & void years.

We all knew that something had to give in 2023 to make the finances work. What has been surprising is that a lot of the moves the team can still use – restructuring Brian O’Neill, trading Za’Darius Smith, extending T.J. Hockenson – remain holstered. Adofo-Mensah has preferred to lean on void years to figure out the short-term money.

3) The Team is More Patient Than its Fans

If we allowed the Twitter masses to make decisions for the team – a truly terrifying proposition – the Vikings would have spent money on a high-end WR2, cut Jordan Hicks, and traded Dalvin Cook. So far, none of those things have occurred.

What about an extension for T.J. Hockenson? Danielle Hunter? We haven’t gotten any clarity on the Za’Darius Smith stand off since the talented edge rusher tweeted his goodbye to Minnesota.

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins (73) looks to block Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

In other words, there has been no shortage tricky situations besetting the franchise and yet the team is comfortable taking its time.

Fans, of course, crave the eye-popping headline, the kind of news that can inspire hope and excitement during the offseason. After all, the NFL is in the midst of selling hope – their most lucrative asset – to all of its fans. Free agency and the draft are all about convincing fans that somehow, this player is going to be the one to make the difference.

Vikings fans are not immune to the charms of hope. Vikings fans are also not immune to the downfall of impatience.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah keeps us all on a need-to-know basis. A plan is in place, but he’s (understandably) reluctant to broadcast it to the wider world. Do your best to stick with the GM on a day-by-day to see how the plan unfolds.

4) The Team’s Leadership is United in their Kirk Cousins Approach

When asked about Kirk Cousins’ lack of extension, Kevin O’Connell morphed into a politician: “Kirk and I have had a ton of dialogue throughout the offseason just really in anticipation and excitement of his Year 2 in our offense […] I’m just excited to see him in Year 2.” O’Connell said a lot without saying much.

Not too long ago, Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf offered a similar perspective while appearing on Good Morning Football. Take a look:

A united front from head coach and owner.

Indeed, the two statements are startlingly similar. Owner and head coach are aligned in their belief – at least the public version of their belief – that the franchise’s focus with Cousins is on 2023.

Does this mean we’re staring down the final year of seeing #8 as Minnesota’s QB1? Maybe not, and yet the franchise has clearly decided to pivot with their approach.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell throws a ball before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Later on in his presser, O’Connell discusses “building a roster around” a highly-compensated quarterback versus a QB on a rookie deal. “Having those 4 years of that player,” O’Connell notes, “on kind of that scale that allows you to build a roster around those players has been an advantage.”

The report about the Vikings attending Anthony Richardson’s Pro Day won’t do much to quiet the speculation.

5) The Vikings Have to Add Corners and They Know It

Byron Murphy helps. Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans do have a lot of upside. Even still, more needs to be done.

O’Connell acknowledges as much, suggesting that the team does need to add more corner talent: “We know we need to add either via through the draft or potentially some other veterans, we need to add some more numbers in that room.” Shortly thereafter, the coach highlights Andrew Booth Jr and Akayleb Evans as players he’s excited about.

Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Patrick Jones II (91) and cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) tackle San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Starting with the Murphy-Booth-Evans trio is a fine place to be. However, there still needs to be some help for the corner spot. Some intriguing FAs are still out there, though one wonders if the NFL Draft will be the main spot where we see an addition.

At 23rd, Minnesota will have the capacity to bring in an impact corner. Correctly identifying who that player is and then surrounding him with the necessary support to thrive early in his career will be the keys.

Editor’s Note: Information from Over the Cap helped with this piece.