Soon, Kevin O’Connell’s Prophecy Will Get Put to the Test

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin O’Connell’s words were spoken with confidence and certainty. Brian Flores would be coming back and the Vikings would be giving him more talent.

“First and foremost with Flo,” O’Connell begins, “could not be more [happy] with the decision that I made last year to bring him in.” Not too long afterwards, he praises how Flores “tried to evolve” while trying to “continuously provide challenges for our opponents to play against.”

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

O’Connell then dropped these thoughts: “And ultimately, I think the most exciting thing is where Flo is going to take that defense from here. And as we can improve our depth and continue to add pieces to that side of the football, I have so much confidence in what he’s going to be able to do.”

Keeping track of what O’Connell was saying? Before the head coach openings were filled, O’Connell was saying that Flores was sticking around. Even better, at least for Vikings fans, is that O’Connell then went on to discuss giving Flores better “depth” and more “pieces” to work with in 2024.

Kevin O’Connell’s Prophecy and When the Rubber Meets the Road

It’s about the players, not the plays. That’s the old coaching cliché. The basic idea is that what’s most important in the outcome of the game is the players themselves and not those who are designing and calling the plays: the coaches.

One has to assume that Flores would toss quite a bit of support behind the sentiment. And while that modesty would be commendable, Flores would be underselling his importance a touch.

Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) celebrates his fumble recovery against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

In a single season, Flores largely transformed Minnesota’s defense. The most basic eye test tells us as much. Instead of a passive, bland defense that seemed disinterested in stopping the opponent, Flores’ Fiends became ultra aggressive and were rewarded for doing so.

In 2022, Minnesota was in a tie for 28th for points allowed and were 31st for yards allowed. In 2023, Flores moved Minnesota up to a tie for 13th in points allowed and 16th for yards allowed. He did so without steady veterans like Eric Kendricks and Patrick Peterson. Gone was Za’Darius Smith, the team’s second-best pass rusher from the season prior. So, too, was Dalvin Tomlinson in a different uniform.

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell looks on before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Flores, in short, has been excellent, though the wheels started to fall off a bit toward the end of the season. When a defense flounders, the coordinator should be held at least partially responsible. Much of the decline, though, came down to talent hitting the IR.

Marcus Davenport’s injury wasn’t new, but the one for D.J. Wonnum certainly was. And then there was the injury to Byron Murphy and Mekhi Blackmon getting dinged up. Ask yourself: what happens when a defense sees it pass rush and coverage abilities seriously undermined? Might the DC struggle to get his defense to play as well?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) pressures Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

What would be possible if the team added a true CB1 to take a lot of boundary responsibilities off of Murphy’s shoulders? Names like Jaylon Johnson (24), L’Jarius Sneed (27), and Kendall Fuller (28) jump off the page.

Up front, the pass rush could see a major boost by onboarding any of Josh Allen (26), Brian Burns (25), Bryce Huff (25), Jonathan Greenard (26), and/or Josh Uche (25).

Getting really greedy could even involve making a run at Chris Jones (30), who will once again be representing Kansas City in the Super Bowl. At this point, the interior pass rush is nearly non-existent. Other options include Justin Madubuike (26), Christian Wilkins (28), DJ Reader (29), and Sheldon Rankins (29).

Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (95) celebrates after winning Super Bowl LVII against the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The point, folks, is simply that Kevin O’Connell’s words from back in January will soon get put to the test. He spoke about bringing in better talent for his talented DC and the fateful days — March 11th for free agency, April 25th for the draft — are inching closer.

As of right now, the Vikings are sitting on a touch below $25 million in cap space. Minnesota owns nine selections, with their highest picks being at No. 11 and No. 42.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.