Why the Vikings Will Be Looking to Emulate an NFC Rival in 2024

Feb 13, 2022; Inglewood, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell against the Cincinnati Bengals during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Turn back the clock by a year. How many NFL analysts believed in the LA Rams during the 2023 offseason? Gone were Super Bowl winning players like Von Miller, Andrew Whitworth, Jalen Ramsey, and Leonard Floyd. Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford were getting older.

Somehow, LA overcame the odds and made the playoffs. The Vikings will be looking to do similarly in 2024.

The 2023 Rams overcame a stunning $79.4 million in dead money. Even within the competitive NFC West, the Rams marched to a 10-7 record and playoff appearance, losing to the Lions by a single point in the Wild Card Round. How did they accomplish so much success with so many hurdles?

Why the Vikings Will be Looking to Emulate the LA Rams

The Vikings, not altogether unlike the Rams before them, are moving on from long-time stalwarts.

Danielle Hunter is a goner and so, too, is Kirk Cousins. And then there’s the subtraction of players like Jordan Hicks, D.J. Wonnum, Marcus Davenport, K.J. Osborn, Joshua Dobbs, Oli Udoh, and several others. No doubt, change is ongoing in Minnesota.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) warms up before the game against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Part of that change involves digesting major dead money. Right now, Minnesota leads the NFL in inaccessible cap space in 2024 with a stunning $57.4 million that has been rendered impotent. Only a pair of teams — the Chargers and Vikings — are topping $50 million in dead money, the kind of distinction that no NFL team wants to lay claim to.

And yet within all of this transition is an ongoing desire to compete in 2024. Make no mistake: Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell are not only hoping to win games in the upcoming season but are actively planning for success. Is there a possible path forward or is their hope/plan misguided?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Las Vegas Raiders
Dec 10, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell (left) and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah react during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s complicated.

Pursuing a competitive rebuild — achieving success right now while simultaneously opening up a persisting contention window in the not-too-distant future — isn’t easy. The GM is trying to thread the needle (as he understands better than anyone).

Something that’s very notable, for Minnesota’s purposes, is the success that was found in LA. Behind an elite head coach, the Rams received disproportionate value from their young players. Most notably, rookie receiver Puka Nacua and sophomore running back Kyren Williams offered elite production for a mere pittance.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Jan 8, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay celebrates a touchdown by wide receiver Tutu Atwell (15) against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Nacua demanded a bit beyond $811K in cap space whereas Williams demanded a bit below $950K in cap space. So, their combined cap charge was less than $2 million. For context, Minnesota’s TE3 for the upcoming season — Johnny Mundt — is scheduled to have a $2 million cap charge, so we really are talking about itty-bitty, minuscule, tiny cap hits.

And what kind of stats accompanied those players?

Nacua went for 105 catches, 1,486 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Williams didn’t fair too badly. He picked up 228 rushes, 1,144 rushing yards, and 12 touchdowns. In other words, LA picked up top-tier WR1 production and excellent RB1 production for super cheap because some of their recent draftees far exceeded expectations.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions
Jan 14, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (17) runs from Detroit Lions safety Kerby Joseph (31) during the second half of a 2024 NFC wild card game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Vikings arrive at a similar spot, both with their in-house rookie-contract players as well as whoever is added in the 2024 NFL Draft?

The most obvious example would be Jordan Addison, someone who had a great rookie season. He’ll be looking to build off of the 70 receptions, 911 yards, and 10 touchdowns he snagged within Minnesota’s QB chaos. But then one also wonders about someone like Mekhi Blackmon developing into an impact starter at corner, Ty Chandler plays like a RB1, and/or Jaquelin Roy becoming a terror at defensive tackle.

And then maybe someone gets added in the 2024 Draft who can suddenly rise to NFL stardom. No, the expectation can’t be that players are going to soar to the same heights of a Nacua or a Williams, but the idea of gaining excess value from cheap rookie contracts — like the past four years with Justin Jefferson — is part of the equation in Minnesota.

Like with every team, the Vikings will be looking to choose and develop great players. The uniqueness simply comes from the league-leading mountain of dead money and the effort to be competitive while rebuilding. The Rams pulled it off and the Vikings will look to do likewise.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, Spotrac, 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.