NFL.com Writer Not Sold on the 2021 Vikings

Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Bisi Johnson (81) after the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

NFL.com’s Marc Sessler considers the 2021 Minnesota Vikings a “work in progress.” This surely isn’t an insult, but it lacks the impactful punch of nominating a team as a “contender” or something of a similar vein.

Instead, the Vikings are joined in the work in progress category by teams like the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers – not exactly lofty company. Sessler wrote:

“Perhaps I’m being unfair to Mike Zimmer’s Vikings. Last year’s 7-9 outing was marked by transition on defense. I see a team that crumbled against the Bucs, Bears and Saints down the stretch and ask: How have they improved? A quiet foray into free agency brought cornerback Patrick Peterson, but also the departure of productive safety Anthony Harris. I like the Vikings’ situation better than Chicago’s, though, after the Bears whiffed on Wilson to wind up with Andy Dalton at quarterback. Franchised (trapped) wideout Allen Robinson can’t catch a break on a club mired in a confusing team-building process.

This does not mean that the 2021 Vikings are destined for mediocrity or doom, but it infers that Minnesota is not as sizzling to others as the team might be to Vikings fans or insiders.

Curiously, Sessler singularly mentioned the arrival of Patrick Peterson – and that’s it. A reader of his snippet assumes that Minnesota signed one free agent and called it good.

That’s false.

Free Agent Additions

General Manager Rick Spielman spent the first five weeks of free agency focusing on the defense. It was a solo trip. Minnesota added six defenders and no offensive free agents. These men joined the team: Stephen Weatherly (DE), Dalvin Tomlinson (DT), Nick Vigil (LB), Patrick Peterson (CB), Mackensie Alexander (CB), and Xavier Woods (FS).

It’s quasi-understandable if Sessler believes these additions are lackluster, but to ignore them altogether – instead suggesting that Peterson was a standalone signing – is mildly irresponsible.

Minnesota’s defense ranked 29th in the NFL via points last year, and the franchise took steps to fix that. They didn’t “do nothing.”

Return to Health

Spielman called the returns to health of Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Anthony Barr, Mike Hughes, and Eric Kendricks a free agency in itself. He’s not wrong. Those men missed 63 games combined. It’s difficult to describe the effect of their collective absence as menial.

Hunter is a pass-rushing, game-changing tyrant. Pierce was signed from the Baltimore Ravens to stuff the run in the mold of the departed Linval Joseph. Barr is a mainstay in the Vikings defense, leading the defense as a captain and keynote tackler. Hughes is iffy due to persistent injuries. And Kendricks is a First-Team All-Pro.

Welcoming back that slew of players will not feel like an “oh, by the way.” Those men are the fabric of a defense – particularly Hunter and Kendricks. When Kendricks was lost down the stretch – so went the Vikings playoff hopes.

OL a Work in Progress

The premier complaint about the Vikings amid the 2021 offseason is the perceived lack of attention to the offensive line. That’s about it.

On brand, the front five struggled mightily in 2020 with pass protection, and the fix to this plight has not yet been announced. Mason Cole joined the team in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for a 6th-Round draft choice. But he’s hardly a mic drop solution. As of now, the offensive line is not exciting. In fact, it should be panned as worse because Riley Reiff jaunted to the Cincinnati Bengals. Brian O’Neill is terrific, Ezra Cleveland was promising as a rookie, and Garrett Bradbury faces a pivotal season. Yet, this offensive line needs two more reputable names.

The offseason is not over. Spielman still has around $7 million in available cap space – and an entire draft to utilize. He could trade the Ravens for Orlando Brown Jr. – an oft-rumored scenario. The first two draft picks could be day-one starters scheduled for offensive line duty. Eric Fisher, a left tackle from the Kansas City Chiefs, may be in the plans to protect Kirk Cousins’ blindside.

Sessler did not mention the offensive line inside his write-up. That cannot be reasonably pinpointed to explain his blandness on the 2021 Vikings.

So, Sessler is either wrong, meaning the Vikings are indeed better than a work in progress. Or – he is correct, and it takes an outsider to adjudicate the truth.

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