Vikings Countdowns: How Many Days Until…
Fireworks occur this weekend nationwide while the Minnesota Vikings offseason hits an event lull. That’s just the way it goes for late-June and early-July operational activities for NFL teams.
To date, the Vikings offseason has acted as a conduit for re-tooling. For, what feels like, the sixth consecutive year, Minnesota is all-in for a playoff push, scoffing at the notion of ‘rebuild’ conversations that some franchises might have explored in a similar situation.
Gary Kubiak retired; his son Klint took over as offensive coordinator. Kyle Rudolph and Riley Reiff left the organization after a combined 14 years of service. New faces joined via free agency — Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Sheldon Richardson, and Bashaud Breeland stole the show for those headlines. Jeff Gladney got into trouble, casting into doubt the remainder of his NFL career. The offensive line was finalized in the NFL draft, welcoming Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis to the team. Kellen Mond, a rookie quarterback from Texas A&M, was selected in the 2021 NFL Draft to serve as a long-term contingency plan for Kirk Cousins. Per usual, fans flirted with the idea that Larry Fitzgerald might “come home,” although that plan is only speculative. And then Danielle Hunter re-negotiated his deal, setting up a free-agent decision for the franchise next offseason.
We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world’s been turning.
Here are the items to circle on the calendar for the remainder of the summer. Yes, they are rather obvious events.
Training Camp Begins (July 28th)
Foremost, tickets can be obtained here.
This is where the magic begins. In Eagan, the Vikings will lay the framework for the 2021 season. The format is changed from a fan’s standpoint by a smidgen. Premium practices are now available as fans can pay to see Saturday scrimmages at both TCO Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium. Then, a paid ($50) “Hospitality Tent” is a perk for those wishing to spend cash on a snazzier experience.
Position battles will start here, proceeding into preseason games that were unavailable to all NFL teams during the pandemic season. The key spots on the depth to monitor this summer include DE (opposite Danielle Hunter), RG (Wyatt Davis, Mason Cole, Dakota Dozier), and WR3 (Dan Beebe, Bisi Johnson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette).
First Preseason Game vs. DEN (August 14th)
For the first time in 594 days, the Vikings will host fans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Of course, the preseason is “meaningless” outside of depth-chart fisticuffs, so the true drought for fans is between the 2019 home finale versus the Chicago Bears (an annual occurrence, for some reason) and the 2021 Week 3 game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Minnesota was hindered by a lack of fans. What is normally a haven for away-team horror instead served a quiet domicile of 3-5 (win-loss record) performance. The Vikings homefield advantage in 2020 was nil.
Nevertheless, the preseason home game — in 42 days — will be a return to normalcy for Vikings faithful.
Contract Extension “Deadline” (September 11th)
This deadline is artificial and is based on how the Vikings front office ordinarily runs the show. There is no explicit cutoff date for extending veteran players’ contracts.
But — general manager Rick Spielman generally gets contract extensions done before the season starts or in the regular timeframe after the season finishes.
On the docket this summer? Harrison Smith and Brian O’Neill. The Danielle Hunter decision was shoved to 2022, and that leaves Smith and O’Neill as nominees. Two longstanding Vikings are due for a long-term commitment, and both men are nearly universally praised by fans. If the deals are to be done before contract expiration, they will be agreed upon on or before September 11.
First Regular Season Game at Cincinnati (September 12th)
And this is it. If you are an obsessed Vikings fan — you probably are if you’re reading this — this is when the rubber hits the road (quite literally, actually).
Minnesota opens the season on the road for the first time since 2016, this time at the Bengals. There, head coach Mike Zimmer will shake hands with now-departed ex-Viking, Riley Reiff, whereas Mackensie Alexander will do the same with Bengals skipper, Zac Taylor, after Alexander left the team to return to the Vikings in March.
Week 1 also marks the spot for Zimmer’s first game in a head-coaching capacity at Cincinnati, a city where he spent six years as defensive coordinator.
Joe Burrow will be back following a gruesome rookie-year injury with rookie pass-catcher Ja’Marr Chase at his side. The Vikings will reveal a revamped defense, fortified to the gills with depth — something that was nonexistent in 2020, causing the unfortunate 7-9 record.