There has been seen a lot of talk about how improved the Minnesota Vikings are after a stellar offseason. However, I think it’s time to accept that 2020 will not be the year that fans see the full fruit of that offseason.
The first really huge move of the 2020 offseason was moving Stefon Diggs. Diggs, by all accounts, was a locker room cancer and didn’t get along with star quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Diggs saga was a big storyline last season and all of us fans who wanted to stay positive kept insisting that it was just Diggs’ desire to win that kept up the sideline tirades and cryptic tweets that could have hinted at him wanting to leave Minnesota.
Diggs’ unhappiness seemed to boil over in the Vikings playoff game against the New Orleans Saints where he was acting very unhappy despite his team holding a lead. Finally, Rick Spielman decided to let his miracle man go to the Buffalo Bills for a first round pick and avoid another season of drama.
The trade came right after Cousins received a contract extension that keeps him the franchise quarterback through 2022. So, it seems to be pretty obvious that Diggs’ issues were with his quarterback, and the front office wanted to avoid ruining the team’s chemistry.
So, the Vikings lost a receiver that recorded 94 targets, 1130 receiving yards, and six touchdowns in 2019, per sports-reference.com. They also lost a player who garnered more than his fair share of attention from opposing defenses.
The team has had a lot of positivity about Justin Jefferson, the receiver that the draft pick received for Diggs turned into, and I also have great hope for him. In his final college campaign, he recorded 1540 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns, and averaged 13.9 yards per reception, per sports-reference.com.
However, there is reason to believe he won’t be ready to replace Diggs production right off the bat. Diggs is one of the greatest route runners and pace changers in the NFL right now. Even without his ability to take the top off of defenses, Diggs could make things happen on the simplest of routes, something that Jefferson won’t be able to replace immediately. The decision to move on from Diggs was the right one, and Jefferson was the best player available at his draft position, but it’s going to take time for him to adjust to the NFL.
Another position group that will see growing pains in 2020 is the secondary. After a couple of terrible seasons, the Vikings decided to move on from one time shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes. They also let the serviceable Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander walk.
These three have been replaced by Mike Hughes, who has yet to be completely healthy for a full NFL season, Holton Hill, who has yet to stay out of trouble for a full NFL season, and rookie Jeff Gladney. So, this equates to almost zero starting experience for the cornerbacks. The team did retain the best safety duo in the NFL by keeping Anthony Harris on their franchise tag.
Give them a year or two, and this new-look secondary could be the top group in the NFL, but 2020 will likely be a rough one with tons of penalties as they try to make the adjustment to the league. The team also has zero depth safeties rostered at the moment, it’s just Harris and Smith.
The Vikings did make the move to bring in another very talented defensive end in Yannick Ngakoue, to hopefully cover their inexperienced defensive backfield and replace the snaps lost by the departure of long-time vocal leader Everson Griffen. This however came right before the news that the team would be without superstar Danielle Hunter who has missed time due to a “tweak” and is now on IR for at least the first three weeks of the season.
The defensive line as a whole is a big question mark, something that hasn’t been the norm in the Zimmer era with one the greatest defensive line coaches in the league Andre Patterson on staff.
The Vikings biggest free agent pickup, and Linval Joseph replacement, Michael Pierce, has opted out of this season citing concerns with his asthma if he were to contract COVID-19. Obviously Pierce’s reason is incredibly understandable, but it does leave Minnesota with a weakness up front. They’ll be relying on the underwhelming Shamar Stephen, and a rotating cast of guys with lots of potential who have yet to put it all together.
We now come to the biggest reason for the Vikings to fail in 2020, the offensive line. Now, the situation is actually better than it could be with the team retaining Riley Reiff after he reportedly expected to be cut to make cap room for Ngakoue. This means that the team doesn’t have to rely on second year man Oli Udoh to step up into one of the tackle spots and he can continue to learn before being relied on as a starter.
This is some of the only positivity for the starting offensive line however as the team lost their second best lineman in Josh Kline. Kline was released despite playing very well in 2019. Of course, he wasn’t available for the entire season and suffered multiple concussions, something that Minnesota sports fans should be very wary of after what it did to former MLB MVP Joe Mauer.
This loss of Kline makes the problem of the offensive guard position even worse. After a year where the guards were just okay, the team’s answer to the problem was seemingly to draft a left tackle, Ezra Cleveland, and train him to be a guard. This doesn’t solve the immediate problem of the abysmal performance of Pat Elflein or the fact that Dakota Dozier, the other starting guard, is a career backup who looked worse and worse after every snap he played last season.
The team does have Dru Samia, who also looks like he could turn into a solid starter, but again, neither of them solve the problem immediately.
There is an apparent theme here and it is this, the Minnesota Vikings are in a great position to have a great team in the next few seasons. They have put together a roster loaded with youth and potential. However, 2020 is not going to be their year.
In his tenure, Mike Zimmer has had a pattern of one good year and one mediocre year. After a solid 10-6 in 2019, Zimmer’s team is set for another mediocre year and with a roster that has a ton of turnover and will have some growing pains, that is okay.
Rick Spielman has set them up to have a great future. They already have 12 draft picks in 2021, they have their quarterback, something that the Vikings haven’t had solidified since the early 2000’s, and they have a defense that is ready to be coached to the level we expect from a Mike Zimmer team.
The future is bright and it’s important to remember that this season, because it’s not going to be pretty. The Vikings are going to lose some games badly and it’s very likely that they miss the playoffs. However, before you go on Twitter and rant about how the sky is falling, remember that the NFL is a long game and Spielman and Zimmer have set your team up to compete for a title in the next five years. So sit back, relax, and don’t take this season too seriously.