If you clicked over to Sportsbook Review, and read up on the best online sportsbooks, including a BetOnline review, you would see that the overwhelming majority have installed the New England Patriots as 2 ½ point favorites over the Los Angeles Rams as of the writing of this article for the upcoming Super Bowl. But here in Minnesota, we have other things on our mind besides Super Sunday, like what happened in 2018? Why did it happen? How do we fix it and will that fix get the Vikings back into the playoffs come the 2019 season?
Entering the 2018 season, the Vikings management proved they were not content to be the second-best team in the NFC after the dream season that was 2017 ended abruptly thanks to the amazing run that the Philadelphia Eagles had with their back up quarterback, Nick Foles. Kirk Cousins was given millions to take this team to the next level but instead of a conference championship, all that was wrought with Minnesota’s offseason acquisitions was a profoundly disappointing 8-7-1 campaign that saw the Vikings on the outside looking in when the postseason began. Cousins had moments where we wondered why he was worthy of all that beaucoup dough tossed his way but when the regular season ended his stats were as follows: 16 games started, 4298 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a completion percentage of 70.1. Yeah, we can work with that.
The omens were there from early in the season with the untimely passing of offensive line coach Tony Sparano shortly before training camp and then starting left guard Nick Easton landing on the shelf with a neck injury which rendered him out of action for the season. Easton was the Vikings’ best pass blocking lineman (according to Pro Football Focus) the year before and his absence left a noticeable void which reverberated throughout the season. Easton will be a free agent in March, as will guard Tom Compton and tackle Rashod Hill but if the Vikings’ brass decides to turn elsewhere from one or more of them, how do they improve upon what they have?
Fortunately, there is plenty of offensive line talent in the upcoming draft with Kansas State’s tackle Dalton Risner being bandied about as a possible selection at No. 18 when Minnesota is slated to make their first-round pick. But loading the line with rookies is never a good tactic and the Vikings will need to patch together a line with seasoned veterans and promising rookies or second-year men. Let’s also not forget that mammoth tackle Brian O’Neill, chosen in the second round of last year’s draft, has made huge strides and is slated to start next season.
Nevertheless, the line needs either repair, or a major retooling, and Minnesota’s focus must be laser-locked to fill that void. Something that they arguably should’ve done last season (O’Neill notwithstanding), as they were aware of Cousins’ weaknesses and instead of ensuring he’d have time in the pocket they got greedy and picked up Mike Hughes with their first pick, yet another corner that the performance of undrafted free agent Holton Hill showed wasn’t necessary (there’s a lot of hindsight in that statement, I know, but point being that Zimmer and company have shown the ability to turn late round talent into All Pro level veterans, something that hasn’t happened on the offensive line).
There will be skill players on the radar for sure and an NFL team can never have enough depth in those areas. However, snatching a highly touted wide receiver in the first few rounds would be foolhardy with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs already in the fold (and players like Golden Tate II presumably being available in free agency). In addition, there are many teams that would gladly welcome Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray onto their rosters so reaching up for a running back is another luxury this team cannot afford. Kyle Rudolph at tight end is an asset both on and off the field so that is another position that can be left to the later rounds. Defensively, the Vikings could use a ball hawk in the secondary after a year in which they tied for 18th in interceptions with just a dozen on the season, but they may have found just that in Anthony Harris who stepped in for an injured Andrew Sendejo and looked like one of the most improved players in the NFL last season.
There are many questions which need to be answered in terms of extending contracts, or tearing them up and facing the consequences of dead money added to their cap space. But this is a team that is not far away from getting back to the postseason and if they can add more protection in front of Cousins and improve their run game in the process, we might be watching next year’s Super Bowl with a lot more interest and passion than the one which will be played this Sunday.