The 2021 season has just ended, and from March 16, the 2022 campaign will open its doors. DNA of Sports therefore takes the opportunity to offer you an overview of the different franchises during the off-season. Which players to keep and cut? Which free agent to extend? Which rookies to watch? Here are some ideas, franchise by franchise. In the spotlight today, the Minnesota Vikings.
A new wind is blowing on the northern shores of the Mississippi. After 8 seasons at the head of the Vikings, Mike Zimmer ended up being landed, showing himself unable to bring his team to the promised land. Now it’s up to Kevin O’Connell to do what no man has done before him, bring the Lombardy Trophy to Minnesota.
In addition to a new coach, the Vikings have also changed general manager. Yet considered competent, Rick Spielman pays his failed bet with Kirk Cousins. It is now up to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to balance accounts in the red. To date, the Vikings have exceeded the authorized cap by almost 15 million. Swap Cousins? Free former defense officers who spend too much time in the infirmary? The possibilities are numerous, it is up to Adofo-Mensah to find the right one to put O’Connell in the best mood.
- Eric Kendricks (LB)
- Justin Jefferson (WR)
- Harrison Smith (SS)
Despite a sharp decline in defense year after year, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith are still leaders in this team. The franchise’s top two tacklers scrambled to fill the gaps. Despite his 33 years, Smith continues to prove that the Vikings can count on him, with a sixth pro bowl nomination in seven years.
In 2020, his rookie year was exceptional. His 2021 season is that of confirmation. 196 receptions, 3,016 yards, and 17 touchdowns, in two years, Justin Jefferson has proven that he is one of the top 10 or even top 5 NFL receivers. If Dalvin Cook has been the offensive face of this franchise, the coaching change could allow more room for aerial play. With Jefferson as a figurehead, the Vikings have something to terrorize opposing defenses.
- Danielle Hunter (DE)
- Michael Pierce (DT)
- Kirk Cousins (QB)
Danielle Hunter has proven to be a very good player in his first 5 seasons. He should have been a taulier, but his repeated injuries have weakened his status in the team. With only 7 games played since 2020, Hunter is struggling to justify his impact on the payroll by his performances. If the medical staff questions his ability to return permanently, Minnesota will not hesitate to release him, thus recovering almost 20 million dollars.
Hired in 2020 to replace Linval Joseph, Michael Pierce, between COVID and injuries, will only have participated in 8 games in two seasons. As with Hunter, his inability to stay on the field could cause the Vikings to get rid of him.
Finally, Kirk Cousins is not a bad quarterback. He even proved statistically last season that he could be in the top 10 in his position. The problem is that he is paid as one of the top three. With $45 million in 2022, almost as much as Aaron Rodgers, and 10 more than Patrick Mahomes, Cousins alone represents 21.43% of the franchise’s payroll. His contract being fully guaranteed, only an exchange would allow the Vikings to recover 35 million.
The Kevin O’Connell/Kwesi Adofo-Mensah duo
Freshly arrived from Los Angeles, Kevin O’Connell will discover his first experience as head coach with the Vikings. The former NFL quarterback, drafted by the Patriots in the third round in 2008, rose through the ranks from quarterback coach in Cleveland in 2015 to offensive coordinator for the Rams since 2020. With a good level of staff in his hands, which does not cannot be considered to be in reconstruction, he will have to bring regularity to this franchise, unable to know two consecutive seasons in the play offs under Mike Zimmer.
With him also arrives a neophyte to the position of general manager. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah arrives from Cleveland. After beginning his career on Wall Street, Adofo-Mensah cut his teeth with the 49ers before becoming vice president of football-related operations for the Browns. He inherits a position held for nearly 10 years by Rick Spielman, whose dismissal surprised many. Obviously the owners of the Vikings wanted change, and the appointment of two “rookies” to the most important positions should indeed radically change the sports policy of the franchise.
The main free agents
- Anthony Barr (LB)
- Patrick Peterson (CB)
- Nick Vigil (LB)
- Xavier Woods (FS)
- Everson Griffen (DE)
The others: Tyler Conklin (TE), Sheldon Richardson (DT), Rashod Hill (OG), Mackensie Alexander (CB), Mason Cole (C), Chad Beebe (WR), Jordan Berry (P), Greg Joseph (K) , Dede Westbrook (WR)
One of the emergencies for Adofo-Mensah will be to rebuild a defense in sharp decline over the last three seasons. This list, made up only of defensive players, shows the complexity of the task ahead, with a payroll that leaves little room for manoeuvre.
First on this list, Anthony Barr should not be retained. A key man in Zimmer’s system, his decline, due in particular to an accumulation of injuries, coincides with that of his former coach. If he showed in 2021 that he had not lost all of his talent, the Vikings do not have the means to maintain a lifestyle similar to his last seasons.
For Peterson, Vigil and Woods, an extension is possible. These three players all joined Minnesota last season on one-year contracts. The former Cardinals cornerback has played 14 games this season. Far from his best years, Peterson has not been completely overwhelmed either and could take advantage of a very weak squad of cornerbacks to extend his adventure in Minnesota.
Nick Vigil’s future with the Vikings should hinge on Anthony Barr. If the latter is not retained, Vigil has proven that he has integrated well into this team, and extending it would not be a bad idea.
Despite all his extra-sporting troubles, Everson Griffen remains a formidable quarterback tackle. With 5 sacks in 9 games, he contributed to the revival of the Vikings’ rush pass. Not sure, however, that this is enough to convince Minnesota to keep such an unstable player.
The top 5 needs
- Tight End
Today, Cameron Dantzler and Kris Boyd are the incumbent cornerback positions for the Vikings. If the first has proven by sequence that he could be a solid player, the second has the annoying tendency to shine the opposing receivers. Even if Minnesota decides to extend the adventure of Patrick Peterson, recovering another player in this position, whether in the draft or in free agency, seems essential.
In the squad of linebackers, only Eric Kendricks has the shoulders of a holder. Given the franchise’s salary situation, the Vikings will have to make a choice between Anthony Barr and Nick Vigil. Adding an additional player to this group will not be too much.
For the positions of safety, tight end, kicker and punter, the needs are due to the end of the contract of the incumbents in 2021. Currently, the Vikings have only three safety in their workforce, including the inexperienced Josh Metellus. As tight end, Irv Smith Jr returns after a long injury but provides little guarantee. Behind, if Tyler Conklin is not extended, the other two players in the position have not picked up any assists in 2021. Finally, Minnesota currently has no kicker or punter under contract.
Emmanuel Ogbah (DE)
If the position of defensive end is not one of the priority needs, given the holes in the workforce elsewhere, it could become one in the event of the departure of Danielle Hunter. With this in mind, and taking into account the financial situation of the Vikings, Emmanuel Ogbah could be a good option.
In 2021, DJ Wonnum was the franchise’s most productive player with 8 sacks. Ogbah has managed 9 in each of his last two years. At 28, the former Dolphins also has the advantage of being rarely injured since he has participated in all the meetings of the last two seasons.
The new blood
Ahmad Gardner (CB)
As previously explained, the Vikings have a vital need to strengthen at the cornerback position. It is not for lack of having tried in the past, since Minnesota has selected, since 2013, 4 players for this position in the first round. Today none of these players is still part of the purple squad.
Ahmad Gardner could therefore be the first player selected by Adofo-Mensah. Expected in the top 15 of the next draft, the Cincinnati cornerback shone during his three university years. In 33 games played, he accumulated 68 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9 interceptions including 2 returned for a touchdown. He can also boast of having conceded no touchdowns during his college career.
Other possible choices: Devin Lloyd (LB), Derek Stingley Jr. (CB), Nakobe Dean (LB), George Karlaftis (DE), Andrew Booth (CB)