Rebuilding an NFL team is a long and laborious process as much for the fans as it is for the team itself. Maybe in some ways worse because as a fan, you have zero control over anything.
Of course, you aren't the one sweating, bleeding, losing and winning, so it's all relative.
Some teams try to buy their way into a championship (this goes for any sport). The smarter ones build towards a championship. That doesn't mean they HAVE to take five or six years to make the playoffs or see the Super Bowl, just that they build carefully, one piece at a time.
They have a blueprint for success, and they follow it.
The following is what the Vikings' blueprint for a Super Bowl run looks like if I am new general manager Rick Spielman.
These are long term goals as well as short term ones. Whether they are immediate payoffs or pay dividends down the road, they will all have the net effect of winning this team the Super Bowl.
CHANGE THE CULTURE
It's said so often in these situations that it's almost trite, but it has the virtue of being true—a franchise needs to believe it can win any time they step on the field.
In so far as attitude and confidence, the Vikings aren't in a bad position. They sniffed a Super Bowl not long ago, after all.
However, last season was close to a disaster, and the sooner the team can start washing that out of their system the better. What that will take is wins—not just any wins, but significant ones.
I have long contended that the Vikings are going to be in a perfect spot to be spoilers for some NFC North team come the end of the season. Nothing strikes a better tone for the next season than sending one of your rivals home to watch the playoffs with their fans.
The Vikings are unlikely to make the playoffs this year, but they can still end the season on a positive note.
Then you build on that.
Of course, more than anything else, this needs to become an expectation—that if you come to Minnesota, you will go home with a loss.
The Vikings need to make sure that the culture of winning is forever at the forefront of all their preparations, film study, practice and game planning.
Yes, they don't exactly slink into practice now like Eeyore in a purple jersey. But two bad years can become three really easy—more than anything else, if they want to be on the road to a Super Bowl in the next three to five years, they need to instead make winning the habit.
GIVE PONDER THE TOOLS/FIND OUT IF HE'S THE ONE
In this league—in this division—a team needs a good quarterback to win.
A great quarterback would be better, but a very good one will do.
Is Christian Ponder that guy?
They have to find out in the next year or so. It'd be great if they had more time, but they don't.
If they find out Ponder isn't the one, they have to retool and reboot. That takes time. They have a lot of pieces in place—we'll get to that as well as what still needs to be done—and there is no sense in wasting time hoping a guy will get better if he's not making strides forward.
Just ask the New York Jets. Mark Sanchez has been there for several years now and seemingly hasn't gotten any better—and if they need to dump him, they have some trouble brewing because they'll have to rethink everything.
That takes time and sets franchises back.
So they need to find out if he's "the guy." If not, it's back to the Draft—because we know what happens when you bring in retread quarterbacks, right Mr. McNabb?
If you want to give Ponder the best chance to succeed, well, you have to give him the right tools. So far, the Vikings have done an admirable job—adding Matt Kalil, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs through the draft and bringing in Jerome Simpson.
There is an element of risk to Simpson as well as John Carlson, but neither are so expensive that the risk is huge. Both have some upside though, and Simpson in particular could be a huge help to Ponder.
They need to continue adding pieces each year. They don't have to be lavish spenders in free agency—in fact, we know that isn't always a great way to go—but they should be aggressive and make sure that they get solid pieces which fit.
If they do that, Ponder will show us for sure if he's the future at quarterback.
BUILD UP THE OFFENSIVE LINE
I just mentioned Kalil, but along with him, the offensive line needs to continue to be built up.
Seeing Steve Hutchinson (and to a lesser extent Anthony Herrera) go might worry the Viking faithful, but long term, they needed to start rebuilding. Hutchinson was fading and Herrera was not that good.
Adding Kalil and Geoff Schwartz gets the line a bit younger, and the last three—Phil Loadholt, John Sullivan and Charlie Johnson—are all in their mid to late twenties.
So the line isn't terribly aged, though they can start thinking about what they could do to shore it up.
I would mostly address it through the Draft—high quality free agents can be hard to come by and usually require a big bid with all the suitors.
Slowly building up the line while you still have a good offensive line is also smart—having quality depth is never a bad idea as the Packers showed in 2010.
GROOM WIDE RECEIVERS
As much as I like the acquisition of Simpson, it's not enough. The depth behind Percy Harvin and him isn't great.
Which is why I also liked the drafting of Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, both of whom have the potential to be quality starters in this league.
Let's face facts—Adrian Peterson is a stud, but in the North alone, the team faces three teams which will throw the ball a lot and have varying degrees of high-powered offenses.
Ponder (or whomever throws the ball) needs a deep group of reliable weapons.
Look at the successful teams here: the Packers have Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson to start with James Jones, Randall Cobb and Donald Driver behind. The Lions have Calvin Johnson, with Nate Burleson, Titus Young and soon enough Ryan Broyles.
Even the Bears have finally started piecing a receiver corps together with Brandon Marshall, rookie Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett. They fall off after that and maybe that's their undoing, but it's a good start.
The Vikings also have a good start of it, with Harvin/Simpson and the rookies. They need to keep bringing guys on through the draft and get as deep as they can.
If there is one thing they need to emulate (and this is across the board) that the Packers do, it's create depth.
Nowhere will that be more critical than at wide receiver.
KEEP PETERSON AND HARVIN LOCKED DOWN
We'll have to see just how good Adrian Peterson is post-knee implosion, but so far he looks on schedule. Assuming he comes back at close to 80 percent AP (which I have said before is better than 99 percent of the backs in the league), he'll continue to be a guy who the team builds around.
Percy Harvin has made some noise about being unhappy—the why is unclear, but the fact is that he was underused last season (and in previous seasons) and is probably worried about his next contract.
Harvin has begun to show what he is capable of, and I wouldn't want another team to reap the benefits of the Vikings' patience with him, through all the migraines and such.
Find a way to make them both happy (Peterson seems the easier one on that score) and keep them in town. Build around them both.
Harvin is a huge asset to Christian Ponder, and while rookie Jarius Wright duplicates the broad skillset of Harvin, he lacks the pure upside.
If at all possible, keep your studs. Make sure they feel appreciated (some will require money, some a pat on the back in the press), and they will stick with you through the rebuild.
Keeping veterans like these guys, who make a difference with the ball in their hands, will keep you in games.
RELOAD THE FRONT SEVEN
How much do Jared Allen and Kevin Williams have left in the tank? Chad Greenway? That's the question the VIkings need to ask themselves.
The truth is that at least one of those guys is likely out before the Vikings get to a Super Bowl. The Vikings should prepare for that, and besides, as I said before, depth is good. You can never tell when someone might go down (Jasper Brinkley for example) and for how long.
The Vikings should be working towards building some significant depth and more than just warm bodies.
They have some likely prospects, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't keep looking for more.
Pressure is half of how you beat the likes of Green Bay, New Orleans and New England. A continual adding of talent will make sure they can always bring the heat—a necessity to win a Super Bowl.
IMPROVE THE SECONDARY
Here's the other half of the way you bring down the top contenders—a good secondary.
While the unit is OK, it's not a shutdown group by any stretch. Adding Harrison Smith should make a big difference in the safeties, but the corners still need work.
The truth is that if they can put together a good group of defensive backs, they can bridge the gap with their pass rush. The Vikings have the tools for that—and they have what looks like a good enough secondary to compliment the front seven.
However, they need to keep adding pieces and improve the overall talent that they have.
They have some talent already—but not across the board and it's not deep.
Keep improving the secondary because any team fighting for a playoff berth, much less a Super Bowl, will test yours early and often.
So far the Minnesota Vikings look like that team. New GM Rick Spielman has been cautious for the most part, adding a piece here or there in free agency and making smart choices in his first NFL Draft as General Manager.
Vikings fans are hoping that keeps up.
While the goal every season is winning the Super Bowl, the blueprint I've put together is one which won't just serve to propel the Vikings to a championship once, but allow them to contend for a long time to come.
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