Minnesota Vikings' 10 Biggest Offseason Decisions
Even though the Minnesota Vikings have matched the best single-season turnaround in franchise history, and Leslie Frazier has the team on the brink of making the playoffs, there are still some tough decisions to be made once the season is over.
Hopefully those decisions won't start to be addressed until February.
In this rebuilding year, following their 3-13 season from 2011, the Vikings have exceeded most people's expectations. Most predictions, including ESPN's John Clayton, had the Vikings winning at best two games more than 2011.
Still the team has plenty of holes that need to be filled, and areas that could use an upgrade.
Here are 10 decisions that general manager Rick Spielman and Frazier will need to address.
Who Is Going to Backup Kyle Rudolph?
The Vikings' big free-agent pick up for 2012 was tight end John Carlson. After missing the entire 2011 season from a shoulder injury, general manager Rick Spielman signed the former Seahawk to a five-year, $25 million contract.
With two 50-catch seasons with the Seahawks the debate was who would be the Vikings' top tight end, Carlson or second-year player Kyle Rudolph.
Through Week 16 this season, Carlson's deal has yielded exactly eight catches for 43 yards. Not exactly the kind of return on investment the Vikings were hoping.
The Vikings will need to decide if Carlson's $4.25 million toward the 2013 salary cap is worth it, or if Rhett Ellison might be ready to take over the second tight end role.
How Much to Pay Phil Loadholt?
It's hard to argue the performance of the offensive line when your running back is flirting with 2,000 yards.
It's also tough to question a player that has only missed one start in four years, yet it seems there are questions about the performance of right tackle Phil Loadholt. On the negative side, he leads the team in penalties with eight—four of them for false starts.
In a report from Tom Pelissero from 1500ESPN.com, the Vikings started talks on a contract extension for the team's second-round pick in 2009 back in October.
If re-signing him were a slam dunk, it would have been done by now.
What to Do at Linebacker?
The Vikings will need to make a decision at linebacker, especially since two of the three starters will be free agents at the end of the season—middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson.
This is a position the Vikings are thin in experience. Chad Greenway has started 94 of 95 since 2007, while Brinkley and Henderson are in the their first and second seasons as starters.
Behind Greenway, Brinkley and Henderson is Larry Dean, Audie Cole and Marvin Mitchell—combined they have started three games on defense.
Even if the Vikings were to re-sign both Brinkley and Henderson, they might still want to add some talent and depth at the position.
What to Do with Devin Aromashodu?
As questionable as the wide receivers have been over the past two seasons, the Vikings are still waiting for Devin Aromashodu to break out and take advantage of the situation in front of him.
It was three years to the date—December 28th, 2009—that Aromashodu caught seven of nine passes thrown his way for 150 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. The seven catches matched his season total from 2008 as a member of the Colts. It's also the most receiving yards he's ever had in a game, and the last time he exceeded the 100-yard mark.
His days with the Vikings should be numbered. He has only 11 catches for 182 yards this season—and only one since the loss of Percy Harvin.
When the Vikings desperately needed a receiver to step up, Aromashodu disappeared.
Is Jerome Simpson Worth Signing for Another Year?
It was a safe bet signing Jerome Simpson to a one-year contract for $2 million dollars.
A speedster with the Bengals, he finished third in receptions with 50 for 725 yards. The deal was made somewhat affordable because Simpson was facing a three-game suspension to open the season. Besides the suspension, a back injury has limited his effectiveness this season.
Yet, his play seems to be picking up at the right time—picking up a little bit.
In his first five games as a Viking, playing with Percy Harvin, Simpson caught eight passes for 109 yards. That's only 1.6 catches per game. Over the past six games since the loss of Harvin, he has 15 catches for 123 yards—an increase to 2.5 catches per game. He has yet to catch a touchdown pass this season.
The Vikings might be more inclined to re-sign Simpson than Devin Aromashodu. He is two years younger than Aromashodu, and he's demonstrated the ability to be an effective receiver in the past.
Is Percy Harvin Worth a Contract Extension?
The easy answer to that question is "yes!"
In an October report on NFL.com, Adrian Peterson said:
"There are two Jordans on this team. I'm not trying to be cocky. I'm just very confident in my abilities,"
He was referring to Percy Harvin as the other Jordan on the team.
There's no question that Harvin is one of the best in the NFL. Before injuring his ankle Week 9 against the Seahawks, Harvin was one of the top receivers in the NFL. At one point this season he was also leading the NFL in total yards—combining receiving, rushing and return yards.
He's also been good for at least one kick-off return for a touchdown each year he's been in the league.
The problem is Harvin has also been a distraction for the team. It started when he left minicamp in June and threatened to skip training camp. Then there was his sideline tirade with head coach Leslie Frazier in the Seattle game—the game that Harvin injured his ankle and has not played since.
The trick is for head coach Leslie Frazier to find a way to fit Harvin's ego, and his talent, into the team. The trick for general manager Rick Spielman will be how to sign Harvin to a big enough contract to keep him on the team.
Who Is Going to Be the Vikings' No. 1 Receiver?
There's no question about who is the Vikings best receiver—Percy Harvin. But he is most effective when lined up in the slot, or put into motion, or even coming out of the backfield. He is not a prototypical down-field receiver, lined up at split end.
The Vikings need to either trade for a top receiver, or sign one of the top free agents that will be on the market.
The problem is that Rick Spielman has shown more of a propensity to deal for more draft picks than to trade or sign superstars. Don't expect to see Dwayne Bowe, Victor Cruz or Mike Wallace joining the Vikings next season.
It's also unlikely that either of this year's draft picks will be able to fill that role in the future. Jarius Wright has done a nice job filling in for Harvin as a slot receiver. As for his college teammate, Greg Childs, he has a tough road to come back from injuries to both knees.
How Long Will Kevin Williams' Next Contract Be?
The Minnesota Vikings need to make a decision on Kevin Williams. This season his cap figure is $8.4 million—the seventh-highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL.
In his 10th season, Williams has only missed four games—two of them for being suspended in the StarCaps controversy.
Williams will be 33 before the start of the 2013 season—the same age Pat Williams was when he signed with the Vikings in 2005. It was Kevin Williams' third season with the Vikings. The two would form the "Williams Wall", playing alongside each other for six seasons.
The Vikings should be willing to re-sign the five-time, first-team All-Pro, to a contract that keeps him playing as long as Pat Williams did—to the age of 38.
Now all they need to do is find the next future Hall-of-Fame candidate to play alongside him.
Draft a Wide Receiver, Defensive Tackle, Linebacker,or Guard in the First Round?
As outlined in many of the previous slides, the Vikings, even though improved over last season, still have plenty of holes to plug.
The direction they go in the draft will depend on which of their free agents they re-sign, and any deals Rick Spielman pulls off before the draft.
Look for him to keep going with the youth movement, and making good solid additions to the team. Don't expect any big splashes in the free agent market.
What to Do at the Quarterback Position?
The Vikings will finish 9-7 or 10-6. This is a huge improvement from 3-13 last season.
With even an average quarterback, the Vikings could have been 11-4 or 12-3 heading into the final week of the season. Instead of needing a win to secure the last playoff position, they might have been playing for a first-round bye.
While Christian Ponder has some great games this season, managing victories over the 49ers, Bears and Texans. At the same time, he literally threw the game away against the Redskins, Seahawks and Packers.
It's obvious from the fact that no matter how bad he played, Leslie Frazier was not comfortable putting either Joe Webb or McLeod Bethel-Thompson in at quarterback.
The Vikings need to decide if Ponder has what it takes to lead this team deep into the playoffs, or start working on Plan B.