Minnesota Vikings 2013: Concerns the Franchise Must Address
The 2012 season that went beyond basically 100 percent of casual football fans and probably more than 75 percent of Vikings fans has come to an end. Sadly it ended with a whimper at Lambeau. Joe Webb, who many (fans and even journalists) felt was as competent or more so than Christian Ponder, unfortunately fell flat. He looked overwhelmed—again—and showed that he really is not an NFL quarterback.
I am sure there will be some who disagree with that assessment, and that's okay, but the reality is Joe Webb is not the answer as the Vikings backup quarterback. So, inspired by this obvious flaw this article comes to what the title calls for, concerns moving forward.
Expectations for 2013 are already being discussed in the Vikings blogosphere. Some say the Vikings are the team to watch in 2013, while others are a bit more cautious in saying they just want to win the division and host a home playoff game. I am more in that corner, but in order for the Vikings to repeat this year's over-achievement award, they have to address certain areas, so let's get to it.
The good news for the Vikings and their fans is that the team has shown that it can beat their NFC North foes, and can really compete with the Packers, who appear to be the team to beat in the North.
Prediction for 2013: The Bears will struggle as they look to re-tool their team, and maybe search for a new quarterback. Maybe the Cowboys and Bears will swap quarterbacks, yet get the same results. Now that's funny, I don't care who you are.
As for the Lions, one of two things, Jim Schwartz will be able to get a hold of his locker room and return to 2011 results, or the implosion will happen and the Lions draft in the top 10 again.
Okay, let's get to what I feel are concerns the Vikings need to address in the offseason and moving forward in 2013. If I miss something, please feel free to comment, but let's keep it respectful and clean, thanks.
Concern No. 4: Building a Perennial Playoff Team for the Next 10 Years
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The Vikings have seen the playoffs five times since 2000: 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009, and now 2012. The Vikings were 3-5 during that stretch. However, in two of those playoff years the Vikings reached the NFC Conference Championship: 2000 and 2009.
During the 1990's though, the Vikings went to the playoffs seven of the 10 years with a playoff record of 3-7. Yes, the Dennis Green era, which begs the question, would we rather have meaningful playoff runs that result in a possible NFC title run, or just to be happy to be in the playoffs?
I think most Vikings fans would accept this playoff year as one where we were just glad to be there because of the low expectations. But now it's time to think of the future and how the Vikings can be a perennial playoff team during the 2010's decade.
Obviously good drafts are the key, but smart, fiscal free agency acquisitions are key as well. How many times have we seen teams—Philadelphia Eagles—invest huge amounts of money in free agency because of this win now mentality, only to see them fall flat? I look at the success of four teams that are perennial playoff teams: the Patriots, Colts, Steelers and Packers. Yes, they have franchise quarterbacks, but it's still a team game.
My point is that you will see they rarely make a free agency splash. Their free agency splashes are signing their own players. They also smartly identify when a player has seen his better days, part ways, and allow a younger player to assume the role.
The Vikings have their own free agents and I will address them in a later slide, but the Vikings will need to consider who they wish to sign and who they allow to play the FA field, but one thing is sure, the Vikings must continue to build this team with good drafts, and not just positions of need, but positions of depth.
This year the Vikings draft needs, in order of priority are: WR, OLB, DT. For depth: OL, CB, MLB.
You may disagree, but look at the next slide for my rationale.
Concern No. 3: Free Agency and What to Do?
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For reasons too obvious to mention, a stretch receiver must be added to this offense. There will be some attractive free agents out there, but I feel we missed out last year when we did not try and pursue Vincent Jackson more vigorously, but as Brett Favre loves to say, "It is what it is."
In all honesty, I would rather see the Vikings pursue a wide receiver in the draft and mold him the Vikings way, but guys like Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace are attractive "bling." The Vikings did well with Jarius Wright and whether Childs can return is still another matter, but a first, second or even third round selection of a field stretcher should make the Vikings offense more dynamic.
Free agents of note and my opinion:
Jasper Brinkley: re-sign, but a modest contract
Jerome Felton: re-sign, re-sign, re-sign.
Phil Loadholt: re-sign. There are Loadholt haters out there, but the man eats up space, has an attitude and it becomes risky signing someone else.
Jamarca Sanford: I like Sanford, the guy makes plays. Sure, he may not be the ultimate cover type guy, and much depends on what Alan Williams wants to do on the back end given how monster Harrison Smith shined this year, but nothing for nothing, Sanford has been steady for the Vikings.
Jerome Simpson: this is a tough one. I think Simpson deserves another shot, but he really needs to prove that he is all in and is willing to accept whatever it is the Vikings want from him.
Devin Aromashodu: release
Michael Jenkins is not a free agent, but he is due a considerable roster bonus. The Vikings should release Jenkins. Stephen Burton can assume the role of Jenkins, but Burton needs to improve upon not dropping the ball.
As for Percy Harvin, and he has been the center of many comments, articles, and thoughts, is simply the best offensive player not named Peterson. Harvin's return is crucial to the Vikings continued playoff march.
Concern 2: Targeting the Draft
Can the Vikings strike gold in the later rounds again?
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This will be a huge debate over the next three plus months, but it is one most football fans get excited about. Who will your team draft?
I usually wait until after the NFL Combine before I begin putting my draft board together. Since the combine is still more than a month away, I will reserve any expertise or strong opinion about who the Vikings should target until more research is done. However, the positions the Vikings should target are fair game right now.
In the previous slide I addressed the wide receiver position to a degree, but here is where it gets tricky for the Vikings. The current crew is nothing more than a hodge-podge of No. 3 receivers, so to target a FA is certainly attractive, but a draft is also plausible, or as may happen, both a FA and a draft choice.
The three biggest names out there are Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, and Mike Wallace. There are other notable names, but the likes of Wes Welker, Brian Hartline, Julian Edelman, and Domenik Hixon don't seem to fit the position we need. I am also concerned about the injury nature of Jennings and Bowe, and the attitude of Wallace. So, my hope is the draft where there are some exciting players to consider.
The Vikings select at No. 23, so one of the top tier receivers—as of this writing—should still be there. Cordarelle Patterson from Tennessee, Terrance Williams from Baylor or Keenan Allen from Cal could be considerations, but you never know who will pop up over the course of the next few months.
The middle rounds are full of average 4.5/40 guys so that does not help the cause. However, the only real interesting guy for a third round pick could be Denard Robinson/Michigan with a 4.39/40, but if he is the only option that is not good. Robinson should be the alternative/splash, not gamble. If the Vikings go later with perhaps sleeper types, then Marcus Davis/Virginia Tech is an option. He is a big target with excellent speed, 6-5/232, 4.4/40, but his blocking is suspect and sometimes he is inconsistent, but as a fourth or fifth round selection, should he last to that point, is well worth the gamble.
As for linebacker, Erin Henderson is a nice backup, but he is not starter material. All too often we saw games where Henderson was invisible. Yes, sometimes DC schemes are designed for certain guys to be in a certain position so others can make plays, etc, but Henderson missed tackles, looked a bit wayward in pass coverage, and despite three sacks, double his 2011 performance, Henderson just doesn't show up on game film. The Vikings need a Clay Matthews, Brooks Reed, Dannell Ellerbe type out there.
Given this is not priority one, it is safe to say this could be a possibility anywhere from rounds two on down to seven. As far as the draft goes there are a few names that pop out in rounds three and four for me: Zaviar Gooden from Missouri, Jamie Collins from Mississippi, a hybrid bandit type and Trevardo Williams from UConn.
I like our defensive line, especially the rotation aspect of it. The Giants have proven you can never have enough defensive linemen. Everyone is pretty much locked up, but the Vikings issues will be in 2014 where multiple players are FA. The Vikings would do well to try and extend players contracts with possible reductions in base in order to maintain a more cap friendly atmosphere. A run stuffer is certainly a possibility early on in rounds one or two.
This position could be addressed in rounds one or two. Drafting a player in the middle rounds would simply be for depth and the possible loss of one or two current Vikings to FA in 2014.
At No. 23 the names that could be available are: Johnathan Jenkins from Georgia is the big guy at 358 pounds, but stamina would be an issue in the 16 game season that is the NFL. Yes, several big guys have proven they can do it, but I still raise a tiny red flag here. Others include Jesse Williams from Alabama or sticking with yet another Williams, how about round two, Sylvester Williams from UNC?
The other positions noted earlier for depth were: OL, CB, and MLB
Offensive Line: Throughout the season, many fans complained about Charlie Johnson and Phil 'big'Loadholt, but that offensive line had a pretty good year. No line is perfect, unless you consider the Broncos O-Line of the late 1990's. Yes, there is room for improvement, but let's not be so quick to rush people off; there is something to be said for chemistry as well.
Offensive line is like the defensive line, you can never have enough, so it is possible the Vikings will look at the guard position in the draft, but don't forget that DeMarcus Love should return after a year on the IR. If the Vikings select a guard in round two it could be an indicator of a guy they really covet, or that they are not confident with who they have. I predict mid to late round here.
Cornerback: Injuries and some inconsistent play affected the Vikings back end, but for the most part, it was a pretty solid year. What is lacking are interceptions. The Vikings have youth and with Winfield's fountain of youth year, the collection of players is relatively young. Finding a safety opposite Smith is certainly a consideration, but most likely will not be addressed until round three or later.
Linebacker: I don't want to be so quick to judge Brinkley because I was quick to judge EJ Henderson and that came back to haunt me; however, if Audie Cole progresses and/or there is a MLB in the mid rounds that fits Williams' scheme, look for the Vikings to select a MLB in this year's draft.
Punter: Is this the year the Vikings try and pull another stunner, but instead of drafting a kicker—who didn't groan when they did that—the Vikings draft a punter. Not to say Kluwe is finished. He did have the MCL issue, but the Vikings could with one of their extra picks, draft a punter.
Concern No. 1: Who Will Be Christian Ponder's Back Up for 2013?
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You knew it was coming. This is obviously concern number one for the Vikings. With all due respect to Scott Spielman, Coach Frazier et al, Joe Webb is NOT an NFL QB. No matter how you spin it. Oh, he's big, he runs a 4.4/40, etc, the guy has not shown any considerable growth or progress that would have the Vikings convinced they have their No. 1 and 2 moving forward.
Some would even suggest the Vikings don't really have a No. 1 moving forward, but as I have often documented and commented in the past, I believe in Ponder. Ponder is no slouch in the athleticism department either. At 6-2 and a 4.5/40, he is big enough and fast enough to handle additional responsibilities moving forward. I think he showed Vikings nation in those last four games against formidable competition, that he is capable. Also, think back to his poor games, three of those against playoff teams and on the road: Packers, Seahawks, and Redskins, and the defense didn't really help his cause in Washington either.
My point is, Ponder played excellent against the 49ers, Packers in Week 17, both Lions games, the second Bears game and the Texans game. You cannot discount that, plus throw in a 4-0 final four weeks and you have a confident QB moving forward.
The concern moving forward should be, who will be Ponder's backup? Webb, no. Bethel-Thompson? Not sure, but very young, and you would think the Vikings would consider a veteran. I am sure the Vikings brass regrets letting Rosenfels go, but hey, you go with your decisions and live with the results. In this case, the Vikings projected wrong and now have egg on their face. It's time to wipe the egg and move on.
Here are some free agent names the Vikings should and could consider this off season.
Daunte Culpepper: Just kidding. I think five guys just fainted when they read that.
Tarvaris Jackson: See above.
Bruce Gradkowski: Ponder before Ponder, but at least Ponder can throw much more accurately. Gradkowski's veteran presence would be helpful, and to step in for a game or two would be okay.
Tyler Thigpen: A smart QB the Vikings had originally drafted in 2007. He's 28, has playing experience, and is fairly athletic in moving around the pocket. The only reason he lost his starting job in Kansas City was they brought in Matt Cassel and their mind was made up that Cassel was to be the starter. Even Tony Gonzales, when he was a Chief, voiced ardent support for Thigpen as the Chief's starter.
Matt Moore: A former starter, castoff, etc. Moore has shown some real ability, but he keeps running into impossible positions. If the Vikings pursue Moore it might be a sign that Ponder is not the sure-fire answer, but most likely Moore could be brought in as a very capable back up.