While anything short of the Super Bowl is to some extent a disappointing season, the year the Minnesota Vikings had after going 6-10 in 2010 and 3-13 in 2011 is worthy of praise.
Of course, as the ultimate goal was unmet, there remains work to be done, and like any other team done playing for the season, the work starts now for the Vikings.
There are a ton of storylines and choices to follow this offseason, but these five are the ones burning most hotly into my brain.
1. What's Next for Adrian Peterson?
"AP" carried this offense in the second half of the season, and they rode him into the playoffs. He set career highs in yards and yards per carry as well as his second-highest totals in receptions and touchdowns.
All coming off massive knee surgery in under a year.
How can he do that again?
Well, hopefully he won't have to. Peterson's conditioning is now the stuff of legend, but 300-plus carries is not anything I want repeated. Not if I want Peterson to keep being Peterson for the long haul.
Really, the discussion will center on how his body reacts to the season a year after injury.
For me, it will come down to him still having high yards-per-carry and yards-after-contact averages. The total yards amount isn't as crucial as his health and a high yards-per-carry average.
That's especially true when you figure the total will come down because the offense improves around him.
If the Vikings want to head into the playoffs again, it will have to.
Speaking of which...
2. Is Christian Ponder the Guy?
Two steps forward, one step back, three steps forward, eight steps back—that was how the season looked like it went for Christian Ponder.
We can break down the stats—and we will, as the season goes—but the question the staff has to ask itself is: Did he take enough of a step forward?
The middle of the season was terrible, but clearly they wanted to hang with Ponder (though let's address the elephant in the room that Joe Webb is awful).
They basically removed him from the offense for all intents and purposes for the last quarter of the season and let Peterson carry them.
And then Ponder had his best game in the last week of the season, when he was a huge part of the reason for the Vikings beating the Packers and getting into the playoffs.
I would have loved to see if Ponder could have replicated that in the playoffs, but he went down with an injury, and that was that.
I also think we've seen enough bad to warrant getting a good, reliable veteran to put behind him and protect the team in case he either gets hurt again or completely falls apart.
This team might be close enough to being in the hunt each year that they have to worry about not protecting themselves for either eventuality.
I am very curious to see what—if anything—they do at the quarterback position this offseason.
3. Can Percy Harvin Be Happy?
Maybe that sounds a bit too Dr. Phil, but it's a real question.
I still think it odd that he was absent from the facility during a very critical part of the season and that he wasn't around for the playoff game.
That said, I have no idea that it means anything.
All I do know is we keep hearing murmurs that he is unhappy on a semi-regular basis.
The injury certainly frustrated him, but I'm not sure what (aside from more money) he wants if the constant targets and use in the first half of the season didn't please him.
Aside from Peterson, nobody was more valuable to this offense, and perhaps this team, than Harvin.
Yet we keep hearing he is griping.
Sure, the team says everything is fine. If I hear that once, fine. If I have to hear it two or three more times, well I start to worry.
And at some point I have to wonder—is Harvin hellbent on leaving Minnesota? Is it a case where no matter how much the coaching staff and playbook and ownership is focused on appeasing him, it won't be enough?
That makes me very nervous. Harvin is critical to this offense, and they need to find a way to make this work.
Harvin cannot go—if he does, the impact on this team could be huge.
So how do they keep him there?
Actually, this one might be the most critical storyline this offseason.
4. Is Bill Musgrave the Right Offensive Coordinator?
For the most part, Musgrave did a good job this season, although one could debate that it's hard to screw up "hand it off to Peterson and go left, hand it off to Peterson and go right."
By that same token, there were times when the offense was very oddly structured, and as good as his plan was against the Packers in Week 17, it was awful on Wild Card Weekend.
I get that everyone hoped Ponder would play, but Joe Webb ran the first-team offense all week.
Did they really not see how bad his accuracy was? His pocket presence? Could they not come up with some "option" plays to run beyond the four or five times they eventually ran throughout the game?
How much of that falls on Musgrave? How much on head coach Leslie Frazier?
We can also talk about Ponder's up-and-down play while we're at it, and putting him in some bad positions throughout the season.
This storyline isn't getting as much talk as some others, but I find it interesting. What will he do differently heading into 2013, and how critical is it that he have more success by the end of the season?
5. How Will the Vikings Address the Wide Receivers?
Aside from whether Harvin will return, the Vikings have some issues at wide receiver.
It's safe to say by now that Jerome Simpson is probably not the vertical threat they were hoping for, though his injury certainly held him back. He's cheap and he's decent, so retaining him seems like the smart move.
Jarius Wright showed a ton of promise but remains raw.
Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu are no great shakes.
Harvin or no, this group needs help. If the offense is to take a step forward, if Ponder is to be successful, if Peterson is going to avoid running every down, then the team needs to do something.
There are some intriguing free agents we'll get into later this week, but this is the one area where I feel like there are a bunch of options, be it in the draft or in free agency.
How they approach the problem will have a tremendous impact on how next season plays out.
Some Other Stories Worth Considering
We'll get to these over the course of the offseason.
- How will the team improve the cornerbacks?
- What will Kyle Rudolph do to improve?
- Who gets paired with Harrison Smith at safety?
- What is the next step in building the offensive line?
- How much does Jared Allen have left?
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