The 7 Biggest Offseason Priorities for the Minnesota Vikings
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With the Super Bowl over, the offseason is here.
It's amazing to think about how quickly the 2012 season came and went.
These are my top seven priorities for the offseason.
Priorities on this list could be anything from a scheme alteration, free-agent acquisition, draft move, re-signing a particular player or anything in between. It's a pretty wide-open slideshow.
7. Acquire a Reliable Backup Quarterback
If Minnesota is serious about competing in 2013, it cannot have Joe Webb as its backup quarterback.
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Plenty of people defend Joe Webb's uninspiring performance in Minnesota's playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
"He didn't have enough time to prepare," some say. "Had he had a full week or more to prepare, then he would have played better."
That may be true. But many backup quarterbacks have played in games with limited time to prepare and succeeded. If Webb were truly on the path to becoming an adequate quarterback, then he would have demonstrated more abilities as a passer in that game. He finished 11-of-30 for 180 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Others say his performance demonstrated that he has no future as a quarterback in this league and that Minnesota must bring in an adequate talent to backup or maybe even compete for the starting job with Christian Ponder.
Count me in that camp.
I still believe in Webb. But I believe in him as a wide receiver, not as a quarterback.
Bringing in a veteran quarterback would not only stabilize the position behind Ponder, but it may enhance Ponder's skills. It may scare him into improving his play if he believes there's a legitimate option to start at the position besides him.
6. Revamp Defensive Tackle
At 32, Kevin Williams is nowhere near the player he once was.
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Minnesota has a big decision to make on Kevin Williams this offseason. The 10-year veteran has a two-year option for $16.7 million.
That's far too much for a declining player like Williams, who is coming off one of the worst seasons in his career (30 tackles and two sacks). If he's unwilling to accept a reduced salary, then it's time to move on. Minnesota may choose to move on regardless.
Letroy Guion, the other starter, should be retained, but only as a rotational player. Given the limited pass rush he generates (two sacks) combined with a smaller frame, he's best suited to contribute on a limited basis. He finished with 31 tackles in his first season as a starter.
Defensive tackle rests near the top of Minnesota's offseason needs, and even with those two as the starters Minnesota nearly finished in the top 10 in rush defense, finishing 11th.
At the very least, Minnesota must bring in defensive tackles it could legitimately start to give these two a run for their money.
5. Revamp Linebacker
Jasper Brinkley nearly reached 100 tackles in his first season as a starter but had his share of struggles this season.
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Chad Greenway is the lone Minnesota linebacker who should be assured of a job in 2013.
Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and outside linebacker Erin Henderson are both free agents this offseason.
It's tough to justify bringing both players back after their 2012 campaigns, although it wouldn't be shocking if Minnesota did just that.
Brinkley was in his first year as a starter and recorded 97 tackles in 16 games. He wasn't as strong against the run as he was in 2009 and continued to struggle with pass defense.
This was Henderson's second season as a starter and a concussion suffered in Week 2 may have cost him his 2012 season. He doesn't project as a playmaking linebacker. He recorded 79 tackles in 14 games.
At the very least, Minnesota must bring in linebackers it could legitimately start to give these two players a run for their money.
4. Better Utilize Offensive Talent
With Toby Gerhart and Adrian Peterson, Minnesota should be able to utilize the halfback screen more often and possess a stronger play-action passing atack.
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Many things were baffling about Minnesota's offense in 2012.
First, why didn't it involve the halfback screen more frequently?
The offense's best player is a running back. Adrian Peterson isn't the best receiver by running back standards, but he can catch a simple dump-off pass and take it to the house.
The backup, Toby Gerhart, has shown the ability to turn screens into big gainers.
And Minnesota's two best offensive linemen, John Sullivan and Matt Kalil, are very good in the open field.
Gerhart, Peterson, Kalil and Sullivan should be back in 2013. It should play a bigger role next season.
Second, the play-action pass needs to be better utilized. Again, Minnesota's best player is a running back, and it is known as a running team. Defenses consistently stacked the box with eight defenders. All of that should have enabled the play-action pass to be a deadly tool in the offense's tool box. But it wasn't.
Better incorporating the play-action pass will make the offense and Christian Ponder more successful.
Third, unleash Percy Harvin. Harvin is Minnesota's No. 2 offensive weapon. Minnesota kept him around the line of scrimmage in 2012, but he should be allowed to go deep. He has the skills to be a versatile receiver. He's not the tallest receiver (5'11") but plenty of players under 6'0" can be deep threats.
In the first four seasons of his career he demonstrated the ability to dominate the flats and middle of the field. Now let him explore and dominate that last frontier. He can do it.
3. Appease Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin was on pace for a career year before an ankle injury cut his season short.
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There are plenty of rumors swirling about Percy Harvin feuding with the Minnesota coaching staff, the front office or both.
Those rumors may be blown out of proportion, but where there is smoke, there is fire.
Something is up with Harvin. He went down to Florida and rehabbed there rather than at Minnesota's facilities while his teammates competed for a postseason berth. Some will say that means nothing. But good teammates and franchise players are there for their teammates and franchise. Harvin was nowhere to be found.
He kept in touch with Eric Sugarman, Minnesota's head trainer, but that was about it.
Harvin demanded a trade last spring, but then quickly rescinded that request.
It was reported that Harvin was upset with his role in the offense last spring but either let that concern go or was appeased by the coaching staff.
Then he blew up at coach Leslie Frazier in Seattle, and rumors about his unhappiness returned.
Some say Minnesota should deal Harvin. That would be a mistake. He's a blossoming talent who won't net fair value in an offseason trade, especially given that he needs a new contract soon (something he may demand this offseason).
Minnesota must find a way to appease him because the duo of Harvin and Adrian Peterson could become one of the game's most dangerous.
2. Expedite Christian Ponder's Growth
Christian Ponder's final game of the 2012 season resulted in one of his best performances: 16-of-28 passing for 234 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
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The quarterback in today's NFL is the most important player on the field. His importance has never been more significant.
Minnesota made the playoffs in 2012 because Adrian Peterson had one of the greatest seasons a running back can have (2,097 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns and an average of 6.0 yards per carry).
It's unlikely that Peterson will replicate his 2012 successes in 2013, which means Ponder has to step his game up.
Minnesota invested its 2011 first-round pick in Ponder and will give him at least another year to demonstrate franchise-quarterback abilities.
Luckily for Minnesota, Ponder played one of the best games of his career in the season finale against Green Bay: 16-of-28 passing for 234 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 120.2.
The former Florida State Seminole finished the season completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 2,935 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Ponder showed glimpses of success but left plenty to be wanted this season.
He was at his best when the offense allowed him to maneuver outside of the pocket. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave should keep that in mind when scheming the offense for 2013.
1. Improve the Wide Receiver Corps
Jarius Wright caught eight passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in the final two games of the regular season.
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Expediting the development of Christian Ponder is the only other offseason task that could be slotted here. Ironically enough, improving the wide receiver corps should (hypothetically) improve Ponder's play.
Percy Harvin, who sat out the final seven games of the regular season, finished as Minnesota's leader in receptions (62) and receiving yards (677). No other Viking wide receiver had over 40 receptions or 450 yards receiving.
Those are unacceptable facts for a team looking to return to the postseason in 2013.
Devin Aromashodu and Jerome Simpson should be playing elsewhere next season. Michael Jenkins may join their bus out of town.
Jarius Wright will be back for his second season, in what role will be determined by the offseason activities relative to this position, and who knows if Greg Childs will ever play football again.
Minnesota has to find a legitimate wide receiver to share the field with Harvin, otherwise Ponder's ability to grow will be limited and life will continue to be that much harder for Adrian Peterson.