Minnesota Vikings: Is It Time to Commit to a Total Overhaul?

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Minnesota Vikings: Is It Time to Commit to a Total Overhaul?
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The Minnesota Vikings stand at 2-8 after an embarrassing 41-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. 

Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier is a good man and deserved better than what he was saddled with in Minnesota, but it is indeed time to commit to a total overhaul. Frazier and his staff will be the first casualties of a rebuild that should begin immediately.

Before the season started, if you had told anyone involved with the franchise, from the front office to the last player on the practice squad, that 2-8 would be their record on November 18, they would have thought you were pulling their leg.

If you had told any Vikings fan that news back in August, he or she would have been crushed, and he or she would have started pointing fingers. A team that finished with four straight regular-season wins last year to finish 10-6, and made the playoffs, is 2-8?

That's the reality, though, and Minnesota fans are indeed crushed, and there might be more finger pointing involving the Vikings than with those behind the Obamacare website.

How bad are things at Winter Park, the Vikings headquarters in Eden Prairie, MN? You can make a very good argument that general manager Rick Spielman should be fired. You can make an even better argument that Frazier should be gone. And your best argument of all is that the offensive and defensive coordinators, Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams, should get their pink slips.

You can argue forever about who's more culpable for the Vikings' disastrous 2013 campaign, between the GM and the coaching staff, and ultimately both sides of the argument would probably be right. 

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The good news for Vikings fans is that, for all intents and purposes, the Christian Ponder-as-starter era ended at approximately 5:50 p.m. CST Sunday afternoon. It was then when Ponder dropped a short checkdown pass into the arms of Seattle's Walter Thurmond, who took it 29 yards for a touchdown.

It was the third consecutive series where Ponder had thrown the ball directly to Seattle players, the last two of which were intercepted. They were all short throws. It was perhaps the worst stretch of Ponder's career, and that's saying something.

Any coach that trots Ponder out as a starter for the Vikings again should be fired. Any GM that allows a coach to trot out Ponder as a starter should also be fired.

Ponder's a good guy, and yes, he may be smart as well. He's not an NFL starting quarterback, and he's not smart on the football field. Case closed.

We could argue that for any football fan with eyeballs, this case was closed some time ago, but for whatever reason, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman haven't seemed to think so. And they're the ones in charge of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings overhaul on the field has to begin at quarterback. 

The most important draft pick for the Vikings organization since 2011 will come with their first pick in next spring's draft. It will be a quarterback, and he has to be better than the one they picked in 2011. 

In all likelihood, Leslie Frazier and his staff won't be around to help make that selection. That's probably not fair, as Frazier's entire tenure has been hampered by Spielman's selection of Ponder with the 12th overall pick in 2011. It was deemed a big reach by experts at the time, and they've been proven correct.

Spielman made a mistake in drafting Ponder. The bigger error was not owning up to the mistake sooner. Spielman was smitten with Ponder's intelligence, as he inferred to 1500 ESPN radio in January of 2012, thinking that it would translate to the field. It hasn't. In the meantime, the franchise has now dug a very deep hole to climb out of.

The irony of Frazier more than likely having to take the fall for Spielman's error is that Spielman will also likely pick Frazier's successor. As the season winds down, hot coordinators around the league will start being bandied about for job openings. 

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
49ers Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman

Two that will be high on everyone's list, including Minnesota's, will be the offensive coordinators in Seattle and San Francisco, Darrell Bevell and Greg Roman.

No matter who the head coach is heading into 2014, he should have one of the highly touted quarterbacks expected to be available this spring, including: Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, AJ McCarron, Brett Hundley, Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, Derek Carr and Zach Mettenberger. 

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It's an outstanding quarterback class, but the truth is, there isn't a sure-fire franchise player in the group. These guys will continue to rise and fall on draft boards right up until the draft begins on May 8, 2014. 

One of those names is more than likely going to be the next quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. Whether or not he opens the 2014 season as the starter will be up to the presumed new coaching staff.

It remains to be seen how the messy Minnesota quarterback carousel of 2013 plays out and, ultimately, who of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman is brought back. One would think that Freeman will be given another look as a starter to see if he has anything left.

The Vikings offensive line has had a disappointing season, and it would be a slight surprise if all five guys were back as starters in 2014. The first head on the chopping block is probably left guard Charlie Johnson. Johnson will be a free agent after the season and wouldn't be a huge loss if he signed elsewhere.

Minnesota will have had a year to evaluate rookie Jeff Baca by then, and he could be an option to start at left guard, or they might take a guard in the draft. The days of offensive linemen needing a year or two to adjust to the NFL are long gone.

This offseason, the Vikings will have decisions to make in free agency. It's widely assumed Minnesota will part ways with both Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, two long-time cogs on the defensive line. Both want to play more football, but it doesn't make sense (on either side) for them to re-sign with a team that has so much rebuilding to do.

One would imagine that free agent-to-be Toby Gerhart would like to sign somewhere where he's given more of an opportunity to run the ball. Gerhart is a high-character guy and deserves his shot, but he's just not going to get it in Minnesota while Adrian Peterson is still around.

Gerhart seemed like a luxury pick at the time and stands as another curious miss by Spielman. Hindsight is always 20/20, but it stings Vikings fans that hugely successful linebackers like Sean Lee, Brandon Spikes, NaVorro Bowman and Pat Angerer were all drafted within two rounds after Gerhart.

As for free agent receivers Jerome Simpson and Joe Webb, Simpson has had a decent season but a widely reported DWI arrest last week won't help him at the bargaining table. Webb is a fine special teams player but hasn't done much as a receiver.

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On defense, the biggest priority will be to re-sign Everson Griffen. The versatile Griffen can make plays from both end spots and at tackle as a pass-rusher. The team will have to make decisions on whether to re-sign Fred Evans and Marvin Mitchell. Neither one has proved to be a productive starter when given the chance.

After taking a quarterback with their first pick, the Vikings will have to turn to defense in the early rounds in May's draft. They need more help in the secondary, and starting spots beyond Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes could be up for grabs.

As far as dipping into free agency themselves, don't look for the Vikings to go after any of the higher-priced targets. It's been rare that they've done so, as Spielman has said repeatedly that he feels the best way to build an organization is through the draft. The Vikings spent big bucks on Greg Jennings last offseason, and that hasn't worked out as well as they'd liked.

Big changes are ahead for the 2014 Vikings. Head coach Leslie Frazier's 10-6 record in his second full season looked great, but it's evaporated with the team's awful showing in 2013. In today's "win or be gone" world, two seasons in three years with less than five wins is too much to overcome.

It would be a surprise if the Vikings didn't bring in an offensive-minded coach this time around. Someone who can help choose the next quarterback and shape the team around him and the talented pieces the Vikings have on offense, including Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and Cordarrelle Patterson.

The defense needs a new direction as well. Alan Williams' unit has been disastrous this season, from the group up front to the linebackers and the secondary. The Tampa Two defense seems archaic in 2013, and a fresh new voice with innovative schemes is needed to boost the Vikings defense.

The guess here is that Rick Spielman will get to pick a new head coach and a new quarterback over the next six months. The Vikings next six years will depend on the success of those choices.

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