5 Mistakes the Minnesota Vikings Can't Afford to Make This Offseason
All franchises have to-do lists. They look at the offseason as a way to improve their teams for the better for the upcoming season.
The Minnesota Vikings are no different.
In that to-do list, there's an implicit list of things the franchise cannot afford to do.
That's where this slideshow comes in.
In addition to what Minnesota should do this offseason, there are things the Vikings should not do.
The slides aren't listed in any particular order.
Missing on Another First-Round Quarterback in the Draft
The Minnesota Vikings took a home-run swing in 2011 when they drafted Christian Ponder with the No. 12 pick in the NFL draft.
Nearly three years later, that big swing appears fatal, much like a batter brought to his knees after whiffing on his home-run swing.
He's only had three sets of consecutive games without an interception over his 36-game career and has a passer rating of 77.3. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had three sets of consecutive games without an interception during the 2012 season alone.
Ponder appears destined for a career as a No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback that may end sooner rather than later.
Now, because of the Ponder debacle, that doesn't mean general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings have to select a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
But, if they do select one in the first round, they cannot miss. A second miss would set the franchise back another three years (roughly) and would result in Spielman losing his job, potentially along with first-time coach Mike Zimmer.
Letting Both Everson Griffen and Jared Allen Walk
The Minnesota Vikings are halfway to solving their starting defensive end situation for 2014.
They signed Brian Robison to a long-term deal during the 2013 season, setting up the 30-year-old to be a Viking through the 2017 season.
Now, the big decision: re-sign Everson Griffen or Jared Allen?
It's a no-brainer.
Allen is 31, slowing down and unwilling to take a pay cut (he counted for roughly $17 million against the 2013 salary cap).
Griffen is 26, has recorded 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons in a reduced role and counted for $765,000 against the 2013 salary cap (he'll be due a good raise).
The younger and (likely) cheaper Griffen should be the focus.
The Vikings approached Griffen during the season about an extension, but he said the offer wasn't adequate.
Now, it's unknown what type of contract Griffen is after. So the Vikings shouldn't blindly give him what he wants. But they should listen very closely and ensure he knows he is their top priority.
The Vikings gave Robison $28.3 million over four seasons. A deal with a similar per-year salary would be appropriate.
If Allen changes his stance on a pay cut...that makes things interesting.
But Minnesota should have its eyes set on locking up at least one.
Losing both would set them back.
Letting Matt Cassel Leave
As mentioned in the first slide, Christian Ponder doesn't appear to be the long-term solution at quarterback.
It'll be interesting to see if new offensive coordinator and quarterback guru Norv Turner can elevate his play in 2014 (if he's still on the roster). But don't count on it.
Ponder's struggles have left the Vikings still looking for a long-term solution at quarterback. But Matt Cassel should be their short-term solution at the position.
Cassel has a player option for 2014, so he controls his own fate (barring Minnesota releasing him). He should return to Minnesota (it gives him another great opportunity to start in 2014) and Minnesota should do what it can to get him back (he likely gives the Vikings the best chance to win).
The Southern California graduate threw for 1,807 yards, nine interceptions and 11 touchdowns while completing 60.2 percent of his passes in nine games (seven starts).
The 31-year-old averaged roughly 240 yards passing in his seven starts. Ponder averaged 201 passing yards in his eight starts. Cassel also passed for more than 240 yards in three straight starts, something Ponder has never done in his NFL career.
If the Vikings don't have a quarterback they love at No. 8 in the draft, retaining Cassel gives them a player they can feel OK about starting in 2014. If the Vikings do have a quarterback they like at No. 8 or later in the draft, Cassel can help with mentoring and compete for the starting gig in training camp.
At $3.7 million, it's a good-value deal to keep Cassel, even if he ends up a backup.
Maintaining the Status Quo in the Secondary
According to SpoTrac, the Vikings have two players from their secondary set for free agency this offseason: Chris Cook and Marcus Sherels.
That means, barring heavy offseason activities, the majority of the players that enabled Minnesota to finish as the No. 31 pass defense (287.2 yards per game) and tied for the eighth fewest interceptions (12) will return.
That's OK, if there are additional players brought in to compete for positions.
There really isn't much talent in the secondary to develop.
Xavier Rhodes, a first-round pick in 2013, should develop into at least a No. 2 corner.
Harrison Smith, a first-round pick in 2012, will continue to develop into one of the game's best safeties.
Outside of that, the cupboard is pretty bare.
Help is needed.
Whether through free agency or the draft, with the latter more likely, new blood must be brought in.
Re-Signing Left Guard Charlie Johnson to Start
The offensive line of the Minnesota Vikings, as a whole, is in good shape.
John Sullivan is entrenched at center.
Matt Kalil improved throughout the season after a slow start to his sophomore campaign at left tackle.
Phil Loadholt struggled at times, but earned rave reviews from Pro Football Focus, as did the rest of the sixth-ranked offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus.
That is, except Charlie Johnson.
PFF said Johnson "might be best served in more of a utility linemen role. There are plenty of worse guards out there and if he’s the worst player on your line, you’re probably doing well."
PFF is on to something.
Johnson has experience at guard and tackle, which means the 29-year-old does have some value as a backup. But as a starter...the Vikings should be making arrangements for another party to take his place in 2014.
I've advocated the Vikings select Baylor's Cyril Richardson with the No. 40 pick in the second round, which should solidify the position for the foreseeable future.