It was a rough loss that will sting for months, but now, at least, the Minnesota Vikings and their fans have time to reflect on a well-played season and a promising future.
Not buying it, are you?
Yes, I know it sucks, given that the Vikings had every opportunity to win that game and go to the Super Bowl, but we’re going to have to move past that eventually, and there really is no time like the present.
While you’re biding your time not watching the Pro Bowl and frowning at all the Brees/Manning Super Bowl hype, here are ten things the team should be doing in the meantime.
The pain of the Vikings’ loss still stings to fans in Minnesota, and while I know it will probably go away faster than the 41-0 drubbing by the Giants or Gary Anderson’s missed field goal in ‘98, the loss will hurt all offseason long.
But this is still a talented and relatively young football team who will be able to bounce back from falling just short of the Super Bowl this season.
So, it’s time to move on, instead of letting it fester like the team did after the 2000 season, where they never got back on track.
I’m sure Scott Studwell and Rick Speilman have already put the entirety of their focus onto the draft, and I think that’s a healthy focus for players, coaches, and fans, especially given how well the Viking’s past few drafts have gone.
Easier said than done, right Packers and Jets fans?
Except for one key difference: Favre has no place left to go.
When he wanted out of Green Bay, it was to play in Minnesota. When he wanted out of New York, it was because he still wanted to play in Minnesota. Now where could he possibly wind up?
There’s no shortage of teams that would probably love to give Favre a shot, and if he wanted revenge on the Vikings, were they to let him go, he could go to Detroit, Buffalo, Miami, Washington, or maybe even Arizona or Philadelphia if their QB situations end up in flux.
But he won’t, because those propositions are too risky. He wants to go out with a sure thing, and of those teams, only the two who likely won’t be looking for a QB this offseason are in any way “sure”.
There’s no doubt that, given his play this year, Brett Favre deserves another year, but if he waffles at any point this offseason, it’s time to cut and run.
What’s he going to do, rejoin the Packers?
I hinted about Philadelphia’s possible QB turmoil, and it’s a curious situation.
Last offseason, McNabb restructured his contract to give him a nice little pay raise for the 2010 season. A contract that seems justified with his success, tenure, and another Pro Bowl (albeit as an alternate) this year.
But there are rumblings from the team that it’s time to move on without the 34-year-old and that his history of injuries and postseason let downs might make the team ready to move on without him and his contract.
And if the Eagles are willing to part ways with McNabb, the Vikings should scoop him up.
Brad Childress molded McNabb into an NFL quarterback, and there may not be a better fit (other than Favre) to run his offense.
McNabb may not last as long as Brett has, but he still probably has another two to three productive years left in him, which is more than Favre can probably say.
With Chester Taylor in no hurry to sign a new contract with the team (and with a lot of teams, including New England, looking to grab him), the Vikings should be prepared to replace him now.
The forerunner for the job is third-year back Albert Young, who has a running style similar to Taylor’s and compares favorably in terms of measurables.
But Young is inexperienced, and the only players the Vikings have seen him play against have been third string preseason defenses and garbage time plays at the end of games.
The Vikings need to put him through all the preparations this offseason that they would have for any starter and see how he holds up.
If they see any signs of weakness, they might have to draft a back in an early round.
All season long, Adrian Peterson has looked sluggish and sloppy. His ball control is, and really always has been, poor, but there’s more to his numbers dip this season.
Firstly, of course, he needs to work on ball security. It may be his running style to swing his arms wildly at his sides, but it’s not doing him any favors and he knows it.
Unfortunately, once something like that is ingrained into a guy’s mind, it’s hard to break him of the nasty habit. But making Peterson work on carrying the ball tighter to his chest can’t hurt.
Additionally, he put on 10 pounds of muscle last offseason to make himself tougher in short yardage situations.
Take it off.
It didn’t do anything to make him more physical this year, and it noticeably slowed down his ability to cut between the tackles.
Of course with the uncapped season looming, it might be harder than usual to get a big name free agent to switch teams, but the Vikings shouldn’t be throwing money around regardless.
This is not a team that needs another ego filling up the locker room. The Vikings have created a very delicate balance between loud mouthed veterans and quiet rookies that shouldn’t be upset by another star player coming in and wanting to do things his way.
Favre was an interesting case study, but he quickly ingrained himself into the locker room because his philosophy was so similar to most of the guys on the team. You won’t be able to find that most of the time.
I suggested the possibility of McNabb earlier as I think he would blend in similarly to Favre in many ways, but I can’t think of another big name free agent this offseason that would have a net positive effect for this team.
This is an off-take of an idea I put forth earlier in the postseason, but one I’d like to revisit.
There’s no doubt that Antoine Winfield is a talented cornerback, and that his inability to make plays late in the season had more to do with a broken foot than diminishing skills.
But the fact is, at 32, he’s peaked in terms of corner play. He’s not going to get any faster, and pretty soon he’ll become a liability in coverage.
In fact, Winfield’s biggest talents are his ability to read plays as they develop, and his ability to make hits that result in sure tackles, the two biggest things you want to see out of your safeties.
I will give Tyrell Johnson and Maddieu Williams credit: They really came on in the last three games of the season and in the playoffs, but I’d easily take Winfield over either of them.
Pat Williams stated earlier this year that if the Vikings won the Super Bowl, he would retire.
Obviously that didn’t happen. But we know his intention now, and he might follow through with it anyway.
The Vikings need to start planning for his departure immediately. Jimmie Kennedy has played surprisingly well, but he’s just a stop gap, not a long-term solution.
There aren’t many top-tier big tackles in this year’s draft, but the Vikings should take one in the first two rounds and hopefully let them learn behind the Williams Wall for a year so that the line doesn’t miss a beat when Williams does retire.
The fact is that it would take a miracle to have E.J. Henderson back on the field next season. And even if he was, he wouldn’t be ready to play at his level.
So that leaves us in the same situation as this year.
Jasper Brinkley did a good job filling in, all things considered, and Ben Leber was able to make some plays out of the nickel package as well.
Next season, though, I’d like to see Brinkley playing more in coverage situations and freelancing; just let Leber make the play calls and run the mike.
We all know what Leber can do: He’s an average linebacker with a high football IQ who would do a good job at middle linebacker, but I want to see whether Brinkley is good enough to stay on the field when Henderson comes back.
This is probably the biggest and most difficult issue the Vikings will face this offseason.
They’ve got a couple years left on their current lease, but they have said that they’re done with the Dome after that.
But with new Gophers and Twins stadiums up and running, a new Vikings stadium isn’t really on the docket.
Now, personally, I don’t think the Metrodome is that bad of a stadium for football, but it is a bit antiquated. Besides which, the Vikings are currently revenue sharing with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, as part of a bum deal they got roped into when the Dome was built.
Ziggy Wilf is a real estate guy, so you’d think that he, of all people, would be able to put together an attractive financial package for the most popular sports team in Minnesota, but so far the team’s just proposed a few unworkable and unappealing stadium deals and whined a lot.
With a player strike looming, and the team without a home after 2011, the Minnesota legislature and the Wilfs either need to put together an actual plan to build a new stadium or be prepared to explain why Los Angeles got another Minnesota sports team.