With the 2018 NFL season officially over, the league now shifts to reshaping rosters.If the Minnesota Vikings expect to be the team to unseat the Patriots in Super Bowl LIV, these are key steps they will have to take. Here is my plan as to how to achieve that end.
1. Get Back to the Original Blueprint
The Vikings have spent the better part of the past seven years building up the core of their roster through the draft, with a few notable players coming outside of that window and method. With most of these core players now on their second contracts, the team will need to revert back to this strategy to replace the players they cannot afford to renew.
The Vikings have essentially reached a limit for being able to re-sign players to large contract extensions. If they’re going to remain a competitive team, they will need to acquire talent for cheap. There’s no better place to find that than how they did before they started spending big money: the NFL Draft.
2. Address Contracts, Good and Bad
Aside from letting a few top free agents walk, one of the team’s priorities is to make some cuts to the roster to free up some cap space to be able to make a few low-cost additions to the roster. Mike Remmers and Andrew Sendejo would be locks to be cut as they have viable replacements already on the roster. Kyle Rudolph would be another candidate to weigh cutting if I couldn’t get him to agree to a restructure.
The only big money move I’d look to make this spring is to re-do Adam Thielen’s contract, to pay him in line with what other top receivers are making. With the level of production he’s had over the past two seasons since he signed his first extension after 2016, he’s grossly underpaid. This is a contract dispute just waiting to happen. Addressing the contract now eliminates even whispers of a potential holdout.
3. Trading Players
This has to happen. The Vikings have a surplus of assets on the roster, particularly on the defensive line and at cornerback. Rather than wait until they become unaffordable and lose them for nothing, they need to utilize the value these guys carry and trade them for either players that they need elsewhere on the roster or for draft picks, or both. Doing so will also open up additional cap space in the short term.
A few candidates I’d have in mind:
CB Xavier Rhodes – when healthy, he’s arguably one of the top five cornerbacks in the NFL and would likely fetch the greatest return of any of the trade candidates on my list. The fact that the Vikings run five deep at corner is reason enough to weigh in favor of a trade. Moving him would provide some cap space, more than enough to retain both Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander if they desired to.
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DE Everson Griffen – With the emergence of Stephen Weatherly during his 5-week absence, Griffen has been floated as possible cap casualty in some news circles. That would be wreckless as he still has a number of years left in the tank. His price tag is a little high, but I’d still see what I could get in a trade for him. There are more than a few pass-rush needy teams out there with cap space who’d be interested in taking him on, even if the price tag may be a little high.
CB Trae Waynes or MacKenzie Alexander – both are in the last year of their contracts. With Rhodes already on a big contract extension, both aren’t likely to be staying beyond 2019 if the Vikings aren’t willing to deal Rhodes. Maybe one (Alexander would be cheaper), but not both. With Mike Hughes and Holton Hill on rookie deals for at least three more years, why not see what I can get in a trade rather than simply let them walk for nothing.
4. Lay Low During Free Agency
This was what we saw in the early years of Mike Zimmer’s tenure. This is now the approach they need to re-adopt. With limited cap space, even after making some roster cuts, they need to limit their spending.
That means I’m letting both Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson walk. I look for some low-cost depth players to fill those positions until draft day. My biggest signing will be one of the second-tier offensive linemen that’s projected to be available (Matt Paradis is one of the names being pitched). Doing this provides more draft flexibility as defensive line and linebacker will also be high priorities on draft day.
5. Cover the Top 3 Needs within the first Three Rounds
By draft day, the top three needs should be offensive line, linebacker and defensive line (in that order). The only position outside of those three I’d consider adding a talent early is tight end, so long as it does not compromise the ability to fix those issues.
If there is a log jam of top offensive linemen, I’d look to trade down a few spots. That way, I could pick up some extra picks since I know I can still get someone I covet later. It doesn’t mean I’m taking one in the first round, but I can now afford to add a luxury selection in one of the earlier rounds. Swinging the right trade can make this happen.
The primary mission for the 2019 offseason has to be about protecting their investment in quarterback Kirk Cousins. After searching nearly a decade for a long-term fix at the game’s most important position, they spent big on him last offseason to be that guy. If he’s going to keep his end of the deal, the team needs to ensure he has every chance to do so.