In many ways, the emphasis for the Minnesota Vikings ought to shift from this season to next season. Indeed, Minnesota’s success for the 2020 season may involve gearing up for next year.
For a fan base continually setting their sights on next season, it’ll likely be frustrating to start thinking about 2021. Nevertheless, the play through three weeks indicates that 2020 is teetering on being a lost season. If they can’t get into the bye at 3-3, the Vikings will have a very difficult time getting into the playoffs. If they head into the bye at 2-4 or worse, success for the Minnesota Vikings likely rests in being competitive in 2021.
The Season So Far
We at TVG were like many Minnesota Vikings fans. We had high, albeit qualified hopes heading into the season. A full-blown rebuild was possible, but there was an expectation that the Cousins-Zimmer-Spielman Leadership Trinity would shepherd us into a reload. True, there would be bumps in the road, but our team would come out on the other end stronger. So far, our hopes/expectations remain unfulfilled.
As such, we are fast approaching the reality that we may need to begin adjusting our definition of success in Minnesota. It may be time to look toward the future.
Just look at the defense. Their top five corners – Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, and Kris Boyd – are all between twenty-two and twenty-four years old. Danielle Hunter and Yannick Ngakoue are both twenty-five years old. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are twenty-eight; Eric Wilson is twenty-six. Next season, Minnesota’s weakest link on defense – nose tackle – will be addressed (presumably) by Michael Pierce, an elite run defender who is twenty-seven.
The offense doesn’t boast the same depth of talent. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of exciting players who have several years in front of them. Brian O’Neill (who is already a really good o-lineman) is twenty-five. Garrett Bradbury (who is taking steps toward becoming a really good o-lineman) is also twenty-five. Couple these linemen with a trio of skill players who have the capacity to be elite – Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Irv Smith Jr. – and the Vikings have key components of a successful offense.
What is needed, of course, is some improvements to the coaching and roster to help eliminate the glaring weaknesses. Does this mean the Vikings need to fire their coaches and bring in lots of new players? By no means. It means that there needs to be significant improvement; it remains to be seen whether this will come from within or from outside of the organization.
Part of Minnesota’s success, then, involves diagnosing and beginning to fix their issues in the 2020 season. Gary Kubiak has been bad so far. Finding a solution to consistently underwhelming play calling will be a big step. Getting some growth from their interior o-line will be important, and so too will further opportunity for Cousins to prove he can actually be a franchise QB. We also need to see some growth from the depth d-linemen as well as the young corners. Plenty to work on.
The 2021 Season
The San Francisco 49ers were among the best teams in the NFL last season. It’s easy to forget that their 2018 season finished with a 4-12 record. Things change fast in the NFL, and a large part of these changes often involve obtaining elite talent. The 49ers already had a strong roster; adding Nick Bosa at #2 overall went a long way in putting them over the top.
What would happen to the Vikings if they continued their abysmal play? Well, they’d head into the offseason with the unique opportunity to add elite talent on a cost-controlled contract. How much better would their offense be with Penei Sewell, a “generational tackle prospect?” Perhaps the Vikings could make their receivers untouchable by partnering Ja’Marr Chase with his old friend Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Of course, there will be several elite pass rush options available in top 10, and word on the street is there are a few good QB prospects.
If we continue heading down our current path, a 5-11 season seems like a distinct possibility. They’re far too talented to finish last, but it’s entirely plausible that they’ll end up in the bottom ten teams. Vikings fans will inevitably be disappointed with this result, but there is still reason for hope.
In other words, Vikings fans shouldn’t be too quick to blow up the Minnesota roster. The likeliest scenario is that the Wilfs will stay true to their offseason plan. Their extensions for Cousins, Zimmer, and Spielman all indicated that the Vikings had a three-year window to legitimately compete for a Super Bowl. Unless something dramatic happens, 2020 will not bring the Lombardi Trophy to Minnesota. Instead, the Vikings ought to be gearing up for competing in 2021.
The Vikings’ roster is built in Mike Zimmer’s image. The corners are to his specifications, the d-linemen are picked according to Andre Patterson’s preferences, and the Cousins-led offense is all about actualizing Zimmer’s conservative, ball-control vision. They spent fifteen draft picks on players who fit the coaching staff’s vision.
The Wilfs have proven to be patient, wise owners. It’ll take a complete disaster to throw them off of their offseason plan. The 2020 season may not be what we were hoping for, but Minnesota’s success may need to shift toward building for the future.
Of course, the Vikings have three big games coming up. Perhaps they’ll show some fight against the Texans. If they can then pull off a miracle against Seattle, then who knows how things will turn out.