Sunday Reflections: Did The Minnesota Vikings Give Up on Christmas Day?

Understandably, much of the focus over these past couple days has rested on the Minnesota Vikings’ performance on Christmas Day. Mike Zimmer very rightly noted afterwards that a defense has to try pretty hard to give up 52 points. That admission prompts an important question: did the Vikings give up on Friday? If so, the Wilfs will need to do some serious reflecting during the offseason.

The Minnesota Vikings’ Dreadful Christmas Day

I’ve never seen the Vikings give up so many points. Most Vikings fans will say the same. Perhaps the biggest issue with their performance rested in the bare-bone basics of playing defense: hitting gaps and finishing tackles. Apparently, former Vikings LB Ben Leber even questioned the defense’s effort, prompting Anthony Harris to reply:

It was so ugly that some have speculated that Zimmer was actually trying to get fired. Frankly, the idea that Zim was trying to get fired makes no sense. Zimmer is a pretty direct guy, one who still has a ton of pride. If he wanted out, Zim would simply step down. Nevertheless, the question at least speaks to the ugliness of the performance.

A far more sensible question rests in whether the Vikings’ defense has given up on their coach. Much was made of Tyler Dunne’s articles about Zimmer since they depict a coach who is bitter and petty. If that is indeed the case (I’m skeptical), then maybe Zim has finally lost the locker room.

Go back and re-watch the Saints game. Even better, just go back and watch all six of Kamara’s touchdowns. The Vikings simply couldn’t tackle.

They looked sluggish and uninspired even though everyone knew what was coming: more runs. Some NFL coaches will talk about how there is an invisible string connecting a player’s brain and feet. If a player has to think a lot, their feet will slow down. Against the Saints, things were pretty simple, so there was really no reason to play slow. Even I knew that the Saints were going to pick on the linebackers as they featured Alvin Kamara, and yet the Vikings simply had no answer. Their season is now over. Keep in mind that the Cardinals lost yesterday, so our season would have been very much alive if we had won.

In one sense, the Week 17 game means very little apart from the draft position. In another sense, though, the game is very important. We’ll be able to gauge whether Zimmer is able to get this team to play. If the Vikings get torched by the Detroit Lions, then the Wilfs will really need to evaluate whether Zimmer has lost his team.

For what it’s worth, the guess here is that Zimmer will remain Minnesota’s head coach. The roster is built in Mike Zimmer’s image, and their recent 15-person draft class merely solidifies this important reality. Zimmer’s seat is certainly getting hot, but he will have the chance to get the Vikings back on track in 2021.

The Cut Candidates

Some Vikings are going to be cut. The Covid Cap necessitates it. Here are Minnesota’s top-three cut candidates (courtesy of Over the Cap):

  • Kyle Rudolph – Cap Savings: $5.1 million; Dead Money: $4.35 million
  • Riley Reiff – Cap Savings: $11.75 million; Dead Money: $2.2 million
  • Shamar Stephen – Cap Savings: $3.75 million; Dead Money: $1.334 million

By no means is this an exhaustive list. There are plenty of players who Minnesota should consider parting ways with. In an ideal world, Minnesota could work toward facilitating some trades, but teams across the NFL are going to lack financial flexibility, making movement difficult. The Reiff deal was actually pretty good in the end. He provided several years of solid play at LT. Stephen was an overpay, but he has still been solid. The Rudolph deal is the worst on Minnesota’s roster.

One dark-horse candidate to be cut on defense: Harrison Smith. Minnesota would save more than $10 million. One dark-horse candidate to be cut on offense: Adam Thielen. Cutting him would save more than $8 million; inexplicably, Thielen has been overlooked in several recent games.

Players To Build Around

Doom and gloom currently reigns in the hearts and minds of Minnesota Vikings fans because of the Christmas Day performance. It’s an understandable position given all the years of heartbreak.

Fans who are looking to take a glass-half-full approach should focus on the youth. On offense, Dalvin Cook (25), Justin Jefferson (21), and Irv Smith Jr. (22) are just entering their primes. It’s hard to believe these players are still so young. It’s a dream scenario for any offensive coordinator, especially one who knows how to maximize a several elite players. It remains to be seen if Gary Kubiak is still that kind of coach.

On defense, Jeff Gladney (24), Cameron Dantzler (22), and D.J. Wonnum (23) all showed signs of growth. Danielle Hunter is only 26. The defense isn’t quite as flashy as the offense, but there is still a pretty impressive collection of young talent. Don’t forget that there are several older players who are still in their prime, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith foremost among them.

The roster needs to be improved, but we aren’t the Jets. It’s not at all difficult to envision a scenario where the Minnesota Vikings are a juggernaut in 2021. The key really rests in whether Mike Zimmer is capable of leading this team.