Three Purple Paths: Deciding to Implode, Continuing to Reload, or Kicking the Can Down the Road
For Minnesota Vikings fans, one of the greatest areas of intrigue rests in how the team will approach their offseason. Rick Spielman didn’t get the nickname Slick Rick because he was shy about making moves. Right or wrong, he’ll swing for the fences. Sometimes, this approach goes poorly (see Ngakoue, Yannick). Other times, Slick Rick does wonderfully (see Diggs, Stefon). We can be certain that Rick Spielman and his Minnesota Vikings will be doing everything they can to get back into contention. The intrigue really rests in how they’ll pursue this goal.
To be honest, I can’t say with certainty how Spielman will approach this offseason. Heck, I’m sure if Spielman was being honest he’d also say he wasn’t fully certain. In any case, one thing we do know is that the Minnesota Vikings have some fairly defined routes, so we’ve decided to focus this month’s featured article on outlining how Spielman might proceed. The Vikings may decide to implode, continue to reload, or kick the can down the road. Each option offers certain benefits and drawbacks, so let’s consider the Three Purple Paths that are before us.
Deciding to Implode
Implosion is the least likely scenario, so let’s start here. The first move they’d need to make in an intentional implosion is to indeed move on from Kirk Cousins.
We’ve been consistent about our belief that this isn’t going to happen. Mike Zimmer’s recent appearance on Good Morning Football certainly supports our theory. Nevertheless, if the Vikings pursue a full-blown implosion – one aimed at recouping cap space and draft capital – then it means they’ll be selling Cousins to the highest bidder.
The implosion doesn’t end with Cousins. Nay, Kirk is merely the beginning. Gone are defensive stalwarts like Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter. That’s right, a full-blown rebuild may involve moving Hunter. If the team is truly looking to tank, can they afford to re-up a contract on a defensive end who is coming off a season-ending neck injury? Probably not.
In the draft, the Vikings could go in several directions. Perhaps they’d stay put and snag the best player available, or perhaps they’d make a move for one of those young, intriguing QB prospects. Getting someone like Justin Fields or Zach Wilson, in all likelihood, means jumping up in the draft, a move that would cost a considerable amount. Perhaps we’d see the Vikings instead opt to drop down, acquiring more picks as they target someone like Mac Jones.
That being said, the implosion option is one that is extremely unlikely. If it truly was Spielman’s and Zimmer’s plan, we’d likely already be seeing the signs. This Purple Path is almost completely closed.
Continuing to Reload
Coming in at second most likely is the “Continuing to Reload” option.
Last offseason, the Vikings took the middle way between a full rebuild and true contention, instead opting for a reload. Had things gone a little differently with the roster’s overall health, the plan may have even worked. Maybe the Vikings’ leadership will stand back and assess things, opting to continue this pattern by stripping down the offense like they did with the defense.
If this occurs, fans will be saying goodbye to Riley Reiff, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph. All are somewhere between good and great players who cost a lot of money and are over 30. Make no mistake, these are painful moves, ones that often lead to an overall downturn in on-field performance. If the Vikings want to keep themselves afloat as they nevertheless pursue long-term competitive viability, then the reload option may indeed be what the Vikings choose.
The wild card in this scenario would be Cousins. A reload likely means the Vikings just continue with his current contract. He comes into this year with a $31 million cap hit, which would actually be pretty reasonable were it not for the Covid Cap. Next season’s $45 million hit is a problem for future Spielman.
The Vikings would have several holes to fill in free agency and the draft. Targeting a value position like the iOL in FA might allow the team to get their finances in order. Doing so would then allow the team to kick Ezra Cleveland out to LT, his true position. At #14, the Vikings may even surprise us by drafting TE Kyle Pitts, or maybe they replace Thielen with a first round receiver.
The reload option has some benefits and drawbacks, and it’s one that’s worth considering. It’s entirely plausible that Rick Spielman will offer us with a dramatically different Minnesota Vikings offense in 2021.
Kicking the Can Down the Road
This is the option, at least in the opinion of your humble author, that will actually occur.
Step 1 involves extending Cousins (I can already hear the angry typing, but hear me out). This is what Zimmer had to say about Minnesota’s franchise QB: “You know, [Cousins] had a terrific year this year. We were fourth in the league on offense. We have to get better on defense — we had a lot of injuries and young guys — that’s my job to get it fixed.” Does this sound like the kind of comment that comes before a trade? Zimmer is a straight shooter. It’s fairly obvious when he likes and doesn’t like someone. Extending Cousins, or maybe even tacking on some void years, would give Minnesota financial flexibility in a time when there isn’t very much.
The Vikings would continue to kick the can down the road by extending some of their core players. Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, Riley Reiff, and Adam Thielen are all legit candidates. Some cuts will likely still occur. It’s tough to see a scenario where Rudolph returns, and Shamar Stephen will likely be searching for a new team unless he agrees to a new deal.
Nevertheless, the main move you’d see the Vikings make in this Purple Path is to push money into future years as they try to succeed in the present moment. Freeing up cap space would give the team the finances necessary to bring in an impact free agent or two. Cordarrelle Patterson at returner makes a ton of sense, and Shelby Harris at 3T is still my dream FA signing.
In the draft, the Vikings would have a fair amount of flexibility, but they’d likely be inclined to secure the lines. Since they’re bringing back their offense’s skill players and top-tier talent on defense, they can approach draft night in numerous different ways. They could give Hunter some much needed help by choosing Kwity Paye or Gregory Rousseau. Perhaps they opt to secure the o-line by targeting Christian Darrisaw or Alijah Vera-Tucker. Heck, if Penei Sewell mysteriously starts to drop (stranger things have happened), maybe Slick Rick lives up to his name and pulls off a trade.
Say it with me: Minnesota Vikings, Super Bowl LVI champions. All aboard the kick the can train?
Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer have a lot of work to do if they want to get the Minnesota Vikings back into contention. At the very least, they have Three Purple Paths. There are probably more.
As we enjoy what is sure to be a great Super Bowl, Minnesota Vikings fans should be asking themselves: what do Spielman and Zimmer need to do to get our team into the big game next year? Frankly, it’s difficult to say. Most people don’t know the answer. One thing is sure, though: the Vikings have some paths before them, and the decisions they make this February will dramatically impact their ability to play football into next February.