The excitement of a 5-0 start this past season for the Minnesota Vikings disappeared as quickly as it emerged, with the team sputtering to an 8-8 finish. Suddenly, questions abound on how the Vikings can shake off the second-half tailspin and contend in 2017. FOX Sports North tackles some of the pressing questions for Minnesota this offseason.
Will Adrian Peterson return?
Let's get this out of the way first: Adrian Peterson is scheduled to make $18 million in 2017, between his salary ($11,750,000), roster bonus ($6,000,000) and workout bonus ($250,000). There is no way Peterson, who will be 32 in March, will play for that salary for any team. The Vikings can cut Peterson and not take any cap hit, and this would be expected to happen before his roster bonus kicks in. The only way Peterson would return to Minnesota is for a lesser salary. The Vikings and Peterson could renegotiate a new deal, but Peterson might just want to test the market, knowing he'll be cut and thus a free agent. The problem for Peterson is just who will want a 32-year-old running back coming off a major injury and who didn't produce in 2016 when he was healthy, when the upcoming draft is incredibly deep in talent at that position? It might behoove both parties to have Peterson sign a one-year deal with Minnesota where he can either cement his legacy and retire as a Viking or try to increase his worth as a free agent in 2018. Peterson has said he'd take a pay cut. The question is, how much?
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What is the quarterback situation?
When will Teddy Bridgewater be able to take the field and will he even be able to play in 2017? Head coach Mike Zimmer has already said Sam Bradford deserves the starting job while Bridgewater rehabs. Bradford is due a $4 million bonus if he is on the roster March 13, which, based on Zimmer's comment, looks like he'll get. But what happens when Teddy is healthy? And what if he gets back in shape sooner than expected? Bradford will earn $13 million in 2017, so it's not like Minnesota would want to keep him around as a backup. Could the Vikings deal Bradford to a team needing a QB? Sure, but don't expect to get what Minnesota gave up to get him (i.e. a first rounder). Would Bridgewater be OK being the backup? And then what happens in 2018? Minnesota needs to navigate this territory wisely in order for long-term team success.
Can Laquon Treadwell become a contributor in 2017?
The first-round pick in the 2016 draft was supposed to be Minnesota's answer to a big-play receiver. Instead, due to injuries and inconsistency Treadwell could barely get on the field, finishing with one catch for 15 yards. He was targeted in only one other game, twice in the loss to Dallas. Undrafted Adam Thielen has passed Treadwell on the depth chart and Thielen and Stefon Diggs are looking like the Nos. 1 and 2 receivers heading into 2017. However, Minnesota will need more help at the position and surely don't want to expend another draft pick on a wideout (especially since its first pick will come in the second round). The Vikings opted not to pick up a fifth-year option on Cordarrelle Patterson, making him a free agent after the season. Patterson then proceeded to possibly price himself out of Minnesota with a career-high 52 catches plus once again leading the NFL in kick return average, the third time he has done that. Charles Johnson (20 catches) is a restricted free agent and Jarius Wright (11 catches) is a likely cap cut. Minnesota needs Treadwell to contribute in 2017. How much they trust him to do so will be determined by what they do in the offseason.
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How will they fix the offensive line?
The offensive line this past season was, to put it bluntly, not very good. Tackle is the biggest issue. T.J. Clemmings allowed 8.5 sacks and committed eight penalties while Jeremiah Sirles, who is an exclusive rights free agent, allowed six sacks and had eight penalties. Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are free agents, but even before getting hurt neither stood out (Kalil 1.5 sacks in 2 games; Smith 2.5 sacks in 4 games). It's probably time to move on from Kalil, a former first-round pick who allowed 31.75 sacks and had 25 penalties in 66 games. Jake Long (2 sacks in 4 games) and Mike Harris (missed 2016 due to illness) are also free agents. The draft class isn't considered that strong this year and Minnesota doesn't have a first-round pick, so getting help from a rookie seems unlikely. Could a young player currently on the roster step up? Willie Beavers struggled to even be on the active roster and appeared in only two games. The Vikings signed two tackles signed to future contracts -- Marquis Lucas and Austin Shepherd -- but they are longshots, at best. Free agency is a possibility to help patch some holes and the Vikings will have some cap room to work with, especially if Adrian Peterson's $18 million comes off the books.
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Will there be any fallout from ignoring the coaching plan against Jordy Nelson?
Head coach Mike Zimmer tried to poo-poo this the best he can. But let's face it, Xavier Rhodes isn't going anywhere. Terence Newman was one of the best corners in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, but he will be 39 in September and is an unrestricted free agent. Plus, Minnesota drafted a cornerback (Mackensie Alexander) in the second round this past year. These things have a way of working themselves out on their own sometimes.