5 questions for Vikings’ 2020 offseason
For the 59th straight year, the Minnesota Vikings didn’t win a league championship. Although the 2019 season was successful and resulted in 11 wins – including a big victory in the postseason — the search for their first Super Bowl victory continues. With an aging defense and not any wiggle room in the salary cap, how will the Vikings improve their team and get over the hump?
- How can the Vikings free up salary cap space?
It’s the biggest issue surrounding the Vikings this offseason because it’s pretty difficult to improve a team and get over the hump if you don’t have any money to spend. The Vikings are one of three teams to be already over the salary cap heading into next season and, in fact, rank dead last in cap space at -$11 million, according to OverTheCap.com. Yep, that’s negative $11 million. To clear up space, they’ll have to restructure a few contracts or flat out cut a player or two. The leading candidate to be cut is Xavier Rhodes, who at one time was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL but has struggled in back-to-back years. Rhodes has three years left on his contract. Due $12.9 million next year, releasing him before June 1 would save the Vikings $8.1 million. Defensive end Everson Griffen is a free agent after his restructured contract voided the final three years of the deal. The Vikings would save $13.9 million if he’s not brought back. Another defensive player whose play has declined is defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is due $12.8 million next year. Releasing Joseph would save the Vikings over $10 million in cap space. So, the Vikings have options. It’s just a matter of who they are willing to cut ties with and who they can replace.
- Should the Vikings extend the contract of quarterback Kirk Cousins?
Easy answer: Yes. Coming off a season in which he threw for 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions and won a playoff game, Cousins is now entering the last year of the three-year deal he signed before the 2018 campaign. Cousins likely isn’t going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback or break any NFL records, but he’s brought stability to a position that has been the Vikings’ biggest downfall (well, maybe except for kicker) for decades. The Vikings should give him an extension because he’s proved his worth and, honestly, who else would they turn to? Minnesota could also free up cap space by back-loading the new agreement. The question is: how many years should the Vikings give Cousins?
- Can the Vikings’ defense survive without Anthony Harris and Trae Waynes?
Mike Zimmer’s defense put together a nice season, finishing fifth in points allowed per game (18.9). A big reason for that was Harris and Waynes, two players who are now unrestricted free agents. Harris was arguably the Vikings’ most impactful defensive player this year, collecting a league-high six interceptions (seven including his pick in the postseason), the most by a Vikings player since Darren Sharper in 2005. Waynes, on the other hand, was the Vikings’ most consistent corner due to Rhodes’ struggles. The problem is there’s really not any money to go around to sign either to a long-term deal for Harris, which he definitely deserves. And do the Vikings want to commit a large sum to Waynes, a player who’s struggled with injuries across his five-year career?
- What should the Vikings do at left guard?
Another offseason arrives with the same issue: the offensive line. Pat Elflein struggled mightily at left guard. Elflein played center for his first two years with the Vikings but moved to guard when Minnesota drafted center Garrett Bradbury. Is Elflein, who played both positions in college, just not a good fit at guard? Or does he just need a full offseason at the position under Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme? Minnesota needs to answer this question before deciding what to do in the draft.
- Which position should the Vikings target first in the draft?
General manager Rick Spielman has been criticized in the past for continuing to select defensive backs in the first round of the draft: Rhodes (2013), Waynes (2015) and Mike Hughes (2018). But look at the Vikings’ depth at the position this season, and it makes a lot of sense for them to address the position early yet again. Rhodes might be cut and Waynes might not be brought back, meaning the oft-injured Hughes would be the top cornerback. Giving Zimmer another young corner might be exactly what the Vikings need to do. Otherwise, Minnesota should address its offensive line to protect Cousins and that soon-to-be juicy contract.