Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Offseason Review

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys opened the 2021 season this past Thursday night, the dust has officially settled on what was another exciting NFL offseason. Tomorrow afternoon the Minnesota Vikings are slated to face-off against the Cincinnati Bengals and that makes it the perfect time to take one final step back and examine the Vikings' transformation from last season as an entirety. 

Over the course of the 2020 campaign the Minnesota Vikings did not achieve their goal of playoff contention finishing with a record of 7-9, but the roster displayed both character and growth throughout a trying season. It was a year unlike any other in NFL history as a pandemic swept across the globe and Minneapolis acted as the epicenter of a cultural awakening against long standing social injustices and inequalities. However, amidst a turbulent season of upheaval the Vikings young talent attempted to step up and step forward.

On a positive note, rookie of the year candidate WR Justin Jefferson emerged as an elite receiving threat alongside veteran Adam Thielen while RB Dalvin Cook solidified himself as one of the league's premier running backs leaving room for optimism. Unfortunately however, that is where the positives of last season abruptly end. Very quickly this year’s squad is facing considerably mounting pressure to not only improve on the disappointing result of 2020 but the last three seasons as an entirety; where the Vikings have totaled 25 wins over 48 games, registered a measly 3 victories over opposing clubs that finished their season with a positive record, and secured only a single playoff victory. Since 2015 under the direction of primarily Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer the Vikings have maintained their streak of biennial playoff appearances and have become widely perceived as both a formidable group with potential, and in the same breath an underperforming team with perpetual questions at the quarterback position.

In what feels like a pivotal season for the franchise the front office has seemingly responded by going all in on Zimmer’s brand of football this summer. The Vikings have placed a huge emphasis on rebuilding the defensive unit that ranked 29th overall last year by pouring over $40-plus million dollars into that side of the ball; it is oddly reminiscent of an expedited version of Zimmer’s first year at the helm when he arrived in 2014. While focusing on defense again and again may appear as a definition of insanity, it is not exactly doing the same thing repeatedly when the overall landscape of the NFC is in constant flux and drastically changes every year. The Vikings would hardly at all be the first or last team to rely on defense to remain consistently relevant for playoff contention only to strike when they get favourable bounces and injury luck. The blueprint for Minnesota’s success this season, at least in layman's terms, remains based around a stout defensive unit, a strong running game with Dalvin Cook, and a complimentary passing attack orchestrated through effective play action. 

Free Agency: 
As free agency approached, Minnesota's list of needs was initially quite extensive, and the salary cap situation was not something to be desired following the cap reduction put in place by the league this year. In-house salary cap wizard Rob Brzezinski however has worked what can only be considered as magic for Zimmer so he can take at least one more serious swing at the plate this year with a roster that truly will have his stamp on it. Handicapped by QB Kirk Cousins’ now infamous contract, the front office and coaching staff quickly went to work retooling the roster for the 2021 campaign. 

The Vikings bid farewell to a mix of key contributors including long-term star TE KyleRudolph (NYG $12M/2YR), LT Riley Reiff (CIN $7.5M/1YR), K Dan Bailey and S Anthony Harris (PHI $4M/1YR). Several depth contributors also parted ways with the organization, most importantly of which would arguably be spot starter LB Eric Wilson (PHI 2.75M/1YR). 

Zimmer and Spielman quickly acted to make a splash much to the surprise of many, securing the services of potential future Hall of Famer CB Patrick Peterson to a one-year deal worth $10 million. This move quickly added stability and veteran leadership to a secondary that desperately needed it. A bit long in the tooth at 30 years of age, last year Peterson produced his worst coverage grade since 2011 with a passer rating allowed of 100.8 according to PFF and had a league-high 11 penalties to his name but a change in scenery along with a more supportive scheme has done more for lesser men. The secondary was also bolstered by the return of nickel specialist CB Mackensie Alexander ($1M/1YR) after a short stint in Cincinnati last season, S Xavier Woods ($2.25M/1YR) from Dallas to fill the void beside S Harrison Smith, and CB Bashaud Breeland ($4M/1YR) to provide flexibility and depth.

DTs Dalvin Tomlinson ($22M/2YR) and Sheldon Richardson ($3.6M/1YR) were the Vikings other big signings who will be joining last year's free agent prize DT Michael Pierce in the center of Coach Zimmer's revamped defense. As this was a major area of concern for a team lacking both premier talent and quality depth last season, it was the right move. The strength and pride of the 2021 draft class was not at all recognized as the interior defensive line. The Vikings added important depth with less noticeable signings such as LB Nick Vigil ($2.3M/1YR), DE Stephen Weatherly ($2.5M/1YR), LT Rashod Hill ($1M/1YR), and WR Dede Westbrook ($1.1M/1YR). Most recently DE Everson Griffen was welcomed home after a one-year absence from the team as he toured the NFL with the Cowboys and Lions; he should provide a spark of passion for a defense that lacked an identity at times last season and an excellent rotational piece to alleviate pressure opposite of DE Danielle Hunter

Other important and noteworthy pieces that took place this offseason included: 

  • DE Danielle Hunter came to terms with the organization to receive an expedited signing bonus and he reported to minicamp despite the widespread rumours a potential trade was looming; 
  • The Vikings traded former first round pick Mike Hughes to Kansas City for a late round draft pick; 
  • 2020 first round draft pick Jeff Gladney was cut in response to his ongoing legal situation; 
  • IOL Mason Cole was acquired in a trade from the Arizona Cardinals for a late round draft pick; 
  • The Vikings and Anthony Barr also reached an agreement to restructure his contract to alleviate cap space but making 2021 potentially the last dance for Barr with the team;
  • TE Irv Smith has been confirmed to likely miss the season after undergoing surgery to repair his meniscus
  • The Vikings acquired TE Chris Herndon is a trade with the New York Jets for a mid-round draft pick 
  • RT Brian O'Neill and S Harrison Smith both signed multiyear extensions this summer.


Free Agency Grade (B): The Vikings did their best to recover from losing several important players this summer and made miraculous work on a tight budget. Their additions look to be key contributors and they added notable depth, especially to both their defensive front seven as well as their secondary. Both of which were glaring weaknesses last season. If any criticisms are to be placed, it will mostly be towards the lack of emphasis placed on WR and interior IOL.

The opening round of this year's Draft had Vikings faithful at the edge of their seats. Would a top QB fall into their laps? Would the offensive line finally be addressed? Would Zimmer draft another first round corner? Or would Spielman hit the phone lines and make a big trade? All of which were valid questions.

After trading back from the 14th overall pick, sending it to the New York Jets along with the 143rd pick they received the 23rd, 66th and 86th picks. This move dramatically helped Minnesota restock their top 100 allotments after the failed Yannick Ngakoue experiment last season left them without a second-round pick this year. As the board fell into place, and despite reports of QB Justin Fields potentially being targeted by Minnesota, the Vikings selected Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw at pick 23. Darrisaw was widely considered a top prospect possessing a fluid combination of size and athleticism; this pick provided the franchise with its blindside protector of the future opposite of OT Brian O'Neill and at an excellent value. 

During their next bout of picks in the third-round the Vikings selected a project signal caller in Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond with the 66th overall pick. Mond will potentially translate well to the NFL in time with many transferable skills but maybe was a luxury the team cannot afford this year. It is not a bad pick at all as it provides the team with a physically gifted, young and malleable QB that has several years of starting experience with a reputable college program under famous NCAA Coach Jimbo Fisher. Mond’s familiarity working under center and with play action should allow him to at least successfully transition to a backup role in time. Along with QB Kellen Mond the Vikings selected LB Chazz Surratt out of North Carolina with the 78th pick. Surratt will immediately compete for time as a rookie. Much like fellow LB Anthony Barr, Surratt is a converted offensive player who very well may have his best football ahead of him. Surratt is considered to be highly intelligent and a reasonably gifted athlete as a prospect. He has a knack for making plays as a blitzer (12.5 sacks in 24 career games) and possesses reasonable skills in coverage. On the downside, Surratt is already 24 years old and is a tad undersized for the position. 

Before the third-round concluded the Vikings also selected Ohio State G Wyatt Davis and Pittsburgh DE Patrick Jones. The former being regarded as a strong and mobile interior linemen who likely fell because of medical concerns and the latter as a development project that fits the mold Zimmer and Defensive Line Coach, Andre Patterson, love so much. The final rounds of this year's draft saw Spielman and the Vikings select a bevy of potential depth pieces, practice squad players, and camp bodies as every team does. A few notable names included Iowa WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the 5th-round and Pittsburgh DT Jaylen Twyman

Draft Grade (C+): Speilman made his hallmark trade and the Vikings acquired a lot of picks by virtue of trading down. Most importantly the offensive line was acknowledged with the additions of Darrisaw and Davis. Although, the WR position was left relatively unaddressed until the later round, causing concern due to the lack of depth behind the starting duo of Jefferson and Thielen. QB Kellen Mond provides depth behind QB Kirk Cousins and potential flexibility in the future but has a steep learning curve to embrace.

Overall Offseason Grade (B-): It is fairly easy to like a lot of what the Vikings accomplished this offseason, and the team appears poised to make a low-key push for the playoffs if things play out accordingly. The defensive line and secondary should be much improved from last season and more in line with what fans expect from a Zimmer defense. The offensive line unit will need to demonstrate that it has improved from last season quickly and alternative weapons will need to emerge beside the trifecta of RB Dalvin Cook and WRs Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen for the offense to remain consistently productive. It will also be interesting to see if the reins being handed down from Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak to his son Klint Kubiak will have a noticeable effect this year on play calling, scheme or live adjustments. The Vikings are all in on this year that is almost undeniable, and they have made a reasonably good attempt to field a competitive roster. Unfortunately, a few major “what-ifs?” or potential oversights, especially along the offensive line have expectations slightly lowered. 

What do you think about the offseason in Minnesota? What are your expectations for the season? 

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