The sting of the Minnesota Vikings' playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers is still fresh, but with the 2019 season coming to an end, it's time for one of the most exciting times of the year in the NFL offseason. In what is every Madden player's favorite part of franchise mode, the Vikings will try to use this offseason to go from bipolar playoff team to consistent contender.
In order to do that, there might be a lot of change coming in the Vikings starting lineup with the team projected to be $9.6 million over the salary cap in 2020. That means some players are probably going to be asked to restructure their current deals and if they refuse, the Vikings will have to figure out who is going to replace them.
The Vikings offensive line will be a key point of discussion once again this offseason as too many times they were bullied by the likes of Khalil Mack, Z'Darius Smith and the entire 49ers front seven. The biggest decision along the offensive line is whether to keep left tackle Riley Reiff.
As one of the crown jewels of Rick Spielman's panicked free agent frenzy in the spring of 2017, Reiff has been solid, but not spectacular for the Vikings. This past season, Reiff graded out 38th in run blocking and 41st in pass blocking among qualifying offensive tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Reiff also allowed eight quarterback pressures on the season, which ranked 25th among tackles.
Those numbers aren't bad but do not justify the $13 million cap number he has for 2020. The "easy" option here is to ask the 31-year-old to restructure, but if he doesn't like that idea then the Vikings could look to release Reiff. If they designate him as a post-June 1 cut, that would free up $11 million toward the salary cap.
Of course, that leaves the problem of finding a left tackle. There have been whispers about moving Brian O'Neill to the left side, but that takes O'Neill away from a position that he's had success at for the past two seasons. The free-agent market is also another option, but teams usually don't let offensive tackles walk if there's not some sort of baggage that comes with them.
With the added issue of the Vikings not having any money, a plan B would have to come from the draft. This year has some solid prospects as Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Georgia's Andrew Thomas and Alabama's Jedrick Wills all figure to be first-round locks, but the Vikings have several other holes to fill and might not be able to land a blue-chip prospect by the time they are on the clock.
One of the most positive stories of the season was the rebound of Everson Griffen. After his 2018 season went off the rails because of personal issues, Griffen showed the form that made him one of the top pass-rushers in the league, recording eight sacks for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
While it was great to see Griffen back as himself, it may not be so great for the business end of things. The Vikings successfully restructured Griffen's contract last offseason, but it took an 11th-hour deal to do so. The Vikings have a $12.9 million team option to bring him back, and if they don't go in that direction Griffen will become a free agent.
With Griffen still being productive, he may look for a deal similar to the three-year, $40 million pact Brandon Graham got from Philadelphia last offseason or the two-year, $24 million deal Justin Houston received from Indianapolis.
It will be up to the Vikings to decide if keeping the 32-year-old's leadership is worth that type of investment or if they'll turn to one of their promising defensive ends, such as Ifeadi Odenigbo, who notched seven sacks in 2019, to help soften that blow.
Much like the situation with Reiff on the offensive side of the ball, the same situation goes for Linval Joseph. The 31-year-old has been a force since joining the Vikings in 2015, but his play has tailed off to the point where he's more of an average player than the elite run-stuffer he was earlier in his career.
With several nicks also beginning to take a collective toll, the Vikings may turn to Joseph to lower his $12.8 million cap number for 2020 or cut him altogether to save $11.6 million after June 1.
Another player who could be on the chopping block is Shamar Stephen. Despite playing in 15 games, Stephen recorded his lowest tackle count (21) as a starter while notching just one sack. That's not the type of production you want out of a three-year, $12.4 million investment made last spring, meaning cutting their losses and saving $3.7 million may be on the table.
Jaleel Johnson did notch 3.5 sacks on the season and could be a possible replacement at three-tech, but his 3.2 pass-rushing productivity (PRP) rating was 114th in the NFL among defensive tackles, according to PFF. Armon Watts was much better in limited playing time, ranking 51st, but it's fair to question whether he can make the jump to become a full-time starter.
With few free-agent options on the market, the Vikings could take advantage of a draft class that is heavy on cornerbacks and edge rushers, which could push prospects such as South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw or Alabama's Raekwon Davis into Minnesota's lap.
This will be the fun part as the entire cornerback position for the Vikings is in complete disarray. After spending years stockpiling corners, the Vikings somehow don't have many options in terms of functional ones and will likely go into the offseason trying to find even more corners.
The good news is that this offseason crop is a dream for Mike Zimmer, who craves length and speed from his outside defenders. The best place to address this need will be the draft, where 14 corners appeared on Jordan Reid's big board at The Draft Network.
With Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander set to become free agents and a potential Xavier Rhodes cut creating $10.5 million in cap space after June 1, the Vikings could enter 2020 with Mike Hughes as the only corner with major experience on the roster. In a draft class loaded with prototypical corners for this defense, Zimmer might walk away from the NFL Draft like a shopper who couldn't turn down a ton of great deals at Costco.
To wrap things up, the Vikings may have another hole in their secondary with the pending departure of Anthony Harris. The 28-year-old has been a PFF superstar since taking over the starting role midway through the 2018 season, ranking fifth in 2018 and fourth in 2019 in overall grade among safeties.
With six interceptions, he works as a fine complement to Harrison Smith, but the Vikings will have to find the money to keep him in Minnesota. With Rob Brzezinski figuring to have a busy offseason, one of the top priorities will be trying to find a way to retain the Virginia product's services.
If not, the Vikings will have to turn to the draft once again, which has some encouraging prospects such as Alabama's Xavier McKinney, Cal's Ashtyn Davis, and perhaps Minnesota's Antoine Winfield Jr.