Matthew Coller is an experienced football writer who covered the Vikings for 1500ESPN and Skor North for four years. He is now writing a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, and you can find more of his work at Purple Insider.
Dear Vikings, I’m writing because this week the 2020 season comes to an end and there’s some things that need to be said. You might say that some closure is needed after a year that jerked fans around like they were whitewater rafting.
I want to start off with some thank yous before we get into the heavy stuff.
First, thank you for playing this year.
It’s easy to forget that there was a time in which we had no idea if the NFL could put its product on the field safely. We had literally nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. There’s only so many Netflix shows we could have streamed during those autumn and winter Sundays. Not to mention that some of us launched websites and podcasts covering the team and really needed a season.
You didn’t have any major outbreaks and no players were caught going to strip clubs without masks and there were hardly any COVID-related absences. Everyone’s health and safety is certainly more important than the overall record so it’s appreciated that you followed protocols.
Thank you for drafting Justin Jefferson. And additional thanks for the Philadelphia Eagles for not drafting Justin Jefferson. As the years go by and the memories fade of games lost in the final moments or unexpected blowouts, the one thing that made this season fascinating from start to finish was the emergence of a new superstar receiver.
It’s remarkable how lucky Vikings fans have been over the years, from Three Deep to Diggs-Thielen and now Jefferson, who has a chance to break Randy Moss’ record for receiving yards by a Vikings rookie this week against Detroit. Coincidental that the only reason to watch this week has probably been the only reason to watch all year.
There’s some Football Gods that are to be thanked for a fully healthy season from running back Dalvin Cook. Sure we can critique the team’s run-pass ratio until we’re blue in the face and holler at the top of our lungs that running on second-and-10 isn’t a particularly efficient play but Cook is going to finish as a top three player at his position this year. Had a few games gone differently, especially on defense, we’re probably looking at his season as one of the best ever by a Vikings running back.
Thanks for the effort from Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks, who did their jobs when pretty much everyone else around them was super young, struggling or injured or all three.
Now that the acknowledgements are out of the way, some grievances and lessons to be learned, Vikings.
First, you gave us another year of frustrating debates about Kirk Cousins. While it was relieving that he won a game on Monday Night Football, we were still left to talk about how much he gets paid, whether he can lead game-winning drives, how much of the 6-9 record is his fault. I’ll admit that you did add a new layer of, “why won’t they let Kirk throw more?” to the mix.
I don’t know if the answer is having him throw all the time but I know the answer isn’t waiting until you’re down in the second half to let him fire away to Jefferson.
Also maybe someday in the near future Vikings fans will be able to go to bed on Saturday night without worrying about left guard play on Sunday afternoon. Since 2014, you have had a different left guard every single year. Find someone to marry instead of just dating in 2021, if you could.
I have to admit, you had some bad breaks. If only Danielle Hunter’s injury had been a “tweak,” you wouldn’t have finished 26th in sacks. If Michael Pierce hadn’t opted out, you wouldn’t have finished 28th in rushing defense. Same goes if Anthony Barr hadn’t gotten hurt in Week 2.
You wouldn’t have struggled this much on defense if fans had filled US Bank Stadium. You probably don’t lose some of those close games either. And nothing but bad luck can be attributed to Dan Bailey suddenly getting the kicking yips in one of the biggest games of the year.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no fingers to be pointed, Vikings. Trading high draft picks for players who are the “final piece” isn’t usually a great plan -- cough, cough Yannick Ngakoue. And maybe you don’t have a magic potion when it comes to drafting and developing defensive lineman, since every player on this year’s D-line was drafted and developed. Maybe Danielle Hunter was just an outlier and next time you should call some cheap veteran free agents. I think you should take away from this year that being good in a lot of places is better than being great in a few places and very poor in others.
You can also realize that 2017 is far in the rearview mirror now. You aren’t chasing the NFC Championship game. Desperate measures and big contracts for anyone who wore purple for four years aren’t needed. It’s time to understand where you are in your winning timeline. Play the long game.
But hey, I don’t have all the answers. You are the ones who have to decide whether it’s time to draft a quarterback in the first round. You have to figure out the salary cap. You have to figure out if the present offensive philosophy can get you beyond contention for the newly invented seventh playoff seed. I can’t tell you any of those things for sure.
I can tell you, however, that the opportunity is there to make noise in 2021 if you play your cards right. The Bears might keep Mitch Trubisky. The NFC could be losing Drew Brees and Tom Brady. The NFC East might actually have to be shut down for being a detriment to society. Detroit is still Detroit until proven otherwise.
And for your fans’ sake, find a way to compete with Green Bay. There’s only so many times the good folks of Minnesota can handle the cackling heard at their expense coming from the East.
Anyway, let’s agree that 2020 was tough on everybody. The fans couldn’t attend games, the reporters couldn’t be in the locker room, the players couldn’t practice normally, the coaches had to teach and gameplan from home and everyone had to endure a tough start and tough end.
But there’s always next year. Bring on the offseason. Bring on 2021.