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Remember when there were rumors that Joe Burrow might pull an Eli Manning and refuse to play for Cincinnati? Remember when the Philadelphia Eagles were in such disarray that they were considered a tanking team heading into this year? How about when the Los Angeles Chargers were stuck in mediocrity in the waning days of Phillip Rivers’ tenure? How about when the Buffalo Bills were lost in the woods of Orchard Park following the Rex Ryan/Tyrod Taylor era?

Things change quickly in the NFL. The aforementioned teams will all be competing for a Super Bowl come playoff time.

As the Minnesota Vikings head into the final week of the season with plenty of uncertainty in the future, Vikings fans might want to cling onto the teams that have been able to change their fortunes within a year or two of being down in the dumps.

While the Vikings have had some success with Zimmer/Spielman/Cousins at the helm, a second straight 7-9 season without the playoffs ensures that the franchise won’t be over .500 again until at least next September. The last time they had any kind of winning record was at the end of the 2019 season. That’s far too long to continue down the same path and claim that it’s working.

With changes, it might feel like a breath of fresh air to some and scary to others. One thing this group has assured is that they won’t be absolutely terrible year in and year out. Average? Yes. Enough to have a lot of excuses for why it wasn’t enough to make the final playoff seed. Not bad enough to be a laughing stock. Only bad enough to not have a soul west of the Dakotas or east of Saint Paul think twice about the Vikings when the words “Super Bowl” come up. Not so bad that ESPN analysts are making fun of them every day like the Jets or Jaguars.

There are reboot horror stories, indeed. There are franchises who get stuck in ruts of failing GMs, coaches and quarterbacks. Tanking year after year is the most miserable experience in sports for fans. It feels like everything is hopeless and you’re done with the NFL season before snowfall. So it’s understandable to talk yourself into being a right guard away.

Three points off of that: 1) Is that all that different than pretending you’re in the race when you have a 7% chance of making the final playoff spot? 2) The Jags and Jets aren’t the norm 3) the Vikings aren’t in a similar spot to the Jags and Jets.

The Vikings have a supporting cast on offense that is set up to bounce back quickly to the playoffs. If the Vikings were to move on from the current middling triumvirate and bring in a new quarterback with a GM who understood how to build an offensive line and coach who actually liked his new QB, that new QB would inherit one of the five best receivers in the NFL along with Adam Thielen, Irv Smith Jr. and two young offensive tackles.

Over the last four years, the top-notch receivers and successful running game have combined to help Cousins produce career-high numbers. The problem is that Cousins hasn’t been able to overcome poor offensive line play like, say, Joe Burrow, whose offensive line ranks 26th in pass blocking by Pro Football Focus metrics (the Vikings are 28th). Cincinnati was, however, able to set up Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon.

The Vikings also haven’t been able to pour real money into things. The Bengals signed Trey Hendrickson while the Vikings signed Stephen Weatherly. The Bengals signed No. 3 ranked cornerback Chidobe Awuzie while the Vikings signed trainwreck Bashaud Breeland.

Oh, and the Bengals are projected to have $58 million in cap space entering the offseason. The Vikings are at minus-$7 million, per OverTheCap.

But it is true that Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton guaranteed the Bengals to be in the hunt in early December.

Even if you find the Bengals example to be apples/oranges because they tanked and picked No. 1, you can do the same exercise with the Patriots, who drafted Mac Jones. They were down on their luck following a miserable 2020 season but built a top-10 offensive line in pass blocking and added weapons like Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor in free agency to support their rookie QB.

How about Buffalo, a persistently .500 team for three years with Rex and Tyrod until they hired Sean McDermott, drafted Josh Allen and traded for Stefon Diggs? They were locked into being fairly competitive but were never going to be a real contender until they found a better/cheaper QB.

The playoff-bound Eagles have the third ranked pass blocking O-line in front of second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. They were expected to be a bottom feeder this year but instead they’ll be looked at as an up-and-coming team with three first-round picks next year.

Again, the path of making changes doesn’t always work. Teams like Washington, Jacksonville and Carolina are in no-man’s land. Nobody would argue that the Vikings can do spectacularly stupid things like hiring Urban Meyer or trading for Sam Darnold or being owned by Dan Snyder if they want to get back to the postseason.

But even competent teams that have made poor draft picks at QB do not have to stay down for long. The Arizona Cardinals botched the Josh Rosen pick and then went right back to the well the next year.

Oh and you are sure to hear about how the next draft class isn’t that impressive. Draft experts said the same thing about the 2017 class that had Mahomes and Watson. I seem to recall Justin Herbert having a lot of questions coming out. Same with Mac Jones.

There’s also a recent trend in the past few years of proven quarterbacks being available through free agency or trade i.e. Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford. It seems likely that Jimmy Garoppolo, Russell Wilson, DeShaun Watson and Jameis Winston will have new homes next year.

The options seem endless.

It’s always possible that going a different direction doesn’t work. But there are surely a lot of examples recently where it has worked. The risk of things going wrong is easily worth the reward of breaking the 7-9 cycle.

If nothing else, it’ll be more interesting than another December collapse. 


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