"I've been very cautious about playing some of our guys because of injuries," said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer after the preseason final loss to the Chiefs. "If the wrong guys get hurt, we're going to struggle in a lot of ways."
That's all anyone needs to see to understand how thin the Vikings are at numerous positions. It's why all eyes should be on free agency once NFL teams trim rosters to 53 players by Tuesday afternoon, resulting in roughly 800 players entering the open market.
When Zimmer met with reporters after last season, he praised the offense for finishing fourth in total yards but failed to see its flaws.
Instead of going into free agency to add depth, the Vikings opted to go on a $45 million shopping spree to fix the starting defense. Nobody is going to argue that the defense needed an overhaul after finishing 28th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed, but the depth behind starters is very weak.
The result is a house of cards on offense and defense that could tumble with any significant injury. This is a big issue with the normal risk of injury combined with the Vikings reportedly being the least vaccinated team in the league.
If Kirk Cousins is injured the season is over. Jake Browning and Kellen Mond clearly aren't ready to play against NFL defenses. If Jefferson or Thielen goes down it'll put a ton of pressure on K.J. Osborne and Dede Westbrook to fill the void, which they are unlikely to do at a high level.
If Danielle Hunter is injured, good luck with the defense ends behind him. D.J. Wonnum and Everson Griffen are decent, but nowhere near the all-world pass rusher Hunter is. You can put a cork in the season is Eric Kendricks gets hurt because the linebacker depth is frighteningly shallow.
In 2017, the Vikings walked a similar tight-rope with weak overall depth but they stayed healthy enough to rally behind Case Keenum all the way to the conference championship game. But walking the tight-rope again is a dangerous idea.
In training camp alone, the Vikings saw Jefferson sprain his shoulder, Thielen bruise his thigh and Anthony Barr go down with an undisclosed injury. Things got worse when Irv Smith Jr. suffered a meniscus injury in Friday's preseason finale, not to mention first-round pick, left tackle Christian Darrisaw, has been plagued by injuries.
General Manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer are going to have to sift through the masses in free agency for potential upgrades and more reliable depth, but adding new players this close to the season presents new challenges, namely newcomers needing a crash course to ace the playbook.
All of these variables come in a season where Zimmer and Spielman may have their jobs on the line. If they believe they can compete in 2021, they need to find a way to beef up the roster, and this will be the week to find some diamonds in the rough.