The Minnesota Vikings had to have considered their 2019 season a success on the offensive side of the ball as they brought out the efficiency in Kirk Cousins and revitalized their running game. While the offense took a major step in the right direction, not everyone was a big fan of the change with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen taking a step back.
Thielen's dip was a result of a hamstring injury that knocked him out for six games (and a majority of a seventh game in Kansas City), while Diggs' voiced frustration with the direction of the offense on multiple occasions, including a Week 4 outburst that led to questions about his future with the team.
With $27 million tied up in their star receivers, it might be a good idea to use them more in 2020, but they'll also need help from a unit that was so thin, they rolled with just four receivers for the majority of the season. So what will the Vikings do to give this group a jump this offseason?
2019 in review
Although Diggs' outburst was the center of attention, the star receiver owned a career-high in yardage (1,130) despite seeing 55 fewer targets than in 2018. Also encouraging was that Diggs played in all 15 meaningful games for the Vikings and would have played in all 16 for the first time in his career had the Week 17 matchup with the Chicago Bears not been meaningless.
With Diggs still managing to record six touchdowns in 2019, it's fair to wonder what he's looking for in terms of his involvement in the offense and whether the Vikings can make that happen after announcing they'll stick with the same offensive scheme next year.
While Diggs carried the load for the passing offense, Thielen was an important part for the offense when he was on the field. Although it was a much smaller sample than in past years, Thielen ranked 3rd in QB rating (131.9) among qualifiers when targeted in 2019 and still managed to find the end zone six times.
Even with Thielen turning 30 during next season's training camp, the hamstring injury was likely a fluke and the former Pro Bowler has some good years left in him as evidenced in a big performance (seven catches, 129 yards) in the wild-card win over the New Orleans Saints.
The issue for the Vikings will be what's behind Diggs and Thielen. Bisi Johnson was solid but not spectacular as the de facto third receiver with 31 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns. Behind him, there wasn't much as Laquon Treadwell made a minimal impact after being cut during training camp and brought back later in the season, and Josh Doctson never got off the mat after landing on IR shortly after he was signed.
The salary cap situation
As mentioned before, the Vikings will have $27 million in cap space tied to Diggs ($14.5 million) and Thielen ($12.5 million) next season. As part of clearing salary, a potential remedy would be to trade Diggs, which would clear up $11.5 million in cap space if he's dealt after June 1, but the Vikings wouldn't be wise to do that with Johnson the only other receiver locked in for 2020 ($603K).
Potential free-agent targets
While the Vikings are in need of depth at receiver, they're unlikely to bring in a major star via free agency because they have too many other holes to fill. That would rule out paying up for Amari Cooper (assuming Dallas lets him hit the market) and potentially A.J. Green and even Emmanuel Sanders.
An interesting name to keep an eye on would be former nemesis Randall Cobb, who hasn't done anything special with the Cowboys (55 catches, 828 yards, 3 TD), but still could be a weapon in the slot when the Vikings do want to open things up. As someone with experience, he could be a solid Plan B if Diggs or Thielen go down again.
Potential draft targets
With limited cap space, the draft may be where the Vikings decide to bolster their receiver room. In fact, this draft class is so loaded, it may have persuaded the Vikings to wait until the seventh round to take a receiver last year in order to fully dive into the talent that awaits in this year's draft.
Taking one of the top names in the draft is unlikely considering it would signal a major change in philosophy and rip open the scars of drafting Treadwell over Michael Thomas. With the success the Vikings have had in finding late-round receivers, they could opt to do the same this year even after 8-10 receivers could be selected in the first two rounds of the draft.
A dynamic option could be Penn State's K.J. Hamler, who would probably go in rounds 2 or 3, but would add an electric chess piece that could generate more big plays in the passing game with yards after catch and provide a boost to the Vikings' kick return game which hasn't seen a touchdown since 2016.
A similar target could be Nebraska's J.D. Spielman, who Vikings general manager Rick Spielman happens to know very well. Although not as polished as Hamler, Spielman can add the same playmaking ability at a later round in the draft.
Sticking with a hometown theme, the Vikings could decide to keep Tyler Johnson home as the former Gopher is considered a top-100 prospect. Although he projects the same as Diggs and Thielen, his arrival could move Thielen to a slot role and prepare him to become the heir apparent as Thielen moves into his 30s.
Despite all the attention his antics caused during the 2019 season, it would be shocking if the Vikings decided to trade Diggs considering the lack of depth at the position. Then again, nobody expected Odell Beckham Jr. to be traded to Cleveland this time last year, so stranger things have happened.
What the Vikings will likely do is dive into a deep draft class and it might not be surprising if they use an earlier-than-predicted pick to get Cousins another weapon. Although Minnesota isn't going to suddenly turn to an "Air Raid" offense, adding depth should be a top priority for the team this offseason.