There has been a lot of talk about boats in Minnesota over the past year and while the Gophers football team have rowing theirs back to prominence, Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman seem to be trying to keep theirs afloat with the belief that their championship window is still open.
It was just 22 months ago when everything looked surprisingly optimistic for the Vikings. They had a defense that was beginning to enter its prime and with a shiny, new $84 million quarterback, there was a feeling that the Vikings would be NFC contenders for the foreseeable future and possibly have a shot of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since 1976.
Unfortunately, the closest Viking fans have gotten to that magical game is a former Twins relievers' offspring starting for the Kansas City Chiefs. The past two seasons have come short of expectations, but the Vikings still believe that they can wave their magic wand and fix everything for one last stand in 2020.
"I'll never let go. I promise," says Rose to Jack in the final scene of Titanic, which, to me, feels about as promising as Minnesota's championship hopes at this point.
Why so negative?
Let's start with the current state of the roster. Last offseason, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski got a standing ovation from the fan base for magically finding a way to extend Adam Thielen, re-sign Anthony Barr and make a couple of free-agent acquisitions while staying under the salary cap.
While this looked great from a 2019 standpoint, the end result was more like taking out college loans for beer, rent money and lukewarm McDonald's breakfast for hangovers. Those bills come rolling in at some point and for the Vikings, that's this spring when they are projected to be $9 million over the salary cap, according to Over The Cap.
This is not a good development considering there are several veterans making tons of money that may not be deserving of that kind of compensation. To name a few:
- Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes (LOL WUT?)
- Left tackle Riley Reiff
- Defensive tackle Linval Joseph
- Defensive end Everson Griffen
All of those guys will surely be restructure candidates (or straight up cut) and cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, and safety Anthony Harris, could all be gone next season as free agents because the Vikings currently don't have the money to keep them.
If the Vikings are forced to release or let all of their free agents walk, that would create seven open spots in the starting lineup with very little salary cap space and draft capital to fill those holes.
Despite the potential of having gigantic holes throughout the roster, Zimmer still seems to believe this is a team that can "get over the hump." He believes that he's finally found the offense that he's wanted to run all this time and with Thursday's promotion of Gary Kubiak to offensive coordinator, he can ride Cook and his defense the same way the 49ers rode their running game and defense to the Super Bowl.
While Zimmer's theory of letting Cook and impressive rookie Alexander Mattison do all the heavy lifting on offense makes sense, the problem is that it is the only part of this roster that's actually built to pull off such a scheme.
The offensive line looked like the last five kids from the end of a playground football draft found the ooze from Ninja Turtles and grew up to be NFL football players. Although Brian O'Neill and Josh Kline are alright, Garrett Bradbury already posted two 0.0 pass-blocking games (per Pro Football Focus) and Reiff looks like the offensive lineman version of Smokin' Jay Cutler, making a ton of money to just be OK.
Then there's Pat Elflein, who opted to sign pancake boxes during training camp as if he was about to put a whole bunch of dudes on their backs. This is great fun, but also great when you consider a friend of mine that teaches middle school English uses this photo to help teach the meaning of irony.
If you're keeping track at home that's now nine spots in the starting lineup that might need attention by the time free agency starts. Of course, the Vikings won't have the money to do that because they've invested just over $58 million of this year's salary cap between Cousins, Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who they don't even want to use unless they fall behind 20-0 to a 3-8 team at home (Hi, Denver).
This is all BEFORE Cousins gets a contract extension on the basis of "Well, we could do worse," instead of diving into a deep quarterback crop that could prevent us from ever muttering the name of Spurgeon Wynn or Sean Mannion as Viking starters again.
With Kubiak running his offense for a second straight year, there's a good chance that the tension that Thielen and Diggs felt after a Week 4 loss in Chicago could turn into a full-blown nuclear meltdown, making Zimmer's 1996-based dream offense become a complete nightmare that moves the ball three yards at a time.
If this is the case, I'm sure the Vikings could lure Leroy Hoard out of retirement to really get Zimmer aroused.
There's also the matter that his former offensive coordinator went to Cleveland and pulled the "FOLLOW ME TO FREEDOM" card with George Edwards and Jerry Gray, who were key parts of the Viking defense behind the scenes.
Now, if you're still keeping score, there are some massive holes on both sides of the ball, an offense that fails to properly utilize its talents and a coaching staff that's abandoning ship faster than the passengers on the Titanic. Sounds like a championship formula to me!
But the harsh reality is that the Vikings are going to do everything in their power to try to go 10-6 again and run into several teams that are better than them including the 49ers, Bears and...(gulp)...the Green Bay Packers.
With everything going on, this team's ceiling is now getting blown out in a NFC divisional game which makes me ask what the hell are we doing here?
We're not going to convince Zimmer and Spielman to start tanking for Trevor Lawrence in 2021 and we can't even trade up to get Tua Tagovailoa in this year's draft because we'd be basically drafting him to get pounded into the turf. But, with no eye clearly looking toward the future, the last piece of hope for a Vikings championship window seems to be sinking.