Following their disappointing loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 17 that eliminated them from the playoffs, what is next for the Minnesota Vikings?
After going 13-3 and advancing to the NFC Championship in thrilling fashion last season, expectations were very high for the Minnesota Vikings entering 2018.
During the offseason, quarterback Kirk Cousins was signed by the Vikings to a three-year, fully-guaranteed $84 million contract and free-agent defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was added to an already loaded defense. Most of Minnesota’s key players were also returning for 2018.
The Vikings’ schedule from the beginning already looked tougher, but they still looked like an 11 or 12-win team barring many injuries.
Right before the start of training camp, however, Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano unexpectedly passed away. Minnesota starting left guard Nick Easton was later lost for the season with a neck injury and that proved to be a big loss.
Losing offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur also proved to be big for the Vikings in 2018. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo did not do a good job in place of Shurmur and he was fired after Week 14.
Cousins had a very good season in 2018 from a statistical standpoint. But he also struggled at times in key moments and games. Cousins does deserve some blame for Minnesota’s struggles this year, but certainly not most of it.
Throwing for 4,298 yards, 30 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions with one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines in front of him is definitely not easy.
The question now is where do the Vikings go from here?
Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman will both be brought back to help right the ship next season. But one has to wonder if 2019 could be a make or break year for each of them.
If the Vikings do not win at least one playoff game next season, it would not be a complete shock if both were sent packing.
According to Over The Cap, the Vikings are expected to have around $11.35 million in salary cap space this offseason. Minnesota would create over $10 million more in cap space by letting go of right guard Mike Remmers and safety Andrew Sendejo this year.
To generate even more room in the salary cap, the Vikings could also restructure some contracts, such as Everson Griffen’s (due $10.9 million in 2019), Kyle Rudolph’s ($7.275 million) and Riley Reiff’s ($9.4 million).
This offseason, there is a good chance that Minnesota will target an offensive guard in free agency. Among those expected to be available this year are Mike Iupati, Andy Levitre, Rodger Saffold, James Carpenter, and Ramon Foster.
If the Vikings do not land a guard in free agency, they could re-sign Easton for cheap. Minnesota could also draft one early, whether they sign a guard or not. They just need to upgrade at both guard spots badly.
Oklahoma offensive lineman Cody Ford could be the pick for the Vikings at No. 18 in the first round of this year’s draft. Ford played a tackle in college, but he projects to be a guard in the NFL.
Anthony Barr and Richardson are both free-agents this year. Keeping both will likely be very tough for Minnesota.
Barr will likely cost more to retain, so he could be tougher to keep. The Vikings could end up losing both though, which would be unfortunate for their defense.
Richardson and fellow Minnesota defensive tackle Linval Joseph formed a very nice duo in 2018 and although Barr did struggle earlier this year, he picked it up afterwards and he has been among the team’s core pieces on defense since entering the league in 2014.
Who the new offensive coordinator will be for the Vikings in 2019 is also something the team must figure out soon.
2018 interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will reportedly interview for the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching job as his current contract with Minnesota is up. If Stefanski stays put, it could be huge for the Vikings’ offense.
Not only did Minnesota’s offense do better with him calling the plays this season, but keeping him around for continuity reasons doesn’t seem like a bad idea either.
Hue Jackson’s name has been brought up as a possibility to be the Vikings’ new offensive coordinator, which is no surprise considering he and Zimmer both worked together while with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Minnesota’s 2018 season proved how much can change in a year and how many things need to click at once to be very good in this league.
Once again the Vikings have a very critical offseason lying in front of them. It will be very interesting to say the least.