How far are the Vikings from being Super Bowl contenders?

Could the Minnesota Vikings get back into contention in 2021?

The NFL season is officially over after a guy named Tom Brady just won his seventh Super Bowl as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And for the 44th consecutive year, the Minnesota Vikings did not play in the big game.

Once again, Vikings fans are wondering when they will finally get to see their favorite team win it all. It could still be a long time until Minnesota plays in a Super Bowl, but it could very well within a couple of years or so as well.

The Vikings are coming off a disappointing 7-9 season in 2020. When teams in the NFL are returning from a bad year, most do not expect that team to contend for a Super Bowl, and some do not even expect them to make it to the playoffs.

Will the Minnesota Vikings be Super Bowl contenders next year?

It is not completely crazy to think the Vikings could compete for a championship next season. But how?

Well, Minnesota’s defense is expected to be much better in 2021 with the return of Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce to the defensive line. Young corners Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler are coming off good rookie seasons and they should continue to improve.

Four of the Vikings’ losses in 2020 were also by just six points or less, so things could have turned out much differently for them.

Minnesota could also have another solid draft. Ever since Rick Spielman became the Vikings general manager in 2012, he has drafted well for the most part. Minnesota’s 2020 draft class was excellent, and if the 2021 class produces similar results next season, it could really help the team’s chances.

The NFL is also a very unpredictable league as teams are always capable of ascending or descending very quickly.

The Vikings’ defense had a terrible year in 2020 (27th in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed), and the unit might not be a top-10 group next season, but it could be among the top 15, which should be good enough if the offense performs at a similar level to how they did in 2020 (fourth in yards gained and 11th in points scored).

Minnesota could still use another pass rusher opposite Hunter, a defensive tackle next to Pierce, and a safety next to Harrison Smith with Anthony Harris coming off a bit of a tough year and the fact that he’s expected to leave in free agency this offseason.

The Vikings might decide to use this year’s first-round draft selection on a defensive lineman. Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore, Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye, or Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau could all be options for Minnesota with the No.14 pick.

The Vikings drafting a guard with their top selection doesn’t seem too likely, but they could possibly move down and then take one. Minnesota can also draft a safety in the later rounds if they do not sign one this offseason.

The Vikings’ offensive line, once again, is a huge question mark. Since 2014, the unit has been among the worst in the league, with the exception of 2017.

Minnesota’s guards really struggled during the 2020 season. Rookie Ezra Cleveland actually looked good when he lined up at right guard. But Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia struggled mightily throughout the campaign. If the Vikings just had average guard play in 2020, it would have made a huge difference.

Minnesota signing Joe Thuney or Brandon Scherff this year probably isn’t realistic given the team’s expected salary cap situation. But there should still be some other solid guards available in free agency this offseason and the Vikings could also draft one or two.

Justin Jefferson had a great rookie season in 2020. Not having a full offseason with the team did not stop Jefferson from playing extremely well, which made his performance that much more impressive. Barring injuries, he should be among the best wide receivers in the NFL for quite some time.

Minnesota’s offense is in much better shape than the defense currently, but addressing the offensive line should once again be the team’s primary focus this offseason. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has done a great job staying healthy despite all the pressure he’s faced. But how many more hits can he take?

Minnesota is loaded with talent and some of their top players still haven’t even reached their prime yet. But in order for the Vikings to compete for a championship next season, they need to fix the offensive line and add more pieces to the defense.

This is a very critical offseason for Minnesota. If the Vikings cannot make a deep run in 2021, one has to wonder if Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer will be shown the door.