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The Vikings have a deep offseason checklist

ST. PAUL -- Four consecutive losses. Nine losses in the past 12 games. A goal scoring drought that has resulted in only three goals in four games. A 17-15-3 record that puts them two points outside of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. Anyway you look at it, the NHL's four-day Christmas break comes at a good time for the slumping Minnesota Wild. That was obvious after a 2-1 overtime loss to Dallas on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center in which Alexander Radulov somehow got a puck past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk on the short side with 10 seconds left to give the Stars the extra point. https://twitter.com/gilesferrell/status/1076686729753608192 "I just looked up at the 12-second mark and I said, 'OK, who am I going to put out for the shootout,' because I figured (overtime) was done," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Radulov was just trying to get off the ice (before he scored). He couldn't skate another … when he had the 2-on-1 he couldn't skate at all coming in there. I don't know, it's frustrating. We hit the crossbar, they hit the post, we have three 2-on-1s, they have three 2-on-1s. It's exciting for the crowd but we would have liked to have seen it go our way for sure." The overtime was thrilling and filled with opportunities for both teams -- Dubnyk (25 saves) and Dallas goalie Ben Bishop (30 saves) were both spectacular for much of the night -- but this was just the latest disappointment for the Wild. "I don't know what to say," dejected Wild winger Zach Parise said afterward. "It's disappointing to lose that one." Especially after Wild winger Jason Zucker had tied the score at 1-1 with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left in the third period. That made him the first Minnesota player, other than rookie Jordan Greenway, to score for the team in a span that covered 254 minutes, 6 seconds. https://twitter.com/gilesferrell/status/1076684093948084226 "I'm not going to think about hockey for one second for the next four days and I'm pretty excited about that," Zucker said. "I'm sure every guy in this room will say the same thing. I'm going to spend time with my kids and my wife and just do nothing. We're going to eat some good food, we're going to have a few drinks and we're going to relax and I think that's going to be a great way to clear our minds. Just come back and be ready to play hockey at the end of this break." The Wild won't reconvene until Thursday morning when they board a flight for Chicago and then play the Blackhawks that night. It's expected that they will get a history lesson from Boudreau in the hours leading up to that game. Boudreau drew a comparison late Saturday between this Wild team and the 2015-16 Anaheim Ducks club that he coached. The Ducks started that season 1-7-2 and were shut out five times, including a 3-0 loss to the Wild at Xcel Energy Center. There was speculation that Boudreau might be fired before November of that season, but he not only survived, he ended up leading an impressive bounce back by the Ducks. Last in the Pacific Division for a good portion of the season after the rocky start, the Ducks finished 46-25-11 for 103 points and ended up first in the Pacific. "We knew that if we continued to play really good defense that eventually we were going to start scoring and we did," Boudreau said. "I think this is a very similar situation in that if you look at how many goals we're giving up and how many chances we're giving up, and then if that can continue, eventually the shots from (Eric) Staal in the slot and (Mikael) Granlund in the slot and Parise in the slot, they're going to start going in." Those Ducks were 12-15-6 entering their Christmas Break and had dropped two in a row, including a 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers in the last game before the break. But they won seven of their first 10 games when they returned. After a loss to the Kings, the Ducks won six in a row and 18 of their next 20. So what did Boudreau tells his players upon returning? The same thing he will tell the Wild this time. "There was a message after Christmas when we got back," he said. "I used it and I'll use the same analogy here: It's like a game of golf in that we just played the first nine holes and we shot 45, but we've got the talent to shoot 37 on the back nine. That will make a great round and that's what we have to do. It makes your sense of urgency a little bit sooner than you'd like it to be, but you don't wait until Game 41  to say that this is the halfway mark. We'll start right on Game 36, and when we start after Christmas it will be our second half or our back nine. We'll just have to start there. You'd like to be like Tampa, 20 games over .500 right now where you've got that equity if you lose, but we're not going to have that luxury." Is it realistic to think the Wild can go on an incredible run like the Ducks did? It seems like a long shot given what Minnesota has shown so far. It doesn't help that Matt Dumba, the Wild's best offensive defenseman, might be lost for the remainder of the season as he awaits surgery on an upper-body injury. Boudreau, by the way, is unlikely to mention how that 2015-16 season ended for Anaheim. The Ducks rebounded from a 2-0 first-round deficit against Nashville to win three in a row but then lost in seven to the Predators. Boudreau was fired after the season. Right now, Boudreau's only concern is making sure his team gets into the postseason. This stretch hasn't helped matters and the last two losses (at Pittsburgh and against the Stars) have been especially frustrating because the Wild had every chance to win either or both games. "It's frustrating and disappointing," Boudreau said. "I was really disappointed for the players because you could see they stayed on the bench and they hung their heads. They really wanted this one, and I think the reaction when they tied it up was the reaction you'd like to see. I thought for sure this was one of those that you tie it up late and you win it in overtime." For now, Boudreau just wants his players to get away and to get their minds off hockey. "They need a break and I know they'll come back happier," he said. "We have so many (players with) children on our team that this is the time of year for them. I just told one of the players, 'Just enjoy these moments with your family right now,' because they grow up and then you don't have it anymore. So enjoy it and they will. It might take a day or two to get over it, but that's why we've got a three-day, four-day break." Hopefully, the Wild enjoy the break because following it the pressure will be high and there will be little room for error.

On to the offseason we go…

With the Minnesota Vikings’ 24-10 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, they will get an unwanted jumpstart on decisions that will shape the 2019 season and beyond.

Those choices span from the coaching staff to every part of the roster. Here are the 10 boxes they will have to check off over the next few months…

Hire an offensive coordinator 

Dec 16, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski looks on during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

After his first two games, it appeared Kevin Stefanski was in line to have the interim tag lifted and become the full-time offensive coordinator, but Sunday’s 10-point performance may give head coach Mike Zimmer pause about naming the former QBs coach his full-time OC. Stefanski is certainly qualified, having been with the organization for 13 years.

Kirk Cousins praised Stefanski following the final game of the season. But both Stefanski and the Vikings may want to explore options. This year was the final year of his contract, allowing the long-tenured assistant to look elsewhere for OC jobs and the Vikings may be in search of someone with more experience as a play caller.

Decide whether to franchise tag Anthony Barr

Sep 16, 2018; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr (55) warms up before game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still possible that Barr and the Vikings could come to a long-term contract agreement, but it’s possible that ship sailed when the two sides couldn’t get a deal done last offseason. That means the choice will be between letting him hit the free agent market or franchise tagging him. The problem with franchise tagging a linebacker is middle linebackers and pass-rushing outside linebackers are under the same umbrella. So the Eric Kendricks types are mixed in with the Von Miller types. That means it will likely cost the Vikings in the range of $13 million or more to tag Barr.

The former first-round pick is a favorite if Zimmer’s and had a very strong overall season. But with cap constraints, there will have to be a decision on whether his role is that valuable.

Decide whether to re-sign Sheldon Richardson

Nov 25, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs with the ball as Minnesota Vikings’ Sheldon Richardson (93) chases in the first quarter during at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers via USA TODAY NETWORK

The Vikings couldn’t have asked for much more out of Richardson in 2018. Pro Football Focus ranked him in the top 15 in QB pressures this season and he appeared to nicely compliment Linval Joseph on the inside as a run stuffer. He’s exactly the type of three-technique the Vikings always dreamed Sharrif Floyd could be. However, Richardson will be looking for top dollar.

Per OvertheCap, the top five defensive tackles are making $14 million and up. With Richardson keeping his nose clean and producing in Minnesota, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him attract quite a few potential suitors willing to pay up.

Decide whether to extend Trae Waynes

Over the last two years, Waynes has grown from a big question mark to a reliable outside corner. He allowed just two touchdown passes in 2018 and after a tough night in Los Angeles, only had one game in which he allowed more than 40 yards into his coverage.

He is set to play on his fifth-year option next season, which will cost the Vikings $9 million. They could release him for zero dead cap, but that would be surprising considering Mike Hughes will be coming off ACL surgery and Holton Hill will just be in his second year.

They could sign Waynes to an extension that would keep him in Minnesota long term. There are currently 15 corners who make over $10 million per season. It’s likely that would be his target area. Rhodes was signed two offseasons ago and he makes $10.2 million in base salary. It isn’t all superstars making big money as corners like Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan raked in deals worth over $10 million per year on the free agent market.

Extend Adam Thielen

Oct 28, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

After this season there’s no question Thielen is among the elite receivers in the NFL, yet he’s only set to make $3.8 million in base salary next year. He can’t go into next season at that dollar amount with the rest of the NFL’s best receivers pulling in five times that figure. There are 13 receivers making $14 million.

The question is whether he would be willing to hold out to get the Vikings to increase his salary and how much they could afford with so many other cap questions. His partner in crimes against corners Stefon Diggs made $14.4 million this year. That would seem like a reasonable mark for the Vikings’ Pro Bowl receiver.

Decide whether to move forward with Laquon Treadwell

With a healthy scratch in favor of Chad Beebe against the Detroit Lions, it’s easy to wonder whether we will see the 2016 first-round pick back in purple next season. Do the Vikings believe there’s another step to be taken? Or did they give him every opportunity and saw everything there was for him to give? It would cost $2.5 million in dead money to cut him, but his cap hit is going to be $3.1 million, so there would be some small savings. With three seasons under his belt, Treadwell has 55 catches on 84 targets and a 66.8 QB rating when targeted.

It became clear throughout the season as Kirk Cousins targeted Aldrick Robinson more than Treadwell that the Vikings will be in search for more receivers. Last year they brought in Kendall Wright and Tavarres King in the offseason, but neither made the team.

Restructure veteran contracts 

At the top of the restructure list for 2019 is Everson Griffen, who is set to have a cap hit of $11.9 million, but could be released for only $1.2 million in dead cap. Generally that is a formula for a restructure. While he was battling a mental health issue mid-season, it’s hard not notice the drop in production from the last few seasons. Heading into the Week 17 matchup with Chicago, he’d only totaled 25 pressures on the year, down from 66 last season. His rate dropped from one pressure every 8.8 snaps to one every 12.3 snaps. The Vikings likely do not want to move on from their Pro Bowl defensive end, but they also have a chance to create space by restructuring him.

Other cut/restructure possibilities include safety Andrew Sendejo, who may be replaced by Anthony Harris, Kyle Rudolph ($7.6 million cap hit with zero dead money) and Mike Remmers ($1.8 million in dead money to cut).

Address offensive line in free agency and/or draft

This will be at the top of the list for most Vikings fans after a year of watching the offensive line struggle to create explosive runs and protect Kirk Cousins. There are a handful of good guards on the market, including Los Angeles’s Roger Saffold, a top-notch player at his position. Seattle JR Sweezy and Pittsburgh’s Ramon Foster will also be highly sought after.

The Vikings have the 18th pick in the draft. Last year they elected to wait until the second round to draft a lineman and got a 2018 starter in Brian O’Neill. He’s likely set in stone at that position, so the best guard available is the heavy, heavy favorite for the team’s first-round pick in 2019.

Find extra weapons like a No. 3 WR or vertical threat TE 

Working on a limited budget, it could be a challenge to find Cousins more offensive weapons, but it became clear as the season went along that he didn’t have a reliable playmaker through the air beyond Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph. While Aldrick Robinson hit on a few deep balls, that was his only real role. Against Chicago, it was clear how many players the Bears had who could step in and change the game. Cousins’ best season in Washington came when he had two top WRs and plenty of secondary options.

Address backup QB, kicker, No. 2 RB

Trevor Siemian is a free agent. Backup QB is always important, even with Cousins’ good health record. Dan Bailey overall kicked well. He may return in 2019. It’s unlikely we will see Latavius Murray again. Does that mean Mike Boone? Or will they search for a veteran option?





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