Imagine if you will, a world in which we could choose our own offseason for the Minnesota Vikings. If we could look at the different cuts, signings and trades potentially available and play them out. Would you do the same thing the Vikings did this year? Would you change everything? Let’s have a look at four potential alternative offseasons and what they tell us about the way the Vikings handled their roster….
Who they would lose: Do not re-sign Anthony Barr, cut Everson Griffen, cut Mike Remmers, trade Kyle Rudolph and Trae Waynes
Who they would gain: Sign Mitch Morse, Jared Cook, Golden Tate, Mark Ingram and Kevin Johnson
Who they would draft: Marquise Brown, Irv Smith and Justin Layne
The last time Kirk Cousins had an all-star supporting cast was 2016, in which he rated as Pro Football Focus’s eighth best QB, posted the seventh best QB rating and scored the sixth best on ESPN’s 1-100 QBR scale. Creating a boat load of cap space to add proven weapons on offense would give the Vikings terrific depth at receiver and running back. He could target any receiving option in any situation without fear of a significant drop off from Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Specifically speaking, Ingram could play off Dalvin Cook the same way he acted as a tandem RB in New Orleans with Alvin Kamara. At receiver, Golden Tate offers the run-after-catch ability to give Cousins free yards on quick throws and the potential for home runs at any time. The young players Brown and Smith would have a shot at making a big impact right away but wouldn’t have the pressure of huge snap counts in Year 1. At center, Morse is a high-quality, proven top 10 player at his position who would allow Elflein to bump over to left guard.
Welcome to starting roles Stephen Weatherly, Eric Wilson and Mike Hughes. While all three have shown promise, there is a significant difference between fill-in duty and being asked to start 16 games. The Vikings certainly would still have star power in Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith but if either player got hurt, the defense wouldn’t be able to sustain the consistent top-10 performances of the past. One other potential issue is that Cook and Tate aren’t young and Morse has battled injuries in the past. Signing declining players, even if they were good recently, is risky.
This offseason alternative would give the Vikings a shot at having one of the best offenses in the league but it would put a ton of pressure on the defense to stay healthy. It could end up in Cousins having to win shootouts with teams like the Falcons, Packers, Chiefs etc. in 2019.
Who they would lose: Cut Everson Griffen, trade Kyle Rudolph, cut Mike Remmers
Who they would gain: Re-sign Anthony Barr, sign JaWuan James, Randall Cobb, Jesse James
Who they would draft: Noah Fant, AJ Brown, Connor McGovern
Signing the top right tackle on the market would have kicked Brian O’Neill over to left tackle and bumped Reiff inside to guard. It would be fair to wonder if Reiff would have similar issues to Remmers in 2018 but the team’s pass blocking would improve. After a year filled with pressures and strip sacks, less rush off the edge could be a big boost to Cousins’ game. Adding Cobb would have given the Vikings an experienced No. 3 receiver. Fant and Brown could slide into the lineup as role players, once again giving Cousins a few more talented options and McGovern would have a shot to compete at guard. James is a slightly poorer man’s version of Rudolph at a lower cost.
On the defensive side, the lineup would be largely the same and younger potential edge rushers would get their chance to shine or Barr could be used as a DE in certain situations.
If the Reiff experiment went belly up, the NFC North’s defensive tackles Akiem Hicks, Snacks Harrison and Kenny Clark would all end up in the Pro Bowl. The right guard position would have to be filled by a third-round pick or a bargain-basement option (as left guard was last year with Tom Compton). Cousins doesn’t often roll out or run, so pressure up the middle is problematic.
Overpaying a decent tackle might have been robbing Peter to pay Paul considering that it would have left the O-line still with major concerns. However, the weapons around Cousins would have been significantly improved, especially if Fant could become a solid No. 2 TE option.
Who they would lose: Cut Everson Griffen, trade Kyle Rudolph, cut Mike Remmers
Who they would gain: Re-sign Anthony Barr, sign Ndamukong Suh, sign Eric Weddle, sign Josh Kline
Who they would draft: Montez Sweat, trade up for Erik McCoy, Jaylon Ferguson
The Vikings defense cracked the top five last year despite losing Hughes for the season and Griffen, Rhodes, Joseph and Barr for portions of the year. Putting Suh alongside Linval Joseph inside and adding two young edge rushers with high potential would give the Vikings a dangerous D-line. We could also find out what Smith would be like with another one of the league’s smartest and most impressive safeties playing across from him.
Considering some analysts had McCoy above Garrett Bradbury, the Vikings’ O-line might not look much different in this case but cutting Rudolph and not drafting Smith would have left the Vikings to rely on David Morgan and Tyler Conklin to step up to the challenge and drafting defense in the third round wouldn’t give them a backup running back for Cook. It would leave Cousins with almost no options if Diggs, Thielen or Cook got hurt.
This option would have given the Vikings a great shot at returning to No. 1 in the NFL but it also would have come along with enormous pressure for Cook to become the next Le’Veon Bell or Saquon Barkley and catch a bunch of passes or hope that players like Conklin and Chad Beebe become solid starters.
Who they would lose: Cut Mike Remmers
Who they would gain: Anthony Barr, re-structure Everson Griffen, sign Kyle Rudolph to long-term deal, sign Spencer Long, Josh Kline
Who they would draft: Trade up to draft Dwayne Haskins, Irv Smith, Trey Pipkins
There’s no more important position in sports than quarterback and the Vikings would have had the position locked up for years to come. If they did not want to sign Cousins to a long-term extension, Haskins would be waiting to take over in 2021. If Cousins went 13-3 and they Vikings inked him to a deal, trading Haskins could have brought back serious return.
Signing a filler center rather than one with Pro Bowl potential could lead to a 2018-like performance from the line and create another year of “What if Cousins had an O-line?” conversation. It wouldn’t allow the Vikings to get a clear picture of what they have in their $84 million QB. Also with the defense stacked but aging, it might make more sense to go all-in on the next two years than make a move for the future and sacrifice the potential immediate benefit of Bradbury.
Teams always hope first-round picks jump right into the mix and succeed but sometimes taking a risk like Kansas City did in trading up for Pat Mahomes works out. But not all mid-first-round picks end up being franchise players. After paying up for Cousins, failing to put enough around him would be highly questionable.
— The Vikings had a crazy number of potential options to improve the offense more this offseason. If things don’t pan out on offense, there will be all sorts of second guessing about whether they did enough for Cousins.
— They must feel Everson Griffen is set for a Pro Bowl season because the Vikings could have created a ton of flexibility by releasing him.
— There were free agents like Jesse James and Kevin Johnson who might have been able to bring the similar amounts of talent to positions where current players on the Vikings are highly paid. Minnesota has favored “the devil you know” in recent years, which isn’t all that similar to a team like New England whose loyalty only exists for Tom Brady.
— As much as the interior of the O-line is improved, the outside will still be worth watching closely.
— If this were Madden and we could do the offseason over and over again until the right one came up, would it have been the version the Vikings ended up with for 2019?
TELL US ON TWITTER @SKORNorth WHICH OFFSEASON ROUTE YOU WOULD HAVE TAKEN….