Considering the retooling the Vikings have done of their defense in recent weeks, it’s clear that general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer know just how important the 2021 season will be to deciding their futures. Both will be in the first season of three-year contracts that run through 2023, but missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year might make it very tempting for owners Zygi and Mark Wilf to make changes.
The revenue wasn’t exactly flowing for NFL teams in 2020 because of the pandemic — at least not by NFL standards — but that will change in 2023 when the league’s new 11-year, $110 billion television deal will go into effect. That will result in every team getting about $321 million per season, meaning dismissing highly paid executives and coaches won’t be all that difficult.
While Spielman and Zimmer have worked to retool their 7-9 team, the duo has to be concerned about the fact the left side of their offensive line is without a starting-caliber player. Dakota Dozier, who started all 16 games at left guard last season, should return to a backup role or be off the roster by the time the regular season begins, if common sense prevails. Left tackle Riley Reiff was jettisoned to create salary cap space to sign players on defense and has yet to be replaced, unless the Vikings are planning to move right tackle Brian O’Neill to the left side and create another opening.
The free agent market has been picked over and the Vikings are gambling if they think they will get a top-level left tackle with the 14th pick in the first round of the April 29th draft. There is one way to remove the gambling portion of the equation. The Atlanta Falcons are “open to moving” out of the No. 4 pick, according to ESPN. It’s assumed the top three picks will be quarterbacks with Trevor Lawrence going to Jacksonville, Zach Wilson heading to the Jets and the San Francisco 49ers taking Mac Jones or Trey Lance after moving up from the 12th pick.
Several mock drafts have the Bengals taking Oregon’s Penei Sewell with the fifth pick, but what if the Vikings jumped the Bengals and took the top offensive lineman in the draft? Sewell played college football at the University of Oregon, opting out of the 2020 season because of concerns about the pandemic.
Sewell, who will turn 21 on Oct. 9, appears to be the type of player you plug in at left tackle and leave in place for 10 years. I know what you’re saying: What about Matt Kalil? The Vikings took Kalil with the fourth pick in the 2012 draft and the left tackle made it to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Things fell apart after that and Kalil departed Minnesota after the 2016 season best known for missing blocks and owning pizza joints.
Kalil’s failure is a reminder that the NFL draft can be a crapshoot and nothing is guaranteed. But that doesn’t mean you stop trying and the 6-foot-5, 331-pound Sewell projects as a guy who would provide quarterback Kirk Cousins with much-needed protection on his blindside. Considering Cousins’ issues with sensing blindside pressure and the fact he will have the third-highest salary cap ($31 million) of any NFL quarterback next season, keeping him upright seems like it should be a priority.
The issue, of course, is what it would take to move from 14 to four. The 49ers sent the 12th pick in the first round this year, a first- and third-round pick in 2022 and a first-round pick in 2023 to Miami for the third pick. If the Vikings made a similar trade with the Falcons, the thinking might be that they would be wise to grab the top available quarterback. The issue is that would be planning for the future, and Spielman and Zimmer have no guarantees they will be part of that future.
So would this tempt them to make a move to go all in for the present? The possibility can’t be dismissed.