After signing former Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to the first fully guaranteed contract in NFL history, the Minnesota Vikings had Super Bowl expectations in 2018. Instead, they ended up missing the playoffs. However, the 2019 season was a bounce back year for the Vikings. They went 10-6 and made the playoffs as the second wild card team. After an overtime win in New Orleans, the Vikings were destroyed by the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round. Entering the offseason, the Vikings were facing several critical decisions.
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Starting with the latest news, the Vikings traded for former Jacksonville Jaguar defensive end Yannick Ngakoue this morning. In exchange for Ngakoue, the Jaguars will receive a 2021 second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2022. After letting Everson Griffen leave in free agency, the team has found his replacement. Some would even argue that the Vikings upgraded at the position.
Yannick Ngakoue and the Jaguars will have to coordinate today when he is going to sign his tag so he can be traded to the Vikings, and Minnesota is expected to have to create more salary-cap space to fit in his contract. But Ngakoue’s time in Jacksonville is over, as he hoped. pic.twitter.com/roxgDbyLMO
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 30, 2020
Former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was hired as the Cleveland Browns’ new head coach. To replace him, head coach Mike Zimmer promoted Gary Kubiak to offensive coordinator. Zimmer also named his son and former linebackers coach Adam Zimmer as co-defensive coordinator. In addition to several other changes to the coaching staff, the roster faced massive overhaul.
With their cap situation one of the worst in the league, the Vikings had to let several veterans leave in free agency. The team released former defensive stars, Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes. In addition, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, and Griffen were all let go to sign elsewhere this offseason. After reports of trouble in the locker room and with the front office, the Vikings traded star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for multiple draft picks, including a 2020 first-round pick. In a somewhat surprising move, the Vikings created enough cap space by extending Cousins’ contract to place the franchise tag on breakout safety Anthony Harris.
With Zimmer and Kubiak at the helm, the Vikings are expected to be a run-heavy offense once again this season. After reworking and extending Cousins’ contract, he is now tied to the franchise through the 2022 season. Despite talks about a potential hold out amid struggling contract extensions, Dalvin Cook is expected to be in the backfield as the week one starter. After missing half the season due to injury, Adam Thielen is back and hopes to return to his Pro Bowl level of play. With the first-round pick they got from the Bills, the Vikings drafted former LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
After trading away Diggs and not adding a starting caliber veteran wide receiver, the Vikings are expected to rely more on their tight ends this season. Kyle Rudolph and former second-round pick Irv Smith Jr. will need to step up to help Thielen and the passing game. Even with bringing back Riley Reiff, the Vikings spent their second-round pick on Ezra Cleveland. Reiff’s starting spot is at risk, and he could end up being kicked inside to guard at some point.
The defense will look much different this season. With their top three cornerbacks from last season now playing elsewhere, the Vikings will have a very young group this year. Former first-round pick Mike Hughes needs to avoid the injury bug this season. With their second first-round pick this year, the Vikings added former TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney. In addition to Gladney, the Vikings spent a third-round pick on Cameron Dantzler and a fifth-round pick on Harrison Hand in an attempt to build up their depth at cornerback. Thankfully for the Vikings, Harris and All-Pro Harrison Smith return at safety and can cover up for some of the mistakes the young cornerback group will make.
In the front seven, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks make up one of the better linebacker duos in the league. They will need to be at their best this season as the front four will have a few new faces. After letting Joseph go earlier in the offseason, the Vikings signed former Baltimore Ravens’ defensive tackle Michael Pierce. However, he decided to opt out this season because of COVID-19, and the team will need to rely on the trio of Jaleel Johnson, Shamar Stephen, and Jayln Holmes.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
Cousins is the team’s starter for at least the next three seasons, while Mannion returns for his second season as the backup. Rookie seventh-round pick Nate Stanley will likely end up on the practice squad.
There shouldn’t be any surprises here. Cook and Mattison’s roster spots are a lock while Boone played well to close out last season. Abdullah handles kickoff duties, while Ham has been the team’s full back since 2017.
The top three spots are locked in as the starters. The only question that still needs to be answered is how many wide receivers the team keeps. As a fifth-round pick, Osborn will likely make the roster. If the team only keeps five wide receivers, Beebe will have to fend off free agent addition Tajae Sharpe for the final spot. Dillon Mitchell spent last season on the practice squad and likely ends up there again this season.
Rudolph and Smith are locked to make the roster and will have big roles this season. More than likely, Conklin secures the third tight end role again this season. Brandon Dillon made the team last season, but given the depth elsewhere on the roster, he likely gets cut this season.
Last season the team kept 10 offensive linemen, but most teams keep nine. The top eight players on the list are all locks to make the roster. Sixth and seventh-round rookies Blake Brandel and Kyle Hinton will have a hard time making the roster. They will likely end up on the practice squad, assuming they clear waivers.
The top four names on the list are a lock to make the roster with Johnson and Stephen expected to be the starters. Undrafted free agent David Moa could make a push for a final roster spot at the expense of Mata’afa or Watts, but more than likely ends up on the practice squad.
After making the trade for Ngakoue, this group has become one of the better units in the NFC. Odenigbo had seven sacks in his first year in Minnesota despite playing a part-time role. He should have similar results this season playing behind Hunter and Ngakoue. Willekes will have to fend off veterans Anthony Zettel and Eddie Yarbrough for the final roster spot at this position.
With Cameron Smith on the NFI list and not expected to be ready to start the year, this unit is set in stone. Gedeon is currently on the physically unable to perform list and if he starts the season on the list, it opens up the door for one the undrafted free agents, Blake Lynch, Jordan Fehr, or David Reese, to make the final roster.
Much like with linebacker, this unit is pretty set in stone. Hughes, Gladney, and Dantzler will have big shoes to fill. Dantzler has been a training camp standout and could be a future star in the league. Former Texas Longhorn duo Hill and Boyd join Hughes as the only holdovers from last season.
The duo of Harris and Smith is arguable the best in the league. However, Harris is playing under the franchise tag, and there were reports of the Vikings trying to trade him in the offseason. If the season gets off to a rocky start, Harris could be moved at the trade deadline. Undrafted free agent Myles Dorn likely ends up on the practice squad if he can’t beat out Parker for the final spot at the position.
After making 93 percent of his kicks last season, Bailey returns as the kicker. Colquitt averaged 45.2 yards per punt in his first season in Minnesota. Cutting was a seventh-round pick last year and returns as the team’s long snapper.
COVID (1) – Michael Pierce (DL)
The 2020 team will look very different than the 2019 one, especially on defense. With so many changes on both sides of the ball, the Vikings could get off to a slow start. The NFC is much stronger this season, and unless the Green Bay Packers take a big step back from last season, the Vikings have no shot at winning the NFC North. To claim a wild card spot this season will be difficult with several good teams in both the NFC West and NFC South. However, if the team can click early in the season, they have a shot. Despite their best efforts, the Vikings just miss the playoffs but have a bright future ahead of them.
Season Prediction: 9-7 and just miss the playoffs.
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