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The Melancholy Of Mediocrity – Why This NFL Team Is In Desperate Need Of A Makeover.

The Minnesota Vikings are division champions, coming off a season where they went 13-4 and were one of the NFL’s best in the regular season. Unfortunately, if they want to end their mediocrity pattern, they must look at a soft-rebuild.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should look to North America before expanding in Europe

The NFL is cut-throat. 

Mediocrity is a cardinal sin in professional sports, and the NFL is no exception. It creates the purgatory that fans lament, with the team being good enough to contend for the playoffs but never really having the opportunity to get to the biggest stage. It can bludgeon teams into repeated mistakes and has the ability to blind general managers, often causing them to over-invest and prioritize short-term success over long-term sustainable growth.

The parity within the league is high. There seem to be a plethora of competitive teams, that are building on the momentum and all trending toward the chance of winning a Super Bowl. The unpredictable nature of the NFL remains extremely exciting. 

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Unfortunately, for both fans and the league’s profitability, not every team can trend that way. Some pay a king’s ransom to capitalize on their championship window and make it. For example, the Rams are in a difficult roster situation but were able to take home a Lombardi Trophy as consolation. Some have made trades that simply did not work out (see Broncos).

Whatever it may be, there certainly is a threshold that must be identified before it’s too late. 

Why Must The Vikings Rebuild?

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This one may seem peculiar. 

The Vikings went 13-4 in the 2022 NFL Season, finally stopping the three-year streak of the Green Bay Packers. The new Kings Of The North won the division in an emphatic fashion, having four more victories than the second-placed Detroit Lions. 

Minnesota had a vastly successful season on the surface, with a plethora of wins and the emergence of superstar players on the roster. Justin Jefferson led the league in receptions with 128, and that led to an NFL-pacing 1,809 yards. For his dominance, the pass-catching savant won Offensive Player Of The Year, in just his third year as a pro. 

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The Vikings also bore witness to a breakout offensive tackle, sophomore Christian Darrisaw. The 6’5”, 315-pound behemoth was dominant, earning a stellar 90.3 overall blocking grade from PFF, as well as allowing just 20 pressures in his 853 offensive snaps. 

Minnesota’s defense also had significant contributors. They had a pair of top NFL edge rushers reach double-digit sacks, with Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith giving opposing offensive tackles no place at all to hide. The two combined for an absolutely terrorizing 148 total quarterback pressures and allowed the Vikings to consistently disrupt quarterback timing. 

Fortunately, the Vikings do not need to elicit a complete overhaul of the roster. The reason for their rebuild is the supporting cast and role players. As some of their secondary contributors age and their variability of win success regresses to the mean, the Vikings will likely see a disappointing 2023 NFL Season. Instead, they can choose to make significant changes in the short term that will enable them to inject youth into the roster construction. 

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Their 2022 NFL season may have been a facade. The Vikings did finish the season 13-4 but somehow finished their campaign with a -3 point differential. This does not bode well, as their 11-0 record in one-possession games does not exactly inspire the confidence of sustainable success.

Sure, it was not all fortune. There was a lot of grit in this team, that consistently executed well down the stretch. It is just not indicative of a dominant contender that can hang their hat on a repeat performance next season.

Ageing Contributors That Won’t Have Much Longer In The NFL. 

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The Vikings have multiple key positional pieces entering the twilight of their career. 

Minnesota’s offense does have some talented young stars. Jefferson, Darrisaw and Hockenson are all 25 years or younger. They form the core that the Vikings can build their attack around. 

In juxtaposition, they have key contributors that are in the twilight of their careers. Their secondary receiver, Adam Thielen, had a down year, averaging his lowest yards per reception of his career, at just 10.2 per grab. At 32 years old, he earned just a 65.6 PFF receiving grade, the second lowest of his career. He could be a trade candidate to a receiver-needy contender, although his departure will result in more than $13 million in dead cap.

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Secondly, Kirk Cousins has been the personification of solid. He has become the benchmark of successful, yet unspectacular, quarterback play. The 2022 season saw Cousins pass for 4,547 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He had a sound PFF overall grade of 77.4, which was good, but not great. Releasing Cousins in an effort to re-boot would result in an enormous $48 million dead cap hit. That’s obviously off the table for 2023.

However, after next season, that lowers to just $12.5 million in dead cap. This number would allow the Vikings to pursue their quarterback of the future, whether that be in the draft or on the trade market. While Cousins has been an extremely solid quarterback, who has made two consecutive Pro Bowls and three 4,000-yard passing seasons, he is not the signal caller to push them into the Super Bowl conversation.

Defensively, the situation becomes even direr.

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Three of the Vikings’ primary contributors are over 30 years of age. Linebacker Eric Kendricks, once an elite second-level defender in the NFL, has shown signs of slowing down. Renowned for his flexibility as a coverage linebacker, the soon to be 31 year old had an abominable 46.4 coverage grade by PFF in 2022. He allowed a terrible 61 receptions on 79 targets, for a total of 600 yards. He is a cut candidate this offseason, with less than $2 million in dead cap if released.

Alternatively, 34-year-old Harrison Smith had a really solid season. The veteran had five interceptions, ten passes defended, and a forced fumble. His leadership and seasoned presence are tempting to hold on to, as is his solid coverage, run support, and his precarious eight-figure dead cap charge.

Contrastingly, Za’Darius Smith is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The edge rusher had a phenomenal year, with ten sacks, 78 quarterback pressures, and 15 tackles for loss. While he is a significant contributor and likely still has multiple seasons of productive play, the Vikings could get a Day 2 selection likely for him, with minimal cap space ramifications. The return they could get from shopping for him may be considerable.

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Thus, the Vikings can capitalize on shopping these pieces now. Their contributions will enable the possibility of some shrewd moves to build a younger roster with a much higher ceiling.

Mock Trades – Minnesota Shops Their Stars

Trade One

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Vikings Receive: 2023 second-round selection (44th overall)

Falcons Receive: Za’Darius Smith, 2024 sixth-round selection

The Falcons have a terrible pass rush.

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Instead of relying on hitting in the draft at no. 8 overall, Atlanta ensures that they get a consistent contributor. The Falcons managed just 21.0 sacks in 2022, which was the second-worst mark in the NFL. The season prior, they had just 18.0 sacks. That tally was emphatically the least in the NFL, with 11 sacks fewer than the 31st-ranked team. Wow.

This allows the Vikings to have a chance to replace Smith in a deep edge class, with prospects like B.J. Ojulari, Felix Anudike-Uzomah, and Keion White potentially available with the 44th selection. This seems like a win-win for both sides here.

Trade Two

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Vikings Receive: 2023 Fifth Round Selection (163rd overall)

Cowboys Receive: Adam Thielen

You might wonder why the Minnesota Vikings would do this trade.

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In essence, this can help to kick the re-tool into gear. This trade can serve as the catalyst for the NFC North Champions to draft premium pass catchers in the early rounds. While round two can be utilized to sure up the trenches on defense, the Vikings first-rounder can snatch up one of the draft’s top five wide receivers. They can pair them with Justin Jefferson to provide an opportunity for production alongside the attention the superstar receives. The fifth-round selection enables them to build some depth in the secondary, with multiple safety and cornerback prospects offering promise in the back end of the 2023 NFL Draft.

For the Cowboys, they will likely miss out on one of those aforementioned pass catchers, with the Vikings, Texans, Packers, Ravens, Vikings, and Giants all likely to explore the possibility of drafting wide receiver. This can pre-emptively secure them a reliable albeit unspectacular option, to ensure that Ceedee Lamb has some support on the outside. Then, if they still want more weaponry, they can pursue supporting slot receivers in the later rounds of the draft.

The Bottom Line: Where The Vikings Stand In The NFL

When you have a -3 point differential in a season despite winning 13 games, there must be some significant introspection regarding the resilience of your team.

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While the Vikings were incredibly gritty and executed phenomenally en route to eleven wins on single-possession games in 2022, they have a unique opportunity to retool and inject youth into key positions. This will assist their roster in developing alongside the timeline of superstars Justin Jefferson and Christian Darrisaw en route to proper sustainable Super Bowl contention.

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Written By

Australian NFL Fan, who is passionate about his beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Follows both NFL and NBA and loves to analyse, talk about and watch sport.

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