7 Questions the Minnesota Vikings Need to Answer
Image courtesy of © Benny Sieu-USA TODAY SportsNot only did the 38-25 loss to the Packers end any chances of making the playoffs, it left a lot of questions that need to be answered as the team finishes the season with a meaningless game against the Bears on New Year's Day.
When did head coach Mike Zimmer lose this team?
Perhaps it started when the Vikings were heading into their bye week. Reports popped up of Zimmer placing stuffed animals around the team's headquarters in Eden Prairie along with a sign that said, “Fat Cats Get Slaughtered.” Intended as a motivational message, it quickly spiraled out of control and became a distracting topic.
It could have been building through the season with Zimmer's tendency to call out players in press conferences, rankling their delicate egos. He questioned defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd on his knee injury stating “We didn’t think it was going to be, like, six years worth of hurt.” in a story from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He also accused outside linebacker Anthony Barr of having a tendency to coast in another report.
Can the damage be repaired?
Already following the initial reports of mutiny we can see a lot of backpedaling by the players. Rhodes called the incident for of a miscommunication than a mutiny.
In a tweet on Christmas Day Rhodes said, "It amazing that ppl believe everything they hear. It's more to the story. To all who knows me knows I obey authority. Merry Christmas to all."
If it's a non-story, then the best way to prove it would be for the team, especially the defense to come out and play like they did in September when the defense held opponents to 12.6 points per game. If they don't, then Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman will have some weeding out to do.
Is Zimmer's job safe?
After taking over a team that finished 5-10-1 in 2014, Zimmer was able to win a division title in only two years. He looked to be the no-nonsense head coach the team needed to take back the asylum from the inmates.
With the implosion, this season leading to at best, an 8-8 record, perhaps Zimmer's tactics are wearing thin. After all, even Leslie Frazier was able to lead the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012 with a 10-6 record in his second full season as the head coach.
Prior to the back-to-back embarrassing losses to the Colts and Packers, a report from CBSSports.com indicated Zimmer's job was safe. "Considering all he dealt with, a change would be stunning." It will be interesting to see how that opinion changes over the next few weeks.
Without a 1st-round draft pick can the Vikings improve?
After trading away their first-round pick in 2017, how can the Vikings improve with so many needs in the offensive line and the need for depth at linebacker and running back?
The biggest approach will be to get everyone back healthy and ready to go for 2017 and continue to develop the younger players on the roster. Actually, this might be the only approach with a look back at the team's recent top draft picks.
Here's a look at their top pick since 2011:
2011: Quarterback Christian Ponder—now a backup for the 2-13 49ers.
2012: Left tackle Matt Kalil—a great rookie season has been unmatched. Only the presence of TJ Clemmons still makes Kalil look very promising.
2013: Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd—the comment above says it all.
2014: Outside linebacker Anthony Barr—"coasting", enough said.
2015: Cornerback Trae Waynes—in his second season finally seeing some playing time due to injuries.
2016: Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell—one reception for 15 yards, again enough said.
Of course, on the other side of the ledger, the Vikings have found some gems later in the draft. Most recently in 2015 when they added linebacker Eric Kendricks (2nd round), defensive end Danielle Hunter (3rd round) and wide receiver Stefon Diggs (5th round). Each leading the team—Kendricks with 99 tackles, Hunter with 12 sacks and Diggs with 84 receptions.
It will be up to Spielman to excel at his wheeling and dealing to pick up additional draft picks and find talent that makes this team better.
What veterans might be facing their last game with the Vikings?
The Vikings have some very interesting roster decisions to make this offseason.
Atop the list is running back Adrian Peterson. The team's all-time leading ground gainer has only played in all 16 games once since the 2012 season. Set to make $11.75 million in 2017, it will take a renegotiated contract to keep him in purple.
Set to become a free agent in 2017, linebacker Chad Greenway hasn't decided if he will return for another season, it would be his 11th season—all with the Vikings. A story by Lindsey Young from Vikings.com quotes Greenway, "But there will be plenty of time for reflection after the season, and it isn’t over yet."
Of course, the decision is not entirely up to Greenway, the Vikings will need to see value in bringing back the 33-year-old.
Terrence Newman, the age-defying cornerback playing at the age of 38, has made nine starts for the Vikings this season. Newman has followed Zimmer from Dallas to Cincinnati and Minnesota. Excluding kickers, Newman is second only to quarterback Tom Brady (39) as the oldest active player in the NFL. While age and gravity will eventually end his career, his part in the "miscommunication" on Christmas Eve could hasten his departure from the team. Currently, Newman is unsigned for 2017.
Another player set to be a free agent in 2017, is wide receiver and kick-return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson. Still playing on his rookie contract, the Vikings refused to extend his contract this offseason. That may have been the wake-up call he needed. He's been a greater part of the offense this season with a career-high eight starts resulting in 51 receptions—the most in this four-year career. He also added another kick-off return for a touchdown, tying with Percy Harvin for the most in team history. At only 25, Patterson has a huge upside in his versatility. The Vikings must find a way to retain his services.
Another wide receiver whose future is much less certain is Jarius Wright. He entered the season as the most seasoned receiver on the roster. That translated to only six receptions in six games, the fewest in his five seasons. Signed through 2019, Wright is set to make only $2.5 million next season—a reasonable amount that could keep him on the roster for at least another season.
Kalil is also unsigned for 2017. Based on the disaster that Clemmons was at left tackle, Kalil might have some leverage, but not much. Based on the poor draft class for offensive linemen next season, Vikings might be wise to sign him to a one-year contract.
Who will be the starting quarterback in 2017?
This might not be as big of a decision as many people think. There are still some people who think Teddy Bridgewater may not be ready in 2017.
With Sam Bradford signed through 2017, it should be an easy decision. He leads the NFL completing 71.3 percent of his passes. His passer rating of 98.3 surpasses his previous high of 90.9 from 2013, his last season with the Rams. His four interceptions are currently a career low. All of this while playing behind a patched up offensive line.
The decision is an easy one. Whatever problems the Vikings offense has had this season, there are not the fault of Bradford.
What can Bradford do with a complete offseason with the Vikings?
As mentioned above, the odds are good that Bradford heads into the offseason as the team's top quarterback with Bridgewater at the backup. The Vikings are Bradford's third team in three years. After getting out from under the losing ways of the Rams, he's had his best two seasons. In four years with St. Louis he was 18-30-1. A win against the Bears on New Year's Day will give him a 15-15 mark since leaving.
It still falls short of what the expectations are for the first overall pick in the draft, but it's a step in the right direction. Since the incredible season Brett Favre had in 2009 with a 107.2 passer rating, no quarterback has exceeded 90.
Bradford needs only 98 passing yards to exceed his career high in a season of 3,725 yards. Even if he fails to complete a single pass in the Bears game, he will have the third most passing yards of any quarterback since 2004. That season Daunte Culpepper passed for 4,717 yards and in 2009 Farve passed for 4,202.
With a rebuilt and healthy line in front of him, and a full offseason working with the same offensive coordinator, look for Bradford to get better and become a leader on this team.
No doubt there are plenty of other questions that need to be answered this offseason. There will be plenty of speculation leading up to the draft at the end of April. Especially seeing teams like the Giants and Texans, who the Vikings defeated earlier this season, and the Cowboys, who they held to only 17 points, battle their way in the playoffs.