Minnesota Vikings - 2014 Off-season Overview
2013 Team Ranks: Offense (run 8th, pass 23rd), Defense (run 16th, pass 31st)
The 2013 Vikings regressed from a playoff team in 2012 to a doormat of the NFC North. The quarterback situation should shoulder much of the blame as first round bust Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman (what was Spielman thinking?) led the Vikings to a 23rd passing attack (averaging just 214 yards per game). Matt Cassel opted out of his contract and will test the free agent waters. Christian Ponder is currently the only quarterback under contract, but will be hard pressed to see another snap. The 12th overall pick of the 2011 draft has failed to average more than 185 yards per game during any of his first three seasons and holds a disappointing 38 TD: 34 INT ratio over his first 36 NFL contests.
Yet again the ground game was the focus of the Minnesota offense as one of the better offensive lines paved the way for the league's eighth ranked ground game (130 yards per game). The Vikings led the league with 23 rushing touchdowns in 2013 – led by Adrian Peterson's 10 rushing scores (Asiata had three and Patterson had three). Toby Gerhart had another pedestrian season (283 yards and 2 touchdowns) and the free agent is not expected back in Minnesota. Look for Minnesota to target AP's backup via free agency or possibly the draft (an upgrade from current number two straight line runner Matt Asiata is needed). Adrian Peterson did his thing, averaging 90 yards per game with his seventh straight season of double digit touchdowns, but wasn't able to approach 2,000 yards like he did in 2012 (finished with 1,266 yards in 14 games). The soon to be 29 year old can hear the clock ticking on his career and rumors have surfaced that he could ask out if the Vikings don't right the ship under center.
Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson came on in the second half of the season, finishing with 375 total yards and six touchdowns over the final five games. He earned a Pro Bowl trip as the NFC kick returner and should earn a bigger role in the passing game in 2014, placing him on the WR3 radar heading into his sophomore season. Fantasy owners would be wise not to sleep on Kyle Rudolph as he should bounce back from an injury plagued 2013 season that saw the Notre Dame alum miss eight games due to a broken left foot. Rudolph had nine touchdowns in 2012 and should become a focal point of the passing game under newly hired Offensive coordinator Norv Turner (worked wonders with Jordan Cameron and Antonio Gates). Both Rudolph (24) and Patterson (22) make for solid targets in dynasty leagues as Turner's penchant for downfield passing and reliance on the tight end could result in career years for both players in 2014 – of course that assumes the Vikings upgrade under center via the draft or free agency.
Coaching Changes / Impact:
Mike Zimmer (57-years-old) has been the Bengals' defensive coordinator since 2008. His defenses have ranked among the top 10 over the past four seasons and he should be a welcomed addition to a Vikings defense that allowed a league worst 30 points per game. The Vikings' pass defense floundered as they finished 31st in the league and allowed a league high 37 touchdown passes.
Norv Turner was hired to jumpstart the Vikings' passing game. The 61-year-old North Carolina native has led 10 different offenses into the top 10 in scoring offense. His Dallas Cowboys offenses were the second-highest scoring units from 1991 to 1993, and the San Diego Chargers ranked in the top five in points scored from 2007-2011 when he was their head coach. Turner's offenses are generally run focused and he's known for using his workhorse back in the passing game (good news for AP's PPR league value). His offenses are also know for focusing on the vertical passing game, which could elevate Patterson's fantasy value to the next level.
George Edwards was hired as defensive coordinator after spending the past two seasons as the Dolphins' linebacker coach, but he'll likely defer to head coach Zimmer when it comes to defensive game planning.
Notable Free Agents:
QB Matt Cassel (32), RB Toby Gerhart (27), WR Jerome Simpson (28), DE Jared Allen (32), DE Everson Griffen (26), DT Kevin Williams (34), DT Fred Evans (30), LB Erin Henderson (28), CB Chris Cook (27).
Vikings re-signed RE Everson Griffen to a five-year, $42.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.
Vikings re-signed QB Matt Cassel to a two-year, $10 million contract.
Team Needs / Cap Space: Vikings: http://overthecap.com/
Rob Brzezinski enters his 16th year with the team in 2014 and the Vikings have a healthy amount of money to spend in free agency. Heading into the offseason, the Vikings are projected to have about $26 million available in cap space (sixth most in the league).
Quarterback: Since Ponder was drafted 12th overall in the 2011 draft, the Vikings' passing offense has ranked 28th (2011), 31st (2012), and 23rd (2013). Josh McCown, Mike Vick and Matt Cassel are viewed to be the best available quarterbacks, but Vick is not viewed as a good fit for Turner's offense. Re-signing Matt Cassel is an option, but Minnesota will likely use either their first round pick (eighth overall) or a second rounder on their future signal caller. Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel will get serious consideration if they are on the board when the Vikings are on the clock. Derek Carr would be a reach at #8 and you have to think GM Rick Spielman learned his lesson with the Ponder debacle. If Minnesota misses out on the top three they could opt to use their second pick on a signal caller. Carr is more a 2nd round value (possibly late first round – if the Vikings decide to trade back) and the Vikings should also give serious consideration to Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois). The senior had a monster 2013 (albeit against inferior competition) passing for 5,050 yards (66% completion rate) with 53 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
Cornerback: The addition of rookie CB Xavier Rhodes was the lone bright spot for a pass defense that ranked at the bottom of the NFL. In a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Staffird, and Jay Cutler – the Vikings must focus their attention on adding talent to a secondary that has ranked among the bottom ten in the league over the past three seasons. Free agent Chris Cook (second round pick in 2010) has struggled with injuries and off the field issues and is not expected to return.
Upgrading the secondary should take priority and Titan CB Alterraun Verner could be a potential target for Minnesota. The Vikings gave up the most passing touchdowns and second-most passing yards in the league in 2013. New defensive backs coach Jerry Gray was the Titans' defensive coordinator from 2011-13. Veterans Brent Grimes and Aqib Talib should also be on the Vikings' radar.
Defensive Line: Free agents Kevin Williams and Jared Allen are unlikely to return as both veterans will look to join contenders in reduced roles. The Vikings defense generated a mediocre 41 sacks in 2013. Rookie Sharrif Floyd (Florida) will see his role expand and bringing back free agent 26-year-old Everson Griffen (13 sacks over the past two seasons) is a possibility.
Bengals free agent DE Michael Johnson could join Zimmer in Minnesota as the 27-year-old is expected to leave the team (Cincinnati drafted Margus Hunt in the second round of the 2013 draft). Johnson is viewed as versatile defensive end with a skill set to rush the passer and drop into coverage.
Linebacker: LB Erin Henderson played both middle and strong-side linebacker in 2013, but was released following two DUI arrests. There are a few standout LBs in this draft class and Minnesota should give serious consideration to the position if Anthony Barr (UCLA), Khalil Mack (Buffalo) or possibly CJ Moseley (Alabama) are available.
Guard: The Vikings offensive line graded as a top 10 unit according to Pro Football Focus, but their one weak link was LG Charlie Johnson (who will hit free agency). Brandon Fusco and rookie Jeff Baca could be given a chance to fill the void.
Running Back: Toby Gerhart is a free agent looking for a larger role elsewhere and Matt Asiata is a third string talent. Peterson has missed nine games during his first seven seasons. A few free agents that could be intriguing depending on their price tag include James Starks, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Bernard Scott.