The Minnesota Vikings went through a massive overhaul this offseason and in the end, it’s difficult to argue the team got any better.
ESPN recently ranked the most-improved teams this offseason and the Vikings were the second-least improved team in the NFL. Reaching the playoffs for the third time in six seasons in 2019, the Vikings roster was full of with talent that — for the better half of a decade — had brought the team back to national relevance but had passed its prime.
Starting the offseason with the least amount of cap space in the league, the Vikings began a drastic rehaul of the roster to create cap space and secure younger talent. The release of seven starters approaching the 2020 NFL Draft ushered in coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman’s historic 15-man draft class. There’s plenty of potential but also some risk.
Here’s ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler’s assessment of the Vikings offseason:
The Vikings are gambling on an infusion of young talent to offset the loss of serious veteran personnel. But Minnesota has enough cornerstones on the roster to get away with it. Diggs wanted out and had to go. A healthy Adam Thielen should have a monster year, and Jefferson is a threat from the slot or outside. Several NFL executives love the Pierce signing and feel he’s an upgrade inside. The biggest question lies at cornerback, where Gladney has to produce in a hurry, because the other projected starter, Mike Hughes, has battled neck issues. The Vikings are putting a lot of stress on the safety tandem of Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris to get a young secondary organized.
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Rebuilding the Defense
The departure of Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Mackenzie Alexander, Trae Waynes, Stephen Weatherly and Linval Joseph has dissolved several key pieces to the Vikings success on defense since Zimmer took over in 2014.
The Vikings’ biggest free-agency add this offseason was in former Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who will take over Joseph’s role as a three-technique run-stuffer. Pierce was a piece of the Ravens’ top-five run defense in yards allowed over the past four seasons.
Ifeadi Odenigbo is poised to start alongside defensive end Danielle Hunter and is considered to have a breakout season in his third year as a pro. He tallied seven sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble return TD while playing 41 percent or fewer defensive snaps in 13 games last season.
The most pressing question will be the Vikings secondary which lost all three starters at cornerback. Third-year corners Mike Hughes and Holton Hill will be tapped to take over and lead a youthful group that includes first- and third-round rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, respectively. Safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris will be leaned on to anchor the secondary through its development.
Offense’s Continuity Will Provide Veteran Relief
Trading Stefon Diggs allowed the Vikings to shed his contract and rack up more draft picks in the draft.
While questions are surrounding the offensive guard spots and speculation on how good Diggs’ successor Justin Jefferson will be in his first season, the rest of the group is experienced and entering its second year in the same scheme with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
Kirk Cousins is coming off his best season as a pro, and signing Dalvin Cook would further the team’s continuity, although backup running back Alexander Mattison showed flashes of his potential in his rookie season last year.
Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.