Football is back! Are you ready? Are you excited?
I feel you Morgan. That was a long off season. Unlike draft savant JR, I don’t consider NFL Preseason a big deal, but it’s a step in the right direction. Most importantly, we get to start prepping emotionally for the roller coaster of a season awaiting us. Make sure Sunday Ticket is ordered. Buy a jersey or two (who is replacing Peterson in your closet?). Most importantly, set expectations. We, like most NFL fans, believe our team can clinch a playoff berth, and once they get there, anything is possible. So what do I see for the Vikings in 2017? It’s complicated.
It starts with this: I set expectations with a different set of rules. I envision a Purple Championship much differently than you do.
Fan-hood transformed over the last 20 years. The age of the internet and analytics allowed us to enter the modern era of sports. Now we not only cheer for the Vikings, but also investigate how they can produce more wins. We do it before every season, before every game, before every play. We all have theories now. Our fan base is smarter than ever.
The logical mode of thinking is to build the best possible team every off season. I hate this approach.
Think of the greatest Vikings disappointments in the last 25 years. The worst involve an incredibly talented purple team. The 1998 Vikings: Best team ever that didn’t play in a Super Bowl. The 2009 squad: Drastically underachieved in the biggest game of their lives. In Minnesota, our best teams fail. For goodness sake why would you want to build another one of them? If we entered a season with Vegas giving the Vikings 5-2 odds to win the Super Bowl, you putting money on them? Heck No! We all KNOW the ending. You want to feel dread-of-imminent-collapse all season long? Let’s not do that to ourselves again.
Meanwhile, the NFL is littered with upstart, late charging teams that end up winning it all. Baltimore in 2012, New York in 2011, Green Bay in 2010, Pittsburgh in 2009. Five of the last ten champions caught fire at the right time.
After watching 25 years of Vikings football, I’m convinced on how the Purple Championship will come to pass. They’ll be playing with house money. It’ll come out of nowhere; a magical run. I don’t imagine the Vikings will enter into a ten-, five-, or even three-year long dynasty. When the Vikings bring home Lombardi it will be a flash in the pan, so savor every moment.
Ask yourself deep down. You know this is the truth.
So it starts there. I’m not looking to pair super-powered offense with unshakable defense. I expect my team to have some blemish.
When They win the Super Bowl, the Roster won’t be Perfect
I love Andrew Sendejo, Jarius Wright and Kyle Rudolph. Some fans saw room for improvement at linebacker, wide receiver, and offensive line this off season. They clamored for the Vikings to acquire Mychal Kendricks, Eric Decker, and Austin Pasztor to address those positions. I couldn’t care about those guys less.
Here’s the fact: Every Super Bowl champion has plenty of solid, unknown role players. For every Tom Brady there’s a Dion Lewis. For every Von Miller there’s a Corey Nelson. For every Malcolm Smith there’s a Walter Thurmond.
My 3/4/5 talent rule: An elite (top five) unit in the NFL consists of 12 members, including TE2 on offense and Slot CB on defense. Three athletes are great, four are good, five are average role players.
Some Armchair GMs nobly build perfect dream rosters, but they’re unnecessary and impossible. Any offense/defense that exceeds the 3/4/5 talent rule encounters problems paying all of it. We used to embrace Chris Walsh and Jim Kleinsasser even though neither were elite. We can do the same with today’s team. I enjoy watching effort-based play and their essential reduced price tag.
When they win the Super Bowl, they’ll have Expensive Stars
There’s an uproar every off season when free agency starts. Carolina broke the bank to sign a mediocre, oft-injured left tackle in Matt Kalil. Chicago, desperate to move on from Jay Cutler, paid up for Mike Glennon. These big signings happen every year because that’s what the free agent market demands. Trust me, I’d love to build a roster full of Linval Jospehs, but again it’s not possible. If you want to have top tier talent, you need to pay for it. Teams looking for bargains everywhere don’t usually reach expectations.
The graph precisely shows it. I compared total salary cap spending over the last three years to regular season wins. The Vikings are represented in purple, Super Bowl teams are gold, and last place finishers are red. There’s notable exceptions but a clear trend. Frugal teams on average win three games less than lavish spenders.
I’m not arguing the Vikings should engage in spending sprees every March. I’m saying GO GET YOUR GUYS. If you have a stud on your team PAY HIM. Then, after you lock them up, don’t be distracted by the scraps left over in July. I love the recent extensions on Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, and Linval Joseph. Those large deals are incredibly smart.
When They win the Super Bowl, They’ll have Leap Players.
You may enjoy the excitement accompanying rookies, but I’m decidedly more reserved. Maybe I remember Troy Williamson, Erasmus James, and Demetrius Underwood too vividly (hopefully Laquon avoids this category, fingers crossed). I look for big jumps in impact from the athletes in years two, three, & four. It’s a more patient, developmental approach to young guys. A breakout season from even two or three youths on their first contract is a great signal for many reasons.
- Leap Player development requires good coaching throughout the entire staff. They’ll clearly need such coaching to win a Super Bowl.
- Leap Players deliver out sized returns on their relatively cheap contracts. That’s needed to offset the expensive stars.
- Leap Players sometimes click not right away, but midway or late in the season. Late season sparks can provide the impetus to making a magical Super Bowl run.
Of course, it’d be phenomenal if all rookies were an instant hit, but you know what I’m going to say, not realistic. Give our young athletes time and room to grow.
Find solid role players, lock in expensive stars, and wait for youngsters to make the leap. Those are my three tenets of the Minnesota Vikings Championship. I hope you see where I’m coming from.