It’s no shock to anyone that the Vikings have stalled out under the regime of Spielman and Zimmer. Even after the win over the lowly Houston Texans, it doesn’t change the outlook for the 2020 Vikings. After building a fantastic core in the drafts of 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Vikings have really struggled in this area. Nobody from the 2016 draft class remains on the team, Mike Hughes and Garrett Bradbury have not lived up to the hype as of yet and the misses have started to creep up on the hits. For every Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs, there is a Laquon Treadwell or Willie Beavers. While we don’t know what the regime will look like, I think we can all agree that we need some serious changes at TCO Performance Center down in Eagan.
For this exercise, I will be operating under the assumption that the Vikings move on from both Spielman and Zimmer after what feels to be a disastrous season. Will the Wilf family pull the trigger after this season? I honestly don’t know, but it feels less and less likely that they stay every week.
The biggest talking point with the Fire Spielman and Zimmer crowd is: who will be their successors? While there are numerous head coach candidates available, it doesn’t feel nearly as deep with GM candidates. They could go with an in-house candidate in George Patton, but if you want to get rid of Spielman, it would feel weird to hire his assistant for the position. The one name that jumps to the top of every potential GM search is Ed Dodds of the Indianapolis Colts. The right-hand man of Chris Ballard, Dodds was one of Seattle GM’s John Schneider’s top assistants in architecting the Seahawks Super Bowl runs and is one of the more highly respected scouts in the league today. One of the main reasons that Dodd’s hasn’t taken a job as a GM is that he isn’t one to seek the spotlight or media attention, which is something that comes with the position of GM. If the Vikings could land him, it would be a huge get for the franchise
Other Candidates: NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, ESPN’s Louis Riddick, Chief’s Director of Player Personnel Mike Borgonzi, Patriots Director Of Player Personnel Nick Caserio
When it comes to replacing Mike Zimmer, an offensive mind will be at the top of the list. With the last two head coaches being defensive-minded, this will be more than welcome to Vikings fans who have been overall frustrated with how the offense has been run in recent years.
What remains to be seen is how attractive the Vikings job will be to an incoming head coach. If the Vikings are unable to offload Kirk Cousins, a new coach will be stuck with him for the foreseeable future. Handicapped by a quarterback with real deficiencies would be a tough sell but not impossible. Given free rein to select his guy in the draft, the team could take the 41 million dollar dead cap hit (only 10 million more than if he were on the team) and release him or keep Cousins to help groom the future at the position.
The weapons the Vikings have would be attractive to a creative play-caller but the quarterback position could be the major roadblock to Eric Bienemy or Josh McDaniels. Along with those two known names, both Lincoln Reilly and Dan Mullen from the college ranks could be an intriguing option if they are able to pick their successor to Cousins. An outside the box selection would be the 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. A great leader of men, Saleh is going to make a great head coach. His hiring would be contingent on bringing in a top offensive mind to run the offense and for him to be given the freedom to be creative, but Saleh would do wonders with Hunter and Ngakoue.
Other Candidates: Dallas Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore, Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell, San Francisco Passing Game Coordinator Mike LaFleur
After making the changes in the front office, roster changes will also be coming for the Vikings. When constructing a rebuild, the normal structure is to shed salary and get as many draft picks and smart, savvy free agent signings as you can while building things from the ground up. Luckily for the Vikings, they already have a good core of players at key positions. The skill positions are loaded with Thielen, Jefferson, Cook, Mattison and Smith Jr and the defense has two stud pass rushers in Hunter and Ngakoue and corners in Dantzler and Gladney. Heading into next season, there are some big money deals that will need to be cleared out.
Per Spotrac, the Vikings are responsible for 184.1 million on the salary cap which leaves the Vikings to be 9.1 million over the projected 175 million dollar salary cap. COVID-19 is going to be a big time impact on the 2021 season. Even without the rebuild, the Vikings are going to need to find a way to cut some salaries and have Rob Brzyzenski get creative.
2020 Cap Hit: $11,441,000
2021 Cap Hit: $0
Trading Harris now impacts next season in 2 ways: nets the Vikings draft capital and whatever salary is left rolls over to next season and comes off the cap. Unfortunately for the Vikings, Harris’ value is quite a bit less than in was when they were trying to trade him this offseason. After being the number one ranked safety per PFF over the last two seasons, Harris is PFF’s 39th ranked safety so far this season. While at best he lands the Vikings a 3rd round pick, better to have that pick this year than wait til 2022 for a potential compensatory pick which likely won’t be a 3 at this point.
2020 Cap Hit: $8,200,000
2021 Cap Hit: $13,950,000
Dead Cap: $2,200,000
Before the season, fans everywhere would have wanted him cut. This season though, he has more than earned the max of 8 million dollars on his contract. Through the first 4 games, Reiff has allowed only 4 pressures and has yet to allow a sack or commit a penalty. After having drafted Ezra Cleveland in the second round this past year, Reiff’s high salary is something that would be expendable. An above-average left tackle in this league would be hard to move on from, but in the context of a rebuild, you need to know if Cleveland is the guy and you would save $11,750,000 off of the 2021 cap.
2020 Cap Hit: $1,201,810
2021 Cap Hit: $1,402,112
Projected Extension: $14-18 Million Per Year
When it comes to constructing a full rebuild, one of the catalyst positions for a football team is the offensive tackle. While left tackle was the franchise player for years, the right tackle has become almost as important with many teams having two good edge rushers. It’s becoming harder and harder to put a statue like a Phil Loadholt out there as a road grader in the running game. Brian O’Neill has been a fantastic player for the Vikings. As a rookie, he did allow 38 pressures (per PFF) but didn’t allow a sack until week 16 of his second season, amassing nearly 1,700 snaps before allowing his first sack. An extension won’t be cheap and will cost between 14-18 million dollars per season, but it would be foolish to not extend a player of his talent. With the Vikings track record of being able to secure extensions under market value, don’t be surprised if they are able to lock him in between 14-15 million per season.
2020 Cap Hit: $12,700,000
2021 Cap Hit: $15.500.000
Dead Cap: $7,800,000
Just like Reiff, Barr is a fan favorite when it comes to moving on from a player, but it is not that simple with Barr. He is the catalyst to what the Vikings do and is incredibly versatile. Barr is a skilled in coverage, the run game and an excellent blitzer. In this scenario, the Vikings transitioning to a new defense could mean many things for the former 9th overall selection out of UCLA. He could end up transitioning to a stand up pass rusher role, play the same role he has with the Vikings as a 4-3 off ball linebacker or they could try to move him to a team desperate for a linebacker/pass rusher. While it would be hard to swallow $7,800,000, the Vikings would save $7,700,000 in 2021 which would be crucial long term.
2020 Cap Hit: $21,000,000
2021 Cap Hit: $31,000,000
Dead Cap: $20,000,000 (If Traded), $41,000,000 (If Released)
The saga of Kirk Cousins in Minnesota is that of mixed feelings. While he has been the best quarterback this team has had since Daunte Culpepper in the early 2000s, Cousins has been very inconsistent. One game he will play like a guaranteed top 10 quarterback, the next he will play like Jarrett Stidham did against the Chiefs: talented, but poor decisions and very frustrating. After the victory in the playoff game against the Saints all but secured an extension for Cousins, the Vikings are tied to him for the next two seasons unless they eat a lot of dead cap. What really complicates things is that his full $35,000,000 salary for 2022 vests on March 20, 2021, so cutting him would cost either $41,000,000 or $45,000,000.
A trade, however, would only net the Vikings the signing bonus. The one team that continues to get floated around is the San Francisco 49ers. Their head coach Kyle Shanahan coached Cousins during his first two seasons in the NFL and it was the worst kept secret that Shanahan wanted to go all-in to get Cousins during the 2018 free agency period. At the 2017 trade deadline, however, general manager John Lynch sent a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. With the struggles the 49ers have had a quarterback, Cousins could be the missing piece to their Super Bowl run. Navigating a trade could be tricky, as they would have to be willing to take the $56,000,000 still guaranteed to Cousins over the next two years. While this isn’t likely to be a scenario for a Brock Osweiler trade, it is something that can’t be ruled out if the Vikings truly want to move on from Cousins.
That answer remains to be seen, but the ground work is there. It will be fun to see how this team grows and develops throughout the season and if their record is good enough for the Vikings to continue with this regime or hit the reset button. While we monitor the development of the season, there is bound to be more discourse, including my SKOL Search series where I profile potential draft prospects for the purple and gold.