Vikings walk a tightrope between rebuilding and remaining a contender – ESPN – Minnesota Vikings Blog

Kevin SeifertESPN staff writer16 June 2023 at 6:00 a.m. ET5 minute reading

Kirk Cousins ​​expects contract negotiations to be addressed in March

Kirk Cousins ​​is not focused on contract negotiations with the Vikings as he expects them to be dealt with after this season.

EAGAN, Minn. — Facts and evidence refuse an easy label for The Minnesota Vikings’ offseason, one that has been epitomized by two seemingly incompatible decisions.

Are they in breakdown mode, ready to sacrifice the 2023 season for long-term flexibility? Not really. In March, after all, the team persuaded 34-year-old safety Harrison Smith to return at a reduced salary for a 12th season, even with several younger players — including 2022 first-round pick Lewis Cine — in line to replace him .

Are the Vikings all in for 2023, hoping to build on a 13-win season to make a deep playoff run? That position would be hard to argue after they left Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook fresh off his fourth straight 1,000-yard season, all before he turned 28, and elevated longtime backup Alexander Mattison to the starting job.

In reality, the Vikings are navigating a nuanced approach designed to do it all at once: Rebuild the roster, maximize future flexibility and keep them at least nominally competitive in the near term. The process is ambitious in scope and slower than some might hope. As it builds to a pivotal moment in March 2024 surrounding a decision on quarterback Kirk Cousins’ future, the model’s ultimate viability remains in doubt; Preseason betting markets and analytics rankings put the Vikings no closer to Super Bowl contention now than they were last year at this point, even after a surprising 13-4 season.

But there’s no doubt that general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s “competitive rebuild,” a term he used to blend his own team-building philosophies with mandates from owners Zygi and Mark Wilf to field a viable team each season, accelerated this spring. When the 2023 season begins, Adofo-Mensah will have traded 14 of the 22 starting positions he inherited from predecessor Rick Spielman after the 2021 season, all but one with a player who was 26 years old or younger at the time of the transition. The Vikings are also positioned for NFL top-10 totals in available salary cap space for 2024 and 2025, according to the Roster Management System.

Running back Dalvin Cook is one of several key veterans the Vikings have parted ways with this offseason.Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)

The approach has been praised by experienced list builders, especially in the past Philadelphia and Cleveland executive Joe Bannerbut viewed in less optimistic tones by some fans and media members who view the effort as merely treading water.

“As far as future years and things like that,” coach Kevin O’Connell said, “I know there’s a reason for everything we want to do ultimately in the short and long term. But I believe that my job is to coach this football team to compete every opportunity we get.”

Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips said he feels confident the team is trying to win a Super Bowl, adding, “I hope Kevin and Kwesi see themselves as deserving of the right to keep their jobs and be here for the long haul time, and to try to win a Super Bowl every year they’re here. It’s fun to be in an organization with that mindset.”

To be clear, there have been far more notable departures than arrivals. The Vikings say goodbye not only to their 2022 leading rusher in Cook (1,173 yards), but also their 2022 leaders in tackles (Eric Kendricks, 137) and interceptions (Patrick Peterson, 5 – tied with Smith), as well as a 70th-catch receiver (Adam Thielen) and 10-sack pass rusher (Za’Darius Smith). Only one of the unrestricted free agents they signed (Mattison) received guaranteed money after the first year of their contracts, and the average age of the 16 veteran players they added to new contracts was 26.8. Of the five players on their roster older than 30, three took pay cuts to return. They entered into contract negotiations with a fourth, Cousins, and handed a modest extension to the fifth, long-snapper Andrew DePaola.

Based on lineup experiments during OTAs, the Vikings will have a new starter at wide receiver (KJ Osborn), defensive end (Dean Lowry), inside linebacker (Brian Asamoah), outside linebacker (Marcus Davenport) both cornerback positions (Akayleb Evans , Andrew Booth Jr. or rookie Mekhi Blackmon) and nickel corner (Blackmon or Josh Metellus). That total could swell to seven new starters if last season’s sack leader, pass rusher Danielle Hunter (10.5), leaves amid an ongoing contract dispute.

Still, Harrison Smith bemoaned the “weird idea” within conventional sports wisdom that suggests the departures of well-known veterans always portend lower team performance.

“When guys leave who are great players and also great teammates and friends, you’re going to miss them,” Smith said. “But also on the other side, when people go, [people] say, ‘Well, how do we replace him?’ There is still another person in that place, and maybe that person is much better. Maybe that person isn’t. I do not know. But it’s not like there’s an empty void. I think we do for some reason. There’s still someone out there. We have some guys. We’ll see what we do.”

Yes, the delicate balance of a competitive rebuild depends on significant contributions from unproven players. In many ways, however, the hardest part for the Vikings is yet to come.

Cousins ​​will play out the final year of his contract this season without an heir apparent on the roster, meaning the Vikings will have to make a franchise-defining decision next spring. Assuming he doesn’t do it in 2023, do they think Cousins ​​can pilot them to a Super Bowl in 2024 or 2025? He will be 36 and 37 years old these seasons. Or should they start over at the game’s most important position?

The majority of the rebuild will be rendered inactive if they answer the question incorrectly, or if they make the right call but fail in the difficult task of obtaining a credible replacement.

Leave a Comment