The Vikings season ended with a frustrating loss to the New York Giants — frustrating because the Vikings were favored and they played at home and simply got outplayed.
Nothing fluky happened, and one can’t pin this one on the refs or the ball not bouncing Minnesota’s way. The Giants were simply the better team on Sunday. So what is the path forward for the Minnesota Vikings?
There are a lot of decisions to be made this offseason, from what to do with Kirk Cousins and his contract to a Justin Jefferson extension, a replacement for Garrett Bradbury at center, massive changes on the defensive side of the ball, and likely a new defensive coordinator.
So, Where Do the Vikings Go Next?
Let’s evaluate the decisions that need to be made and what those decisions may look like.
Cousins’ performance on Sunday likely secured a contract extension for himself, as he looked like the best player on the field for the Minnesota Vikings, playing his best game of the season when it mattered most.
Cousins has been quite solid for most of the season and has played his best football most recently, culminating his season-long improvement with an elite performance in the playoffs against a tough Giants defense.
An extension should excite Vikings fans because there is a historical precedent for QBs improving significantly in year two of the Vikings current scheme, most notably Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, and Aaron Rodgers. If Cousins could improve his down-to-down play and be more consistent while still playing as he did at the end of games during the regular season, Minnesota’s offense could take the next step and truly care about the team in the coming seasons.
A Cousins extension does pose a risk, as Cousins is an aging QB, and every quarterback not named Thomas Edward Patrick Brady eventually hits an age cliff.
But that risk is likely minimal, as Cousins somehow doesn’t get injured and has shown improvement in different areas of his game year after year, even as he has progressed past his physical prime.
Center and Wide Receiver
Garrett Bradbury may be gone, opening a hole at center for the Minnesota Vikings. One possible and relatively easy option is to plug in Chris Reed at center going forward, as he played quite serviceably after the Green Bay disaster. He has shown that he is a capable blocker, both at center and guard.
But the preferred option would be to address this position either in the draft or free agency, trying to find a player who replaces Bradbury and upgrades the position, hopefully anchoring the interior offensive line for Minnesota for years to come.
As for wide receiver, several decisions need to be made. Justin Jefferson will be eligible for a contract extension as soon as the new league year starts in March, and that will likely be high on Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s priority list.
But outside of JJ, something needs to be done regarding Thielen, as he is currently set to make nearly $20 million next season, an asinine amount for a player of Thielen’s current caliber. Thielen may get restructured, but a trade is also an option.
Either way, expect the Vikings receiver room to look quite different next season. New blood needs to be brought into the room to threaten defenses opposite JJ, an element the Vikings offense sorely lacked this season.
Nobody on the defense is safe after the year, and playoff game, that this squad just had. Expect many changes here, both in the coaching staff and on the field. Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks are likely gone, as they simply lack the athleticism to play in this scheme at a high level. Patrick Peterson probably won’t be retained, and the Vikings will need to invest heavily in the cornerback room, a significant weakness on the team.
Hopefully, Lewis Cine recovers well from his gruesome injury in London and can compete for and take a starting safety job, as the defense’s back end desperately needs an infusion of youth and talent.
As for the defensive line, the biggest question is likely what to do with superstar Danielle Hunter. His contract is incredibly manageable, but there will likely be questions about his role in the defense and how he fits a 3-4 scheme.
A strong possibility is a trade, as it would likely be a win-win situation. With Hunter moving to a scheme that utilizes his talents more effectively, the Vikings would recoup significant draft capital — capital they need to improve the defense from the disaster that it was this season.
The Vikings had a magical 2022 season, and expecting a similar outcome regarding wins and losses is unreasonable. But there are many reasons for optimism, namely the Vikings offense and Kevin O’Connell getting another year under their belts to learn the scheme and develop chemistry.
Then the tantalizing possibility of Andrew Booth, Brian Asamoah, Lewis Cine, or perhaps all three taking the next step as a player and making an impact on defense next season.
And, of course, it’s difficult not to be optimistic when you have the best QB-WR connection in the entire NFL and a couple of fantastic building blocks along the offensive line.
Regardless of what happens this offseason, it will be fun to see what the team does to move forward, and this season should give us a ton of reason for optimism about the Kevin O’Connell era.