The Minnesota Vikings unexpected 13-4 NFC North-winning season ended Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium after a loss to the New York Giants. Minnesota’s defense couldn’t stop the Giants chunk-yardage attack, and the Vikings offense failed to extend the game on the final offensive possession.
Most Vikings fans believed the season would at least reach the Divisional Round at the San Francisco 49ers, but no cigar. In the end, the 2022 Kevin O’Connell-led Vikings were unabashed regular-season overachievers.
Vikings 2023 Offseason Could Be More Mysterious Than 2022
So, the offseason begins a week sooner than folks surmised but one week later than in 2021. Last offseason, the Vikings welcomed a new general manager, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, and head coach, Kevin O’Connell.
But this offseason could be even more mysterious than the 2022 edition. Here’s why.
Now What with Kirk Cousins?
Listen, the Vikings QB1 played tremendously against the Giants, but all anyone will remember is Cousins’ desperate decision to throw “short of the sticks” with the game on the line. It’s what anti-Cousins fiends needed for offseason ammunition. Never mind the imminent sack Cousins was about to experience.
Per ESPN’s QBR metric, Cousins had his best game of 2022 (85.6) when it mattered the most. And nobody will care.
Instead, the first portion of the offseason will be used to discuss “what to do with Cousins,” as if he singlehandedly cost Minnesota the Wildcard bout with New York. It’s the nature of the “QB Wins” beast.
To the credit of never-Cousins personalities, the Vikings have conducted five full seasons with the man at QB1. They have not exited the Divisional Round of the postseason, only got there once, and Cousins is paid handsomely to lead the team deeper than home Wildcard exits.
It may be time for Adofo-Mensah to find the escape hatch from The Cousins Era.
Aging, Expensive Vets Galore
These players, all over the age of 30 sans Cook, have the following 2023 cap hits:
- Adam Thielen = $19.9 million
- Harrison Smith = $19.2 million
- Dalvin Cook = $14.1 million
- Eric Kendricks = $11.4 million
- Jordan Hicks = $6.5 million
Do you think any or all of those players are “worth it” at their current production level? If your answer is yes, you may want to reevaluate your emotions tied to longstanding players versus practicality.
The 2022 season arrived, and various aging, longtime Vikings hit a performance-related wall. It was actually quite stunning that it happened in unison.
There is no chance — let us repeat, no chance — that all of those men stick around at the above-listed cap hits. Men will be released, asked to take paycuts, or traded. The NFL is a cold business at times, and this is an example.
Mike Zimmer said about the NFL after the 2020 season, “It’s a young man’s game.”
He doesn’t coach the Vikings anymore, but this statement will echo throughout the 2023 offseason.
Elephant in the Room — the Defense
The Vikings defense against the Giants was absolutely abysmal and unbecoming of a 13-win team. If you don’t think Minnesota’s defense was the number-one-with-a-bullet problem Sunday, you are a slave to false Cousins-related narratives.
Ed Donatell’s defense crumbled on the grandest stage of the Vikings 2022 campaign. It stunk. Moreover, Donatell’s defense was only productive in 2022 when it forced turnovers. The Vikings were 12-1 (.923) in 2022 when they forced at least one turnover. And 1-4 when they did not. It’s that vivid and clear.
So, what will O’Connell do about Donatell? Allow him to stay an extra year, understanding shifts from 4-3 defenses to 3-4 schemes usually takes longer than a single season? Or fire Donatell and install another 3-4-happy defensive coordinator? Those are the options.
You should learn this one first in the offseason cycle, as coordinator dismissals tend to occur within a week or two of the team’s final game. O’Connell may rest on “well, we won 13 games” laurels. Otherwise, he has all the statistical evidence necessary to move on from Donatell. We shall see.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).