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The 2018 NFL season is over for the Minnesota Vikings. As with all endings, it is now time to evaluate the players (and coaches) who made up the team during the season. All to the purpose of discerning who has earned a shot next season, who is on the hot seat, and who should be replaced.
Keep: Kyle Sloter;
On the Bubble: Kirk Cousins; Trevor Siemian;
Analysis: Kirk Cousins may have had flashes of brilliance during the season, but it was in no way enough to warrant the $84 million contract he signed. If Spielman is as bright about number-crunching on the roster as he seems to be, he should be reaching out to Cousins about restructuring in order to free up cap room to give Cousins a better offensive line. Kyle Sloter showed signs of real brilliance in pre-season and it was a shame he never got a chance to play in garbage time during the regular season. Cousins should get a challenge from Sloter in pre-season next year if the Vikings truly wish to see if Sloter is their quarterback of the future.
Siemian was never called upon during the regular season and pre-season he looked rather underwhelming. His return may hinge on if another team in need of a starting quarterback is willing to put up the money to pry him away. If Siemian does not return, the Vikings may be looking at undrafted free agents to find a new third stringer.
Keep: Dalvin Cook; Mike Boone;
On the Bubble: Latavius Murray;
Replace: Ameer Abdullah;
Analysis: Cook started out underwhelming but seemed to get back to old form as the season progressed. Murray’s time seems to be over with the Vikings and his steady decline in production over the season makes it easy to understand why. Mike Boone’s stellar production in limited snaps makes him appear to be Murray’s heir. Abdullah’s acquisition was a mistake as he contributed nothing after joining the team in mid-season. He has no place in the Vikings future plans, especially with such a stellar young back in Roc Thomas ready to step up.
Keep: C.J. Ham;
Analysis: Normally the fullback wouldn’t be so pivotal a position, but in Ham’s case it became so due to the stark weaknesses on the offensive line. Ham held up well and he certainly deserves another shot to continue.
Keep: Adam Thielen; Stefon Diggs; Chad Beebe;
On the Bubble: Laquon Treadwell; Aldrick Robinson; Brandon Zylstra;
Analysis: Thielen and Diggs were as good a 1-2 receiving duo as there was in the league. Beebe flashed really good talent in his limited time, but he needs to find a way to stay healthy. Treadwell is just about out of chances, but he probably sticks for one more year due to his dead cap number if released. Robinson was wildly inconsistent and his presence on the roster is only due to his familiarity with Cousins. He may not be with this team next season if the Vikings find a good young receiving option in the draft or among the undrafted free agents. Zylstra needs to step up more in his learning the offense if he wants to replicate Thielen’s success.
Keep: Kyle Rudolph; David Morgan II;
On the Bubble: Tyler Conklin;
Analysis: Rudolph came up big at times when the Vikings needed him to and he is still a massive and reliable target. That said, he is probably due a talk on his contract because of his age and the team’s pressing needs at positions like the offensive line. Morgan is a stellar blocker who bailed out the offensive line with his blocking skills at times while still having soft enough hands to help as a pass catcher. The talent is clearly there with Conklin, but his inconsistency is maddening and he will likely get a challenge for his spot in training camp.
Keep: Riley Reiff;
On the Bubble: Mike Remmers; Rashod Hill;
Replace: Brian O’Neill;
Analysis: Reiff showed how important he was to the Vikings during the few weeks he was injured. He should keep the left tackle spot locked down for a couple more years, though the Vikings should start looking for his replacement in the 2020 or 2021 drafts. Remmers was abysmal at guard, but should get a chance to take back the right tackle position. If he fails at his old position though, his time may be up. Hill proved he was good as a short-term fill-in but not as a long-term starter and also that he was suited more for the right then the left side. His position on the roster going into next season probably hinges on if the Vikings find other good options for the backup tackle spots or not. O’Neill’s stats provided a nice facade over a visually obvious, awful rookie season. Its unlikely the Vikings completely give up on him this early, but he should be strictly restricted to run-heavy six-linemen formations which is the only place his athleticism can be used effectively. He will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by either Remmers or a high draft pick next season.
On the Bubble: Danny Isidora;
Replace: Tom Compton;
Analysis: If O’Neill was the major black eye at the tackle position, Tom Compton played that role at guard. He never seemed to do anything well either in run blocking or pass blocking. It was quite mystifying as to why he never gave way to Danny Isidora. Isidora had his share of struggles, but he was far better in run blocking and more consistent when he was playing well. Isidora should get another chance, even if only as a depth player, but Compton should be replaced by a number of rookie competitors for next season.
Keep: Pat Elflien; Brett Jones;
Analysis: Elflein struggled to start the year as he came back from his nasty injury, but slowly seemed to start re-acquiring his form. His major issue was the lack of decent play on either side of him at the guard spots which left him overmatched. Brett Jones played well covering for Elflein after being acquired from the Giants. In fact his play was so solid that it was rather mystifying as to why he did not slide in to take over as the starter at one of the guard positions. The question is whether the Vikings will be able to re-sign him.
Keep: Danielle Hunter;
On the Bubble: Everson Griffen; Stephen Weatherly; Tashawn Bower;
Analysis: Hunter may have passed Griffen as the dominant defensive star on the Vikings line, but Griffen can still pack a punch. That said, his growing age may warrant a contract restructuring talk from Spielman. Weatherly finally began to show some nice talent off the edge during Griffen’s absence, but his real value to the Vikings may come as a trade piece to help the team acquire more draft picks, as the Vikings seem to be loaded with depth on the line. Bower was curiously quiet this season and may need to show more effort in practice during the week to avoid the inactive list on Sundays.
Keep: Linval Joseph; Jaleel Johnson;
On the Bubble: Sheldon Richardson; Tom Johnson; Jalyn Holmes;
Analysis: Joseph continues to be the anchor for the Vikings line and showed off his athletic traits on his long defensive score against the Eagles. Jaleel Johnson finally began to show real talent in his own right this season and Jalyn Holmes also turned into a pleasant surprise in his limited playing time. The questions surround the two free agents, Richardson and Tom Johnson. Both played superbly and Richardson easily outclassed Cousins as the best signing the Vikings had this past off-season. There can be no doubt the Vikings would like both players back, but the question will be can they make it work with their salary cap situation.
Keep: Eric Wilson;
On the Bubble: Anthony Barr; Ben Gedeon;
Analysis: Barr finally began to look like a force on defense this season like he was as a rookie. That was the good news. The bad news is that he is a free agent who might be expensive to retain on a team with thin salary cap space. Gedeon seemed to regress after a solid rookie year and will need to step up next year if he wants to avoid a challenge for his position on defense. Wilson finally got some playing time thanks to injuries and held up good, but he is clearly a step below Barr and Kendricks in terms of athletic ability and experience.
Keep: Eric Kendricks;
On the Bubble: Kentrell Brothers; Devante Downs;
Analysis: Kendricks is a player who is very easy for the Vikings and their fans to take for granted. It is only when he is out that it is realized how valuable he is to this defense and that was clearly the case in the two games he missed against Detroit and Chicago. It was very curious that Brothers gave way to Wilson when Kendricks went down and it makes one wonder if the coaching staff doesn’t trust Brothers to play a regular role on defense. Downs was a rookie who got to play on special teams occasionally and did okay, but it remains to be seen if he’ll get a chance to start for injured players on defense next season.
Keep: Xavier Rhodes; Trae Waynes; Mackensie Alexander;
On the Bubble: Holton Hill; Craig James;
Analysis: Say what you will about how the season turned out, the Vikings never had to worry about the secondary really, and considering the very difficult positions the defense was left in over the course of the year, it may be an understatement to say the secondary held up well. Rhodes is still a shutdown corner and Waynes has turned into an excellent complement to Rhodes on the outside. Waynes has definitely merited an extension and the Vikings should be looking to talk with him about one. Alexander’s maturation was on full display this season with his improved play, but he still needs to work on his tackling before he can turn into a complete corner. Hill was surprisingly effective for his age when he was called upon, but he still showed he was learning at times. His position will be secure only if the Vikings do not use any more high draft picks on corners. James was promoted up from the practice squad after injuries hit the secondary but never got on the field much. His position will hinge on the health of others in the secondary next season. The biggest surprise was how effectively special teams ace Marcus Sherels played in the few moments he was called upon to play corner.
Keep: Harrison Smith; Anthony Harris;
On the Bubble: George Iloka; Jayron Kearse;
Analysis: Smith continues to be one of Zimmer’s favorite toys on defense, but he didn’t seem to grab too many turnovers this season. Harris spent the year building off his stellar play from a season ago, and that landed him a well-deserved starting job after Sendejo went down. Chances are high Harris goes into next season as the starter opposite Smith. Kearse was another player whose maturation was on full display this season as he stepped into the hybrid corner/safety role and played extremely well. Like Alexander, his tackling could use some work and he needs to learn, as Rhodes did, how to keep his hands under control occasionally, but overall he proved to be a very steady asset in the secondary. Iloka was a veteran presence, but seemed rather quiet over the course of the season. His return might hinge on what the Vikings do in the draft and free agency and whether Zimmer feels he is needed.
Keep: P Matt Wile; RS Marcus Sherels; LS Kevin McDermott;
Replace: K Dan Bailey;
Analysis: Marcus Sherels proves year in and year out what a valuable versatile player he is for this Vikings team. The sun will eventually set on his long career, but it doesn’t look like that time is now. McDermott had his share of struggles after the brutal finger injury against the Rams, but seemed to get it back under control as the season progressed. Wile was an absolute steal and did a fantastic job at punter as he grew comfortable with Priefer’s system. The release of Daniel Carlson was a major mistake for this Vikings team and his replacement, Dan Bailey, proved to be a burned-out retread who made far more mistakes than Carlson ever did. The Vikings will definitely be in the market for a new kicker this off-season (and the 2019 rookie kicker class is looking like a good one).
Keep: RB Roc Thomas; DE Ifeadi Odenigbo; WR Jeff Badet;
On the Bubble: C Cornelius Edison; CB Jalen Myrick; T Storm Norton; T Adam Bisnowaty; TE Cole Hikutini; DT Curtis Cothran; OLB Reshard Cliett;
Analysis: Thomas was a pre-season star and the Vikings have to be excited to see what he can offer with a year of experience under his belt. They thought they had lost Odenigbo after Cleveland picked him up following pre-season cuts, but the Browns were unable to use him effectively and the Vikings got him back. His return may give the Vikings the flexibility depth-wise to trade away a D-lineman or two for more draft picks. Badet impressed enough to stick all year and may get a shot to replace someone like Aldrick Robinson next year.
Edison has been playing well enough to stick around the practice squad the last two years and it will be interesting to see if he does well enough next year to warrant a spot on the regular roster, especially if Brett Jones were to get moved to guard. Norton was on and off the regular roster due to injuries, but he also is someone who may only make it if he improves in a hurry and Bisnowaty may not get a good shot if the Vikings draft some more offensive linemen. Hikutini was picked up after pre-season to give the Vikings some scouting advantages on the week one opponent, San Francisco, and clearly showed enough to stick around all season and probably into next year. Cliett held over most of the year and could get his chance to oust one of the backups next season. Cothran may have a really good shot at winning a regular roster spot next season if the Vikings can’t re-sign Richardson and Tom Johnson and don’t draft or sign any more depth at defensive tackle.
Keep: CB Mike Hughes; G Nick Easton; DE/LB Hercules Mata’afa;
On the Bubble: DE Ade Aruna; T Aviante Collins; FB Johnny Stanton; TE Josiah Price;
Replace: S Andrew Sendejo; T Cedrick Lang;
Analysis: No one’s loss hurt the Vikings more than that of Nick Easton. Without his stabilizing presence, the interior of the line collapsed. The team had better hope he can come back strong from his neck problem so as to give them depth and options at guard next season. Hughes was having a fair rookie season before he got hurt, but one has to wonder if he was worth passing on when one of the best guards in last year’s draft was still on the board. Mata’afa’s injury was disappointing as he was one of the most exciting and highly-anticipated of the Vikings undrafted free agents. Aruna was flashing talent in pre-season and the Vikings could have used Collins this year with all of the struggles at tackle. Stanton and Price weren’t jumping off the screen in pre-season, but still are worth taking another look at. Sendejo’s time with the Vikings looks like it’s over with how penalty-prone and injury-prone he has become. Lang may have run out of chances too as he may no longer be practice-squad eligible.
Replace: Interim-OC Kevin Stefanski; DC George Edwards; OLC Clancy Barone; OLC Andrew Janocko; Asst STC Ryan Ficken;
Analysis: The sample size may be small, but Stefanski failed his one big test in his three game audition for the offensive coordinator spot by not getting the offense to pull off a badly-needed win over Chicago. The Vikings may give him an interview for the full-time spot, but guesses are he will want a fresh start (Cleveland maybe?). The Vikings defense showed some pretty severe weaknesses in defending the run and playing misdirection plays this season and that should cost George Edwards, who has been no more than a placeholder, his spot. Barone and Janocko were thrust into a really bad situation thanks to Tony Sparano’s untimely passing and they failed to get the offensive line to gel sufficiently. It would be best to clean the slate and start over at the coaching position on the O-Line. Ficken’s struggles have flown under the radar for a number of years on this staff, but interestingly enough, when whispers first started to come out that maybe it was he, and not Mike Priefer, who was the culprit for the special teams struggles, the Vikings special teams suddenly began to play better. That hints that perhaps Priefer took back some of Ficken’s responsibilities and that Ficken is the one who will get the sack for the special teams struggles.
For how stacked a roster this team had going into the year, this season was a massive disappointment. The untimely passings of Tony Sparano and Fred Zamberletti clearly took a lot of wind out of the team’s sails after their deep playoff run a season ago, as has been the precedent in team history when shocking tragic losses have hit. That said, there were other things which undid this season as well.
On offense, what was feared to be their Achilles heel, namely their offensive line, proved to be the team’s undoing. Reiff and Elflein were the only players on the line to play consistently well, and without good play from the line, the running game and passing game suffered immensely. From there everything unwound. Unsupported by an offense which struggled to keep the ball and score points, the defense would wear out late in games, leading to the team being unable to hold leads or mount comebacks.
On defense, the Vikings’ one major deficiency was exposed very early in the season and the team seemed to be unable to address it adequately for the rest of the year. The 49ers ripped the Vikings defense apart on misdirection plays on opening weekend and right on cue all the Vikings remaining opponents attacked them the same way. Some were better at it than others, but the fact still stood that the Vikings defense could not adequately handle misdirection plays.
On special teams, the disastrous knee-jerk reaction of releasing Daniel Carlson over one bad game threw the special teams unit into a state of nervous wreck which it took most of the season to calm. The talent and coaching ability is still there, as their play at the end of the season manifested, but Zimmer and Spielman must show more patience with the young, pivotal players on that unit if they want more consistent success in the future.
There is a laundry list of matters to address going into 2019 for the Vikings. However, if Zimmer and Spileman can learn the correct lessons from the 2018 disappointment, there is no reason not to be confident that the Vikings can re-assert their place as the kings of the NFC north next season. The key will be however, were the correct lessons learned?
© 2019 Grant Dahl & On This Terrestrial Ball. All rights reserved. This material may not be re-published, re-broadcast, re-written or re-distributed without permission from the author of this piece. Stated permissions have been granted to PurplePTSD.com