It’s hard to write a post-mortem about the 2019 Vikings without wondering how different things will be going forward.
This past season — successful by some measures with a playoff berth and wild card round victory but disappointing compared to the stated goal of the Super Bowl — largely was about maintaining the status quo from a flat 2018 season. Anthony Barr and Kyle Rudolph came back, wedging into a salary cap packed tighter than carry-on luggage.
The theme in 2020 could very well be quite the opposite: change. Here’s another look at the good things we learned in 2019 about the Vikings, what we know about the team as it stands — and most importantly what Minnesota needs if it is going to push forward further.
The Vikings jumped from 8 to 10 wins (and could have made it 11 had they not rested several starters in a meaningless finale vs. the Bears) and won a playoff game.
*When the offense was clicking in the middle of the season, Dalvin Cook was shredding defenses and play action off of his runs was helping Kirk Cousins spread the ball around and make big plays. The Vikings won five games this year in which they allowed at least 20 points, including the playoff win over the Saints. They had won just nine such games in Mike Zimmer’s previous five seasons.
Eric Kendricks jumped from very good player to one of the NFL’s best linebackers, earning All-Pro honors while emerging as a star against the run and pass (including an interception Saturday).
And not to be overlooked: Dan Bailey gave much-needed stability to the kicking game. Paired with new holder Britton Colquitt and snapper Austin Cutting, Bailey made 27 of 29 field goals for the fourth-best accuracy in the league. He made all three attempts from 50-plus yards and produced touchbacks on 75% of his kickoffs. It feels like Bailey could be a long-term solution for a long-term problem.
WHAT WE KNOW
*The Vikings will pick 25th in the draft. That was settled with the rest of the results from the division round.
*Minnesota enters the offseason with, at least on paper, the least amount of cap space of any team in 2020. They’re technically more than $5 million over as of now, so there is work to be done even before the new league year starts in March.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
*What will be done about the contracts of Cousins, GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer? All three are entering the final years of their deals. All three have enough pluses on their ledgers to be worthy of extensions, but all three also have a lot more to prove when it comes to competing for a Super Bowl.
*The Vikings will start 2020 with their fifth different offensive coordinator in five seasons. Norv Turner started 2016 in that role; Pat Shurmur in 2017; John DeFilippo in 2018; Kevin Stefanski in 2019; and Coordinator X in 2020 with Stefanski leaving to take the Browns job. The Vikings could maintain some semblance of continuity by promoting from within, but the offense will have a new feel on game day.
*Can the Vikings maintain a stout defense while upgrading their offensive line considering their salary cap? This here is perhaps the biggest question. The Vikings ranked No. 25 in the NFL in pass blocking efficiency in 2019 per Pro Football Focus, the fourth time in the last five years they’ve been 25th or worse. The only time it was deemed adequate by PFF was 2017, when the Vikings went 13-3. The Vikings have 11 players with cap numbers of at least $10 million next season, and seven are on defense. There figure to be a number of cap casualties, but it is correct to be skeptical about the Vikings’ ability to improve on both sides of the ball.
In a lot of ways, the Vikings feel like a team in transition — but one that could keep its power structure intact with extensions for Zimmer, Spielman and Cousins.
It’s going to be a fascinating and perhaps even messy offseason.