Thank you for submitting questions for this Vikings mailbag. You can send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on X (formerly Twitter) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen for answers to more reader questions on the Access Vikings podcast or find them here. Let's get to it.
Q: How can the Vikings not keep Danielle Hunter after this season? — Rick
AK: He likely won't stay if they're not the highest bidder. The lack of a long-term solution between Hunter and the Vikings over the last few years from General Managers Rick Spielman and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah shows how Hunter has held firm to a higher standard than what he'd been offered after a couple injury-marred seasons. He's back to performing at that lofty standard with 13½ sacks — one shy of a single-season career high and tying Jared Allen (85½) for sixth on the Vikings' career sack list. Hunter has professed his desire to stay in Minnesota, including through this year's trade deadline, but he's going to command the average salary of an elite pass rusher. The Bears just paid Montez Sweat an average of $24.5 million per season. Hunter will likely get more than that from somebody. The big question: has the Vikings' evaluation of Hunter changed given how he's played under coordinator Brian Flores? Because Hunter's play seems to have met the upper-tier contract he's long sought. Through last summer, this Vikings regime wasn't willing to meet those demands.
Q: Is there a situation where the Vikings season could play out and they end up re-signing both Kirk Cousins and Joshua Dobbs? — Nick
AK: They both want to play (and share the same agent, Mike McCartney), so being on the same team doesn't maximize either playing time or dollars. The final five games will be huge for Dobbs, who is likely auditioning for other teams more than he's auditioning for a long-term role in Minnesota. There remains a lot of time and games to be played before those decisions are made final. The fascinating decision will revolve around the 35-year-old Cousins coming off an Achilles repair. Cousins was playing some of the best football of his NFL career before the Oct. 29 injury. The Vikings were winning games, like the Oct. 15 win in Chicago, even when the offense struggled. If Flores sticks around another season and Cousins' value is met — third-year guarantees (2025) were a sticking point in negotiations last offseason — that reunion would make sense.
Q: What is the biggest weakness on this team that needs to be addressed in the offseason? — Gordon
AK: Most teams can use more pass rush and better coverage, and the Vikings are no different. The Vikings' defensive success this season is all the more impressive considering Hunter may be the only one getting leaguewide recognition. There are deserving and important contributors from safeties Harrison Smith, Josh Metellus and Camryn Bynum to defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and linebacker Jordan Hicks, who underwent leg surgery last month. But more top-tier talent — game-wrecking talent — would go a long way toward making the leap from a solid defense to a great one. I'm not making decisions for anybody, but I'd start at edge rusher (even if they re-sign Hunter). Another remaining need is guard, where Ed Ingram has made strides in his second season, but neither he nor Dalton Risner should be free of competition. Risner is scheduled to be a free agent in March.
Q: What's holding back the running game so much? — Rohn
AK: The Vikings are near the bottom of the league in just about every rushing metric from attempts (29th) and yards (28th) to average per carry (25th) and touchdowns (tied for 28th). Running back Alexander Mattison ripped off a season-long run for 21 yards to start the second half of the Nov. 27 loss to the Bears. He took his next two carries for 18 yards. After a 1-yard run, the Vikings ended up with six straight passes into a fourth-down interception. Head coach Kevin O'Connell hasn't had much reason to be patient with a poorly-executed run game overall. Coaches have pointed to bumbled blocking and poor reads or timing by the backs. And they obviously have an incredibly talented receiving corps. But the backs also haven't been given much chance to get into a rhythm with pass-heavy play calling despite fielding a backup quarterback. They're not a powerful interior front, which shows in their repeated goal-line failures, and coaches have failed to overcome those shortcomings through development or scheme.
Q: Why haven't we seen Kene Nwangwu get any attempt at running back? — Jon
AK: The speedy 2021 fourth-round pick dealt with a back injury that kept him from much of training camp, the preseason and the first six games of the regular season. He missed another game due to an illness and was a healthy scratch the following week in Atlanta. He's appeared in just four games this season, mostly on special teams. There's no doubting Nwangwu's speed, but NFL rules limiting kickoffs have limited his impact. Coaches had him working behind Ty Chandler last spring in the competition for the No. 2 job. Then Nwangwu got hurt early in training camp, derailing any development for a raw college runner who didn't see more than 61 carries in a single season. He's got the talent to be involved in a gadget-type role, but that has not materialized in the NFL under two different coaching staffs.