Thank you for submitting questions for this week's Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let's get to it.
Q: Is it wrong to be upset if we hire another defensive-minded guy and then have to play musical offensive coordinators every year if our offense isn't terrible? — @cpreszler21
AK: This is among the top concerns I've heard and read from Vikings fans wanting to see the primary coaching focus shift from years of Mike Zimmer's defense to the talented offense. But co-owner Mark Wilf said at the onset of the searches Jan. 10 that they'd be considering "great leaders" and "great communicators" first and foremost. "We don't want to pigeonhole that it's this type of person or that type of person," Wilf said, "this type of coordinator or that type of coach. We want to be open-minded." They obviously watched a 34-year-old Mike Tomlin leave their building after serving one season in 2006 as Vikings defensive coordinator to become Steelers head coach. Tomlin has been a galvanizing personality and leader for locker rooms over 15 seasons – all without a losing campaign – in Pittsburgh. The other five longest-tenured NFL head coaches, who also have at least one Super Bowl ring, come from a variety of backgrounds from Andy Reid's offenses to Bill Belichick's defenses and John Harbaugh's special teams. What's also common among the Wilfs' five defensive coordinator candidates for head coach – the Rams' Raheem Morris, the 49ers' DeMeco Ryans, the Cowboys' Dan Quinn, the Buccaneers' Todd Bowles and the Eagles' Jonathan Gannon – is the volume of former and current coworkers and players who have spoken highly of their leadership. Here's a strong read on Ryans, the 37-year-old former Texans and Eagles linebacker.
Regarding offensive coordinators, I'd focus more on the quarterback question than the play caller. Stable quarterback situations don't beget much coaching turnover. But before last season, the Seahawks had a top-10 scoring offense for much of the last decade with one quarterback, Russell Wilson, and two coordinators. The Steelers fielded, at worst, the 12th-ranked scoring offense in 11 of 15 years between four different coordinators; good Ben Roethlisberger and often well-rounded teams were the commonality.
Q: Kirk Cousins clearly thrives on the play-action style that's really central to the Kubiak/Shanahan scheme. How would Cousins fit scheme-wise if the Vikings hired a head coach from the Andy Reid tree? Did we run that sort of offense in the DeFilippo season? — @jaredandersonmn
AK: Let's start with the uncertainty surrounding Cousins' future with the Vikings. But if new leadership chooses the door of keeping him for 2022, which is currently his final year under contract, then the offensive direction becomes the focus. Many of Cousins' best moments in Minnesota have come in the offense first installed by Gary Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski and carried on by Klint Kubiak last year. There have been tweaks over three years, and the younger Kubiak started leaning away from play-action a little in 2021. But what if the Vikings hired Doug Pederson? He's from the Andy Reid tree, as you mentioned, and would have his own preferred system. To be clear, the Vikings hadn't requested to speak with Pederson, according to a league source, as of Wednesday. But whomever the Vikings hire as head coach, he'll have his own choice on the next playbook and the next coordinator who designs it. The problem with Cousins in former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo's offense in 2018 was the lack of creativity in keeping him clean. Offensive linemen were tired by season's end of being asked to drop back over and over against pass rushers who knew Cousins wasn't moving from one spot. Whatever system fields Cousins, giving him clean throws needs to be the top priority. He's not going to buy much time on his own.
Q: How drastically different would the view of this roster be if the Eagles had taken Justin Jefferson in 2020? I think one lucky moment made a huge difference in how fast this could be retooled. — @scott_roberts25
AK: Having one of the NFL's best receivers on a rookie contract in a passing league does make a huge difference. Led by Justin Jefferson, the skill trio of him, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen makes this an offense prepared to win now – as the sole reason for stealing a game against the Packers in otherwise down 2020 and 2021 seasons. Thielen's salary and 32nd birthday in August may lead to questions about his future, but he can be a high-level No. 2 for a few more years, if not longer. He puts in that kind of work behind the scenes. K.J. Osborn came along, giving the Vikings a strong trio and one of the more coveted head-coaching openings.
Q: Who are the most likely cap casualties this offseason? — @runbayou79
AK: That's a bridge too far right now in a front office without a general manager, but for the sake of discussion we can go about this by pointing out the most flexible veteran contracts for new leadership. A large chunk of cap space can be gained by cutting defensive end Danielle Hunter, but that seems like a very bad idea even with his poor injury luck. Nose tackle Michael Pierce's deal has a mid-March deadline in which his $7.9 million base salary becomes guaranteed. If he's released before, it'd free up $6.5 million. As we talked about on the Access Vikings podcast, the most likely route to freeing up space might be restructuring or trading players. The mortgage is coming due on Thielen's contract, which has a nearly $17 million cap in 2022 and nearly $18 million in 2023. A year ago, the Vikings redid his deal to create $7.5 million in space, pushing charges into these future years. He's got three years left on his deal, but perhaps additional negotiations could ease the cap burden and give him even more security. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is the elephant in the room; his $45 million cap number would be trimmed to $10 million with a trade, unless the Vikings agreed to take on some of his salary.
Q: The Vikings defense gave up too many game-winning scores and have a high payroll for 2022. Do you see major changes? — @jaq_be_nimble
AK: Rick Spielman's all-in approach to 2021 left some anchors on the salary cap, including linebacker Anthony Barr's nearly $10 million that was left on the 2022 cap during last year's restructure that voided the final two years of his deal. In short, Barr isn't under contract but will count at least that much against the Vikings' spending. Consider the high number of pending free agents from last year's defense – Barr, cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, safety Xavier Woods, cornerback Mackensie Alexander and linebacker Nick Vigil – and yes, there should be new looks in both players and playbook in 2022.