The Minnesota Vikings will enter an offseason during the coming months that will determine the direction of the team for many years. They just finished a 13-4 season, won the NFC North, and have many of the pieces necessary to turn things around and compete in the upcoming campaign.
But it’s obvious now after watching the Chiefs-Eagles that the Vikings have no chance of winning the Super Bowl.
On Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles put on an instant classic. Additionally, it included several elements that the Vikings lack.
Two years ago, Patrick Mahomes was pummeled into the ground by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who unloaded their wrath on a shoddy offensive line. In response, the Chiefs have been aggressive the last two offseasons, signing Joe Thuney, acquiring Orlando Brown through trade, and selecting Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith in the draft. That effort was fruitful. The Chiefs offered exceptional protection, not allowing a single sack on the game’s grandest stage.
On the opposing sideline, the power in the trenches was just as fierce. To keep the Chiefs offense off the field, the Eagles consistently produced lengthy drives. The offensive line in Philadelphia was always there to keep the drive going when it was in a short-yardage situation. In the fourth quarter, Jalen Hurts followed his line for a two-point conversion that tied the game after executing multiple successful quarterback sneaks.
It was the result of an offensive line that Philadelphia developed over the previous ten years. They selected Landon Dickerson in the second round and left tackle Jordan Mailata in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft. They discovered Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick (2013), Isaac Seumalo in the third round (2011), and Jason Kelce in the sixth round (2013).
On defense, the difference is also noticeable. The Eagles quickly and effectively constructed a defense with numerous angles of attack on the opposing offense. Philadelphia had a strong front with Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Josh Sweat, which gave Haason Reddick, T.J. Edwards, and Kyzir White room to fill in the gaps. A league-high 70 sacks were the outcome.
It wasn’t, however, the only terrifying element of the defense.
The Eagles searched for quickness in the secondary for years. Before joining the NFL, top cornerback Darius Slay ran a 4.36 40-yard sprint. James Bradberry, a different corner, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson completed the 40-yard dash.
The Kansas City defense exhibits the same characteristics. Frank Clark and Chris Jones were the Chiefs’ initial starting linebackers, and they later acquired George Karlaftis in the first round of the draft. In Steve Spagnolo’s aggressive plan, movable chess pieces Carlos Dunlap, Nick Bolton, and Willie Gay were released. A secondary led by Juan Thornhill (4.42 seconds), Justin Reid (4.40 seconds), L’Jarius Sneed (4.37 seconds), and Trent McDuffie (4.44 seconds) can keep up with anyone.
Contrast that with the Vikings’ defense. They have to overpay for nose tackles in free agency and look for strong guys on the edge because of years of subpar drafting.
The Vikings have a poor front and almost no speed behind it. Last season, tight ends and running backs who were speedier than Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks were able to outrun them. Guys like Isaiah Hodgins and DJ Chark outperformed Chandon Sullivan, Cameron Dantzler, and Patrick Peterson.
Harrison Smith, who Mike Zimmer used as a heat-seeking rocket, was forced by Ed Donatell to spend the majority of his snaps in coverage. Cam Bynum was also too sluggish to serve as a corner or impact safety with a 4.58-second 40.
By selecting Lewis Cine, Brian Asamoah, and Andrew Booth Jr., the Vikings attempted to fix the issue. However, due either to injuries or Minnesota’s refusal to cooperate, they were unable to have an impact.
The skill-position groups are likewise very deficient. DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown was selected by the Eagles, who stocked up at the receiver position. Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott were part of a running back by committee that helped them reach the Super Bowl. Despite losing Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs persevered thanks to the domination of Travis Kelce, a group of quick receivers that included Kadarius Toney, and a backfield that was anchored by seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco.
Compared to the Vikings, Adam Thielen spent the most of his Super Bowl weekend on radio row attempting to convince everyone he still has a lot of game left and despite being one of the least productive running backs in the league, Dalvin Cook allegedly isn’t willing to take a salary reduction.
The Chiefs and Eagles were consistent postseason teams with a good quarterback toward the conclusion of the 2010s. Before tearing his ACL in 2017, Carson Wentz was playing at MVP-caliber, and Alex Smith was a calming influence for the Chiefs. Both teams might have contentedly maintained the status quo, but instead they chose to draft a quarterback.
In 2017, the Chiefs traded up 17 positions to select Patrick Mahomes. In the 2020 draft, the Eagles selected Hurts in the second round. While many fans condemned these decisions, they offered teams an advantage against the new quarterback generation.
But the largest change might take place off the field. Kansas City was able to pursue long-term answers to their difficulties rather than a temporary fix since Mahomes was under a rookie deal. Even after Mahomes agreed to a 10-year, $450 million contract during the 2020 offseason, the agreement was long enough to defer payments and set aside money for team upgrades.
With Hurts still on his rookie contract, the Eagles were in a different situation. In the free-agent market, Philadelphia strengthened its defense, and the money it saved up in the draft went toward acquiring A.J. Brown. The Eagles exploded this season thanks to assembling a group of quick players in their prime, which put them in position to win their second Super Bowl.
Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback, but he lacks Mahomes and Hurts’ qualities. Cousins rarely makes plays with his athleticism. Even throughout the previous season, his passes’ velocities were declining. He guided the Vikings to eight comebacks in the fourth quarter, but going ahead, they can’t count on that.
Even Kirko Chainz, Cousins’ alter ego, shows that Vikings supporters want him to be someone he isn’t. Cousins costs just over $4 million less than Mahomes and provides the Vikings just a small portion of the on-field impact with a $31.4 million cap charge in 2022. This offseason, the Vikings are under pressure because of his short-term deal. To free up cap space, they’ll either need to extend his contract for another year or let him take the full $36.25 million cap charge for the next season.
Both alternatives restrict the Vikings’ ability to address their other issues. In the meanwhile, the Chiefs can stock up for another Super Bowl run while deferring Mahomes’ $49.2 million contract cost to future seasons. Hurts’ cap cost might be kept low even by the Eagles, who will need to sign him to an extension, giving them the freedom to make a move.
The general office of the Vikings should turn on the big game and observe some of the factors that propelled the Chiefs and Eagles to Glendale.