The free agency window is officially open, and deals are being signed left and right. While Green Bay and the Jets wait impatiently for Aaron Rodgers to make a decision, the Bears are beefing up their defense and offensive line with signings such as LB Tremaine Edmunds and OG Nate Davis. The Lions are also quietly active, meanwhile the Minnesota Vikings are seemingly moving at a snail’s pace with small signings and zero big names heading to the state of 10,000 lakes at the time of writing this article. Some Vikings fans are watching the rest of the NFC North build themselves up, apart from Green Bay, and are rather irritated at the way Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has navigated the off-season so far.
So far, the Vikings have signed DE Marcus Davenport to a 1 year deal, TE Josh Oliver to a 3 year deal, and re-signed Garrett Bradbury to a 3 year, team friendly contract. Kirk Cousins had his annual contract evaluation with a restructure and no imonent extension on the horizon, painting an odd picture for his future in purple. Some fans are upset at this “inactivity” as many may have believed that after all of the roster cuts that the Vikings were planning on bigger “flashier” moves to replace the old guard. That obviously hasn’t been the case, but Kwesi’s plan is beginning to unfold more clearly. With that said, I have one statement to make. Let him cook.
Minnesota has just signed Byron Murphy, so no more complaining about big names, I guess. Other than this signing, Minnesota’s activity in free agency has consisted of scheme fit signings with team friendly re-signings on the side. Something to remember is Minnesota was competing with an aging roster with little to nothing left in the tank, and that they needed to cut the dead weight before the team had to bear the burden of the contracts Spielman had signed. They needed a hard reset on the defense, and it seems things are shaping in that direction.
You have to remember, last year’s roster wasn’t built by Kwesi, nor was it shaped for Kevin O’Connell. It was a last ditch attempt at trying to make that group of players work, and it failed. A tear down and soft rebuild was inevitable, as ugly as it may seem. Eric Kendricks had clearly lost a step, as well as Adam Thielen. Don’t be surprised if Harrison Smith is cut if they can’t restructure his contract.
Now is the time for Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O’Connell to shape the roster in the image they desire, and that’s usually never a pretty process. They need to keep what fits, and discard the rest. Byron Murphy and Josh Oliver are a solid start, but they’re a long way from putting together a competitive roster that showcases the style of football they wish to play. It’s going to take a productive draft and a season dedicated to further developing the schematic and cultural foundations laid this past season.
What can Fans Expect in the Future?
Fans shouldn’t view this next season as one that’s meant to be all too competitive. It’s a transition year, and that usually means experimenting and trying to find what works for what they’re trying to do. Remember, this past season was the first time O’Connell called plays, and now with Brian Flores, the football is sure to be more refined. It’s the lack of talent that points Minnesota in the direction of a rebuild, and that mostly centers around the quarterback position.
Kirk Cousins’ restructure was possibly a sign of things to come, with the possibility of Minnesota moving on from the quarterback in the near future. There’s only so much football left in him, and regardless of how fond O’Connell is of Cousins, he knows better than anyone that at some point he can’t start under center anymore. Now his replacement is a larger question mark that has no definitive answer, nor does it mean it’ll have an answer anytime soon. Minnesota isn’t in position to draft a replacement, let alone sign one, therefore Cousins’ job is secure, for now.
Other positions are likely to be filled in the draft, such as receiver and cornerback depth. The loss of Thielen means that the number two option is now squarely on TJ Hockenson’s shoulders, and from then on it’s someone murky. KJ Osborn is a solid third option, but proper wide receiver depth is a glaring issue otherwise. You can find some of these in free agency, but Adofo-Mensah is likely not to take a drastic hit to the cap with the Justin Jefferson and TJ Hockenson extensions being due soon. Christian Darrisaw will also likely be resigned to a massive deal, meaning Adofo-Mensah needs plenty of room for the future.
Don’t Panic, Just “Let Kwesi Cook”
Don’t doubt Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell. Last year was partly the fault of the ownership wanting them to run it back with the same roster one last time, but now is their time to build the roster in their own image. Free agency likely won’t be a heavily used asset of the team building process unless necessary or if a unique opportunity presents itself, such as the Byron Murphy signing. Adofo-Mensah seems to operate on an opportunity based model anyway, especially considering the TJ Hockenson trade. Otherwise, he carries the Spielman trait of wanting to build through the draft for the sake of cheaper contracts, saving cap space to re-sign in-house options over time.
Don’t fret Vikings fans. Chicago may have treated free agency like a blackjack table, but that doesn’t mean Minnesota is letting the Bears trample over them this off-season. This is a year where no one in the division can realistically contend for a Super Bowl, meaning there’s not much to be gained from trying hard anyway. This is an evaluation year, so treat the upcoming season as an experimental year, nothing more. If the team is successful and competitive, that’s great, but don’t expect them to come firing out the gates with the Lombardi in their sights like last season. Just keep an eye on the draft in the meantime, and “let Kwesi cook.”