By the time the final roster cutdowns are executed on Sept. 2, they might be the youngest team in the league and some of their current roster stats illustrate the rebuilding project.
Of the 90 players on the teams, here is the breakdown:
As general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings search for the right mix of players, there is one statistic that might explain how they got to a place where they needed to rebuild: Only one player from the 2004, 2005 and 2006 drafts remains with the team – linebacker Chad Greenway, drafted in the first round in 2006.
Since the start of that three-year drought, the franchise has added new ownership (the Wilf family buying from Red McCombs), two new head coaches (Brad Childress replacing Mike Tice and then Leslie Frazier replacing Childress), and a new personnel structure (Spielman taking over for different versions of decision-making).
With all the turnover in coaching, front office and players, here are the top five players of the 41 newcomers on the current roster that need to make a big impact for the roster overhaul to result in meaningful improvement from the 3-13 debacle of 2011.
Matt Kalil – Quarterback Christian Ponder has talked several times about his need to improve at staying in the pocket longer, but there was good reason for his running propensity in 2011. The Vikings tied for fifth-most sacks in the NFL with 49. After making the decision to simply release Bryant McKinnie because of his lack of dedication to staying in shape, Charlie Johnson was called into emergency duty at left tackle, but the Vikings were clearly in the market for an upgrade at the most important pass-protecting position on the field. Perhaps no other person besides Ponder is more important to the Vikings' need to improve on the 28th-ranked pass offense than the team's No. 4 overall draft pick. If Kalil's quick feet and long reach live up to his draft status, Ponder will have a chance to get more comfortable in the pocket and see one more receiving options.
Jerome Simpson – Just as Kalil added to a thin offensive line, the Vikings were mired with a lack of talent at receiver last year. They hoped against all the indications that Bernard Berrian would emerge once again, but his lack of interest in the game showed through once again and eventually he was released, leaving an even bigger void in the passing game. Conversely, Simpson has a need to achieve. He is on a one-year contract and coming off the best season of his career. Can he continue that momentum after a three-game suspension stemming from possession of marijuana last year? If he can, the Vikings' passing game will be in much better shape with Simpson providing a deep threat the team simply didn't have last year. Between his height, speed and athleticism, Simpson at the very least gives them the threat of a deep passing game, and that could open up lanes in the running game and underneath passing game.
John Carlson – Speaking of the short and intermediate game, that is where free-agent tight end Carlson could excel. He doesn't have the big frame, hands and ability to stretch the field as Kyle Rudolph does, but Carlson can exploit the soft spots in defenses much like Jermaine Wiggins did under Tice's offense. After a season on the sidelines with an injury in 2011, the Vikings were willing to pry him away from a scheduled free-agent visit with the Kansas City Chiefs for an offer he couldn't refuse – five years, $25 million. With 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first three seasons with Seattle, Carlson should be an adequate, younger replacement for Visanthe Shiancoe.
Harrison Smith – The Vikings haven't had a playmaker at safety since Darren Sharper left for New Orleans. Smith is both physical enough to handle the run and athletic enough to pull down some interceptions. It's been too long since the Vikings have had that dual-purpose safety, either having to settle for a safety with physicality or playmaking ability, both rarely both. They eschewed their recent history of settling for late-round picks to fill the void and traded up to get Smith in the first round of the draft, convinced he was the last viable starter remaining. He is key cog in turning around the 26th-ranked pass defense.
Blair Walsh – Last year, the Vikings had nine games with a point differential of six points or fewer. Eight of those were losses. Ryan Longwell wasn't one of the primary reasons for those losses, but he also had his least effective season as a Viking, making only six of 10 between 40 and 49 yards and struggling to give them much in the way of touchbacks despite a new rule that moved up the kickoff line five yards. Walsh clearly has a stronger leg, but can he provide the consistency Longwell had with field goals prior to 2011?
The Vikings clearly identified their weaknesses in the passing game and defending the pass and committed their resources to those areas during an offseason that is about to end. If the newcomers commissioned to improve those facets of the game perform as hoped, the turnaround could be closer than many expect.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.