Nine Vikings on the hot seat

If the Vikings are to accomplish big things in 2015, nine players will have to be key cogs in the process.

There’s a term in sports that applies to players and coaches called “the hot seat.” As its name implies, it can induce heavy sweating, nausea and nervousness. In a sport that is based as much on “what have you done for me lately?” as the NFL is, the hot seat can come out of nowhere and have dire consequences.

As the Vikings enter the 2015 season, they have a lot of players on the hot seat – not always because they’re going to lose their roster spots, but because a considerable portion of their future is hanging in the balance by what they accomplish over the next six months.

Every team has plenty of them. The Vikings are no exception. These are the nine players who might find themselves on the hot seat as much as any this year.

Adrian PetersonA.P. came back to the Vikings after some contentious moments and is agreeing to play under a very spendy contract by current running back standards. The question now is whether he will play at a level that will convince the Vikings to keep him under contract as the heaviest lifting portion of the deal is still on the horizon. At some point, Peterson’s cost will outweigh his value. The question now is when that time comes.

Matt KalilWhen the Vikings took Kalil with the fourth pick of the 2012 draft, the thought was that they had themselves a bookend left tackle for the next decade that would be a stalwart blindside protector. After a very shaky 2014 season, Kalil has more than his share of doubters. While the Vikings picked up his fifth-year option in May, it doesn’t mean they’re locked into his contract. If Kalil struggles again, he can be released at the end of the season and the Vikings won’t be on the hook for any of it. He is clearly at a career crossroads.

Teddy BridgewaterAs a rookie, hopes for Teddy were high, but expectations were dialed back. By the end of the season, Bridgewater had all the looks of a player ready to take the next step in quarterback maturation that would make him a franchise player and one of the faces of the franchise moving forward. While there is no pressure that he will lose his starting job, expectations provide their own hot seat and Bridgewater will have to prove he’s up to the challenge.

Chad GreenwayGreenway has been fixture at linebacker for a decade with the Vikings and he likely is going to end his career in purple. But with Gerald Hodges nipping at his heels and the requirement that he take a pay cut to avoid being released earlier this offseason, Greenway is fighting to keep his starting job. If he loses it, he likely won’t get it back as the Vikings give playing time to those who will be around in the post-Greenway era.

Captain MunnerlynBy his own admission, Munnerlyn wasn’t satisfied with his performance last season. He struggled badly at times, and with the Vikings ready to move forward with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes as their bookend corners, Munnerlyn will have to excel in the slot and when called on to play on the outside or he could become a salary cap casualty cast off in favor of a younger player with upside.

Cordarrelle PattersonEntering the 2014 season, just about every NFL analyst viewed Patterson as a breakout star on the horizon with big-time potential. A year later, he’s trying to salvage his career after being benched for nearly entire games down the stretch. He’s going to be looking for a second contract and will really have to pick up the pace in his third season if he’s going to get the Vikings to invest in him long-term.

Brian RobisonRobison has been a solid left end since the Vikings rewarded him with a long-term contract and let veteran Ray Edwards leaves. Until last year, he played up to the level of his pay grade. But as so many other players excelled in Zimmer’s defense, B-Rob’s responsibilities changed. He is still on the top line of the depth chart, but he is going to face significant challenges for playing time and, if he doesn’t dial it up this season, he could be on the bad end of that exchange.

Kyle RudolphRudolph has a promising career in front of him, but it has been derailed by injuries the last two seasons. One of the knocks on Rudolph coming out of college was his injury history and there are some who believe if he can’t put in a full season again this year, the Vikings might start looking at a long-term replacement. It’s clear that Norv Turner wants to exploit Rudolph in his offense, but if Rudolph can’t stay healthy, the Vikings have to weigh their options.

Robert BlantonThe Vikings are set at three defensive back positions moving forward with Rhodes, Waynes and safety Harrison Smith. Blanton became a full-time starter last year and played relatively well, but there is a sentiment that the Vikings may end up looking for a playmaker to pair up with Smith somewhere down the line. If Blanton can live up to the faith Mike Zimmer and the defensive staff have put in him, he has the chance to hold down the position for a long time. If he doesn’t stand out, they’ll look for a replacement.

Nine players. All have one thing in common. Whether for a young player like Bridgewater or an aging veteran like Greenway, 2015 will be the watershed moments of their careers and a lot of weight will be carried by how things transpire starting at training camp and moving on through the season.

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