With the entire NFL football world now focused on just two teams, the other 30 are at various stages of their offseason, from teams like Cleveland, which was effectively eliminated in late October, to teams like Detroit and Chicago, who saw their seasons end in December, to teams like the Vikings and Redskins, who had their division-title glee short-lived, to teams like New England and Arizona who came close, but no cigar.
As the Panthers and Broncos hog the headlines and take center stage in front of a worldwide audience a week from Sunday, the rest of the NFL is doing its own preparation. They’re putting game plans together, but it’s for 2016, not their next game.
It poses the question – how far away are the Minnesota Vikings from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender? The Vikings are clearly viewed as a young team on the rise. Heading into free agency, the core of the Vikings roster is going to remain intact next year.
Of the team’s free agents, there isn’t a player that is viewed as a “must re-sign.” There are some key role players, including aging veterans Chad Greenway and Terence Newman and safety Andrew Sendejo. None of those three would be necessarily crippling to the defense if they’re not back next year. All of the key veteran players who were critical to their 2015 success are under contract and expected back.
The Vikings are in a position to decide whether they’re going to lock and load with the current crop of players, making sure they lock down their young talent and continue to build through the draft or make a run at a spendy veteran free agent or two along the way.
With teams like Green Bay and Seattle having a ton of key players who are starters or key role players hitting the free agent market, they can only lock down so many of them at one time. Both of them have already invested well into eight figures for their starting quarterbacks, so they have to pick and choose who they keep. The Cardinals are a veteran-laden team that isn’t getting any younger at several key positions, so their window is closing fast.
The only team that is currently sitting in a similar position to the Vikings is Carolina. The Panthers don’t have many key players slated for free agency and the plum of the group – cornerback Josh Norman – is almost sure to be franchised if the team can’t reach a long-term deal.
When one looks at the power teams of the NFC, two of them (Green Bay and Seattle) are facing some serious money decisions given their success – there comes a time when players are willing to move when they’re getting paid more to move – and another (Arizona) that is getting older by the minute. Fortunately for the Cardinals, there are a lot of retirees in Arizona.
When football analysts make projection assessments heading into free agency and the draft, when they look at the Vikings, unless they have something against the franchise in the way of a personal beef, they have to see a team in which replicating its 11-5 record is a distinct possibility – with the potential of being a team that could take a step above that.
In most seasons, finishing with a record better than 11-5 not only wins that team another division, the first playoff game comes after a bye week. If recent history has taught us anything, having to win two games to get to a Super Bowl – with at least one of them at home – is a lot easier than having to win three.
As things currently stand, the Panthers will clearly be the NFC’s betting odds favorite on Feb. 7, when the first official 2016 odds come out. But don’t be surprised if the Vikings aren’t far behind. In terms of carryover momentum, it’s hard to say that Arizona, Green Bay or Seattle have more young steam moving forward than Minnesota.
- The iconic feature of U.S. Bank Stadium is now visible to fans driving by the Vikings’ new digs. The massive hydraulic pivoting glass doors have been installed and the largest of the five will remain open all week so the final seals to the doors can be installed. The project is expected to be 90 percent completed by the end of the month.
- One has to wonder how many quarterbacks declined to play in the Pro Bowl for Teddy Bridgewater to be selected. While it’s a great honor for the Vikings QB, he was in the top 10 of NFL QBs in only one category – completion percentage – and out of the top 20 in attempts, completions, yards, touchdown passes, touchdown percentage and passer rating. If things hold form as they typically do in the Pro Bowl, Bridgewater will be in the game in the fourth quarter when the game will be on the line.