Patterson at a crossroads

Of all the storylines that have people excited about the prospects of the 2016 Minnesota Vikings, none of them currently include wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as a key component. He has the chance to change all that in the coming months.

There are two words spoken quietly when coaches and management aren’t within earshot – contract year.

Any player in the last year of his current contract is a player looking to make a big impression – to coin another football foxhole vocabulary phrase, “put in on tape” – not just for his current employer, but 31 potential outside suitors.

At no time in a player’s career is that more vital than when it comes times to put pen to paper on a second NFL contract. The career to date that Cordarrelle Patterson has amassed is what it is (co-opting yet another locker room phrase), so perhaps no member of the current Minnesota Vikings squad has more to lose in 2016 than Patterson.

When the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached between owners and players in 2011, a new concept was created as it pertained to first-round rookies – the fifth-year option. Buried deep within the CBA was the language defining the fifth-year option, which allows teams to add an extra year to the contract of a first-round pick.

Last season, the Vikings exercised the fifth-year option on Harrison Smith and Matt Kalil. Earlier this month, they did the same with Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd. Conspicuous by his absence was Patterson – the only player other than Christian Ponder that became eligible for the fifth-year option that the Vikings declined to exercise. When the 2016 season comes to an end, Patterson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.

When Patterson came to the Vikings, the intention was that he was going to grow into a big-play receiver who could become a go-to target. As a rookie, Patterson appeared to be on the fast track to success, but, once he got into Norv Turner’s offense, things stagnated.

Not only did Patterson lose his starting job to Charles Johnson in 2014, when Johnson was injured last season, rookie Stefon Diggs checker-jumped Patterson into the lineup. From midseason on in 2015, Patterson’s role was reduced to little more than that of a return specialist. It wasn’t unusual to see Patterson involved in merely a handful of offensive snaps on any given Sunday and most of those were running plays.

With the drafting of Laquon Treadwell in the first round of this year’s draft, it would seem as though Patterson has been pushed farther down the depth chart, cementing the point that 2016 may be his final year as a Viking.

Considering all the positives that are being associated with the 2016 Vikings, the lofty goals and expectations being associated with the team have little or nothing to do with Patterson.

What happens, however, if Patterson has a breakout season? He has the talent. By all accounts, he has committed himself much more intently this offseason to become more of a factor in the Vikings offense. Whether that translates to the field will be one of the storylines of the 2016 season.

Patterson himself has been posting on social media his efforts to improve.

For Patterson, 2016 could be the perfect storm of his professional career. If he gets the opportunity to be a full-time player on offense, he could join Treadwell and Diggs as a dangerous trio of receivers that potentially could give Teddy Bridgewater the most dangerous group of receivers he’s ever had at his disposal.

This may be a make-or-break season for Patterson because, of all the Vikings on the roster, few players have more to gain from a big season than the former first-round pick who is 10 months away from unrestricted free agency. His future is in the palm of his hands. The only question now is what does Patterson do with that opportunity?

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