The Minnesota Vikings are getting into a more standard salary-cap division among their positions, meaning they will have to have players increase their value. We pick one at each offensive position to fit that role.
A veteran starting quarterback means a more mature salary cap.
Over the last decade, sans the Brett Favre years, the Minnesota Vikings have essentially been able to spend more in other areas to make up for the lack of well-paid, highly executing quarterback. From the time Daunte Culpepper left – with the underrated Brad Childress quote about picturing Culpepper working out behind a Chinese restaurant in a WalMart parking lot – it’s a been a cattle call of below-market, young, unproven (or negatively proven) quarterbacks.
The Vikings moved on from Culpepper and went with Brad Johnson, Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte, Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater. And just when Bridgewater was emerging toward the top of the bunch, his dislocated knee dismembered his chances of continuing to prove it last year. Enter Sam Bradford and the high-priced veteran earning his keep.
But with that comes the price of playing proven quarterback poker. Bradford will cost $18 million in 2017, the same amount of cap space the Vikings gained by letting Adrian Peterson walk. It essentially allowed the Vikings to be more aggressive with contracts for Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and Latavius Murray. But it also left a couple of spots unfilled.
That’s where a player will need to emerge from the shadows.
With that, here are the players we think have to take a step forward at every offensive position:
Quarterback – Taylor Heinicke’s decision to use his foot before using his mind last summer impacted his ability to use his arm. After putting his foot through the glass portion of a locked door after returning from a movie, Heinicke had to have surgery that put him out of commission for all of training camp, the preseason and the start of the regular season. Before the kick, Bridgewater was the starting quarterback and Bradford was property of the Philadelphia Eagles. When Heinicke returned, Bridgewater was out with his serious knee injury and Bradford had assumed the starting role in Minnesota. Had Heinicke been part of training camp and proved himself, he might be in better standing now. Instead, it’s Bradford, new signee Case Keenum and Heinicke expected to get the snaps in training camp. Heinicke still has a chance to prove himself, but with all three of the more experienced quarterbacks entering the final year of their contracts, Heinicke’s preseason snaps had better be fruitful.
Running back – C.J. Ham put together a pretty decent preseason as an undrafted rookie last year, finishing with the most carries (44) and second-highest average (3.2 yards) behind a shaky offensive line. Without Matt Asiata (or Peterson) on the roster, Ham may get more looks in the preseason in an effort to earn a spot on the roster. He’ll be fighting for that spot with Bishop Sankey and an anticipated draft pick. But don’t count out Ham. Murray and Jerick McKinnon are expected to occupy the first two spots on the depth chart, but Ham could push for time, especially if an injury pops up in front of him.
Wide receiver – Last year’s breakout player at the position was Adam Thielen. He went from mainly a special-teams guy to a starting receiver as he continued to prove himself. One thing about this coaching staff is they aren’t afraid to see who is ready. Thielen was, as he rendered Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson to third fiddle. This year, Laquon Treadwell needs that sort of proving time, but we see Jarius Wright being the guy to re-emerge. He’s proven he can do it, but because the coaches were set on trying to make Patterson a threat, Wright’s time was limited. Now, it is his time to be used as the main slot man and get back to his previously productive ways.
Tight end – Without Rhett Ellison, David Morgan will see more time. So, too, will an expected draft pick. But Morgan had a year to be slowly immersed into the lineup without the pressure to do it all. This year, without Ellison or Zach Line (still a free agent that could be signed later), Morgan should get the opportunity to explore a bigger role as a move tight end/H-back.
Offensive line – In reality, who didn’t get the chance to step up last year? With eight different starting combinations due to injury, if you were an offensive lineman and a warm body, you got your chance. This year, the breakout guy might not be on the roster yet. The feeling here is that the Vikings will use one of their first three picks (one in the second round and two in the third) on a guard. That guy will get every opportunity to win the spot vacated when the Vikings released Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris. They have other options, like Joe Berger or Nick Easton moving from center to guard, or one of the right tackles sliding inside, but ideally a Day 2 pick in the draft is the one to emerge and solidify the spot.
If the Vikings are going to move forward with a more traditional salary-cap structure in which the starting quarterback occupies about $20 million annually, they will need young talent to emerge on a yearly basis. At times, that will mean firmly grasping an opening in the starting lineup. At other spots, they will simply need quality depth to contribute.
This year, there are opportunities at both levels and they need a handful of offensive players to emerge.