While the Vikings’ current Super Bowl dreams — after signing Kirk Cousins for $84 million — might echo the ones they harbored nine years ago after signing Brett Favre, there’s at least one big difference between the 2018 season and the all-in bids of 2009 and 2010:
The age of the players on their roster.
The 2009 Vikings used 10 players in their 30s and one in his 40s (Favre, who turned 40 on Oct. 10 of that season). In 2010, when they brought Favre back for one more shot after losing the NFC Championship Game to the New Orleans Saints, they used 15 players in their 30s along with 41-year-old Favre.
The roster moves the Vikings made Saturday, when they released 35-year-old Brian Robison and shifted Terence Newman from their secondary to their coaching staff days before he turned 40, served as a refresher for a roster the Vikings have typically tried to keep from aging too much.
The Vikings’ elder statesman as they begin 2018: Andrew Sendejo, who celebrates his 31st birthday as the team opens the regular season on Sunday against San Francisco. Only four players on the team’s current roster — Sendejo, Marcus Sherels, Everson Griffen and Kirk Cousins — are in their 30s. Riley Reiff and Linval Joseph will turn 30 before the end of the season.
A year ago, the Vikings used nine players in their 30s during a regular-season game. That number was eight in 2016, six in 2015 and five in 2014.
The oldest player on the roster in each of those seasons was 32 in 2014 (Joe Berger) and 37, 38 and 39, respectively, from 2015 to ’17 (Newman, of course).
On the other end of the spectrum, 28 players on the current Vikings 53-man roster are 25 or younger.
That’s probably no accident, given the number of players the team has signed to long-term deals: With nine players (Cousins, Griffen, Reiff, Joseph, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes) signed to extensions worth at least $10 million a season, the Vikings have to supplement their roster with players who are cheap, effective and, quite often, young.
“Eventually, these guys are going to get old, and we’ve got to continue to draft,” General Manager Rick Spielman said after the team signed Diggs to a five-year, $72 million deal in July. “These coaches do an unbelievable job of developing this talent, and we’ve got some guys coming up through the ranks.”
The Vikings’ next pivot back toward youth could be a more difficult one, given how many of their core players turn 30 in the next two years. Smith turns 30 in February, offensive lineman Mike Remmers will be 30 in May, and tight end Kyle Rudolph turns 30 in November 2019. Before the 2020 regular-season opener, Rhodes and Adam Thielen will be 30, and after that season, the Vikings will consider a free-agent class that is scheduled to include Cousins, Thielen, Dalvin Cook and Pat Elflein.
It’s why they will continue to replenish the roster with young players they can develop, and why they will likely stick to the pay-as-you-go philosophy they have employed to keep themselves out of salary-cap purgatory, avoiding back-loaded deals that often present financial headaches just as a player might be exiting his prime.
As much as they have built a foundation for themselves with long-term contracts, the Vikings likely know they will have difficult decisions to face in future years, and more moves like the ones they made Saturday, jettisoning a popular player in Robison because of their faith in the young defensive ends they had coming up behind him.
It’s part of the job, though, when the Vikings are as committed as they seem to be to maintaining an open window to win. In the NFL, that quite often translates to youth.
Griffen, now among the Vikings’ oldest players, knows.
“I’m trying to get the young guys better,” he said last month. “The faster you get the young guys better, the better team you’re going to have, because it’s all about the youth, to be honest.”
Ben Goessling covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org