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Combine to draft to Mankato: Key Vikings off-season dates

The offseason is underway for general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings, who after a disappointing 8-8 season will spend the next several months reshaping their roster through free agency and the draft in the hopes of positioning themselves to compete for a playoff spot in 2017.

Here are some important offseason dates to circle on your calendar:

January 28: The Vikings will send a large contingent of scouts and coaches to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl, the premier collegiate all-star game. Running back Jerick McKinnon, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and offensive linemen T.J. Clemmings and Willie Beavers are among the Senior Bowl participants the Vikings have drafted in recent years.

January 29: Six Vikings are slated to play in this year’s Pro Bowl down in Orlando. They are defenders Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Linval Joseph Xavier Rhodes and Everson Griffen and returner Cordarrelle Patterson.

February 5: Tom Brady’s Patriots and Matt Ryan’s Falcons will vie for the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl LI, held at Houston’s NRG Stadium.

February 15: This is the first day for NFL teams to designate franchise or transition players. They have until March 1 to do so. The Vikings are not expected to use either tag on any of their pending free agents.

February 28-March 6: The NFL heads to Indianapolis for the meat market that is the annual scouting combine. The Vikings will watch prospects work out in spandex then conduct interviews with dozens of them.

March 7-9: Starting at 11 a.m. CT, NFL teams are allowed to enter into contract negotiations with the agents of pending free agents from other teams in what has unofficially been called the “tampering period.” But no contracts can actually be signed during this two-day negotiating window.

March 9: If the Vikings want to pick up the 2017 option for running back Adrian Peterson, they must inform him in writing before 3 p.m. CT. The Vikings are not expected to pick up his option or pay him his $6 million roster bonus later in the week. But they are open to bringing him back next season for much less than the $18 million he is slated to earn.

March 9: The 2017 league year begins at 3 p.m. CT, marking the official start of free agency. Teams are now allowed to make trades again, too. Last year, the Vikings were relatively busy on the first day of free agency, signing Alex Boone, Michael Griffin and Emmanuel Lamur to deals.

March 26-29: The league will hold its annual owners meetings in Phoenix. The highlight will be coach Mike Zimmer being forced to have breakfast with reporters as they pepper him about free agency and the draft.

April 17: Zimmer and the Vikings are permitted to start their offseason workout program. Teams with new coaches start two weeks earlier.

April 21: This is the last day that restricted free agents can sign offer sheets. Wide receiver Adam Thielen is the Vikings’ most notable RFA.

April 27-29: The NFL draft happens in Philadelphia. With no first-rounder, the Vikings might be quiet that first night. But they have eight picks the final two days, including two in both the third and fourth rounds.

May 5-8: The Vikings will likely hold their rookie minicamp this weekend, though they have the option to hold it the following weekend instead.

Late June: Sometime during the second half of this month the Vikings will hold at Winter Park their three-day mandatory minicamp, which wraps up their offseason workout program. Then the players and coaches get a few weeks of downtime before reporting to Mankato at the end of July.

August 3: The 2017 preseason officially kicks off with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. The real season will be here before we know it.

Blowing 5-0 to Super Bowl a year later? Vikings can follow Falcons

As you probably already know and are also probably sick of hearing over and over and over again, the Vikings in 2016 became the sixth team since 1990 to miss the playoffs after starting a season with five straight wins.

The fifth team to do it will be in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks.

The Falcons started 5-0 last season before losing eight of their final 11 games, including one to the Vikings, to finish at .500. Sound familiar?

After their collapse in 2015, the Falcons didn’t make sweeping changes.

They did add in free agency Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who stabilized their offensive line, and wide receiver Mohammed Sanu, who caught five passes and scored a touchdown in Sunday’s beatdown of the Packers.

And they got immediate impact from the defenders they drafted, starting with safety Keanu Neal in the first round followed by Deion Jones in the second and fellow linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, the former Gopher, in the fourth. Rookie tight end Austin Hooper has helped, too.

Those offseason moves have paid off, but the biggest difference for the Falcons is that their defenders are now in their second year in Dan Quinn’s scheme and quarterback Matt Ryan is expected to be named league MVP in his second year with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

So the Vikings, after their stunning collapse this past season, don’t need to completely overhaul their roster to get back in the Super Bowl picture. But it is worth noting the Falcons were the only team from this infamous group to bounce back the following season and make the playoffs.

The first team since the NFL expanded the playoff field to 12 teams in 1990 to collapse after starting 5-0 was the 1993 Saints, who had former Vikings quarterback Wade Wilson under center. Wilson was replaced by Jim Everett in 1994 and the Saints went 7-9 that following season.

You probably don’t need a history lesson on the 2004 Vikings, who like their predecessors squandered a hot start but still somehow managed to back into the playoffs at 8-8 and win a playoff game.

The Giants in 2010 signed free-agent safety Antrel Rolle, let linebacker Antonio Pierce go and drafted defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and nose tackle Linval Joseph, now a Pro Bowler for the Vikings, with their first two picks. They ended up going 10-6 that year and still missed the playoffs.

After starting the 2009 season 6-0 before missing the playoffs, the Broncos in 2010 ushered in Tim Tebow Time, drafting the Heisman winner in the first round along with wideout Demaryius Thomas. They went 4-12 that season, with coach Josh McDaniels getting canned midseason.

This is obviously a small sample size, one with a wide range of outcomes, so there is no trend here. But given the talent the Vikings will return in 2017, if they can find a way to fix their offensive line, they are more likely to be back in the playoff hunt than the hunt for the No. 1 overall pick.

Final, 2/7 1 2 3 4 F
Carolina 0 7 0 3 10
Denver 10 3 3 8 24

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