Can the Vikings make it? No harm in daydreaming.
The Super Bowl is coming back to Minnesota in early 2018, along with it coming hope that the Vikings could head-butt history and become the first hosts to win on a Lombardi Trophy on their home turf.
We were going to reach out to current Vikings about how motivated they will be in three years to make it to Super Bowl LII, which will be played at the beautiful new stadium that is being built in downtown Minneapolis. But the cold, hard reality is that the majority of these players will be playing elsewhere — or will be out of the league entirely — by the start of the 2017 regular season.
The Vikings likely will turn over at least half of their roster between now and then. Only 19 players on the roster at the end of the 2011 season remain with the team today. There is no other way to do business in the NFL’s salary cap era, so this team will look drastically different in 2017.
Beyond their latest class of rookies, who all will be in their fourth NFL seasons, only five Vikings veterans are under contract for 2017: running back Adrian Peterson, wide receiver Greg Jennings, nose tackle Linval Joseph and defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison.
But Peterson will be 32 at the start of the 2017 season, which would make him a modern-day Methuselah as far as NFL running backs go. And he will be carrying a $17 million cap charge, too, unless that contract is restructured or terminated, which looks as if it is an inevitability.
Peterson, who has a burning desire to leave his big fingerprints all over the Lombardi Trophy, might one day become torn between wanting to win a Super Bowl and wanting to finish his career with the Vikings. Sure, both might be possible in the coming years, but after a 5-10-1 season, it’s hard to say that with certainty. It is also too early to crown athletic 2014 third-round draft pick Jerick McKinnon as Peterson’s heir apparent.
Jennings will be 33 at the start of 2017 and, like Peterson, would be heading into the final year of his contract if it isn’t redone. But while it is rare to see running backs who can still, well, run after their 30th birthday, the NFL has watched many more wide receivers such as Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison show they still could be productive while approaching age 35 — as long as they have someone who can throw them the ball.
Robison will be 34 while Griffen and Joseph will be 29 and 28, respectively, in 2017.
This is not to say young building blocks such as left tackle Matt Kalil and free safety Harrison Smith won’t be here alongside 2014 top picks Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr. But they will have to hammer out contract extensions first. And the Vikings also can exercise fifth-year options on 2013 first-round picks Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson if they want to have them through 2017.
Plus, knowing General Manager Rick Spielman, the Vikings will bolster their roster with several more first-round prospects between now and 2017.
Daydreamers already can envision Bridgewater, who barring disaster will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2017, tossing touchdown passes to Patterson and still handing off to Peterson at the Minnesota Super Bowl. They also can fantasize about Griffen, Barr and a tenacious front seven coached up by Mike Zimmer tormenting quarterbacks while Rhodes and Smith pick off miscues in the secondary.
Meanwhile, realists will point out that the Vikings have a long way to go to become Super Bowl contenders by 2017.
But if Zimmer was the right choice, Bridgewater is the real deal and Spielman continues to draft difference-makers … you never know, Super Bowl LII could end up being a home game.
Matt Vensel firstname.lastname@example.org