The Vikings are a good team. They have been for years.
They haven’t had a losing record since 2014, Mike Zimmer’s first season as head coach, and even then they went 7-9 while breaking in a rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, who was forced into action by an injury to Matt Cassel.
The Vikings should be good again in 2020. And if they are, they will deserve some kind of award for crisis management. The trophy could be a gold statue of Stefon Diggs faking a cough.
Tuesday, the Vikings restructured the contract of left tackle Riley Reiff after reportedly threatening to release him. That news broke after Zimmer proclaimed that his team would be fine without Reiff, because backup tackle Rashod Hill is 10-5 as a starter.
By this logic, we should go back to 1998 and give Chuck Evans more credit. He went 8-0 as a starter for the Vikings that year, yet received zero votes for NFL MVP.
In March, the Vikings traded Diggs, the star receiver, to the Buffalo Bills for draft picks.
In April, the Vikings drafted a slew of players they expect to contribute immediately, including Diggs’ replacement, Justin Jefferson, not fully knowing that the youngsters would prepare for their first NFL season without benefit of a typical offseason or training camp.
In July, nose tackle Michael Pierce, the Vikings’ most important free agent signing, opted out of the 2020 season because of health concerns.
In late August, the Vikings traded two draft picks for Jacksonville pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, then forced Reiff to take a pay cut to create wiggle room under the salary cap. When they acquired Ngakoue, Ifeadi Odenigbo, whose starting job Ngakoue took, tweeted “Fools gold.”
The Vikings also spent August failing to reach agreement on a contract extension with star running back Dalvin Cook, around whom they have built their offense despite making Kirk Cousins the second-highest paid quarterback (by some metrics) in the NFL.
The Vikings also lost talented offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who became head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and defensive coordinator George Edwards, who joined the Dallas Cowboys. Edwards is not considered much of a loss; Stefanski is, but is being replaced by veteran coach Gary Kubiak.
This is the timeline of a football crisis within a national health crisis. Without a normal offseason or training camp, and without preseason games, the Vikings will be trying to douse fires at a handful of key positions, including:
• Defensive end: The great Danielle Hunter hasn’t practiced in full since Aug. 16. Ngakoue is just arriving. Concern level on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest: 2. The Vikings have had any number of defensive coaches, from Floyd Peters to John Teerlinck, who pretty much told their ends to “meet at the quarterback.” Hunter, Ngakoue and Odenigbo will be fine, presuming Hunter is healthy.
• Running back: Cook can’t be happy about his contract situation. He also can’t afford to hold out. Concern level: 2.
• Offensive line: Reiff’s new contract means concerns for this unit shifts to the guard position. Can Pat Elflein rebound? Can Dakota Dozier do the job? Concern level: 8.
• Cornerback: Mike Hughes, Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler and Holton Hill are young and talented and could get torched early in the season. But a strong pass rush, excellent safeties and Zimmer’s coaching could help them adapt. Concern level: 6 — they may not be ready, but they’ll be better than a worn-down Xavier Rhodes was last year.
• Defensive tackle: Pierce was supposed to replace Linval Joseph. Now the Vikings hope Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, Armon Watts and Jalyn Holmes can fill the hole. Concern level: 6.
• Receiver: Adam Thielen is a star and Jefferson should eventually become one, and Bisi Johnson, Alexander Hollins and Chad Beebe could bridge the gap, with Irv Smith becoming a bigger part of the offense at tight end. Concern level: 4.
• Coordinator: Zimmer and Andre Patterson should continue to work well together and Kubiak is one of the game’s most highly-respected coaches. Concern level: 1.