Thank you for submitting questions for this week's Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org, and listen for answers onthe Access Vikings podcastor find them here on Friday mornings. Let's get to it.
Q: Who will be the best quarterback in the NFC North next season? — @marcmillah
AK: What a fascinating question. The Packers, and even Aaron Rodgers, have thrown quite a bit of cold water on speculation after Rodgers called his immediate future with Green Bay uncertain. Rodgers has since acknowledged his future, at least contractually, isn't totally up to him. Packers brass says he's not going anywhere. If that's the case, the answer is unchanged. But it's a matter of when, not if, the Packers move on to first-round quarterback Jordan Love. With Matthew Stafford tapping out in Detroit, the Vikings' situation with quarterback Kirk Cousins appears to be the most stable in the NFC North. If Rodgers left soon, Cousins could also be the division's most effective in 2021.
But there are a couple big factors to consider. Who's starting in Detroit and Chicago? An unprecedented round of NFL quarterback musical chairs is coming. Deshaun Watson and Stafford lead a potentially Rodgers-less market. Their landing places could displace other starters, including Atlanta's Matt Ryan, Carolina's Teddy Bridgewater or San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo. Will the Cowboys consider letting Dak Prescott hit the open market? Gardner Minshew, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston aren't world beaters, but they'll all be available and immediate short-term upgrades for the Bears. The Vikings have already dealt with Khalil Mack landing in Chicago, so their worst-case scenario is seeing Watson arrive in a similar fashion.
Q: Stefon Diggs was one, Kyle Rudolph is two. Obviously, different personalities, but both sharing issues with usage/offensive philosophy. I understand Mike Zimmer has a way he wants to win but they can't let it get to that point with Justin Jefferson. Does communication need to improve? — @Scott_Roberts25
AK: Communication was a problem with Diggs, but it's a two-way street. During an interview with ESPN last month, in which Diggs finally admitted he wanted out of Minnesota because he wasn't catching the ball enough, he vaguely said he lost trust with "a person," which makes "it hard to do business." His former teammates had known about his unhappiness with the offense going back to 2019 spring workouts. Somewhere through the Vikings' handling of his absences – from voluntary OTAs to going AWOL for three days in the middle of the season – Diggs said he felt misled.
Rudolph is also unhappy about his role, but he hasn't decried empty promises. The Vikings' longest-tenured player wants more than his career-low 2.3 catches per game and one touchdown in 2020. In his first public comments of the offseason, Rudolph told ex-Vikings linebacker Ben Leber he wouldn't accept a restructured deal to return to a blocking role. A parting appears imminent.
Jefferson shouldn't have problems. He's already enjoyed a target share – 25.7%, trailing only four others last season including Diggs' career-high 29.1% in Buffalo – that matched Diggs' highest target rate in five Vikings seasons. Given what Jefferson did with the targets, the Vikings are set to feature him in the passing game for years to come (and while Adam Thielen turns 31 in August). Diggs didn't get a larger target share than Thielen until his final season in Minnesota; Jefferson is already the No. 1 option.
Q: Any chance the Vikings would trade Kirk Cousins and picks for Deshaun Watson? — @cantunseemovie
AK: It's a fun hypothetical, but a long choose-your-adventure story to arrive there. First, you have to envision Watson wanting to come to Minnesota, where he'd have the strongest receiving/rushing corps around him of his NFL career. The most important thing to remember here is Watson controls the situation by virtue of his no-trade clause – which allows him to veto certain destinations, effectively choosing his own landing spots – combined with his reported willingness to hold out of games if Houston won't trade him. Let's say Watson throws Minnesota in the mix for whatever reason. Then there's the matter of willingness on the parts of Houston and Minnesota. Do the Texans want Cousins for their own rebuild? If so, the Vikings would be competing against other potential suitors with quarterbacks on rookie contracts from Miami's Tua Tagovailoa to New York's Sam Darnold. Those franchises can offer cheaper quarterbacks and better draft picks. So, would general manager Rick Spielman then stomach parting with as much draft capital required to outbid those teams? It's such a far cry and likely easier to say they're not interested, even though it may never have been a reality in the first place.
Q: Can we expect a closer to normal offseason, training and conditioning programs, etc. to help out younger players more than COVID's offseason last year? — @mtgowdy
AK: In short, no. The NFLPA has already told agents that the 2021 offseason may look very similar to last year. Mike Zimmer won't be pleased. The Vikings coach bemoaned the lack of on-field practice time last year, saying it limited his defensive staff's ability to decipher what a young roster could handle on game days and put out a diversified game plan. But the pace of U.S. vaccinations isn't to the point where the player's union is optimistic about a return to typical OTAs and minicamps by this spring. So, the Vikings' eventual 2021 draft class could face similar problems as last year's, especially if the preseason is affected again, too.
Q: I'm gonna try to spin things positively for a second. Who was an unsung hero (or heroes) of the 2020 Minnesota Vikings? — @kaidahju
AK: On the field, it's hard to ignore left tackle Riley Reiff, even though that's exactly what we do with good offensive linemen. Spielman nearly cut him to make room for Yannick Ngakoue. Instead, the 32-year-old Reiff took a $5 million pay cut and did some of the best pass blocking of his career. He allowed a career-low one sack, according to Pro Football Focus, and may have played his way back into the team's plans after they drafted Ezra Cleveland to replace him. Truly unsung would be the football information and technology departments, given the spotlight has mostly shown the hurdles facing the medical staff, players, and coaches during the pandemic. But nine to 10 months ago, Paul Nelson, the team's director of football information systems, and Cheryl Nygaard, the IT director, and their staffs equipped homes and trained coaches and personnel members for a virtual year of teams drafting from home and facilities closing and reopening due to health protocols.