Thank you for submitting questions for this week's Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or email@example.com, and listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let's get to it.
Q: Will the Vikings address the guard position this offseason? — @bigbadragz
AK: Ezra Cleveland became the 16th different guard to appear in a regular season game for the Vikings since guards Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris took every snap in 2015. That's wild. Left guard should necessitate at least one change after Dakota Dozier struggled mightily in his first full-time starting job. But how seriously will the Vikings be? General Manager Rick Spielman didn't prioritize it last year, releasing starter Josh Kline and relying on a camp battle between Dozier and Aviante Collins opposite right guard Pat Elflein, who was released midseason after thumb surgery. Like always, the NFL Draft is the best bet when wondering how the Vikings' front office will address holes in the starting lineup. Perhaps another Day 2 draft pick is coming for the offensive line after Cleveland, O'Neill and Elflein were added with second- and third-round picks in the last four years.
Q: Who's the best candidate for the OC job? Will they promote from within? Or hire someone from the outside? — @kaidahju
AK: Considering Zimmer doesn't want much to change about the NFL's fourth-ranked offense in yardage and 11th in scoring from last year, there's a lot of speculation an internal candidate like quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu or offensive line coach Rick Dennison could replace Gary Kubiak, should he retire from coaching. The Vikings tried overhauling the offense with an outside hire in the pass-happy John DeFilippo, who was fired by Zimmer by December. Beyond Zimmer's affinity for the running game, he likes how Kubiak's passing concepts mesh with quarterback Kirk Cousins. So, the new coordinator will be expected to run the same system, and if it's an outside hire, it'd likely have to be someone familiar. Former Chargers coach Anthony Lynn's name has been thrown around because he worked with Zimmer in Dallas (2005-06) and played for Kubiak in Denver (1997-'99).
Q: How much gets blown up due to a lack of salary cap space? — @reitan77
AK: Certainly not as much as last year's exodus. But the Vikings will need some more financial maneuvers to lower their current commitments north of $185 million for 2021. There are many ways to get under, if necessary, the NFL's 2021 salary cap floor established at $175 million (last year's cap was $198.2 million). They can do it by extending players – safety Harrison Smith enters a contract year, and his $10.25 million cap figure can theoretically be lowered in a new deal. Same goes for Riley Reiff, who played well at left tackle after taking a big pay cut and is on the books at $13.95 million, which may change via restructure or release. Tight end Kyle Rudolph's future is obscured by a rising salary and emergence of teammates Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin. Will defensive tackle Shamar Stephen remain in the picture? Both veterans, if released, would free up about an additional $9 million in cap space. They'll need the space with Zimmer's wish list including more pass rushers on defense. Minnesota also has 11 draft picks and at least one young player, right tackle Brian O'Neill, to sign to a contract extension before the final year of his rookie deal.
Q: Which free agents will the Vikings sign to contract extensions? — @dumb_swede
AK: For the reasons listed above, I'm not sure you'll see many big extensions, if any, for the outgoing crop of free agents. They most prominently include safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson. After the season, both players alluded to uncertainty about whether they'd return, and it's likely Spielman lets both walk. The Vikings have had plenty of time to get a deal done with Harris if they really wanted to, and Wilson probably priced himself out as a reliable three-down linebacker who won't find that playing time in Minnesota with Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr healthy. Fans won't want to read this after his season, but I could see Dozier returning as a Joe Berger-style backup called upon at guard or center when needed. He was a career backup before 2020, and he'll likely return to that role wherever he goes. Other bargain-bin re-signings could include quarterback Sean Mannion, running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, a restricted free agent.
Q: Are temps getting warmer with the coaching staff and front office? Especially that Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman just got extended this past season? — @leecvn72
AK: Zimmer made the pitch to Wilf ownership, whether intended directly or not, after the season finale win in Detroit, saying, "7-9 is not great, but under the circumstances and everything that went on, maybe it's the best we could have done." Zimmer also admitted multiple times to misjudging the roster and their capabilities entering the season, pinning that on limited offseason work. Under the Zimmer-Spielman combo, the Vikings have made the playoffs every other year. It's safe to say that pattern is expected to continue through 2021, in the sense of becoming a playoff team again. In his last news conference, co-owner Mark Wilf said before Week 1 they're happy with the "continued success, continued knocking on the door." They've remained committed to the current structure. But a continuation of last year's issues would start a new, less palatable trend.
Q: Is Danielle Hunter going to be healthy for 2021? — @bee_a_dancer
AK: That's the question of 2021. Hunter has declined to speak to reporters since undergoing surgery in late October to repair a herniated disc in his neck. He's "doing well," according to Zimmer, who alluded to Hunter being on track in his recovery. Hunter ultimately decided to seek a second medical opinion at a facility in New York and end his season before attempting a comeback, and that would presumably be on the advice it was best for his long-term health. The nature of the injury would leave lingering questions for anyone. Hunter is intent on returning to form, though, and there's little reason to doubt him personally.
Q: Can you see any parallels with the Vikings relying on injured starters coming back next year with the injured offensive linemen of the past on whom we waited (John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, Matt Kalil)? Have they learned their lesson? — @donraul007
AK: That's an interesting premise given how those offensive linemen were unable to recover and tanked the Vikings' plans in the middle of the last decade. Injuries should be viewed on a case-by-case basis, and none of their three injured defensive stars in Hunter, Anthony Barr or Eric Kendricks, will be over 30 years old next year. And only the location of Hunter's injury – his spine – brings about abnormal pause as Barr and Kendricks recover from muscle tears. Nose tackle Michael Pierce wasn't injured, so his conditioning is the primary question for the team. In short, no, I don't see parallels here since they're not 30-year-old veterans or players with chronic issues like Kalil and his knees. Cornerback Mike Hughes' recurring neck issues are a concern, and the Vikings aren't expected to lean on him much in 2021.