The Vikings’ new headquarters stands roughly 6 miles from the two hotels that housed the Super Bowl teams last week. That distance felt more like 6,000 miles two weeks ago.
Laying a 38-7 egg in the NFC Championship Game doesn’t inspire confidence that a team is on the cusp of something grand. The Vikings looked out of their league against the Philadelphia Eagles in prime time.
A stinker of that magnitude tends to distort the picture. You’re left wondering, are the Vikings really that close?
The Eagles reinforced their supremacy in the Super Bowl, and now the Vikings must work to close that gap. Whether they can accomplish that in one offseason remains to be seen, but a 14-win season shouldn’t be a random spike followed by an inevitable backslide.
The Vikings have enough infrastructure in place to sustain their window of opportunity. That comes with a clear caveat, the quarterback conundrum. The next five years (or longer) hinge on getting that answer right. Rick Spielman knows it. Mike Zimmer knows it. The Wilfs know it.
The organization is positioned nicely in many facets, but instability at quarterback hovers over the entire operation.
“Since the day that my brother [Zygi], myself and our family purchased the team,” co-owner Mark Wilf said, “this is the best that we have felt about the direction of the organization.”
That might sound like spin after a disappointing finish but it’s also a reasonable snapshot of the organization. Especially when examining the framework now compared to where things stood after a heartbreaking loss in the 2009 NFC Championship Game at New Orleans.
There’s no comparison in terms of stability, except one glaring area: quarterback uncertainty.
The 2009 season represented an “all-in” push. The roster was stocked with aging talent. The window for being a legitimate contender was one, maybe two seasons. Brett Favre was supposed to be the missing piece.
The Vikings knew that ride wouldn’t last long. Overhauling the roster was inevitable. Favre was 40. The average age of their defensive starters was 29. With the exception of Adrian Peterson, their best players were on the back side of their careers.
The organization was in flux, too. The Wilfs were still relatively new owners trying to learn the business, and the front-office structure was confusing.
Spielman wasn’t named general manager until 2011, so back then he collaborated on personnel decisions with head coach Brad Childress. That arrangement created ambiguity over who had final authority. That’s a flawed chain of command.
The Metrodome’s roof collapse a year later dripped with symbolism. Their “all-in” plan deflated.
Spielman met with reporters last week and, intentional or not, underlined a philosophical shift from 2009 to now.
“I never want to get into the mode of ‘all-in’ this year,” he said. “I don’t want to start back over again.”
Their current blueprint has more sustainability. The roster includes a group of core players in their mid-to-late 20s. That’s prime NFL years. The average age of defensive starters is 27. Their top skill players on offense are under 28.
The front-office structure makes sense now with a clear pecking order, and Spielman and Zimmer have a strong relationship and like-minded vision on personnel. U.S. Bank Stadium is a world-class gem. The team’s new facility in Eagan is top of the line.
The next steps are critical.
The roster isn’t good enough to win a championship and requires upgrades beyond quarterback. The Vikings reportedly have $57 million in salary cap space so Spielman has flexibility to address deficiencies while also retaining core players.
Measuring windows for opportunity in the NFL is tricky because things change so quickly. Nobody can predict injuries, which often force teams to alter plans midstream. (See: Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford.) Roster churn is constant.
The Vikings need to maximize their current position because their core players are within the optimum NFL age range. And they have salary-cap room to upgrade certain positions. One is rather obvious.
They need a quarterback, which is an odd predicament for a final four team. Getting that decision right will go a long way in determining whether they are able to build on this season. Maybe they can pry Nick Foles from the Eagles.