Most NFL teams have a turning point in their seasons — one moment where things come together or fall apart.
For the <a href="http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-joe-berger-jersey-c-2_19.html">Joe Berger Authentic Jersey</a> Detroit Lions, it was Matthew Stafford’s late-season hand injury. For the Green Bay Packers, it was Aaron Rodgers announcing the team could run the table. The Atlanta Falcons decided to pass the ball while in range of a Super Bowl-clinching field goal. The New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady.
For the Minnesota Vikings, though, the 2016 season didn’t turn once or twice, but several times, and every one of them impacts what they need to do heading into 2017.
The Vikings lost Teddy Bridgewater to a training-camp knee injury and ended up with Sam Bradford at quarterback. In Week 2, Adrian Peterson blew out his knee and didn’t play again until an ineffectual performance in December.
Despite that, the Bears got off to a 5-0 start and were poised <a href="http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-matt-asiata-jersey-c-2_51.html">Matt Asiata Jersey</a> to steal the NFC North from the struggling Packers and Lions. They had already beaten the Packers, New York Giants and Houston Texans — all eventual playoff teams — and had an early bye that should have let them finish building an offense around Bradford, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata.
Instead, the bye week killed their momentum, and they lost eight of their next 10 games. They only salvaged a .500 season by routing the hapless Bears on New Year’s Day.
It all sets up for a fascinating offseason for general manager Rick Spielman, who has to figure out what he has and what he needs before training camp.
Offensive tackle: Minnesota’s offensive line was a disaster, thanks to early season injuries to Matt Kalil and Andre Smith. T.J. Clemmings was regularly overrun at left tackle, and the Vikings not only couldn’t replace him, they couldn’t find anyone to fill the other tackle spot. Kalil and Smith weren’t playing well before their injuries, so the Vikings are starting from scratch at the two most important line positions.
Running back: Peterson turns 32 in March and looked <a href="http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-michael-griffin-jersey-c-2_55.html">Michael Griffin Jersey</a> older than that when he tried to return from his torn meniscus. He’s got an $18 million cap hit for 2017, so unless he’s willing to take a huge pay cut, he’s not going to be back. McKinnon and Asiata combined to average 3.4 yards per carry, so the answer will have to come through free agency or the draft.
Quarterback: No one knows if or when Bridgewater will play again, and Bradford has an $18 million cap hit for mediocre performance. He doesn’t throw interceptions, and the Vikings’ defense is great, but they can’t win with no running game and a quarterback who doesn’t stretch the field.
Offensive guard: The hits keep coming for the Minnesota offense. Alex Boone was solid at one guard spot and Joe Berger is a fine, if aging, center, but right guard was a problem all season and there’s no one on the roster who looks ready to take over.
Cornerback: The Vikings had an outstanding <a href="http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-joe-berger-jersey-c-2_19.html">http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-joe-berger-jersey-c-2_19.html defense, and a big part of that was the play of cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn. Newman and Munnerlyn, though, are unrestricted free agents, and even if Newman comes back, he’ll be 37 at the beginning of the regular season. He’s avoided Father Time thus far, but he’s only human.
Unrestricted free agents:
OT Matt Kalil
CB Captain Munnerlyn
OT Andre Smith
QB Shaun Hill
LB Chad Greenway
CB Terrence Newman
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
TE Rhett Ellison
FB Zach Line
OT Jake Long
LB Audie Cole
RB Matt Asiata
DE Justin Trattou
P Jeff Locke
Restricted free agents:
WR Adam Thielen
WR Charles Johnson
OT Jeremiah Sirles
OG Zac Kerin
Plans for free agency:
Other than Munnerlyn, Newman <a href="http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-michael-griffin-jersey-c-2_55.html">http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-michael-griffin-jersey-c-2_55.html and big-play threats Thielen and Patterson, there’s not a lot that Spielman will be anxious to retain from Minnesota’s free-agent list. He could bring back Kalil or Smith to make sure there’s an experienced NFL body at tackle, but the rest of the list is going to have a lot of turnover.
If Bradford and Peterson are both cut loose, it will open up a huge chunk of cap space, but the Vikings will need to find a running back and quarterback. They can try to fill one of those holes through the draft, but it would be safer to get a veteran, especially without a first-round pick.
Spielman has to do a better job with the 2017 draft that he did in 2016, where the only useful production came from special teamers Kentrell Brothers and Jayron Kearse. First-round pick Laquon Treadwell caught one pass and second-round pick Mackensie Alexander struggled in pass coverage when he got on the field.
The Vikings will definitely be busy in free <a href="http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-shamar-stephen-jersey-c-2_23.html">http://www.authenticvikingsshop.com/shop-by-players-shamar-stephen-jersey-c-2_23.html agency, but Spielman has to be able to at least get significant depth help from more picks this time around.