The Minnesota Vikings crashed out of the NFC Championship clash in a 38-7 defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles. Rather than review that game however, this will focus on the Vikings outlook in 2018. The Vikings were one of the most impressive teams in 2017 boasting both exceptional starters and quality depth in every position. Despite the injuries to starting QB Sam Bradford and rookie RB Dalvin Cook the Vikings offence still ranked 5th overall in total offence in Football Outsiders DVOA. Credit for this can be placed on QB Case Keenum, deputy RBs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon and OC Pat Shurmur – combining to run an efficient, low-turnover offence. Shurmur was announced as the New York Giants new Head Coach, Mckinnon is an impending free agent, Murray’s contract can be terminated (freeing $5.1m in cap space and incurring a $1.2 hit in dead money), and QBs Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater all enter the free agency period as unrestricted free agents. What happens next to the Minnesota Vikings?
The Quarter Backs
The Vikings have three NFL starting QBs. They are the only franchise in the NFL that can boast this impressive depth. The issues comes when these QBs all hit free agency at the same time. Case Keenum, the backup QB at the start of the season, has just led his team to the NFC Championship match. Sam Bradford, the starter going into the 2017 season, re-injured his twice surgically repaired left knee and although he put on a classy performance against the New Orleans Saints in Week One we haven’t seen him since (save for two quarters against the Chicago Bears in Week Five). Finally, we have Teddy Bridgewater – the QB many had pegged to lead the Vikings to divisional titles and beyond before suffering a gruesome, career-threatening injury in 2016. The Vikings have helped treat and rehab Bridgewater and invested a lot of capital into their first round pick. Per Over The Cap the Vikings have $57m in team cap space available, below are some scenarios which could play out this offseason:
Scenario A: The Unlikely
Bring Bradford, Bridgewater, and Keenum back to Minnesota. Now this scenario is unlikely in part due to cap space but also because, as previously mentioned, these are three QBs who believe that they could start for an NFL team. Signing all of them back to Minnesota to compete for one starting spot will be a hard pitch. Managing the cap space with three QBs all probably commanding a starting salary – borderline impossible.
Scenario B: The Sensible
This scenario is what I would do if I were the Vikings.You know that Case Keenum can lead this offence, you’ve invested draft capital and resources into Teddy Bridgewater – they are the two you prioritise in bringing back. You don’t franchise tag either – the tag for a QB is estimated at $23.5m – instead you negotiate a short term contract with Keenum and a longer term deal for Bridgewater. Keenum acts as the stop-gap signal caller whilst Bridgewater continues his rehabilitation and re-acclimation with the NFL. Bridgewater is still young and you invested a first round pick in the young QB, you can’t let him walk out the building. This is by no means an indictment on Sam Bradford – he could go elsewhere in the league and secure himself a starting job. Given Bradford’s own health issues and the salary he could command though, the Vikings shouldn’t focus on bringing back the 30 year old QB.
Scenario C: The One
The Vikings realise that they can’t afford to bring back two of their QBs from 2017. Bradford, Bridgewater, and Keenum all demand salaries which are reflective of their view that they are an NFL starting QB. The Vikings can only afford to sign one to a long term deal and have a serious decision to make. Personally, in this scenario I would bring back Bridgewater – before his injury the organisation believed that he was the future of their franchise and you hope that he can regain that form. For depth, the Vikings would look to sign an experienced NFL backup and possibly add a developmental project in the middle/late rounds of the draft.
Scenario D: The Outrageous
The Vikings came within one game of reaching the Super Bowl. By no means did offensive deficiency inhibit their performance across the season, but the Vikings have a window for success which they have to act on. Bradford, Bridgewater and Keenum are all good – but will they win you a Super Bowl? The Vikings go all in on signing Kirk Cousins in free agency, an upgrade on their current QBs, and commit to winning the Super Bowl within the next few years. Salary cap space on a potential Cousins deal would be tight, but it would be a signal of intent that you’re looking to win it all in 2018. Is this necessary? Probably not. Does it get me excited? Yes.
Scenario E: The Draft
This is the scenario is the least likely given the Vikings will be picking at #30 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Vikings fall in love with a QB prospect and either hope that he falls or trade up to secure his services for the next five years. Given that the Vikings are firmly in a Super Bowl window, maybe this scenario should have been called the outrageous. There are potential franchise QBs in this class – but the likelihood of one falling to #30 in the Draft is extremely low.
The Running Backs
The Vikings invested their 2017 second round pick on running back Dalvin Cook and he looked a potential workhorse back before his ACL injury. Murray and Mckinnon deputised well, with Murray serving as the “hammer” and Mckinnon being the “change of pace” back. Bringing all three back in 2018 would create a crowded backfield – Cook’s game takes the best parts from both Murray and Mckinnon making one of the deputies surplus to requirements. Mckinnon has recently spoken about wanting to become a feature back for an NFL team and although he impressed in the back-half of 2017 I don’t think he’s done enough to warrant either RB1 snaps or salary. The best case scenario for the Vikings is they re-sign Mckinnon as their 3rd-down back or “change of pace” option and cut Murray, incurring a small penalty but freeing $5m in cap space.
This guest piece was written by Josh Callander a Chicago Bears fan who has followed the game since 2013. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @JoshCallan23.