The Minnesota Vikings exceeded all expectations this season by going 10-6 and earning a Wild Card playoff spot. That bested their win total from the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined, and there is plenty to build on heading toward the 2013 season despite a disappointing playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
But that does not mean there are not important issues facing the franchise as a whole and areas of need to address on the roster. Here is my checklist for the Vikings as their offseason now gets going.
1. Extend Head Coach Leslie Frazier’s Contract
2013 is the final season of Frazier’s current contract and the team’s performance this season is more than enough to justify a long-term commitment from the Vikings’ franchise. Now that the season is over, I expect a formal announcement soon regarding Frazier’s contract status.
2. Resolve The Situation With Wide Receiver Percy Harvin
Harvin missed the end of the season with an ankle injury, and it can be argued the Vikings’ offense was better without its second-best player during a four game winning streak to end the regular season. There have been reports of a heated verbal exchange between Frazier and Harvin prior to his being placed on injured reserve, which suggests some underlying issues between player and team still exist.
Harvin will be entering the final year of his contract next season, and he most certainly will at least threaten to hold out if he does not get a contract extension worth significant money. It’s possible the Vikings will choose to dangle him to other teams on the trade market as April’s draft gets closer in order to simply rid themselves of a headache, but the direction Harvin’s situation goes over the course of the next few months has a chance go a long way toward determining the team’s success next season.
3. Add A Top-Notch Wide Receiver (Or Two?)
The Vikings clearly need to add some talent at wide receiver this offseason, and this season’s group has a chance to be significantly overhauled with Jerome Simpson, Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins and Harvin all potentially gone before next season. Simpson and Aromashodu are slated to become free agents, while Jenkins is due a $2.4 million roster bonus this spring and could be a salary cap casualty. I have already outlined Harvin’s situation, so I won’t re-hash that here.
The free agent class of wide receivers is likely to have a few big names available (Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings), and it would not be surprising to see the Vikings also use a draft pick or two on the position during April’s draft in order to stock the talent cupboard.
Adding more capable pass catchers will be a big key for the Vikings to get the most out of quarterback Christian Ponder down the road, so that should be among the team’s top offseason priorities.
4. Upgrade The Depth Chart At Quarterback
Joe Webb’s underwhelming performance in the playoff loss to the Packers proved what was already obvious, that he is not a NFL-caliber signal caller and the Vikings need a more proven backup quarterback. Ponder is virtually certain to enter next season as the starting quarterback at this point, but adding someone to compete with him or at least be capable of running their normal offense in the event of an injury has to be a priority for the Vikings.
I also feel like it’s worthwhile to see what Webb has to offer in other areas, perhaps as a kickoff returner or wide receiver. His athletic ability may make him an interesting player to watch during training camp next summer if the coaching staff is open to trying him at other spots.
5. Continue To Add Depth Across The Roster
Minnesota’s 2012 draft class yielded multiple impact players, and putting together another solid crop of rookies this April will be a high priority for general manager Rick Spielman. The unexpected success of this season has accelerated the team’s rebuilding plan, but Spielman and his staff need to remain steadfast in their effort to add young talent in order to help ensure even more success going forward. However, I do expect a more aggressive overall effort in free agency from the Vikings this year, especially compared to 2012 when their top two signings were Simpson and tight end John Carlson.
Other Items Of Potential Concern
– The Vikings face some critical decisions on some key veteran defensive players. Defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison along with defensive tackle Kevin Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield all have two years or less remaining on their current contracts. Robison, Williams and Winfield are unlikely to be moved this offseason, particularly considering how rare trades are in the NFL, but Allen could be a viable trade chip if the Vikings seriously consider moving him while his value is still high around the league.
– Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt is slated to become an unrestricted free agent, but getting him signed to a contract extension that suits both team and player should not be too difficult. A report from during the season suggested the team had opened contract talks with Loadholt, but since then there have not been any noteworthy developments.