QB Kirk Cousins, QB Trevor Siemian, WR Kendall Wright, G Tom Compton, DT Sheldon Richardson.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Mike Hughes, OT Brian O'Neill, DE Jayln Holmes, TE Tyler Conklin, K Daniel Carlson. Vikings Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB Case Keenum, QB Teddy Bridgewater, QB Sam Bradford, RB Jerick McKinnon, WR Michael Floyd, WR Jarius Wright, G/C Joe Berger, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, CB Tramaine Brock, CB Marcus Sherels.
2018 Minnesota Vikings Offense:
Kirk Cousins was considered the crown jewel of free agency, and the Vikings certainly thought so, based on the contract they gave him. Cousins received an unprecedented fully guaranteed $84 million deal. That means that the Vikings will be completely indebted to Cousins if he struggles mightily or gets hurt.
Nothing can be done about injuries, but Cousins' projected effectiveness could be questioned. He's not an elite quarterback, by any means, and there is a ton of pressure on him to perform up to expectations. Cousins never made the playoffs as a starter in Washington, and it's unclear if he's a good fit for the Vikings. He's not as mobile as Case Keenum happens to be, so Cousins won't be able to buy as much time as Keenum was able to last year. Cousins could struggle as a result, and this could remind some older football fans of when the Ravens replaced Trent Dilfer with the supposedly superior Elvis Grbac, only to have it blow up in their face.
The Vikings will sorely miss Keenum's mobility because the offensive line is looking quite dubious. Left tackle Riley Reiff struggled at the blind side last year, which was hardly a surprise because he was just an average right tackle in Detroit before he departed. His bookend will be the mediocre Mike Remmers unless one of them is overtaken by second-round rookie Brian O'Neill. The Pittsburgh product has nice athleticism but lacks functional strength at the moment. It's likely that he'll be bullied around, at least in the early stages of his career.
The interior of Minnesota's front is not any better. Center Pat Elflein was solid as a rookie last year, but he'll be surrounded by a couple of poor guards in Nick Easton and Danny Isadora. The Vikings were expected to find an upgrade here, perhaps in Will Hernandez with the 30th-overall choice, but they passed on all potential guard upgrades until the very end of the draft. This could come back to haunt them.
The Vikings at least have some dynamic weapons for Cousins to work with. They own a pair of stellar receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The latter is more physically gifted, but hasn't been able to stay on the field for all 16 games thus far in his career. Thielen, meanwhile, is a great story, as he's a self-made player who came from Minnesota State-Mankato and had to work his way up from the practice squad. Thanks to his incredible work ethic, Thielen was able to catch 91 passes for 1,276 yards last year. Newly acquired Kendall Wright will serve as the tertiary receiver after being the No. 1 wideout on the Bears' roster last year.
Keeping with the theme of talented play-makers at the skill positions, tight end Kyle Rudolph is a great threat in the end zone; he has hauled in 15 touchdowns in the past couple of seasons. Meanwhile, running back Dalvin Cook is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in early October. He should be fine for the season opener. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry in four games as a rookie, and it seems as though the sky is the limit for him. Even if Cousins proves to be a slight downgrade from Keenum, it's possible that Cook's presence will be able to make up for it.
2018 Minnesota Vikings Defense:
Minnesota's defense being able to battle a backup quarterback in the NFC Championship is the reason why the Vikings were favored in Philadelphia. However, the supposedly prolific stop unit, which surrendered just 17.4 points per game throughout the 2017 campaign, gave up 38 to Nick Foles.
The secondary was to blame, as Foles torched the Vikings mercilessly. That would help explain why Minnesota used its first-round pick on cornerback Mike Hughes. The Central Florida product may have been selected in the top 15, or at least the top 20 had he not been guilty of an off-the-field incident in college. He's very talented, and he should be able to instantly take over in the slot over the declining Terence Newman. If Hughes can live up to his talents, the Vikings will have two prolific cornerbacks, with the other being Xavier Rhodes. There are issues with the starter across from Rhodes, former first-round pick Trae Waynes, who hasn't performed up to expectations thus far.
Unless Waynes steps up, he'll be the only liability in the secondary. Harrison Smith is arguably the best safety in the entire league, while Andrew Sendejo has done a great job of improving each year. He finally performed on a Pro Bowl-caliber level in 2017.
It'll help Waynes and Hughes that their defensive line will place a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In fact, it could be argued that Minnesota has the best defensive front in the NFL. The unit was already stout, yet received a major upgrade this offseason in Sheldon Richardson. The former Seahawk signed a 1-year "prove it" contract, so he'll be highly motivated to secure a huge deal this upcoming spring. Richardson is a monstrous presence in the interior, as is Linval Joseph.
The Vikings' edge rush is expected to be amazing once again as well. Everson Griffen is one of the better defensive ends in the NFL, while Danielle Hunter has proven to be a potent bookend. With Brian Robison on the decline, there was some question about the team's depth at the position, so the front office used a third-round pick on Ohio State's Jayln Holmes.
Minnesota's linebacking corps might be considered the weakest unit in this defense, but only by default. Both Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are solid, albeit not great players. Ben Gedeon, selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, will serve as the third linebacker. He was mediocre in limited action last year.
2018 Minnesota Vikings Schedule and Intangibles:
The Vikings have endured kicking issues for years, so they spent a fifth-round pick on Auburn's Daniel Carlson as a potential replacement.
Ryan Quigley is one of the league's worst punters, ranking 27th in net average last year.
The Vikings lost Cordarrelle Patterson an offseason ago, yet were still able to outgain the opposition in both facets of special teams.
Minnesota had an easy schedule last year, but that won't be the case in 2018, at least not in the beginning of the season. Excluding the Bills, the Vikings will have to battle the 49ers, Packers, Rams and Eagles to start the year, with all but the San Francisco contest being on the road.
2018 Minnesota Vikings Rookies:
Go here for the Vikings Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2018 Minnesota Vikings Analysis: The Vikings have a great defense that will allow them to contend for the NFC North crown again. However, there are three concerns. The first is how well Kirk Cousins will transition into the offense without a complete offseason to gel with his new teammates. The second is the offensive line, which looks pretty pedestrian. The third is the expected resurgence of the Packers, who didn't have Aaron Rodgers for more than half of the 2017 season. With all of these factors, it could be possible that the Vikings will miss the playoffs in 2018.
Projection: 9-7 (3rd in NFC North)
2017 Projection: 8-8. 2017 Actual Result: 13-3. 2016 Projection: 11-5. 2016 Actual Result: 8-8.
Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to an unprecedented fully guaranteed contract, so it would be foolish of them to not protect him as well as possible. Two new blockers are needed, while help should also be acquired on the defensive line.
2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Minnesota didn't exactly target the offensive line. Only one blocker was obtained prior to Round 7, and that was tackle Brian O'Neill at No. 62 overall. O'Neill has plus athleticism for his position, but lacks functional strength right now. It might take a while until he's ready to start.
That said, the Vikings made a couple of quality picks. The Mike Hughes selection at 30th overall was an especially great one. Hughes would have been chosen in the teens had he not been guilty of an off-the-field issue in the past. Hughes is a supremely talented cornerback, and he'll help improve a Minnesota secondary that was absolutely shredded in the NFC Championship. Meanwhile, there was nice value obtained with defensive end Jayln Holmes atop Round 4. The Vikings were able to trade back and still secure Holmes, who was seen as a third-round prospect. Holmes will provide some much-needed depth on the edge.
The Vikings didn't really do anything exciting on Day 3 following the Holmes selection. Tyler Conklin was a decent choice, as he could become a nice secondary tight end. The other pick prior to the seventh round was wasted on a kicker.
This was a decent draft class for general manager Rick Spielman. He obtained some quality players and addressed a couple of key needs. However, there wasn't nearly enough energy spent on the offensive line, and the one blocker who was acquired will take some time to become an effective starter. Given all the guaranteed money Spielman gave to Cousins, you'd think he would have targeted blockers more aggressively.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
30. Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida A Grade
Mike Hughes would have gone earlier than this if he didn't have some off-the-field incidents, but those aren't considered a big deal amongst teams. With that in mind, I think this is a terrific selection. Hughes is extremely talented, and he'll provide a big upgrade over Terence Newman in the slot. The Vikings' secondary was torched in the NFC Championship, and Hughes will help make sure that won't happen again.
As an added bonus, Hughes will strengthen Minnesota's return game. The Vikings needed help in this regard, and Hughes will be a dynamic threat as a return specialist.
62. Brian O'Neill, OT, Pittsburgh B Grade
Teams were down on Brian O'Neill because of a lack of strength. He's athletic, but his lack of power could be a problem. If he can add lots of strength, he could be a solid blocker for the Vikings, who needed to address the offensive line. O'Neill seems fine for this range, so this is a logical choice.
102. Jayln Holmes, DE, Ohio State B+ Grade
I thought Jayln Holmes might go in the middle or end of the third round, so this is a decent value pick. Holmes would be better off in a 3-4, but he makes sense in the Vikings' scheme as well. The Vikings needed depth on their defensive front, and Holmes should be a quality rotational player.
157. Tyler Conklin, TE, Central Michigan B Grade
Tyler Conklin has been a consistent receiving threat at Central Michigan. He'll pair with Kyle Rudolph over the next two years. Rudolph will be an impending free agent in a couple of seasons, so perhaps Conklin will develop into a starter by then.
165. Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn C Grade
We've had some recent Super Bowl winners cut kickers and bring new ones in, so that should tell you how valuable that position is. Daniel Carlson deserved to be the top kicker taken, but I can't give this anything higher than a "C" in the fifth round.
213. Colby Gossett, G, Appalachian State B+ Grade
Colby Gossett makes sense as a sixth-round prospect, and he'll help the Vikings by adding some depth to the offensive line. Gossett actually didn't allow a single sack as a senior, but his level of competition is obviously a big question mark.
218. Ade Aruna, DE, Tulane B+ Grade
The Vikings really wanted to address the depth on the defensive line, so it's not a surprise that they drafted several players for their front. Ade Aruna needs time to develop, but he's very athletic and explosive. I like the upside here at the bottom of Round 6.
225. Devante Downs, LB, California B+ Grade
Devante Downs was probably going to be a mid-round prospect before suffering an injury to close out the season. It remains to be seen if he'll be ready for 2018, but the Vikings could be getting a solid value here if he is.
The Vikings had the playoff victory of a lifetime, inexplicably scoring on a 61-yard touchdown on the final play against the Saints. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the players may have treated that like a Super Bowl win, and the team was incredibly flat in a horrible loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship.
Vikings sign WR Kendall Wright
Vikings announce retirement of G Joe Berger
Vikings sign G Tom Compton
Vikings sign DT Sheldon Richardson
Vikings acquire QB Trevor Siemian from Broncos
Vikings sign QB Kirk Cousins
Quarterback: All three of Minnesota's quarterbacks are set to hit free agency, so the team must figure out what it's going to do at the position. Keep rolling with Case Keenum? Go back to Teddy Bridgewater? Risk everything with Sam Bradford? OK, maybe not that last option, but the Vikings certainly have their options. Signed Kirk Cousins
Defensive Tackle: Sharrif Floyd, unfortunately, may never play again. The Vikings will need a talented player to take over next to Linval Joseph. Signed Sheldon Richardson
Two Guards: The Vikings did a great job of retooling their offensive line last offseason, but both starting guards, Joe Berger and Nick Easton, have expiring contracts in March.
Cornerback: Minnesota has three impending free agents at cornerback, including Terence Newman. Unless two of them are re-signed, a new cornerback will need to be added.
Right Tackle: Mike Remmers did an OK job at right tackle this season, but he's not a very good player and should probably be upgraded.
Defensive End Depth: Brian Robison has announced that he's retiring soon, so some help is needed behind Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter.
Wide Receiver Depth: Some better backups are needed behind Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Signed Kendall Wright
Kicker: Kai Forbath is an impending free agent. Re-signed Kai Forbath
Punter: Ryan Quigley was just 27th in net punting last year.
Sheldon Richardson, DE/DT, Seahawks. Age: 27. Signed with Vikings (1 year)
Sheldon Richardson is an extremely talented defensive lineman, playing very strongly in the pass rush and run defense. He can play in both the 4-3 and 3-4, so he should garner tons of interest if he gets to the open market.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins. Age: 30. Signed with Vikings (3 years)
Kirk Cousins is very difficult to grade. Sometimes he plays like a 4.5-star player; over the past three years, he has thrown for 81 touchdowns and just 36 interceptions, completing 67 percent of his passes in the process. However, Cousins occasionally performs like a street free agent, melting down at the worst times possible. Still, Cousins has consistently been around 12th in the NFL Quarterback Power Rankings, so the Redskins need to pay him, as he's their best quarterback since Joe Theismann.
Kendall Wright, WR, Bears. Age: 28. -- Signed with Vikings
Tom Compton, G, Bears. Age: 29. -- Signed with Vikings
Minnesota Vikings Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Case Keenum, QB, Vikings. Age: 30. Signed with Broncos (2 years, $36 million)
Case Keenum is difficult to rate. Is he just a 1-year wonder? Keenum was a journeyman prior to arriving to Minnesota, but he put together a dream season. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes with a 7.4 YPA, throwing 22 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He also did some nice work with his legs, picking up 160 rushing yards and another score. The Vikings have seen nothing from Keenum to make them believe that he can't be their quarterback going forward, but no one should be surprised if he regresses either.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings. Age: 25. Signed with Jets
It was nice to see Teddy Bridgewater take the field late in the year. Bridgewater suffered a devastating knee injury two years ago, but it seems like he'll be ready to start in 2018. It's unclear if he'll ever be the same quarterback he once was, a signal-caller with a career completion percentage of 65 and a total touchdown-to-interception ratio of 32:21. He'd be rated much higher if it weren't for his injury history.
Sam Bradford, QB, Vikings. Age: 30. Signed with Cardinals (1 year, $20 million)
Sam Bradford would be rated much higher than this if he weren't such an injury liability. Bradford played just one full game in 2017 because of a knee injury that just wouldn't go away. He's made out of glass and can't be relied upon to stay healthy.
Joe Berger, G/C, Vikings. Age: 36. Announced retirement
The Vikings fixed up their offensive line last offseason, but Joe Berger has been the one mainstay. Proficient at both guard and center, Berger has played very well over the years, but turns 36 in May.
Nick Easton (RFA), G/C, Vikings. Age: 26. Tendered by Vikings (2nd round)
Nick Easton played well for Minnesota's revamped offensive line until he fractured his ankle in Week 16. Easton can play guard and center.
Kai Forbath, K, Vikings. Age: 30. Re-signed with Vikings (1 year)
The good news for Kai Forbath is that in the past two years, he's 47-of-53 (88.7%), including 7-of-10 from 50-plus. The bad news is that he's missed eight extra points in that span.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, Vikings. Age: 26. Signed with 49ers (4 years)
Jerick McKinnon isn't a very good runner - he hasn't been able to eclipse four yards per carry in either of his previous two seasons - but he's an effective receiver out of the backfield. He had 51 receptions in 2017 and 43 the year before.
Tom Johnson, DT, Vikings. Age: 34. Signed with Seahawks (1 year)
Tom Johnson has been a solid rotational defensive tackle over the years, playing well as a pass-rusher and run-defender. He turns 34 in August, so he's bound to regress in the near future.
Terence Newman, CB, Vikings. Age: 39. Re-signed with Vikings
Terence Newman is a freak of nature. Despite his age - he's turning 40 in September - he continues to play well somehow. He's bound to completely regress at some point very soon, but perhaps he'll have another strong year or two under Mike Zimmer.
Tramaine Brock, CB, Vikings. Age: 30. Signed with Broncos (1 year, $4 million)
Tramaine Brock was once a solid cornerback for the 49ers, but they released him because of domestic violence charges. He was cleared of those, but played sparingly in 2017. He should start somewhere next year, but he'll turn 30 this summer.
Shamar Stephen, DT, Vikings. Age: 27. -- Signed with Seahawks
Marcus Sherels, CB/PR, Vikings. Age: 30.
Michael Floyd, WR, Vikings. Age: 28.
Emmanuel Lamur, OLB, Vikings. Age: 29. -- Signed with Raiders
Bishop Sankey (RFA), RB, Vikings. Age: 25.
Jeremiah Sirles (RFA), OT, Vikings. Age: 27. -- Signed with Panthers
Jarius Wright, WR, Vikings. Age: 28. -- Signed with Panthers