We’ve covered the two teams that finished beneath the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North last season.
To close it out, let’s now talk about the offseason of the team the Packers are chasing for the division title: the Minnesota Vikings, back-to-back winners of the North.
Enjoy – or something like that.
Where they were heading into the offseason: Boosted by a better-than-expected showing from you-know-who, the Vikings won the NFC North with a 12-4 record. Minnesota then crushed the Dallas Cowboys at home in the divisional round before gagging away the NFC Championship Game to the New Orleans Saints in overtime (Favre? Gagging? NFC Title Game? No way, right?!). Minnesota was solid in most areas, but needed to improve a bit in others, namely the secondary.
What happened in free agency: The biggest thing to happen to the Vikings in free agency was not a signing, but rather a departure as backup running back Chester Taylor inked a deal with the Chicago Bears. Handcuffed to an extent by the “Final Eight” rule, Minnesota couldn’t really do that much, even with Taylor leaving. As such, the Vikings came away with little: kicker Rhys Lloyd, cornerback Lito Sheppard and defensive end Mike Montgomery (remember him? It’s okay if you don’t).
What happened in the draft: While some speculated that the Vikes would tab Jimmy Clausen as their quarterback of the future, Minnesota instead traded back with Detroit to the top of round two (also jumping up 28 spots in the fourth round in the process). With their top pick, the Vikings selected corner Chris Cook. Minnesota had a second pick in round two, as well, and went with running back Toby Gerhart. Other interesting picks included defensive end Everson Griffin (selected with the pick earned in the Detroit trade), linebacker Nate Triplett (like Lloyd, a former Gopher) and quarterback Joe Webb.
Where the Vikings are now: Obviously, the entire 2010 season hinges on whether or not Brett Favre will “decide” to return. Of course, since we’re not as stupid as he clearly thinks we are, we know he will. That being the case, Minnesota should still be a very good team yet again.
But I think the Vikings dropped the ball a bit in terms of strengthening their roster. Namely, they didn’t find an adequate replacement for Taylor, arguably the most valuable backup running back in the league. Taylor was a crafty runner and top-notch pass catcher, neither of which are things Adrian Peterson is. The drafting of Gerhart was questionable, to say the least, in this respect. He’s a brute force type of back and that will help in short yardage spots. But he did nothing as a pass catcher in college and it will take time for him to learn that role in the pros. Remember, Favre loves throwing to his running backs.
Minnesota would have been well-served to bolster its offensive line just a bit, too, but it did no such thing. As such, the depth is not there and the Vikings will be hard-pressed to skate by if a starter is hurt.
As for the defense, you have to wonder what the Vikes were thinking in not tightening up their secondary. Antoine Winfield is great, but struggled with injuries last year and isn’t getting any younger. Cedric Griffin will miss the first stretch of the season rehabbing his knee injury from the Saints game. Cook has amazing size (6-feet, 2-inches) and some definite upside, but the main reason he dropped to round two was his injury history. And don’t expect anything great from Sheppard, a player who’s best days are well behind him.
I thought they should have done more on the d-line, as well. Pat Williams is an elite player, sure, but he turns 38 in October. If he gets hurt, teams can lock in on Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. As a result, the pass rush won’t be there.
Again, when Favre comes back, this team should be okay. There’s simply no way Favre does what he did last year – remember, he hasn’t had two consecutive good seasons since 2003 and 2004 – because, in the end, I don’t think the motivation will be there for him like it was last season. But even if he’s a shell of that – say, 26 touchdowns and 15 picks – this team has enough firepower in other areas to pull out a 10-win season.
Had it had a better offseason, Minnesota could have solidly put itself back in 12-win contention. The Vikings did not, however, and are no longer the team to beat in the NFC North.
Offseason Grade (when Favre comes back): C-
Offseason Grade (if Favre doesn’t come back): The grade doesn’t matter, because if he actually quits, that means the apocalypse is upon us.