Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Minnesota Vikings.
One week, the Vikings were riding high after one of the most improbable plays in football history. The next, they were getting manhandled by the eventual Super Bowl champions. The NFL works in mysterious ways.
Losing to the Philadelphia Eagles isn’t cause for the Vikings to blow everything up. Their defense was the best statistical unit in the league, and the offense was equally dangerous. They’ll be fine as long as head coach Mike Zimmer maintains the style that helped them to success in 2017.
But they’re entering uncharted territory this offseason. All three of the quarterbacks that have started for them in the past three seasons are unrestricted free agents. Now, they have to somehow pick which one to go with.
It’s one of the more unique situations in recent memory. Each of the three QBs, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater have shown the ability to be productive and could conceivably start for most teams in the league. Any decision the Vikings make could be viewed as understandable.
On the other hand, they all have sizable downsides, and none of them are seen as elite passers. The Vikings are a team that could threaten for a Super Bowl right now, and they need the right QB to do so. Heck, they could easily eschew all of them and throw a ton of money at Kirk Cousins instead.
Envying the position that general manager Rick Spielman is close to impossible. With a plethora of options on the table, he has to somehow choose the right one in order for his team to take the next step. But given the quality of each QB, one of them has to be the correct guy, right? The Vikings sure hope so.
Current number of draft picks: 7 (#30 in the first round)
Cap space: $52-53 million
Notable free agents
Case Keenum, QB: Let’s start with the guy who got them to the conference championship this season. Keenum was a fringe starter at best before 2017, but he blossomed this season under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, throwing for a career-high 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns. A logical solution for the Vikings would be to go with the hot hand, right?
There could be some drawbacks to that, however. Shurmur has left to become the head coach of the New York Giants, so how Keenum plays without him will be a big question. The playoff game against the Eagles didn’t go well for him either. Out of the three solutions at QB, Keenum is the one who has most likely hit his ceiling already. If the Vikings do go with him, there may not be much room for growth.
Sam Bradford, QB: Bradford’s entire career has been marred by poor coaching and injury. While the former hasn’t been an issue since he was traded to the Vikings, the latter certainly has. The first game of 2017 was one of the best of Bradford’s career, but he sustained a knee injury that would end his season early once again.
It’s a shame because when healthy, Bradford has the ability to be a very functional signal caller. After all, he broke the single-season completion percentage record in 2016. Given the right situation, he could be capable of doing what Nick Foles did with the Eagles this year. But Bradford’s health is paramount, and he just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB: Out of the three free agent QBs, Bridgewater is the youngest and might have the most potential. Before his catastrophic knee injury ahead of the 2016 season, he was progressing into a productive passer, albeit at a slower pace than others. However, the damage done could end up limiting him for the rest of his career.
A torn ACL is one thing. A dislocated knee joint is another, and Bridgewater was in danger of losing his left leg in the immediate aftermath. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but he hasn’t had significant time on the field since then. At 25, he still has an opportunity to find a spot in the league. There may be too many unknowns for that to happen though.
Terence Newman, CB: When will Newman finally decline as a defensive back? Despite turning 39 early on this year, he remained a dependable player in coverage, albeit in a more limited role. Even then, he played in all 16 games, picking up an interception and 5 pass breakups during that time. Newman is likely to keep playing until he simply isn’t physically capable anymore. If these past few years are any indication, that won’t be anytime soon.
Joe Berger, G: Berger was an unsung player for most of his career, toiling around the league as a backup for several years before signing with the Vikings in 2011. Since then, he’s been a very reliable blocker, averaging a Pro Football Focus grade of 78 in the seven seasons he’s played in Minnesota.
2017 wasn’t quite as fruitful for him, but he still earned a grade of 75.7. He also allowed just 3 sacks and 23 total pressures. Berger will turn 36 before next year, so his time left in football is limited. Still, he’s better than most offensive linemen, and the Vikings would probably love to have him around for a little while longer.
QB: Nothing more needs to be said. Before the Vikings do anything else, they need to figure out a long-term solution at QB.
DT: The duo of Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen did fairly well at the defensive tackle spot next to Linval Joseph this season. They’re both free agents, however. Former first-round pick Sharrif Floyd may never play again due to a nerve injury in his knee. The Vikings pass rush could be even more potent with a consistent interior defender.
G: Berger isn’t the only free agent at guard. The other starter, Nick Easton, is a restricted free agent, as is backup Jeremiah Sirles. The Vikings could use some new blood on the interior offensive line.
RB: Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon did well as a one-two punch in the running game during 2017. The latter is a free agent though, and he could end up leaving for a more significant role elsewhere. Luckily for the Vikings, the draft is deep with running back talent this year.
CB: Losing Newman to free agency or retirement wouldn’t kill the Vikings secondary; they have a lot of talent at cornerback to fill the void. Their depth could become an issue though.
K: Kai Forbath is a free agent. He went 32-for-38 in field goal attempts this season.
Best player/building block
Harrison Smith, S: The best safety in the league didn’t make the initial roster for the Pro Bowl. Let that sink in for a second. Smith was a monster in 2017. He led the team in interceptions and pass breakups with 5 and 12, respectively. He was second in total tackles with 78 and was the top graded PFF safety at 97. The latter was the second highest among all players behind Aaron Donald. Smith can do it all and then some.
Linval Joseph, DT: Joseph’s pass rush isn’t considered to be among the best for interior defenders in the league, but his mark of 3.5 sacks is better than many guys who play similar to him. His run defense stands out a lot more though; he had 68 total tackles in 2017. PFF graded him at an 88.7, 11th for interior defenders.