Friday mailbag: What's next?
Vikings fans are on to the big picture questions at coach, GM and quarterback
By Matthew Coller
Happy Friday everyone! Well, there’s a football game on Sunday and thankfully nobody asked me about it in this mailbag, so off we go…
(Apologies for the email looking a little wonky, I had to remove the picture and make the questions smaller to fit in all the questions. You guys are the best.)
@Samtheyellowman If you were the GM, how would you go about the off-season to rebuild the franchise?
The first move is trading Kirk Cousins. You’re likely to get a first-round pick and $35 million in cap space. Draft a QB with the Vikings’ pick — do not trade up. Draft another receiver with the other first round pick and then spend the rest of the picks on defense. Sign two good offensive linemen. Sign Marcus Mariota. Sign an reasonably-priced edge rusher. Work out a reasonable deal with Danielle Hunter. Let all the free agents walk. Plan to be a spunky team in 2022 that can make the playoffs and then aim for being a legitimate contender in 2023 where you can chase after the biggest free agents.
I remember reading in the book Scorecasting that Hollywood executives have a secret about the success or failure of movies: They have no idea when they make a movie whether it will succeed or not and there’s no way to predict it. I feel that way about the NFL draft and I feel that way about coaching/GM hires. Everything would have pointed to Mike McCarthy being a silly hire in Dallas and now his team is really good. Everything would have said Arthur Smith should have been good and the Falcons are awful. I thought the Eagles coach was a dingbat after he played rock-paper-scissors with draft picks and his team has come around. Who knows. But there are lots of folks in Hollywood who think they can guess who’s going to be good and who isn’t…
Anyway, to answer your question, scheme is everything in the NFL. Ideally you’re looking for a head coach who connects with players and can empower leaders but if you can’t gameplan, you can take all that leadership stuff on a motivational speaking tour because you won’t be coaching in the NFL. You want your new coach to be engaged in new ideas and understand how to process data that they’re presented with from the analytics department.
From the GM perspective, it’s all about having a plan that is rooted in doing things the most efficient way possible. Not making desperate trades or chasing outlier draft picks or ignoring positional value when it comes to drafting and paying players and not sticking with things that don’t work too long.
@mattverick 1. Is Zimmer a bully? His tone worked well when older players needed a push to perform, but now it just seems tone-deaf and not helping anyone. 2. Do you think Spielman's failure in drafting talent lately because he is still chasing what worked in 2015 draft? 3. Would trading Cousins for Russell Wilson if he really wants out a realistic option?
1 — I’ve heard that word used before, yes. Him bullying one reporter on the beat for years is a pretty good representation of how you get treated if he doesn’t like you. I do think “his guys” from the original group were more tolerant of that than players who come in from the outside. Very few outside players have flourished here.
2 — I would agree with that 2015 assessment. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every receiver is taken in the fifth or sixth round and there’s always a couple lanky edge rushers who are “the next Danielle Hunter.” He’s said before that they try to “clone” players. That hasn’t worked. There’s another part of it that is simply not being pragmatic. Taking a center in the first round. Taking a RB in the third round. Not picking WRs or QBs when they had a chance to be major impact players, that kinda stuff.
3 — It sounds like Wilson has a no-trade clause. If that’s the case, I’d be surprised if he OK’d a move to a team that was hiring a new coach off two 7-9 seasons. If I’m Seattle, I want a young QB, not somebody who is worse than my last guy and just as expensive.
@alexjjlarsen What are the scenarios in which you prefer to punt vs. go for it on 4th down?
If you go three-and-out to start the game, it would be pretty goofy to go for fourth-and-10 from your own 25-yardline at 0-0. There’s others like that. If you’re up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, do not open the door for a comeback. Let the other team run the clock out on themselves. Anything over fourth-and-5 isn’t a super high chance of success, so if you’re on your own side of the field, punting is probably the best play. Folks who haven’t ever looked into the numbers will say, “analytics always say to go for it!” Like most uninformed takes, that’s a misrepresentation. They just say that there’s some missed opportunities left out there.
@John2Quick4Me how stupid are the Vikings for trotting out starters in back to back meaningless season finales?
I’ll go with a 4 out of 10. Is it the smartest thing to play Cousins and Jefferson in a game like this? Nah. Is there some benefit to seeing Kellen Mond, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Cam Bynum? Sure. Is it going to change the trajectory of the franchise? That seems pretty unlikely.
@HannesKannes09 Is it important for you that a potential new HC called plays in his prior job as a coordinator? Ex/ as far as I know Bryon Leftwich calls plays but Eric Bieniemy doesn’t call plays himself.
I think Bieniemy has called plays at times but that isn’t all that important. If they want to hire an OC who calls plays, that’s fine. How it works with play calling is the coaching staff puts together the plays they want for every situation and then the play caller dials them up at the right times. The staff is in communication throughout, so it’s really more of a group effort.
@l_blaske27 People keep saying that Rick will promoted or be moved to a different role. I really don’t understand that isn’t that just failing your way up? They say the wilfs trust him, but what has he done to show he can be trusted? No real question just want your opinion. Love your work.
That’s kind of used as a lifetime achievement award. Like, hey, we love you and thanks for the memories but we need to give someone else the reins now. Call it a Minnesota firing.
@mnjoker0015 Justin Jefferson's numbers are borderline absurd. If we leaned into the pass and aggressiveness, what does that look like for him? His numbers can't really "spike" from here can they? Is that just gonna impact others?
It’s not so much the numbers going up as when they’re throwing to him. Cousins was 10th in passing yards this year but it often felt like they only passed to Jefferson when they were down and badly needed the offense to get going. If he has 100 catches next year but they are largely to get ahead in games early, that means more.
@Smittybard Do you think Wilf's understand importance of having GM/Scouts identifying & developing QBs in today's NFL? If so, doesn't it make sense to bring in new GM and scouts?
It makes sense to bring in a new GM because the current one has sent the franchise spiraling into mediocrity. I’m not sure there’s any such thing as being good at identifying and developing QBs. Similarly to what we talked about with coaches earlier. The problem was ignoring clear opportunities to take a shot at the next QB. The Eagles were set at QB when they took Jalen Hurts. The Patriots could have said, “Well, I dunno, DraftyMcDraftScout says Mac Jones isn’t a great athlete,” and ignored him at No. 16. Not every team is rewarded for taking those types of QBs but you can’t win the lottery without a ticket. That’s why I refuse to buy the idea that the next draft is a “bad quarterback draft.” I can show you 50 examples of the NFL and analysts being absurdly wrong about every QB class. Google “Justin Herbert overrated” or “Patrick Mahomes footwork.”
@AlNotino What do you think are the realistic best and worst case scenarios for the Vikings in 2022?
Best case scenario is that they are like the Chiefs in Alex Smith’s final year and they put together a really competitive year with a bridge quarterback and then can turn things over to Rookie QB X the following year. Worst case is that they lose a lot. But even in the worst case, that means having a top pick the next year, which seems really far away but that’s how it goes sometimes. Cincinnati isn’t sad about their down years after Marvin Lewis now.
@jondkuehne Who’s your pick to win the Super Bowl and who is your favorite rookie QB in this new class?
How about a repeat of my childhood with the Buffalo Bills facing the Dallas Cowboys? I’ve been so wrapped up with this season that I haven’t watched much of the rookie QB class. I saw my pal Chris Trapasso likes Malik Willis the most. I was very impressed with Sam Howell the time I watched him. His team was horrendous but he kept finding a way to keep his team in the game.
Nobody mistake my opinion that it’s impossible to guess which QBs will be good with not caring about analyzing them. If the Vikings trade Cousins, we’ll be going hog wild.
@chedzhead1 2001 Miami Hurricanes vs 2019 LSU. Who wins?
That LSU team was great but nobody’s beating the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. The roster is mind blowing.
@kyleshaner Cris Collinsworth called Garrett Bradbury the Vikings’ “outstanding center” during Sunday’s game. What do you think Bradbury’s future holds with the Vikings?
I got a bunch of tweets during the game about that. Odd, considering he got benched earlier this year and PFF — owned by Collinsworth — has never been fond of his play. (That’s a side note about why we use the grades, actually. It almost always matches up with team decisions like playing time and signings etc.) I’m not sure Bradbury has a future with the Vikings. I wonder if he’s a guy that we’ll eventually look at and see he became a solid player elsewhere but playing in this division versus the beasts like Kenny Clark and Akiem Hicks just wasn’t a good combination.
@smccullough5 Who are the 3 or 4 most important players on each side of the ball to build around for next year
Justin Jefferson, Christian Darrisaw and Irv Smith Jr. are the most important on offense. Defense, well, Eric Kendricks and maybe Danielle Hunter. The cupboard is pretty bare. Harrison Smith is still good but I wouldn’t call him a “build around” guy with his age. There are no corners and no D-linemen you’d say are selling points for why the defense could make a huge jump.
@AES64 Mailbag: If M. Nagy manages to get himself, J. Judge and M. Zimmer all fired, what's the appropriate way to recognize this historical achievement?
I’m not sure the connection between the three. Judge is a fraud who was not qualified for that job and acted like a buffoon from the start. Nagy isn’t that bad, he just doesn’t seem to understand how to work a player’s skill set to his offense. If Zimmer is fired, it will have much more of an unfortunate feeling. A lot of good came out of his tenure and he’s a vastly better coach than most in the league but it just wasn’t working anymore.
@BHogendorf At minimum, Zim and Kirk HAVE to be gone, right? Not 100% a question, but still...
I can’t say that they “have” to be gone because Mark and Zygi haven’t called to tell me what they’re going to do. Unlike some other owners or the GM of this team, they haven’t called ESPN and NFL Network, either. It’s hard to predict the actions of wealthy folks who don’t exactly see themselves as football experts. But I’d be really surprised if they stay the course at HC and QB. There’s too much money that’s been spent the last two years in order for them to think this direction works.
@MJPeas Thoughts on asking Kirk postgame … “you’ve said you want to be a Minnesota Viking for the rest of your career but clearly the roster building around your contract has not worked to date…do you think your family and agent will ever come to a point where you entertain a longer term / lower cap hit contract to help fortify the pieces around you and build a winner? And if that’s not something you’d ever entertain, what’s your roadmap for building a super bowl winner in Minnesota?”
I can tell you what Kirk would say to that question: “Those questions are for my agent and for the team.” I’ve never blamed Cousins for signing the contract or the extension. He didn’t offer the deal to himself. He shouldn’t have to entertain a lower cap hit, the league shouldn’t be giving it out to a QB like him. The team actively chose to do a contract with that structure that would make it harder after 2020 for them to succeed. The other thing is that teams don’t have to be terrible because their QB has a big contract. It’s harder, especially if the QB is as flawed as Cousins but they had a LOT of misses around him over the last few years that took them out of contention. Tom Brady is basically the only guy to ever do the lower cap hit thing and that’s probably helped his teams. It’s also probably helped that he’s the best QB of all time.
Andrew via email: what’s your pie chart of outcomes over the next 3 years if the team fires everyone and starts over? Mine has a 75% likelihood of zero playoff games. Yes, the Bills turned it around quickly this time, but only after 15+ years of wandering in the wilderness. See also the Jets, Browns, Fish, Bucs. . .A rebuild doesn’t have to take a long time, but it usually does.
If they had nothing to work with, I’d agree. They have a ready-made offense with young players who can provide pretty strong stability to the next quarterback. We can’t act like nobody could take them farther than Cousins when we see teams turning around quickly all the time. For every example of a team that was down for a long time, there’s more teams that got back to the playoffs in short order. The Rams were a 7-9 festival with Jeff Fisher and then got the right coach and took off. The Chargers were bad for two years and now they’re back. Usually the teams that stay down are incredibly incompetent. Remember, the Bills got better when they changed owners.
The risk of being bad for a long time isn’t different than the risk of being mediocre for a long time. I don’t see any difference in the distance between 3 wins and 7 wins. They’re both far away from the Super Bowl. Except being really bad gets you better players in the draft to help you get back to contention quicker.
@DShepeck Why do you think Zimmer wants to play starters? And why isn’t Rick shutting it down, for the sake of their investments? Is lame duck mode real af or what
If you were Mike, would you play the backups and take an L on your record? I don’t think any GM has the power to walk downstairs and tell the coach who to play.
@Dinzeo82 Who is the young players on defense we can get excited about next year or are candidates for big improvements.
I wish I had an answer for you. Cam Bynum seems to have potential. That’s about it. We’ve seen very little of Patrick Jones and Janarius Robinson missed the year with injuries but I can’t tell you with any certainty that they’ll be more than the next Jalyn Holmes or DJ Wonnum. They are severely lacking in future defensive talent.
@Nick_Martin_117 Stronger all-time Vikings position group: DL or WR?
Whew, that’s a tough one. I’ll go with the slight edge to D-line. You’re talking Eller, Page, Marshall, Randle, Doleman, Allen, Kevin Williams and then a bunch of really good players like Henry Thomas, Everson Griffen, Keith Millard. The receivers are strong at the top but not as deep.
DanielVroman2 Week one next year how many of these 4 are still Vikings… Zimmer, Spielman, Cousins, Hunter? My guess would be 1, hope would be 2, and my fear is 3.
I’ll go with one: Hunter. I could be wrong and they could surprise everyone and stay the course but… what course is that, exactly?
@vikesfan1930 what happens if the new coach/GM just wants to keep Cousins, so average next year then look for the QB, draft ? Free Agency ? They could restructure/cut elsewhere? Is the more likely scenario he gets traded, even though Cousins said Vikings for life ?
It’s not a terrible idea to let him play out the contract next year and then hand the keys over to a new QB but it’s way more efficient to trade him. That means another first-round pick and the cap space to outbid teams for free agents who could be here 3-5 years. The most likely scenario is trade for that reason.
@Tad_Fundermann What odds do you give each of these vets to be back with the team next year? Hunter Smith Barr Thielen Peterson Cook Cousins Also, at this point in time who is your guess at the next HC assuming Zim is let go? Not who you want (Leftwich!) but who you think it could be.
I don’t think there’s a very high chance that Barr or Peterson is back. Thielen is a tough one. I wonder if he’d want to move on rather than fighting through a retooling season. Your guess is as good as mine for next head coach. I’ll go Doug Pederson for my guess.
@jdbondy What a sad, unfulfilling, and bizarre ride this year has been. Kudos to you for making it entertaining for us! Question: Best Madden game of the 90s?
The way it happened was bizarre but the fact it happened was pretty predictable, which is what makes it the other two descriptive words you used. My favorite two Maddens of the 90s were 1996, where you could create players do participate in the NFL Combine rather than just setting your own numbers. It’s unbelievable that they never tried that again. Running the 40 and doing the drills was awesome. The other is Madden 99. That was the first with a full offseason featuring free agency and the draft.
@GeofftheJohnson What will you miss about covering/interacting with Mike Zimmer as an NFL head coach?
I learned a TON about football from Mike. I’ll miss the times where six or seven of us would gather around his golf cart during training camp and he’d just talk ball. A lotta times he’d give us an education on techniques or player development when we were interviewing him away from the cameras. He can be pretty funny. Before COVID, we had some funny interactions with him over the years. Overall, I have enjoyed covering him and grew as a reporter because he challenged us to ask better football questions.
@bobh332 I want Gardner Minshew. Gunslinger like Case & Fitz Magic. If it’s always gonna be a roller coaster ride at least let’s make it fun!!
Yeah. That is part of the thing about making changes: The last few years have been more frustrating than entertaining.
@smccullough5 What off season moves are you most interested in covering? Not that you'd necessarily want the move to happen but would make for compelling journalism.
You can’t do much better for compelling journalism than a new coach and quarterback. Every offseason is super interesting to me because we get to play Madden offseason mode with free agency and the draft and everyone gets in on the fun (it’s almost draft simulation season, everybody). Beyond the obvious, how they approach rebuilding the cornerback group will be something to watch. Right now it’s a mess.
@RalphVixCPA if ownership chooses status quo, maybe tell Zimmer hire real coordinators, how does one select a new team to cheer for and why wouldnt it be the Bengals? Follow up, the NCAA transfer portal, does the space-time continuum still hold up while in the portal?
You’re funny, Ralph. If you were just becoming a football fan and were picking a team from scratch, you’d have to go with the team that has the most exciting young QB, so the Bengals or Chargers would be a good choice. San Francisco if you’re intrigued by Trey Lance. The Vikings could be that type of team soon… maybe.
@alstrain You've got $10,000 but you can only make one bet on who's going to be the Vikings QB next year. You putting your money on Cousins or the field?
The Field in a landslide. I don’t mean to come across as overconfident in a change — with his contract and an anti-rebuild ownership, nothing is a sure thing. It’s just that they haven’t been remotely successful with Cousins at QB and have paid out a lot of money. Even if they aren’t football experts, the Wilfs are businessmen.
@benjackson0812 Do you think Wilfs are capable of hiring the right people to run the football operations for this team??
Sure. It’s not like they’ve been running a circus here over the last seven years. They hung on for one year too many, they didn’t make the franchise a laughingstock. If they pick a GM who has a good idea about maximizing value, they’ll do fine. If not, well, it’ll be more of the same. Or the new GM will get lucky and draft a good QB and we’ll call them a genius.
@timmurp39091593 Ok, here goes….are you going to just lose your freaking marbles if the Wilfs don’t clean house on Monday???
Oh, my marbles will be fine no matter what happens. I’m going to criticize it because I don’t think it’s the right direction, but I’ll keep covering everything the same way. I was also in Buffalo for their 20 straight years of missing the playoffs. By the end of that, it felt like there was no hope in the universe. Everything is better than that.
@LfcMay I only see three options with cousins. 1) keep him on current contract and part ways next year 2) trade him for a 2nd, maybe? And sign a journeyman 3) extend him and lower his cap number. Which option makes the most sense and what one is most likely to happen?
You are correct on the options. No. 3 is both the most likely and the one that makes the most sense. I understand there are a lot of arguments that start with, “what if they draft a bad quarterback!” or “who are you going to find that’s better?!” I just don’t get that line of thinking. You might think he’s a good quarterback and you’d be right but he’s been starting for seven years and it’s never worked for his team. When he left Washington, they were 7-9. The Vikings are currently 7-9. If you draft a bad quarterback, draft another one the next year. If you draft a good one, spend that $30 million on some guards and watch your team win and win.
To add one more point: Case Keenum and Sam Bradford had their best years with the great Vikings receivers, right? It’s not like nobody else in the world could throw the ball to Justin Jefferson.