As evidenced by their 25th rank in the preseason Power Rankings on ESPN, the Vikings enter the 2011 season with lower expectations than past years when they had a certain quarterback who wore #4. The lockout shortened offseason was particularly detrimental to a Vikings team which has a new head coach (Leslie Frazier), new offensive coordinator (Bill Musgrave), and a new QB (Donovan McNabb) to go along with a rookie QB (Christian Ponder).
The Vikings did not have very much cap room due to the new CBA salary cap of $120 million since they already had many veterans under contract. Minnesota was forced to carefully choose the players they would add, as well as get rid of some players to clear up cap space. The off-season moves are indicative of how the Vikings feel about their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their opinion of returning players on their roster.
1. Received Donovan McNabb for a 2012 6th round pick and a compensatory 2013 6th round pick
As stated in my previous article on the Vikings off-season priorities, I thought that Donovan McNabb would be the best fit for the Vikings in 2011. In terms of risk to reward, the Vikings gave up very little to acquire the 34 year old 6 time Pro Bowler. McNabb has undergone much scrutiny and been second guessed repeatedly in his career and whether you believe it has been fair or not, his play on the field speaks for itself. People forget that 2009 was actually statistically one of his best and most efficient seasons (22 TD’s and a 92.9 QB rating in 14 games) before they lost to the Cowboys in the first round (McNabb’s only first round playoff loss in his career). As the quarterback, McNabb received an unfair amount of criticism when he was not responsible for the defense giving up 34 points, poor offensive line play, or turnovers by Michael Vick and Leonard Weaver in that game.
After the 2009 season McNabb was traded to a putrid Washington Redskins team where he clashed with head coach Mike Shanahan and had few offensive weapons to go along with a shoddy offensive line. McNabb’s 2010 season was not pretty but he comes into a much better situation in Minnesota with a chip on his shoulder, an improved offensive line and playmakers such as Percy Harvin and Adrian “All Day” Peterson that he did not have in Washington. McNabb also got signed to a very reasonable 1 year $5 million contract with $2 million in incentives, which will motivate him to play for his next contract and prove that he is not done yet. While he will have to learn a new offense on the fly due to the lack of training camp, the Vikings should end up receiving more efficient quarterback play from McNabb this year than what they got from Favre last year.
2. Re-signed Ryan Longwell to 4 year/$12 million with $3.5 million guaranteed
An important singing for a valuable player who has a 93.5% success rate on FG’s in the past 2 years. The only knock on him was his distance on kickoffs, but with the ball moved up to the 35 yard line this year that shouldn’t be much of a problem.
3. Signed DT Remi Ayodele to a 3 year/$9 million deal, cut DT Jimmy Kennedy
This signing meant the release of Jimmy Kennedy (saved $2.5 million against cap) and most likely the end of Pat Williams’ tenure on the Vikings. It was a pleasure to see big Pat plug up running lanes for all these years and the hope is that Ayodele can do his best Pat Williams impression as the starting NT.
4. Signed WR Michael Jenkins to a 3 year deal, WR Devin Aromashodu to 1 year deal, and re-structured WR Bernard Berrian’s contract
While I was hoping that the Vikings were going to make a bigger splash at WR, Jenkins offers them solid veteran WR who is a great run blocker and has familiarity with the offense playing under Musgrave in Atlanta. Jenkins is 6-4 and 214 pounds so he gives the Vikings a good red zone target to complement the speed of Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian. The Vikings did not want to match the $41 million ($18.5 guaranteed) that Seattle gave the injury prone Sidney Rice, and Jenkins will provide a solid red zone target for a bargain price. The Vikings also restructured Bernard Berrian’s contract so he is a free agent at the end of the season. Hopefully this will motivate him to play well for his next contract but I’m going to temper my own expectations. Aromashodu will likely be the 4th or 5th WR but he has some big play ability.
5. Signed OL Charlie Johnson to a 3 year/$10.5 million deal, cut Bryant McKinnie
In the most surprising move of the off-season the Vikings cut underachiever Bryant McKinnie who was doing his best Fat Albert impression, apparently weighing in at over 400 pounds and had very high cholesterol. While McKinnie did save the Vikings $5.65 million against the cap, replacing a starting LT is never easy. The 6-4 305 pound Johnson did start at LT for the Colts last year in protection of Peyton Manning, and has been successful at Guard as well. It seems that Johnson is more suited to play Guard than Tackle but the Vikings may be forced to play him at LT unless Phil Loadholt moves from RT to LT. Offensive line was a problem in 2010 and is my biggest concern for the 2011 Vikings, with starting RG Anthony Herrera already unsure of whether or not he will be able to start the season.
6. Signed LB Erin Henderson to a 1 year/$1.2 million deal, Safety Husain Abdullah to a 1 year/$1.835 million deal, and cut Safety Madieu Williams
Abdullah and Henderson were both restricted free agents who look to be starters in 2011. Abdullah was the Vikings most consistent safety in 2010 with 75 tackles and 3 INT’s, and Erin Henderson is fighting for the starting job at weak-side LB next to his brother EJ. Safety Madieu Williams has been a huge disappointment with the Vikings and by cutting him they saved $3.5 million against the cap. The other starting safety job will be a competition between the hard hitting Jamarca Samford, and Tyrell Johnson who is better in coverage.
As I stated previously, the Vikings were not overly active in free agency because of their cap situation, but they made some important personnel moves that should help them in 2011. On offense getting McNabb will be instrumental in getting solid quarterback play from a team that will already be relying heavily on Adrian Peterson in the running game. Musgrave has come out and said that Peterson will be involved more in the passing game, something I have been clamoring for since his rookie year. As long as the Vikings can get the ball into playmakers hands like Harvin, Peterson, and hopefully a motivated Berrian, their offense will be productive. McNabb will also have safety nets like TE’s Visanthe Shiancoe, rookie Kyle Rudolph, and veteran WR Michael Jenkins.
Defensively the Vikings still have great veterans such as Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin as the starting corners, Chad Greenway and EJ Henderson at linebacker, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams on the defensive line. These veterans can still all play at a high level, but the Vikings will need younger players like Erin Henderson at LB, Chris Cook as the nickel CB, Brian Robison to replace Ray Edwards, and whoever wins the starting safety job to play at competent levels and make plays for the defense. I will have more to report as the preseason gets underway and I look forward to watching football once again.
About the Author
Written by Jonathan Fawkes
I was born and raised in Brooklyn but I'm a long suffering Minnesota sports fan (Twins, T'Wolves, Vikings). Looking forward to Teddy Bridgewater, Byron Buxton and Andrew Wiggins bringing a winning culture to Minnesota. Thanks for reading!