The Minnesota Vikings were relatively active in 2021 free agency, doling out decent money to big-name defenders like Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson. But after a 7-9 finish in 2020, their third non-winning season in seven years under coach Mike Zimmer, they should be feeling at least a little pressure to strike big in this month’s draft. Not only do they have the long-term picture to think about at key positions like quarterback, but they’ve also got immediate holes to fill on both sides of the ball if they intend to compete in 2021. With that in mind, here are three action steps we’d use to headline a perfect 2021 draft plan for the Vikings:
Add a QB early (and consider getting aggressive to do it)
The Vikings have made it clear they stand by Kirk Cousins entering 2021, especially after extending him prior to 2020 and then witnessing a solid rebound from the veteran down the stretch. But let’s be honest: Who, in or outside that building, believes with conviction that Cousins is the guy to get this team over the hump in the next two years?
Cousins is not a bad QB, but he’s also representative of who the Vikings have been for a while: Steady enough to avoid bottoming out, good enough to make playoff runs, but rarely special enough to go the distance. If general manager Rick Spielman got a solid offer for him right now, and could save $46 million ($11M now, $35M in 2022) by dealing him, he’d almost assuredly think about it.
That’s where the rubber meets the road: With or without Cousins, either in 2021 or beyond, the Vikings have to be thinking about their future at QB. With a top 15 pick (No. 14) and six (!) third- or fourth-round picks this year, they’re well positioned to make either a small or big jump up the board if a top prospect is within reach. And there’s no doubt that sacrificing some mid-rounders — and, heck, even a future first to go with them — would be worth it if it meant putting a talent like Trey Lance or Justin Fields in purple.
The Vikings already have other long-term building blocks in place: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Irv Smith Jr. make a rock-solid trio of weapons. On defense, guys like Tomlinson, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks can still contribute for the long haul. The biggest missing X factor is a game-changing signal-caller — a true, dynamic face of the franchise. A lower-risk swing would be acceptable (Davis Mills or Kellen Mond in a move back into the second?). But a first-round splash would bring the most juice, not to mention hope for 2022 and beyond.
Prioritize the trenches early and often
Moving up for a QB would likely cost the Vikings some of their excess capital, but either way, there’s no doubt help for the offensive and defensive lines should headline their shopping list. We talk every year about Minnesota needing more depth up front, but this draft is no different; whether it’s Cousins or someone else under center the next few seasons, the Vikings are overdue for a sturdy front, especially if they intend to keep riding Cook as an offensive centerpiece.
On the other side of the ball, Hunter remains a dominant edge presence, assuming his return from injury goes as planned and the Vikings can assuage his contract desires. But he’s lacked a true running mate up front since Everson Griffen’s departure. Bringing back Stephen Weatherly this offseason should not make the Vikings any less urgent to bolster their D-line, because pairing Hunter and Tomlinson with another productive rusher would also help mask an in-flux secondary.
Add multiple pieces to the secondary
If this is starting to sound like a repeat of 2020, so be it. The Vikings injected youth into the cornerback spot a year ago by drafting five defensive backs, including three corners, but first-rounder Jeff Gladney could now be out of the picture as he faces serious legal matters. Veteran safety Anthony Harris is also out, having inked a reasonable free agent deal with the Eagles.
Peterson will definitely help at corner, but even he’s admitted his move to Minnesota could be a one-year stop as he eyes another free agent tour in 2022. Harrison Smith is also a bona fide name in the back end, but he’s now 32 and could be nearing the close of a long Vikings career. If Minnesota is smart, it’ll make sure it plugs at least two pieces into the secondary for 2021, whether that be a future successor for returning face Mackensie Alexander or a Peterson understudy on the outside.