Many mistakes were made en route to a 3-13 season that saw the Vikings finish five games out of third place in the NFC North.
If those mistakes aren’t corrected with a more talented and deeper roster in 2012, everyone will know who to blame.
At a time when most three-win teams would be whacking people left and right, the Vikings haven’t fired anybody and they promoted from within to fill the most powerful position beneath ownership. Rick Spielman, the former vice president of player personnel, was elevated to general manager, a title the Vikings haven’t had in more than 20 years.
“That’s what you want, the pressure,” Spielman said on Tuesday. “When you’re in professional sports, whether you’re a player, whether you’re a coach, I thrive off that and I really enjoy the pressure part of it.”
What does this change, other than the pressure falling on one person instead of being diluted by a publicly confusing conglomerate of decision-makers? Well, not much.
Right or wrong, the decision-makers are the same ones who helped put the team in this 3-13 hole. Coach Leslie Frazier will have a significant voice in the selection of players and full control over hiring and firing assistant coaches. Spielman gets the final say on all roster moves, but those moves have to fit the offensive and defensive systems that Frazier will put in place. Plus, owners Mark and Zygi Wilf retain the power to fire and hire the head coach, so Spielman can’t fire Frazier on his own and go and get a coach of his own choosing.
Spielman is in his fifth season with the team. As the overseer of the draft, he’s hit some home runs — picking Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin in the first round and orchestrating a draft week trade that snared Jared Allen in 2008 — and he’s also struck out in later rounds on picks that would have added valuable depth and special teams help.
Spielman’s lone stint as a general manager came in Miami from January 2004 to June 2005 when he butted heads with new head coach Nick Saban. The Dolphins went 4-12 in 2004, and Spielman whiffed on some high-profile trades. In March of ’04, he surrendered a second-round draft pick to acquire quarterback A.J. Feeley, who was then an Eagles third-stringer and never panned out.
The pressure on Spielman is great this offseason. The team has glaring needs at defensive back, receiver and offensive line, particularly left tackle. But it also has room under the salary cap, a desire by ownership to spend money, possibly as many as 10 draft picks, including the third overall, and is sitting No. 3 on the waiver wire list.
“Things can flip in this league,” said Mark Wilf, owner and president. “We’re not saying it’s going to be easier, but with this structure in place and having a surplus of picks … I think we can get better in a hurry.”
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES
–As players cleared their lockers out and packed up their belongings for the offseason, they had one more chance to sum up what it feels like to go 3-13. In the 51-year history of the Vikings, only one other team — the 3-13 team of 1984 — had ever lost more than 11 games.
“3-13,” said defensive end Brian Robison. “That pretty much sums it up. I guess you could say it was a roller coaster that stayed close to the ground most of the time. A kiddie coaster.”
–DE Jared Allen came to the Vikings in 2008 in a draft-week trade that saw the Vikings give the Chiefs a first-round pick and two third-rounders. He said this week that when he got here, he understood the window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl wouldn’t stay open long. So, yeah, he’s expecting an overhaul of the roster this offseason.
“I looked at the core guys when I got here, and I knew we had about four or five years to win a championship,” said Allen, who had franchise-record 22 sacks this season. “And we got close in ’09 (going to the NFC Championship game). Guys are starting to get old. Hell, I’m starting to get old. I’m going to turn 30 this offseason.”
–K Ryan Longwell was lamenting the horrible season. But he also was looking forward to his flight home to Orlando. Standing in the Vikings locker room the day after the season, Longwell, a scratch golfer, was already wearing shorts. And it was one of the coldest days of the winter, with wind chills below zero.
“Yeah, the shorts came out of hibernation quick,” Longwell said. “It doesn’t take me long. I’ll head home today and say hi to Sarah and the kids again, full time, which is probably my favorite thing to do anyway. And then I’m sure I will find some time to hit the golf course pretty soon.”
QUOTE TO NOTE: “In Leslie Football, I have the utmost confidence in him leading us to where we need to go.” — Rick Spielman, promoted to general manager on Tuesday, obviously misspeaking when talking about his support for head coach Leslie Frazier.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Whether they turn things around remains to be seen, but the Vikings definitely will look different in 2012. Expect heavy turnover in personnel, some new defensive assistants, including coordinator, and possibly a tweak or abandonment of the Tampa 2 defensive scheme.
Aging veterans such as middle linebacker E.J. Henderson and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe will leave via free agency. Left guard Steve Hutchinson will mull retirement after ending the season with a concussion and facing the probability of a pay cut in the final year of his contract.
Coach Leslie Frazier hasn’t finished evaluating his coaching staff, but defensive coordinator Fred Pagac isn’t expected to survive what was one of the worst defensive seasons in franchise history, despite Jared Allen notching a franchise-record 22 of the team’s league-high 50 sacks. With Pagac’s expected departure would come a tough decision by Frazier, who favors the 4-3 defense but might promote his friend and former Bears teammate Mike Singletary, a 3-4 proponent, from linebackers coach to coordinator.
Current defenders such as Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and cornerback Antoine Williams are against changing from the 4-3 scheme, but Frazier has not ruled it out.
Meanwhile, offensively, Frazier still believes that coordinator Bill Musgrave is right to be building a run-oriented, ball-control offense around Adrian Peterson. The team is expecting Peterson to return for the start of the 2012 regular season after having surgery on Dec. 30 to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
The team’s weakest link is its secondary, so expect major turnover there in 2012. The team won’t factor cornerback Chris Cook into its plans until his felony domestic assault charges are resolved in his favor. His trial is scheduled to start March 5. Also, the team is expected to release struggling cornerback Cedric Griffin, a starter who couldn’t return to form after tearing the ACL in both knees the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, cornerback Antoine Winfield, who will be 35 next season, will be counted on. But safeties Husain Abdullah and Jamarca Sanford could be gone. Abdullah is a free agent and is contemplating retirement after suffering four concussions in two seasons. And Sanford is under contract, but just isn’t good enough to be a starter.
With so many holes to fill, don’t look for the Vikings to jump back into the quarterback market despite rookie Christian Ponder’s struggles in 2011. The Vikings aren’t going to give up on him after 10 starts with an inadequate supporting cast.
Secondary: Despite leading the league in sacks with 50, the Vikings were still inept against the pass because of a secondary depleted of healthy bodies and young playmakers. The Vikings were worst in the league in passing touchdowns allowed (34) and defensive passer rating (107.6). They also tied a franchise record for fewest interceptions (eight) and set a franchise record for worst completion percentage allowed (68.2).
Left tackle: The Vikings need better linemen help in general, but left tackle in particular. Charlie Johnson, a stopgap player who was plugged in when the team released Bryant McKinnie on Day 2 of training camp, gives 100 percent, but is more suited to play guard. The team has the third overall pick and hasn’t selected a lineman in the first round since McKinnie in 2002.
Wide receiver: The Vikings don’t have a legitimate No. 1 receiver that can create mismatches on the outside. They have a star receiver in Percy Harvin, but he’s a slot guy who needs help to increase his playmaking opportunities.
-RB Adrian Peterson had surgery on Dec. 30 to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. Peterson has historically been a fast healer, but obviously there is great concern about his future. TheVikings said they’re hopeful that Peterson can return in time for the start of the 2012 regular season.
-RB Toby Gerhart injured the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the season finale on Sunday. It’s not expected to be a long-term injury. He’ll be monitored for two to three weeks to determine whether he’ll need surgery.
-LG Steve Hutchinson ended the season on injured reserve because of a concussion. He’ll be 35 next season and is due to make $6.95 million. The concussion, coupled with the likelihood that he’ll have to take a pay cut to stay with the team clouds his future with the team and in the NFL.
-FS Husain Abdullah, who missed the final seven games of the season because of two concussions, said he’s contemplating leaving the game. He said he’s had four concussions the past two years and wants to collect more information on his potential risks before deciding what to do in 2012. Abdullah, 26, is an unrestricted free agent.
-QB Christian Ponder left the season finale after re-injuring the right hip pointer that he originally hurt on Dec. 4. It’s not expected to be a long-term issue. He’s staying in Minnesota this offseason, so he’ll rehab the hip while working with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to put a rough rookie season behind him.
-CB Antoine Winfield, who missed 11 games because of neck and clavicle injuries, said there’s no reason to believe he can’t return to top form in 2012. He’ll be 35 next year, but says he’ll be OK because his injuries this season weren’t to his legs.
-SS Tyrell Johnson had surgery a month ago to repair a detached hamstring. Heading into unrestricted free agency this offseason, Johnson said he’ll be 100 percent in five months.
-WR Michael Jenkins missed the final five games because of a knee injury, but will be fine for 2012.
-LS Cullen Loeffler, who missed the final five games because of a bone fracture in his lower back, will be able to participate as soon as offseason activities begin.
-LB Jasper Brinkley, who missed the entire season because of hip surgery, is expected to return for the start of next season and is the favorite to replace starter E.J. Henderson, who is an unrestricted free agent.