by Michael Marek
January. I’ve been here before. Packed gyms, freezing temperatures, and the Minnesota Vikings once again eliminated from the playoffs. The Chicago Cubs are probably best known for the phrase, “we’ll get ‘em next year.” Unlike the lovable losers of Chicago this phrase may actually ring true for the Vikings in 2013. The winds of fortune appear to be flowing once again in the Vikings direction. The Chicago Bears are in disarray and have fired their coach, the Detroit Lions have returned to their losing ways, and the Packers have been exposed and will have some tough decisions to make in the offseason. With a few savvy moves the Vikings should be poised to make a run for the NFC North title in 2013.
The first thing the Vikings need to accomplish in the off season is extending the contract of Leslie Frazier. Leslie is a dark horse candidate for coach of the year honors. He proved he is the right fit for the Vikings by turning around the ship from a 3-13 season to go 10-6. He did this by keeping control of the locker room and instilling a quiet confidence in his team. Quite simply they won games they shouldn’t have won. Leslie deserves to be rewarded with a 3-year contract extension.
The second item on the agenda is free agency. Look for the Vikings to go after a wide receiver, but also prepared to be underwhelmed. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has noted in interviews following the season that the Vikings will follow a similar pattern as last year’s signings, and that they will focus on re-signing some of our own free agents. The biggest move in free agency last year was signing non-factor tight end John Carlson. Dreams of Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, and Mike Wallace might be dancing in your heads. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that a one-year contract for Jerome Simpson is in the cards. I expect the Vikings to re-sign right tackle Phil Loadholt, restructure Kevin Williams’ deal, and cut loose Joe Webb. Also look for us to pick up a solid veteran to back up Christian Ponder. A return of Tyler Thigpen looks likely.
The third item for the Vikings is the 2013 NFL draft. The 2012 Vikings draft has been heralded as one of the best in franchise history. It has already produced a Pro Bowler in Blair Walsh, future Pro Bowlers in Harrison Smith and Matt Kalil, and potential starters and solid backups in Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, and Rhett Ellison. Going into the 2013 draft the strategy should be to take the best player available with the 23rd pick overall, and to add additional depth and talent with later round picks. With the exception of running back, kicker, and left tackle the Vikings could improve almost every spot on the roster. They should try to add another defensive playmaker to an already young and upcoming defense. They also couldn’t go wrong with a top-flight wide receiver or another bruising offensive lineman. Years in which the Vikings have followed the best player available strategy have historically worked out well. For an example see Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson, and Percy Harvin.
By solidifying the coaching position, being wise in free agency, and knocking out the draft like they did in 2012, the Vikings should be in good shape going into next season. Coming off a 3-13 season to finish 10-6 and qualify for the NFL postseason was an important step. Adding depth to what was one of the best Vikings drafts in franchise history combined with a competent coach, and the best running back in the league should set the Vikings up for a deep playoff run and a shot at the NFC North crown. The pieces feel like they are falling into place once again. Needless to say, next year can’t come soon enough.