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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Top offseason questions facing the Vikings

By Andrew Krammer

Questions facing the Vikings this offseason are welcomed work compared to hurdles this time last year, when Adrian Peterson’s NFL status was in limbo and their defense middling in a rebuild.

We can now say ‘rebuilt’ with the Vikings’ defense after a top-five season in both points allowed and third-down defense buoyed Minnesota to 11 wins, a NFC North title and a place among the best in the NFC. Focus this offseason falls on the offense, where the Vikings tussled with both identity and production last year.

1. What shape does the offense take? — Following another successful season and his third career rushing title, Adrian Peterson spoke candidly about how he wants to become a “better fit” for the Vikings’ offense under coordinator Norv Turner. Routes and pass protection were the two areas specifically mentioned by Peterson, suggesting the Vikings want to go back to the spread/shotgun offense in which Teddy Bridgewater found some success as a rookie in 2014. Bridgewater spent significantly more time under center last season, and his development didn’t happen as fast as many hoped. Between the micro (arm mechanics) and macro (scheme) adjustments, he’ll be the focus of a reconfigured puzzle. Head coach Mike Zimmer also assured they’ll have new ideas at the table between new assistants in Pat Shurmur (TE) and Tony Sparano (OL), both former head coaches with backgrounds in a variety of offensive schemes.

2. How will the offensive line be addressed? — The Vikings’ successful season came despite a snakebitten offensive line that lost two starters to injury before Week 1. Now they have options to reshape this group. Their critical decisions begin with contracts, including three high-priced starters scheduled for 2016. First, left tackle Matt Kalil is coming off another uneven season. He’s guaranteed over $11 million on the fifth year of his rookie deal if he’s on the roster at the start of the league year (March 9). Second and third, right tackle Phil Loadholt (cap of $7.75 million) and center John Sullivan ($5.83 million) are also slotted to be among the Vikings’ highest paid for next season. Both are returning from season-ending injuries. In the next month, all three could be let go for less than $3 million in dead money. Their only starter about to hit free agency is tackle/guard Mike Harris, who should be a priority to re-sign. The Vikings could begin a complete retooling, though that might not the best path for a team just graduated from rebuilding project to division winners. They’ve aimed to draft and develop all positions, especially offensive line, under GM Rick Spielman. A valued pick or two here could bring some much-needed competition to the trenches.

3. When to extend safety Harrison Smith? — The Vikings take care of their own young talent, exemplified by recent extensions for Jarius Wright, Blair Walsh, Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco. The next on that list should be safety Harrison Smith, who just finished his fourth NFL season as a Pro Bowl alternate and one of a handful of Vikings to garner All-Pro votes. Smith has started 54 games since he was drafted 29th overall in 2012. His fifth-year option was exercised last spring, though the Vikings are expected to pursue a multi-year extension before next season. For reference, New England’s Devin McCourty was one of the last major extensions signed by a safety at $9.5 million per year, just shy of Earl Thomas’ league high of $10 million per season.

4. Stay or go for handful of veterans? – An easy decision for the Vikings may be to bring down or shed receiver Mike Wallace’s projected $11.5 million cap hit, none guaranteed, after his disappointing season in a lackluster passing offense. Two tougher choices come with a duo of locker room leaders as cornerback Terence Newman and linebacker Chad Greenway are free agents in a month. Both contributed beyond expectations last season, and could be welcomed back if the price is right. Though like all NFL teams, one eye will be fixated on the long-term future. Establishing young players, like cornerback Trae Waynes, and keeping Greenway or Newman aren’t mutually exclusive. The Vikings could benefit from keeping both players inside of the facility even if they aren’t viewed as starters. While Greenway says he wants to return to Minnesota for one more season, Newman’s intentions aren’t yet decided or public.

5. Trio of fifth-year options? – This spring, the Vikings have to decide on fifth-year options for the trio of 2013 first-round picks in defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. These options, created when the 2011 CBA capped rookie contracts at four years, can be picked up or denied by front offices. Generally, they’re granted as another low-risk season of control of a young player, as the salary is only guaranteed for injury until that league year begins. However, declining the option can be a sign the franchise is already ready to move on. The Vikings exercised fifth-year options on Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith last year, but two years ago opted against for 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder. Days later they drafted Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings could send another message to Patterson by declining his option, though it seems just as likely they’d add another year for one of the league’s top kick returners.

The post Top offseason questions facing the Vikings appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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