2022 Minnesota Vikings Offseason Preview
The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house.
Vikings 2021 Recap
Minnesota’s 2021 was yet another season of the team attempting to make their Kirk Cousins experiment work, chasing the specter of a deep playoff run that has eluded them during Cousin’s time with the team. The tens of millions of dollars spent on him, often at the cost of glaring holes in the roster, would all be justified with a single successful postseason. On offense, the team mostly lived up to expectations. Minnesota finished top-10 in passing touchdowns while throwing just seven interceptions. The Vikings were tied for the fewest giveaways in the league but were unable to pair their efficient offense with a competent defense. Mike Zimmer made defense the backbone of his team during tenure with Minnesota but that fell apart this year, forcing them into an unreal number of close games. The Vikings went to overtime on three occasions and played in a record-tying, 14 one-score games. They went 6-8 in these games and 1-2 in their overtime appearances. The weekly blood pressure spikes were too much for Vikings management to handle so they fired Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman at the end of the year.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 25 (14th)
- Dropback EPA: .1 (12th)
- Passing yards per game: 249 (11th)
- Rush EPA: -.11 (25th)
- Rushing yards per game: 114 (17th)
Minnesota’s offense was slightly different from previous years. The Vikings’ pass rate of 58.5 percent was a sharp uptick compared to their previous two seasons but Cousins kept his efficiency high, leading the team to the 12th-best EPA per dropback. Their shift toward passing was propelled by the eroding defense but a lackluster ground game also contributed. Minnesota’s -.11 EPA per rush attempt was their lowest mark since 2018. Dalvin Cook missed four games and his yards per attempt dropped by .3 compared to 2020. His backup, Alexander Mattison, was a middling option when thrust into the lineup, averaging 3.7 yards per carry on 134 totes, a career-high for the third-year runner. Justin Jefferson was the team’s star, topping his record-setting rookie season with 1,616 receiving yards.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 25.1 (24th)
- Dropback EPA: -.001 (8th)
- Passing yards per game: 253 (28th)
- Rush EPA: -.01 (29th)
- Rushing yards per game: 131 (26th)
The Vikings had their shortcomings on defense but their poor ranks in yardage and points allowed undersell some of their strengths. They finished as an above-average team in red zone defense, third-down success rate, and turnovers forced. This is backed up by their EPA per play rank (12th) being far better than their yards per play rank (26th). Minnesota also fielded one of the league’s best pass-rush units, finishing four sacks behind Pittsburgh for the league lead while earning the sixth-highest pressure rate. The Vikings found big plays at a high rate but were slowly chipped away on every play that didn’t result in a sack or turnover. Their success rates against dropbacks and rush attempts were both below average and they ranked outside the top-20 in yards and points per drive.
Vikings 2022 Offseason
Total Draft Value
Notable Free Agents
Notes: Minnesota’s total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.
The Vikings are in a difficult spot with their cap. They need to clear millions of dollars off the books but all of their cut candidates are on defense, the side of the ball that needs to get better this offseason. They are also switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, putting half of their front-seven out of position. Hunter could be traded and if a team is willing to gamble on his health, the Vikings could get a solid return for him.
Minnesota is losing a starting outside corner and a starting slot corner to free agency. Neither is a strong candidate to be brought back as the team allowed more receiving yards to wide receivers than any other team last year. A cornerback should be viewed as the favorite to go off the board when Minnesota is on the clock in the first round.
The Vikings don’t have the talent necessary to run a 3-4 and their first step to fixing that will be getting an edge rusher. Hunter could transition to a standup outside linebacker but that’s a risky bet to make on a player with a $26 million cap hit. The team would be better off trading him while adding players who fit their defensive scheme.
Even if they keep Kendricks on the roster, the Vikings are losing 23 starts and over 1500 snaps between Vigil and Barr. Letting both walk allows them to rebuild their front-seven in a way that fits with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s scheme.
Minnesota hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Browns VP of football operations, as their next general manager. Adofo-Mensah’s search for the team’s next head coach ended with Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell. O’Connell is expected to bring much of LA’s offensive style to Minnesota. This means Minnesota will see a monstrous uptick in outside zone runs. The Rams ran outside zone on 44 percent of their rushes last year, a mark that was 11 percent higher than any other team. Expect them to use motion at the snap more often on run and pass plays as well. The Rams were second in at snap motion rate on runs last year and above average on passes. Minnesota was below-average in both metrics.
Last year, 92 percent of the Rams’ passing plays came from 11 personnel. Sean McVay and O’Connell’s offense relied on keeping the defense on their backfoot by having loads of minor variations on a small set of plays. O’Connell called this “the illusion of complexity” and it gave Matthew Stafford the second-highest rate of throws to wide open receivers. The combo of Jefferson and Adam Thielen gives Minnesota this option while developing K.J. Osborn or Ihmir Smith-Marsette will be crucial to completing their trio at receiver.
At 65 years old, Donatell was brought in as a counterbalance to O’Connell, who is 36 and taking on his first head coaching job. Donatell, on the other hand, has 10 seasons as a defensive coordinator under his belt and over there decades of experience at the NFL level. His work as a secondary and DBs coach will be extremely useful in building up a young core of corners. In three years as the Broncos defensive coordinator, Donatell’s teams ranked top-10 in points allowed twice. They were also elite in the red zone, never dipping below second in percentage of red zone trips that ended in a touchdown. The switch to a 3-4 look will be jarring. However, if Donatell is given more than a year to find players who fit his scheme, he should be able to restore the defense to its former glory.
The Vikings gave Cousins a one-year, $35 million extension this offseason. The extension added a no-trade clause to his contract and keeps him in Minnesota through the 2023 season. It also reduced his cap hit for this year, though the Vikings are still slightly over the cap. Luckily, coaching contracts don’t count against the cap and the team made two hires that could single-handedly put them over .500. Getting Cousins and the receivers integrated into O’Connell’s offense will be the focus of OTAs and training camp. It’s a similar story on defense, though the starters and important reserves are not nearly as set in stone as is the case on offense.
As far as actual moves go, the Vikings can only do so much. Outside of some adjustments to the interior of their offensive line, expect most of their draft picks and eventual cap space to be spent on the defense. With so many different positions needing an influx of talent, they are an ideal team to be trading back in the draft. Their No. 12 pick could be another team’s path to securing a quarterback, making it particularly valuable on the trade market.