With an ever-shrinking Super Bowl window, the Minnesota Vikings must figure out their plan under center. The offense, surrounded by the often criticized Kirk Cousins, has received its fair share of scrutiny, and rightly so. But, should Cousins be the de facto target of blame for the lack of success in Minnesota? I say that cautiously as wins haven’t been in short supply, but playoff success has with 46 regular-season wins over the last five seasons but just two playoff victories, headlined by the Minneapolis Miracle against New Orleans in 2017—with Case Keenum.
It’s now left general manager Rick Spielman in a precarious situation entering the 2021 offseason for a franchise desperate to return to its first Super Bowl since 1976. Minnesota’s offense is full of talent with running back Dalvin Cook and wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen highlighting its roster; the trio is the Vikings’ backbone. Now, sitting just $5 million over the projected cap, Minnesota has flexibility with its allotted salary cap.
Here are two mid-priced options and one headliner that Spielman could look to target during the open signing period.
Keelan Cole, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Behind Jefferson and Thielen, the well runs dry with talent at wideout. Chad Beebe is set to enter the open market, and if the team fails to offer him a qualifying tender, he’ll sign elsewhere, ultimately leaving a massive hole at WR3.
Over the last couple of seasons, the additions of Kendall Wright, Tajae Sharpe, and Jordan Taylor to the Vikings receiver’s room simply haven’t panned out. Keelan Cole’s roots run deep in Minnesota with former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, who now holds the same position with the Vikings.
Cole wouldn’t be the cheapest receiver on the market, but he would offer a true threat alongside Jefferson and Thielen that simply hasn’t been present the last couple of seasons. Cole’s versatility as both a boundary wideout and vertical threat would further open up the playbook for Cousins, who enters an ever-important final two seasons of his contract.
Lane Taylor, G, Green Bay Packers
If Minnesota wants to come to a true consensus on Cousins’ play, adding the wily veteran in Lane Taylor up front could be ideal. The Vikings added center Garrett Bradbury via the 2019 NFL Draft, and he’s been excellent as the anchor of the front five. Brian O’Neill has been a nice surprise at right tackle and, with Riley Reiff healthy opposite him, Minnesota has the makings of a solid unit.
In a recently completed seven-round mock for Minnesota, I addressed the need up front to the Vikings at No. 14 in the 2020 draft; but if Spielman opts to address the void via free agency, Taylor could represent a nice plug-and-play option who’d pair nicely with Reiff on the left side of the line.
Taylor has endured a case of the injury bug for the majority of the last two seasons, but when available, he’s stout in the run, provides excellent movement skills in the passing game, and rarely gets knacked for penalties. In 79 career games played, Taylor has just eight flags to his name, a model to his consistency during his days as a Packer.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Miami Dolphins
In a scenario where Cousins isn’t under center, relying on Jake Browning, who currently sits as Cousins’ backup with Sean Mannion set to enter free agency, seems like a worst-case scenario for a roster on the heels of its worst season since 2014. Spielman could opt to add depth via a mid-round selection on one of the tier-three quarterbacks in the 2020 class, but Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven time and time again he has plenty of juice left in the tank if the opportunity presents itself to take on a starting role in the NFL.
He’ll be 38 when free agency opens in a couple of weeks, which in hindsight would present a team-friendly price tag with, in this scenario, more reward than risk. Fitzpatrick, a career-long journeyman, spent the last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins accumulating nine wins in 20 starts. After the musical chairs Dolphins head coach Brian Flores played with Fitzpatrick and 2020 fifth-overall selection Tua Tagovailoa, Fitzpatrick now finds himself looking for a home again. Minnesota should be waiting at the door with open arms.
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