The Minnesota Vikings entered the 2023 NFL season walking a razor's edge between beginning to rebuild the roster or making one last Super Bowl push behind veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins, but after two weeks it seems the time has come to make a difficult decision.
General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings, in the midst of a disappointing 0-2 start, just one year removed from a charmed campaign that saw Minnesota punch above their weight with 11 of their 13 wins by one score or fewer, need to consider tearing it all down.
As ESPN points out, over the course of this past offseason, Adofo-Mensah already replaced 14 of the Vikings' 2022 starters.
Some of Adofo-Mensah's offseason moves seem to have been made with at least one eye trained on future spending flexibility. Moving on from running back Dalvin Cook, drafting dynamic receiver Jordan Addison to pair opposite All-Pro Justin Jefferson, resisting the temptation to bring back veteran linebacker Za'Darius Smith, and letting popular veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen walk via free agency, all seem prudent for a team looking at its chances in 2024 and beyond more closely than any thoughts on going for it all in 2023.
However, playing in a division that houses a Detroit Lions roster that's loaded with young star-caliber players on both sides of the football, a Packers team that showed now ill-effects of moving on from Aaron Rodgers in Week 1, and the Chicago Bears who continue to smartly accumulate assets around young quarterback Justin Fields, the longer Adofo-Mensah puts off tearing the Vikings roster down to the studs and rebuilding around a new core, the further Minnesota risks falling behind.
That's the verbose way of suggesting Adofo-Mensah should be fielding calls on just about every Vikings player not named Justin Jefferson, and making a few of his own on Cousins.
"They need to start looking towards the future," an AFC scout told FanBuzz, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about another team. "The team's ceiling is Kirk Cousin's ceiling, and that isn't too high. He will put up numbers that look good on paper, but it doesn't translate when it counts."
Cousins, to the scout's point, has won just one playoff game through the first six years of his career.
Last season, though, Cousins passed for 4,547 yards with 29 touchdowns to 14 interceptions while leading the Vikings to the NFC North crown prior to falling to the Giants 31-24, at home, in the NFC Wild Card round.
Is that Minnesota's ceiling? Is that good enough, acceptable enough to stay the course in 2023, if all that remains beyond it is uncertainty in 2024 and beyond?
Besides, it simply is not sustainable to count on — or build on, winning 11 games by eight points or less.
As for the immediate future, it's not going to get any easier for the Vikings in coming weeks, as they now aim to become the first team to start 0-2 and go on to win the Super Bowl since the New York Giants in 2011.
Already with two conference losses on the ledger, the Vikings now have a brutal stretch of games ahead that includes showdowns against Justin Herbert's Los Angeles Chargers, Patrick Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs, a loaded San Francisco 49ers team that might be the most complete in football, and clashes against division foes in Chicago and Green Bay.
Now's the time for prudent thinking. For aggressive action. For accumulating assets and flexibility to rebuild the roster.
While it's true that the Vikings currently sit in the middle of the pack in terms of cap space in 2024, with approximately $35.16 million in spending flexibility, the organization would have to feel better about having additional draft capital at its disposal with the likes of Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Michael Pennix and Bo Nix offering as much promise as any in recent years.
Minnesota's roster might be capable of keeping pace in the NFC North, perhaps making the postseason as one of the NFC Wild Cards, but what exactly would that accomplish towards the prospects of ultimately winning a Super Bowl?
Cousins has been the least of the Vikings' problems; completing 72.7 percent of his passes for 708 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception. But, with an uncertain future beyond the end of his season, might he be more valuable to the Vikings as a trade chip?
The Packers really believe they have a franchise quarterback, and have spent the past two drafts adding weapons around Jordan Love. Detroit has assembled a versatile and dynamic cast of young running backs and receivers, while even looking towards the future and taking lottery ticket quarterback Hendon Hooker this spring. While the jury remains out on whether Fields will ever reach his potential with the Bears, Ryan Poles at least has the foundation to try to build around a young quarterback.
The Vikings, conversely, are tiptoed to the edge of the cliff starting straight down into quarterback Purgatory, if Adofo-Mensah doesn't act.
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