Danecdotes: Vikings look good, but I have concerns
The Vikings' training camp is essentially underway. Rookies reported two days ago, and veterans will be there Saturday morning.
I have been a die-hard Vikings fan for more than two decades now. Rarely do I go into a new season with very low expectations, but this season has my expectations higher than usual. It certainly doesn't help that every prediction or forecast article I read on ESPN or NFL.com expects big things from the purple and gold this season after they made it to the NFC Championship game last winter, and then proceeded to make the biggest free-agent acquisition of the offseason in quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Things look great, and the "experts" have high expectations, but questions remain in my mind.
Those questions, if you were wondering, are as follows:
• Is Kirk Cousins worth the money?
We won't know the answer to this one for a while.
The Vikes signed the quarterback to a three-year, $84 million contract - every cent of which is guaranteed. At the time of the signing, it was the highest-paying contract in NFL history, but it was only that way for a few weeks before Matt Ryan re-signed with the Atlanta Falcons for more money.
No matter how you slice it, that is an absurd amount of money to have one person play for this team. They probably could have re-signed Case Keenum, the hero of last season, for about $10 million less per year.
That said, Cousins is a bit more of a known entity. He has been very consistent over the past four years, while last season was really the first great - maybe even good - season of Keenum's career, and the two are the same age.
Is he worth that money? It all depends on the success the team has over the next three years. If they win a ring, you better believe the fanbase will say he was worth it. If the they win a division title or two and make the playoffs, I'm sure fans won't complain too much. If the team ends up going 8-8 or worse and miss the playoffs a few times, the front office is going to look silly.
Maybe by this time next year, we'll have a better idea of Cousins value. For now, let's just wait and see.
• Just how healthy are the Vikings?
The team overall seems pretty healthy, but there are a few concerns on the Vikings' roster, in my opinion. Fortunately, Cousins hasn't missed many games in his career, so hopefully that continues.
The big question mark is young rusher Dalvin Cook, who showed flashes of absolute brilliance in the first four games of the season before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the year. Everything seems to indicate that his recovery is right on track and he should be ready to go for training camp, but ligament tears often are hard to recover from. For every Adrian Peterson - who came back just as good as before his injury - there are a dozen athletes who are never the same.
Center Pat Elflein's ankle required surgery back in January, with the hope he would also be ready to go for training camp. It will be interesting to see how ready and able he is as the season begins.
Everson Griffen, easily one of the best players on the Vikes' stellar defense, injured his foot sat out of OTAs a few months ago. He is expected to be fine and ready for training camp as well, but that will be another injury to keep an eye on.
Every team has to work through injuries, but some of these athletes are obviously a drastic improvement over their replacements, which could play a role in the outcome of more than a few games this year.
• Is the O-line tough enough?
The offensive line has been the team's weakness for a few years, but improvements have been made, and last season's o-line wasn't a weakness so much as a lesser-strength.
Signing Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers proved to be decent additions to the squad, and Elflein at center was very good before going down with an injury.
Despite the improvement, the line was far from impenetrable, and Case Keenum's solid footwork really saved everyone on a number of occasions last year. I don't know if they can expect Cousins to showcase that same level of skill on his feet.
So while I think the offensive line will be perfectly all right this fall, I don't really expect them to allow fans to breathe easily every Sunday afternoon.
• Can the Vikings repeat as division champs?
This one is harder than it sounds. Yes, the Vikes looks like the team to beat in the NFC North, but the division rivals are never ones to count out.
The Chicago Bears have been subpar for the past few years, but they are improving. I don't really expect them to be in the hunt for a playoff spot or anything like that, but I expect them to sneakily win a few games. If the Vikings aren't at their best, I could see the Bears sneaking a game from them as well.
The Lions, in my opinion, are trending downward as a team, but are by no means a bad team. They finished 9-7 last season and missed the playoffs. That is no one's idea of a terrible season, but I really don't think they made the necessary improvements to fix their issues. On top of that, they don't really have any weapons for star quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is recovering from a broken finger on his throwing hand. Again though, they are not a bad team and could take a game or two from the Vikings and maybe sneak into the playoffs.
The real test will be the Packers. The main reason they were not much of a force last season was because Aaron Rodgers - the best quarterback in the league (yes, I said it) - broke his collarbone on what any Packer fan will say was a dirty hit by Anthony Barr early in the season.
Well guess what? Rodgers is back and he is likely to be incredibly motivated to take down the Vikings.
Rodgers' injury really showed the flaws in the team, because they had nothing of tremendous quality to keep the team afloat, but now he is healthy and the Packers made changes to their absolutely porous secondary.
They may be a great team if they stay healthy. If the Vikings win the division, they will have truly earned it.
• Have we paid the right players?
This isn't necessarily a question for the upcoming season, but it is a question that I, personally, will be thinking about for much of the year.
Not only did the Vikings throw a whole bunch of money at Cousins, they have spent an absolute ton on keeping the best players - especially on defense - around for the next few years.
It is great for a fan like myself to see guys like Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Xavier Rhodes and Adam Thielen locked in with the team, and the Vikings' front office apparently has some cap space to work with, but I think they have several players they would love to pay handsomely that they will have to turn away.
Does the team have the funds to re-sign receiver Stefon Diggs - who was on the receiving end of perhaps the biggest play in Vikings history - and stud linebacker Anthony Barr?
If they somehow manage to sign both of them long-term, what about ever-reliable tight end Kyle Rudolph? What about strong safety Andrew Sendejo?
Do they re-sign running back Latavius Murray, who will likely want more money than the Vikes will be willing to give him?
How about the improving Trae Waynes? Fortunately, they have one more year to ponder that.
Obviously, all of those athletes are around for the coming season, but these questions will continue to linger over the administration's heads.
The team has done a fine job of locking up the young talent that ought to keep the team competitive for years to come, but some tough decisions will have to be made in the very near future.
I have more questions, but I feel like these are the biggest ones to ponder until February.
I still expect good things from this team (Official prediction: 11-5, split season series with the Packers and narrowly beat them for the division title), but I think the answer to all of these questions will have to be positive.