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McNiff's Riffs: There’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to forgettable Vikings season

Where does this franchise go after a season that was disappointing even by the cruel standards this organization has repeatedly set throughout their long and disappointing tenure?
Credit: Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not easy being a Vikings fan.

It never was, and as I stand about to turn 56, I am firmly in the camp that believes it never will be.

Post-Christmas winter in Minnesota is bad enough. Unless you’re an outdoor enthusiast, the best you can hope for is an early spring.

If you recall, last winter was unending, with heavy snowfalls right up until Masters weekend in April. But at least last winter Vikings fans like me had the delusion that their team was a Super Bowl contender to keep them warm.

This winter, even the most delusional, hardcore fan of the purple can’t harbor that illusion. Not after the torturous season the Vikings just forced us to endure.

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Social media is burning with discontent regarding quarterback Kirk Cousins. I was in the camp that wanted the Vikings to re-sign Case Keenum, but have Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater compete for the starting job in training camp. However, once the Vikings committed $84 million in guaranteed money to Cousins, no one was more hopeful than me that the Vikings had made the right move. 

Now, I find myself in the unexpected position of defending Cousins in that I’m not sure that any quarterback could have done a better job playing behind that offensive line, for a pair of first-year offensive coordinators, under a defensive-minded head coach who publicly didn’t do his players any favors when it came to building confidence.

So, now what?

Where does this franchise go after a season that was disappointing even by the cruel standards this organization has repeatedly set throughout their long and disappointing tenure?

Credit: Getty Images

Let’s start at the top with General Manager Rick Spielman. Spielman started the season rock-solid with the Wilf’s. Somewhat better than “spotty” when it comes to his draft record, Spielman seems likely to part ways with 2016 first-round draft pick Laquon Treadwell. 

Treadwell, who was coming off a major leg injury, was the fourth wide receiver taken in the first round. The Vikings took him with the 23rd overall selection, immediately after both the Houston Texans and the Washington Redskins had selected receivers in front of them.

This is what happens when you draft for need rather than taking the best player available - a lesson Spielman obviously didn’t learn when he traded back into the first round to take Cordarrelle Patterson back in 2013.

Spielman is heading into the final year of his contract. I believe the Wilf’s will look at this season as the aberration and trust Spielman to right the ship. He’ll get exactly one year to do that and if it doesn’t happen next year, I believe he will be out.

I don’t believe that anybody has done more to burn more good will in this town than Mike Zimmer. Let’s face it, Zim has had some bad hands dealt to him. From his eye issue, to Teddy Bridgewater’s freak knee injury, to the untimely passing of Tony Sparano, Mike Zimmer has never really enjoyed smooth sailing.

For a few years Zim was viewed as a defensive guru whose teams over-achieved on defense, only to be undone by an underachieving offense or worse, an unreliable kicker.

This year however, Zimmer displayed a brittle exterior, publicly displaying his displeasure at his players and coaches alike. Think of a job where you can do that. Think of a time when you would find it wise to do that.

Also, despite finishing with respectable numbers on defense, there were way too many games where opposing teams had players running free behind Zim’s vaunted reapers. Slow starts plagued this team on both sides of the ball, and ultimately that comes down to coaching.

Like Spielman, Zimmer is heading into the final year of his contract, and like Spielman I think he gets one more year to get this team back into contention. But, I think Zimmer’s days of publicly throwing his own people under the bus have to stop. He’s hiring and coaching these people, it’s his responsibility to help them succeed, not trash them when they don’t.

Offensively, we can’t avoid starting with Cousins. Is he right man for the job? While he sure didn’t look like it in the season-ending loss to the Bears, I don’t feel like the Vikings used Cousins to the best of his ability. I know I’m in the minority, but I believe that Cousins can throw on the run, but more than that we simply have to get the guy some protection. I just hope it’s not too late and he’s not permanently “gun-shy” from all the hist he has taken.

Credit: Getty Images

On the bright side, we finally got to see that Dalvin Cook can be a star in this league. Thielen and Diggs are both players, but let’s stop worrying about their standing among other receiver groups in the league and get them help at the number three receiver spot - preferably with someone who can stretch the defense. Kyle Rudolph is a reliable target while the other tight ends do the dirty work, so we’re good there.

I won’t say the Vikings have to take an offensive lineman with their first-round pick because I’ve already talked about the folly of drafting for a need versus taking the best player available, and this year’s draft is loaded with defensive linemen. That said, if the Vikings are set on retaining Kevin Stefanski as their offensive coordinator, the offensive line has to be the team’s top priority in the off-season. If we don’t take an offensive lineman first, maybe we can use the rest of our picks to address the “o-line”? 

I’m kidding! Kind of…

Defensively, the Vikings have some tough decisions to make. While the league salary cap is expected to expand by about $14 million, the Vikings have some tough decisions to make where Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson are concerned.

That said, the Vikings have to be concerned about the play of several players on defense. Most notably defensive end Everson Griffen, who never seemed to be a factor after missing time during the season for personal reasons, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who seemed to either grab the opposing receiver on every play or come up injured after every play where he gave up a big reception. Consequently, Rhodes wasn’t on the field too many times when his team needed him and that doesn’t go unnoticed in the locker room.

Yes, no matter what the meteorologists tell us, this figures to be a long, cold winter for Viking fans. While we’ve been through it before, it never seems to get any easier.

I wonder if Lindsay Whalen has an “out” in her Gopher contract to coach the Vikings?

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