Former Vikings GM on offseason's most pressing priorities

Vikings GM Rick Spielman has a clear priority to dramatically improve the offensive line.

Jeff Diamond
January 11, 2019 - 3:09 pm

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By Jeff Diamond, former Vikings GM who hosted The Players Show with Mike Max and Harrison Smith (along with other Vikings players) this past season on WCCO Radio.

What a difference a year makes for the Minnesota Vikings. It's NFL divisional playoff weekend and this year the Vikings are watching the Saints, Eagles, Rams and Cowboys battle for spots in the NFC title game. A year ago in this playoff round, Minnesota celebrated the greatest play in team history—the Minneapolis Miracle—that beat the Saints and landed the Vikings in the conference championship.

The Vikings brass is instead getting a jump on free agency and draft prioritizing while pondering roster moves, salary cap casualties and a couple of coaching staff spots.

One thing I learned early on in my NFL management career is that there really is no offseason. It just goes from one season to the next in terms of planning and execution.

First on Coach Mike Zimmer's agenda is solidifying the offensive coordinator and offensive line coaching positions. For the sake of Kirk Cousins and his offensive mates, it’s a great move by Zimmer to keep Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator, which was finalized this week after Stefanski interviewed for the Browns’ head coaching job that went to Freddie Kitchens. Stefanski is smart, knows the players will not drastically change the offensive system and knows what Zimmer wants with a solid running game to complement a potentially dynamic passing game.

Most important—Stefanski has a good rapport with Cousins, and his continued presence will give the $84 million QB a measure of stability after an inconsistent first season in Vikingland.

As for O-line coach, Zimmer says the pre-training camp passing of offensive line coach Tony Sparano had a big effect on the line and the offense. Will Zimmer choose one of the co-offensive line coaches Clancy Barone or Andrew Janocko to lead a group that is in need of some talented new players to aid massive improvement, or will he look to bring in a coach from outside the organization?

Then Vikings GM Rick Spielman takes center stage with a clear priority to dramatically improve the offensive line that was the weak link on a team that barely missed the playoffs. A veteran free agent signing (or two) combined with using the No. 18 pick in the first round on an O-lineman (plus a second or third rounder) is surely the goal for Spielman and his scouting department.

It's very early in the process and franchise tags and re-signings will remove some top potential free agent O-linemen, but here are a few possible targets for the Vikings: Trent Brown--T-New England, Rodger Saffold--G-Rams, Daryl Williams-T-Carolina, Mark Glowinski--Colts-G.  

And as we head towards the draft, a future Viking lineman could be among these top players--Jonah Williams--T-Alabama, Cody Ford-T-Oklahoma, Jawaan Taylor-T-Florida, Dalton Risner--G-T-Kansas State, Greg Little-T-Ole Miss, Beau Benzschawel---G-Wisconsin; Yodny Cajuste--T-West Virginia.

As for the Vikings cap and roster casualties, that list is likely to include both starting guards--Mike Remmers and Tom Compton. Latavius Murray is a quality back who is looking for more play time so he could be off to greener pastures. Former No. 1 pick Laquon Treadwell seems to have run his course in Minnesota.

On defense, the Vikings probably won't have the cap room to keep both linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Both of these former No. 1 picks (Barr by the Vikings, Richardson by the Jets) could be headed elsewhere and Richardson seems like the player who would be less expensive and therefore more possible to re-sign for a team with so many high priced defenders. Trae Waynes also could be released at a $9 million cap savings with Mike Hughes, Mackensie Alexander and Holton Hill seemingly ready to take over his starting corner spot. And safety Andrew Sendejo is likely to be released at a cap savings of over $5 million.

Playoffs: Divisional Playoff Round Predictions:

I love the divisional playoff weekend. Any of these eight quality teams can win and advance to the conference title games and eventually the Super Bowl. Here are my picks:

1. Indianapolis at Kansas City (Saturday, 3:35 PM); Love this quarterback matchup of Comeback Player of the Year Andrew Luck vs. probable NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. The Colts are the hottest team in the league with 10 wins in their last 11 games. The Chiefs have lost their last six home playoff games so the pressure is clearly on them as the AFC's No. 1 seed. The Chiefs defense is shaky in the secondary and against the run. I think Luck and his sixth-seeded Colts win this high scoring affair 37-34 to continue Andy Reid and the Chiefs’ recent playoff misery.

2. Dallas at L.A. Rams (Saturday, 7:15 PM): The Rams and QB Jared Goff struggled at times down the stretch and the Cowboys and QB Dak Prescott (on a nice salary drive with a lucrative extension likely coming soon) were impressive in beating the Seahawks. NFL sack leader Aaron Donald and star running back Todd Gurley will make the difference in a narrow 30-27 Rams victory.

3.  L.A. Chargers at New England (Sunday, 12:05 PM): Fascinating matchup of a great home team (Patriots are 19-3 in home playoff games in the Belichick-Brady era with eight straight wins plus unbeaten at home this season) against a team that is excellent on the road (Chargers are 8-1 away from L.A. this season and just won at Baltimore). Two outstanding veteran QBs in Philip Rivers vs. Tom Brady. This Chargers team is capable of going to Foxboro and winning with a strong pass rush led by Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. I was wrong about them last weekend but I just can't go against the Pats at home in January. Give me New England 27-23 and then with Indy winning at K.C., the stage will be set for the Patriots to host another AFC title game (which they'll win to advance to their third straight Super Bowl).

4. Philadelphia at New Orleans (Sunday, 3:40 PM): Who saw this coming a month ago when the Eagles were 6-7 and on the brink of elimination? Playoff magician Nick Foles probably did. He's now won four straight and surely has Sean Payton and Drew Brees concerned about the good karma he brings to the Eagles. How else to explain the double doink field goal miss by the Bears' Cody Parkey last Sunday that kept the Eagles alive in their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champs? The Saints clobbered the Eagles 48-7 on November 18 but this one will be much closer. It's hard to pick against Foles and innovative Coach Doug Pederson but the Saints are my NFC Super Bowl pick so I'm going with them in a hard fought 34-31 win in a raucous Superdome.

Now you know I've got the battle of the 40-plus year old QBs with Brady vs. Brees and Patriots-Saints in Super Bowl LIII on February 3 in Atlanta. I'll hold off on my Super Bowl pick until we see if this matchup truly comes to pass in an NFL postseason that already saw three road teams post upset wins in the wild card round.  

Jeff Diamond was the NFL Executive of the Year in 1998 after the Vikings' 15-1 season. He also is former president of the Tennessee Titans. He does sports/business consulting, media and speaking work including corporate and college speaking on Negotiation, Management, Leadership and Sports Business--contact him at [email protected]