Welcome to a new series at Purple Jesus Diaries called "View Looking In." This is a series where we'll feature blog posts from guest authors who may or may not be hard core, insider Vikings fans, but have unique takes on the team regardless. We'll take that opportunity to guage ourselves – the crazed fans too close to the team in most cases – against the general public opinion and see just how loopy we are. Today, we feature a post looking at the top 5 questions heading into Vikings training camp from author Rich Bergeron, a sports writer at OpposingViews.com. We'll jump in occasionally with our take on THEIR take, to get super meta on you as well. Let's begin!
We’ve almost made it. The long, national wait for the NFL is nearly over. Training camp makes it official: Football is back. But the Vikings have to address certain things as they gear up for the 2013-14 season. Here are five of the more pressing issues:
1. Quarterback Issues
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder could be a huge question mark for the Vikings this season. During his rookie year in 2011, he gave up an interception for every touchdown he threw. He started off the 2012 season without any interceptions – through his first seven touchdown throws. The improvement was notable, but he still did not play up to the potential that a 12th overall draft pick should exude. He finished the season with 7 fumbles and 12 interceptions on nearly 3,000 yards through the air for 18 TDs. Minnesota reached the playoffs last year, despite Ponder’s inconsistent play.
The Vikings offense is anchored by all-star running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed nearly 350 times last season for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging a stunning 6 yards per carry. Ponder should be a more dynamic at quarterback with such a potent running threat. Instead, he’s been relatively unimpressive in his first two NFL seasons. If he can‘t turn things around this season and become the true talent the Vikings were counting on, he could wind up being traded or benched at the end of the season.
The Vikings did their offseason homework and brought in some excellent skill players for Ponder to throw to, so if Ponder can’t make serious leaps and bounds in his progression in 2013, his time as a valuable starter in Minnesota could expire.
PJD's Take: Sure, yes, Ponder is a huge question mark and probably the biggest. The Vikings DID upgrade the receiver position this year, so Christian is running out of excuses, and can't use his marriage as a "distraction" anymore. But trade him? I don't think the Vikings would be smart enough to do that during the season OR next offseason, unfortunately, AND I doubt anyone would want to trade anything for him. I mean, come on.
2. Salary Cap Concerns
The Vikings have just over $7 million in cap room to work with going into training camp – with three draft picks yet to officially sign with the team. This season might present only a few major cap issues, but next season could be a disaster. Multiple key players are headed for free agency if the team doesn’t extend their contracts.
Defensive end Jared Allen is going into the sixth and final season of his current contract, and it calls for $14,280,612 base salary with a cap hit of $17,063,957. Since joining the team, Allen’s led the league in sacks twice and totaled 74 sacks in 80 regular season games. He notched 12 sacks last season, and free agency would be very lucrative for Allen – if he doesn’t get a contract extension soon.
Defensive ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen could also be unrestricted free agents after the season, which leaves D'Aundre Reed, George Johnson and undrafted rookies Collins Ukwu and Marquis Jackson as the only defensive ends who are officially signed for next season.
A long-term analysis shows the Vikings have around $105 million in salary cap commitments already for the 2014 season. Shoring up the contract extensions (that are essential) could give the team very little room to work with by this time next year.
PJD's Take: Well this is certainly a boner. Thanks for bringing up a rich guy's money when I'm trying to get excited about football! The defensive end situation is pretty prevelant for Vikings fans (I mean, we've all heard about the line depth for upcoming season, right?), and I wouldn't be surprised to see Jared Allen walk, and have the team retain Robison and Griffen at reasonable rates. But that might still be a lot of money. I'd expect a high draft pick next year to target a defensive end. Or a new starting quarterback. ZING!
3. Greg Jennings: A Rival Reversal
Former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings will play for the Vikings this year and give Christian Ponder another deep threat. The 29-year-old Jennings signed a five-year contract worth a maximum of $47.5 million and $18 million guaranteed.
An abdominal injury kept Jennings on the sideline for about half the season last year, but he’s healthy now and hungry to make the most of a new beginning in Minnesota. He’s confident Ponder will benefit greatly from what he has to offer and will do better than he has in recent years because he now has talent wide receiver to complement the team's elite running game.
PJD's Take: Sure, Greg Jennings is something of interest, but he's not really a question going into training camp. What about running back depth? How shitty our defense might be again? Where are those questions?
4. Offensive Line Gains Depth
The Vikings now have a very deep offensive line thanks to the team’s signing of four-year-veteran Seth Olsen, and the drafting of Jeff Baca and Travis Bond.
Geoff Schwartz is the only offensive lineman who left the team in the off-season, so all the most important starters will be back in their familiar positions for 2013. That includes left tackle Matt Kalil (second year), left guard Charlie Johnson (eighth year), center John Sullivan (sixth year), right guard Brandon Fusco (third year), and right tackle Phil Loadholt (fifth year).
Sullivan is a minor concern as he recovers from knee surgery, but the team should have him at full strength for the start of the regular season. This corps of starters and backups could be considered the best in the division right now.
Christian Ponder really has no excuses for failing to perform next season with this kind of talent protecting him.
PJD's Take: See, I would have written this as "The offensive line? Who are these guys?" No Vikings fan is excited about Seth Olsen, Jeff Baca, or Bond, Travis Bond. Not a one. Frankly, I hardly even knew they were on the team. And just because you have Charlie Johnson starting for you doesn't mean you have depth on the offensive line. It means you have a liability. And when that liability is no longer Phil Loadholt on the offensive line, then you know you have issues.
5. Can Vikings Head Coach Keep His Job?
Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier may actually be in more jeopardy of losing his job than Christian Ponder. Even though his leadership helped get the team to the playoffs last season, they made a quick exit. The team has spent a ton of money and time rebuilding and restructuring on both sides of the ball.
The next step – if that doesn’t work – is to revamp what’s going on along the sidelines in each game. The head coach is always the first to go when a team fails to live up to expectations. A failure to get deep into the playoffs or to the Super Bowl this year could cost Frazier his job.
PJD's Take: Leslie is fine. He's so vanilla and harmless that he'll stick around this team like Ron Gardenhire to the Twins. What outside Vikings fans and non-native Minnesotans don't understand, is that our franchise owners and our fans generally like boring teams. Unfortunately, it's all of our outrageous teams that win the most. You think we'd figure that out by now.
Finally, I'm surprised that more outsiders aren't sitting here questioning the SHIT out of our defensive backfield, linebackers, and wide receivers still. Drafting a potential hot shot rookie and signing a guy with injury issues while trading Percy Harvin doesn't exactly "upgrade" your receiver position, and cutting Antoine Winfield is just bad for karma. I expect those to be bigger questions in traning camp then Leslie Frazier or offensive line depth.
But that's just me, who knows nothing about football. How about for you?