It's been a great season for the Minnesota Vikings, even if it ended on a down note.
Once the season is over, it's time to take stock of where you stand as a team. The Vikings have to be happy because they performed well past anyone's expectations, but that's just going to raise the bar for the coming year.
Which is fine. Now they need to rise to it.
There's a lot to do and tons of time before the offseason is even officially "in swing," but we can take a moment to consider what's next for the surprising Vikings.
Take a Hard Look at the Quarterback Position
Not so much because they should make a change from Christian Ponder, but because they need to protect themselves if he flounders next season.
We know that Joe Webb isn't even a short-term answer. Although, in fairness to Webb, that was the worst-run offense we've seen the Vikings run all season.
There's no point in having Webb start if you expect Ponder-style play. He can't do it.
We'll talk more about that in a minute, but what we saw Saturday night was that the Vikings are not comfortable moving away from a traditional pocket-passing quarterback.
In which case there is almost no reason to have Webb on the roster, much less in a position to replace Ponder.
The Vikings need to bring in a quarterback to replace Webb, push Ponder and, if Ponder fails, replace him.
Problem is, there isn't all that much to choose from in terms of a potential starter. Sure, Joe Flacco is a free agent after this season, but you can bet Baltimore won't let him go and he would be an immediate replacement for Ponder, not a backup who could step in.
The remaining free-agent quarterbacks are an uninspiring lot, with guys like Matt Moore, Brady Quinn and Charlie Batch.
Which means you start looking at the NFL draft, which also lacks any real studs aside from maybe Geno Smith or Matt Barkley. And let's be honest—those guys are not surefire lead-pipe locks.
So if they pick anyone up, likely it's a mid-round developmental back who isn't likely to push Ponder all that hard.
Maybe the Vikings trade for a Matt Flynn or Kirk Cousins, but the price tag could be too steep for players who are pretty unproven.
Which leaves the staff in an awkward position. They need to protect themselves in case Ponder goes down or plays badly, as it clearly made a huge difference in the outcome of Saturday's game.
How they do that is a big hurdle, though.
Examine the Play-Calling
Bill Musgrave had a tremendous game plan in Week 17.
His Wild Card Weekend plan? Not so much.
Actually, we don't know because he lost Ponder prior to kickoff. However, Webb took the first-team snaps last week and yet the Vikings looked like they had no clue he might play.
Musgrave's offensive game plan was almost the same with Webb as it was in Week 17 with Ponder, despite the fact that the two couldn't be more dissimilar. Even after a very effective first series where Webb ran the option.
It's hard to get a read on how good Musgrave was this season, as the year was split evenly between "throw to Harvin and hope" and "hand the ball to Peterson." Clearly, the Vikings lack some parts on the offensive side of the ball.
Did that hamper Musgrave's effectiveness this year? Or did he hamper what talent he had?
The Vikings need to go over the tape from this year and figure out the best direction to go and how to facilitate greater growth from Ponder.
What's more, they need to piece together the puzzle of how they managed to be unprepared for a quarterback who they gave first-team reps to all week.
Address the Secondary
Antoine Winfield is on his last legs, Chris Cook is constantly banged up and while Harrison Smith has been a tremendous upgrade at safety. Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford leave something to be desired.
In a division where you face three pass-happy offenses, you need a reliable group of defensive backs, and this group isn't quite there.
Again, it's time to look at the tape and see where they can improve, as well as who will be available in April's draft.
Get Wide Receivers
Jerome Simpson didn't work out but is so cheap he's likely back next year. I love Jarius Wright, but he's got a ways to go (so does Kyle Rudolph).
Devin Aromashodu, Mike Jenkins and Stephen Burton just aren't cutting it. Percy Harvin is a free agent who should be coming back, but you never know.
Whether Ponder is your guy or not, you need higher-quality receivers.
Time to start burning the tape on draft prospects and potential free agents.
There are some intriguing receivers out there in free agency. Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, Victor Cruz and Wes Welker are all free agents (Cruz and Wallace are restricted free agents), but the Vikings don't tend to shell out for big-money free agents, especially since the signing of Bernard Berrian a few years back.
Plus, they have to pay Harvin.
Really, it doesn't matter how they do it; they just have to improve this group.
There's more to look at, and we'll be taking the time to look over all the minutia from this season in the coming months.
It was a great run, and the Vikings have a chance to be very competitive going forward.
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