Deconstructing the 2013 Minnesota Vikings is a task general manager Rick Spielman has been saddled with this offseason.
As it stands today, Spielman's Vikings are a franchise in the midst of renovating their culture.
Gone are the calming, Zen-like ways of former head coach Leslie Frazier. Now, that ideology has been replaced by the intensity and bravado the new sheriff Mike Zimmer brings to town.
It’s easy to recognize that the long road a general manager walks in the NFL can be great at times and treacherous at others.
For Spielman, the decisions he’s made through the initial wave of free agency are all part of finding a way for this program to climb back to the top of the hyper-competitive NFC North.
Call him whatever you want but one thing Spielman is not, is unprepared.
Detailing the extensive preparation he underwent before attending the 2014 NFL combine, Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote: "Spielman has enlisted the help of psychiatrists and professional interrogators, among others, to teach him interview tactics that will result in candid or at least semi-personal information."
No matter how many new faces have joined the purple and gold faction this offseason, Spielman’s work is far from done.
Embracing Mike Zimmer's Strengths
When Mike Zimmer was hired to be the ninth head coach in franchise history, one of the best qualities he brought with him from his time in the NFL, was his track record of consistency.
While in-charge of the Cincinnati Bengals defense, Zimmer’s squad never ranked worse than 15th in total defense during his six seasons at the helm.
One of the key ingredients to Zimmer’s secret sauce comes from his ability to get the most out of just about any football player he comes across.
During his introductory press conference, per Vikings.com, Spielman reiterated that talent by saying, “He (Zimmer) has a great history of developing young talent; of taking veterans and having them even play beyond their ability.”
Of all the players the team went out and added in free agency, former San Diego Chargers cornerback Derek Cox is the most intriguing candidate for a Zimmer turnaround.
Just a season ago, Cox inked a four-year, $20 million deal to play with the Chargers.
Unfortunately, a terrible debut campaign with the team led to his dismissal this offseason, per Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.
Trying to understand exactly what went wrong with Cox during his brief tenure with the Chargers, BoltsFromtheBlue.com’s Kyle Posey wrote:
The best corners play with confidence, that's where Cox is really lacking. Why are the best corners confident? It's not only in themselves, but it's because they're confident that they know what's coming. This is from great film study.
At this stage in his career, Cox is still a fantastic signing for the Vikings.
Detailing why, ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling said:
He'd give the Vikings another big corner, and he'd represent a low-risk gamble by the Vikings on the ability of coach Mike Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray to get something out of Cox.
Spielman has the luxury to go out, find more depth and sign low-risk players with upside. Because he knows, if anyone can get the most out of those guys, it's Zimmer.
Adding More Cornerbacks
The NFC North is a division loaded with high-caliber quarterbacks and destructive wide receivers.
To really get a grasp for the level of dominance this division has produced at the wide receiver position, you have to look at Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) advanced statistics.
Using their scale to judge the best wide receivers in the game today, the NFC North had four out of the top 10 highest-graded guys at the position.
You don’t need me to tell you that the Vikings need a surplus of ball-hawking cornerbacks patrolling the field if they want to compete next season.
Comparing him to another legendary Vikings cornerback in Antoine Winfield, Bleacher Report's Zach Kruse noted:
While lacking in the height department, the 5'8", 195-pound Munnerlyn compensates by smothering receivers in the slot, attacking against the run and causing the occasional disruption blitzing the quarterback. He's also as good a tackler as the NFL has at the position.
It comes as no surprise Munnerlyn has crafted his playing style in the Winfield mold.
Landing Munnerlyn was a great start, there's no doubt about it. However, his strength lining up in the slot still leaves room for a true No. 2 cornerback to come in and earn his loot working on the outside.
There are a few names in this year's draft class who jump out when you look for guys who fit that mold.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, a fleet-footed cornerback with impressive coverage skills, is an obvious candidate to line up across the field from second-year man Xavier Rhodes.
Raving about his skill set, B/R’s Matt Miller tweeted that the 6’0” defensive back is a “top 10 talent” on his draft board.
Other names that have impressed on film, are Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and Pierre Desir out of Lindenwood University.
No matter who ends up throwing on a Vikings uniform, cornerback is still an area Spielman needs to tackle on draft weekend.
Evaluating Quarterbacks With Norv Turner
As fans, it’s hard not to get excited when the team you root for revamps their entire coaching staff.
This feeling of perpetual hope washes over you throughout the entire coaching search, finally culminating when the next head coach is officially hired.
The excitement Zimmer's brought to this fanbase may have been matched when Norv Turner was enlisted to be the team's offensive coordinator.
Despondency at quarterback has put the Vikings front office in a precarious position heading toward the draft.
Despite having Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel on the active roster, neither guy has proven over the course of their careers to be a long-term solution under center.
The two quarterbacks who seem to make the most sense right now in the draft, are Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
Manziel's connection to Minnesota is a bit diluted at the moment, though it still holds merit.
Talking on ESPN’s NFL Insiders (h/t Brian Hall of FoxSports.com), Zimmer said that he had a conversation with former Vikings Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton about the prolific College Station gunslinger.
Whether you consider that a genuine “link” to or not, Tarkenton’s ringing endorsement of Manziel to Jim Corbett of USA Today, makes you wonder if this young man really is the second-coming of “Frantic Fran.”
Finding a connection to Bridgewater is a little easier to come by.
Talking on ESPN’s First Draft podcast, ESPN’s Todd McShay mentioned that the Vikings have Bridgewater "a little higher in their pecking order” than Manziel.
The one positive that has come out of all of this “behind-the-scenes” chatter, is that it seems like the front office is trying to land a franchise QB this offseason.
Standing at the podium during his first press conference, face illuminated by the flashing cameras of the media, Coach Zimmer said: "I want Vikings football to be a tough, smart and aggressive team that plays with passion and that works relentlessly for one common goal.”
All of the moves this team has made so far have been indicative of that philosophy.
Looking ahead, the 2014 NFL draft is another chance for this team to accrue talent that will play each week with vigor and determination.
Say what you want, but Spielman and Zimmer deserve a lot of credit for what they've accomplished over the span of just a few short months.
All NFL free-agency information and stats courtesy of NFL.com unless noted otherwise.
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