Vikings at the NFL Scouting Combine: What we’re hearing about their offseason plans


INDIANAPOLIS — After a while, the days and nights at the NFL Scouting Combine blend together.

Conversations with agents and team personnel bleed into dinners over steaks and drinks. The week lays a foundation for what lies ahead.

Here’s what we heard about the Minnesota Vikings in Indianapolis, ranging from the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins to potential defensive upgrades this offseason:

1. Cousins’ future remains uncertain

All Cousins needs is one — one team willing to go above and beyond in terms of dollars and guarantees. But does that one team exist?

Over the weekend, The Athletic’s Dianna Russini mentioned the Atlanta Falcons as a possibility for Cousins, and she is right that “it makes all the sense in the world.” Owner Arthur Blank is 81. The Falcons’ roster is ready-made to compete. But Atlanta has often been linked with Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields.

If Atlanta does not push Minnesota, who will? The Las Vegas Raiders need a quarterback, but general manager Tom Telesco might consider his experience of trying to win early in San Diego and how that affected the future. The Washington Commanders’ leadership might want to quickly alter the franchise’s perception, but the Commanders’ roster is less well-rounded. There’s no obvious answer, and the clock is ticking.

The Vikings want Cousins back but on their terms. They believe his best option is with exceptional weapons, a familiar system and a city and locker room that have come to appreciate him for who he is. Whether Cousins agrees will likely depend on the gulf between the Vikings’ offer and another team’s. But again, there has to be another team.

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2. Hiring McCown as quarterbacks coach is a multifaceted move

In 2015, Josh McCown first met Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell on a recruiting visit to Cleveland. O’Connell had been hired as the team’s quarterbacks coach, and McCown, then a 35-year-old journeyman QB, was looking for a new NFL team. McCown was skeptical, but ten minutes into their conversation, O’Connell was scribbling on the whiteboard and they were jelling.

“So much of recruiting is wining and dining,” McCown told me in 2022, “and all that is well and good. But we were going to do football. I was encouraged because even though Kevin was a younger guy, I knew that I was going to get better being around this dude. This guy is sharp.”

O’Connell felt similarly. McCown landed with the Cleveland Browns, and their relationship strengthened. Trust is partly why O’Connell hired McCown as the Vikings’ new quarterbacks coach. The hiring takes some of the load off O’Connell’s back.

It also shifts former quarterbacks coach Chris O’Hara into a pass-game specialist role, where O’Hara will prioritize game planning and third-down preparation. McCown’s presence is also useful because he can relate to veterans and has experience working with highly touted draftees (Sam Darnold, Jalen Hurts, Bryce Young, etc.). Another facet to consider: McCown coached North Carolina’s Drake Maye, whom the Vikings adore.

3. Vikings have done their homework on the draftable QBs

In the public sphere, analysts began to project Jayden Daniels as a top-end talent as he tore through college football on the way to securing the Heisman Trophy. Some teams had similar reactions. One LSU staffer said Friday that the Vikings were one of the earliest teams to dive into, evaluate and express an interest in Daniels.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. The Vikings have combed through the quarterbacks in the past two drafts. The first provided little in the way of eye-popping talents (Kenny Pickett was the first quarterback taken), and the 13-win season in 2022 left the Vikings with the 23rd pick and needing to mortgage major future assets to get one of the elite QBs.

Most NFL evaluators have been eyeing USC’s Caleb Williams and Maye for a couple of years. Daniels’ ascension has been different, but it hasn’t caught Minnesota off-guard. It remains unclear whether the Vikings will be willing (or able) to move heaven and earth to snag one of the three.

4. Moving on from Mattison highlights their belief about positional value

The Vikings didn’t cut Dalvin Cook last year because they think running backs don’t matter. They made the move because they didn’t think Cook’s value matched the contract his representatives sought.

Minnesota believed that Alexander Mattison, paired with a revamped commitment to the ground game with block-first tight end Josh Oliver, could make the team more efficient on the ground.

The strategy failed. It didn’t help that the Vikings lost Justin Jefferson for two months, but Minnesota’s run game in 2023 mirrored 2022’s. It was middling. Mattison lacked burst. Second-year talent Ty Chandler flashed, but pass-protection mishaps limited his usage.

The Vikings will feature Chandler prominently in 2024. Minnesota could also use the NFL Draft or free agency to add a veteran presence to the room.

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Hiring Josh McCown as the quarterbacks coach should take some of the pressure off Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. (Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

5. Don’t be surprised if they spend on defense

How many new defensive starters do the Vikings need?

Begin the thought experiment on the defensive line. Minnesota’s two starting edge rushers in 2023, Danielle Hunter and D.J. Wonnum, are impending free agents. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard is certain to hit the market. You could argue that Minnesota could upgrade Harrison Phillips’ spot, too. And we haven’t even reached the second level.

The off-ball linebacker has at least one obvious hole, as veteran Jordan Hicks also will be a free agent. Ivan Pace Jr. showed countless flashes, but even he might fit best as a situational pass rusher.

Then there’s the secondary. The Vikings could benefit from an upgrade at one outside cornerback spot: Akayleb Evans’ position. Safety is less of a need, but Harrison Smith’s retirement could leave another hole.

A conservative projection could leave the Vikings needing to find six new defensive starters. The worst-case scenario could mean eight. Any pre-draft or free-agency projection should begin here. The Vikings will likely allocate most of their nine draft picks to this unit. Expect them to pursue experienced free-agent options as well and to spend most of their non-quarterback and non-extension money on these positions.

6. Departures could force Vikings to get creative at edge rusher

There is a realistic world in which the Vikings lose Hunter and Wonnum. Only Patrick Jones II, Andre Carter II and potentially even Marcus Davenport (at a major discount) would remain at one of the most important positions in the sport.

Several sources around the league expect Hunter to find a longer-term deal worth more than $20 million in average annual value elsewhere. The Vikings refrained from signing Hunter to a massive contract last offseason. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah spoke hesitantly Tuesday about the looming negotiations.

“It’s not just about this season but the next season,” Adofo-Mensah said. “The players have their needs. We’ll go to the table and try to figure it out and see if we can talk about a way to find a deal to meet in the middle.”

Wonnum’s price point will be far more palatable than Hunter’s, but his 2023 production is likely to mean another team will overpay the athletic and seemingly ascending 26-year-old. In short, the market for Wonnum is expected to be robust.

Lose both players, and the already lacking pass rush will be further depleted. Drafting a stud like Alabama’s Dallas Turner could help fill the void. Signing a mid-tier candidate like Jonathan Greenard would make sense. Minnesota could also explore the trade market, but teams that might be willing to move high-end options (the Los Angeles Chargers with Khalil Mack; the Philadelphia Eagles with Haason Reddick) will want premium draft capital in return.

7. The 2022 draft class remains a frequent discussion point

You cannot speak about the Vikings’ situation without their 2022 draft class coming up. Team personnel, agents and other league executives will point out that previous drafts left the cupboard bare. Still, Minnesota’s 2022 class is mind-blowingly devoid of talent.

Hindsight bias tends to creep into these discussions, but the reality is what it is. First-round pick Lewis Cine, second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr., third-round pick Brian Asamoah and others have not developed into starting-level players, much less backups.

Had the Vikings nailed their 2022 draft class, they’d have more resources, money and flexibility to spend on ancillary players who could help Minnesota on the margins.

8. NFLPA’s training staff grade is no coincidence

First, the positive: The Vikings ranked No. 2 in the yearly NFL Players Association report card. Players raved about the ownership, facilities, O’Connell and more.

Now, the negative: Minnesota’s training staff received a “B” grade. This coincides with a decision the Vikings made this offseason to fire former head athletic trainer Uriah Myrie.

“There were some things that, in the dialogue I have (with the players), I felt fell below the line of standards we try to set,” O’Connell said.

The change increases Tyler Williams’ role. Williams, whom O’Connell brought over from the Los Angeles Rams to reshape the Vikings’ approach to performance, is already the vice president of player health and performance. His voice will weigh even more heavily.

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Other quick hitters

• Kicker Greg Joseph is a free agent. The Vikings have the third-lowest field goal percentage over the past two seasons and the fourth-worst extra-point percentage. Expect Minnesota to explore external options.

• Defensive coordinator Brian Flores is spearheading the draft efforts defensively. His opinion mattered last offseason, and this year he’s shouldering the vision for the defense’s direction.

• One team source thought aloud about 2025 and the idea of having $100 million in cap space even after major extensions. That degree of flexibility hovers prominently in the minds of many within the team.

(Top photo of Danielle Hunter: Brad Rempel / USA Today)





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