MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-7-1)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Eagan, Minnesota
LAST YEAR: Stumbled underneath weight of Super Bowl goal they carried with expensive new QB Kirk Cousins into 2018, following trip to NFC championship game previous year. Won just one of seven games against teams that made playoffs, including home loss in finale to rival Bears to miss postseason for third time in five years under coach Mike Zimmer. Fell from 10th in NFL in scoring to 19th, with kicking trouble partly to blame. Rookie Daniel Carlson was dumped after three missed field goals cost team victory over Packers in tie on road in Week 2, with Dan Bailey now on duty. Offensive line failed to help running game get going and keep Cousins upright, though he made share of mistakes in tense season that led to firing of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo before end of first year.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: C Garrett Bradbury, RG Josh Kline, DT Shamar Stephen, TE Irv Smith Jr., RB Alexander Mattison, WR Jordan Taylor, assistant head coach/offensive adviser Gary Kubiak.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DTs Sheldon Richardson and Tom Johnson, RB Latavius Murray, RG Mike Remmers, PR Marcus Sherels, SS Andrew Sendejo, WR Aldrick Robinson.
CAMP NEEDS: Establish continuity and confidence up front, with rookie Bradbury anchoring line and Pat Elflein shifting from C to LG. Identify reliable No. 3 WR behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, with under-radar free agent signing Taylor emerging in pack that includes so-far-failed 2016 first-round draft pick Laquon Treadwell. Get Bailey, league’s fifth-most accurate FG kicker of all time, back on track. Decide on third-rounder Mattison or returnee Ameer Abdullah as reliable backfield complement to RB Dalvin Cook in light of Murray’s departure.
EXPECTATIONS: Though Zimmer recently had contract option exercised to be on books through 2020, failure to return to playoffs, or perhaps even advance in postseason, could mean end of 63-year-old’s run in Minnesota. Cousins enters critical second season of fully guaranteed $84 million contract, determined to better slightly less than-.500 career record. Committing new money to stalwarts LB Anthony Barr, Thielen and TE Kyle Rudolph, on top of megadeals doled out in 2018 to Cousins, Diggs, DE Danielle Hunter and LB Eric Kendricks, has pushed team even harder against salary cap and further cemented aggressive approach to securing franchise’s elusive first championship.
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