Off-season report card: Minnesota Vikings

Wednesday May 31st, 2017

2016: 8-8, 3rd in NFC North.

Significant Additions: RB Latavius Murray (FA), RB Dalvin Cook (R2), RT Mike Remmers (FA), WR Michael Floyd (FA), QB Case Keenum (FA), DE Datone Jones (FA), T Riley Reiff (FA)

Significant Losses: RB Adrian Peterson, CB Captain Munnerlyn, LT Matt Kalil, WR Cordarrelle Paterson, T Andre Smith, WR Charles Johnson

There was always a hope when it came to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota.

When he tore his ACL and MCL at the end of 2011, there was a hope that he would regenerate and return to form. (He did.) In 2014 when he was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list for child abuse charges, the hope was that he’d return late in the season and rescue the Vikings. (He didn’t.) Even last year, at age 31, he tore the meniscus in his right knee and had surgery immediately with the thought that he could come back and lead a big December push to get the Vikings into the playoffs. (He didn’t do that, either.)

There is no more hope for Peterson in Minnesota after the Vikings didn’t exercise his option and he signed with New Orleans in April. The long-time cornerstone of the franchise and the greatest running back of the past decade is gone, but his position should be just as important to the Vikings as it has been in recent years.

Minnesota loaded up at running back after Peterson’s departure. The Vikings kept Jerick McKinnon, who led the team in rushing in 2016 with 539 yards, and they added Latavius Murray in free agency and Dalvin Cook in the draft.

The biggest question facing the Vikings is when will Teddy Bridgewater return to full health, if ever, after that devastating knee injury last preseason. That question likely was answered when the Vikings didn’t pick up his fifth-year option; Sam Bradford will be the starter to begin the season, and possibly throughout the year. So the next biggest question is who is the starting running back between Murray and Cook.

“We’ve got a long, long way to go before we make any determinations on that,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer told reporters recently.

McKinnon was forced into the starting role last season, but there’s no mistake that the job will go to either Murray or Cook. The Vikings signed Murray to a three-year deal—which they can escape after one season—after Oakland let him walk in free agency. Murray had more than 1,800 rushing yards in the past two seasons along with 18 rushing touchdowns while being one of the best pass-blocking backs in the game.

But Murray had ankle surgery less than a week after signing with the team and will miss all of the on-field work leading up to training camp. That opens the door for the rookie Cook to establish himself before the Vikings head to Mankato in late July.

Cook was a consistently great runner at Florida State where he made home-run plays with his shiftiness. His off-field concerns in the pre-draft process shouldn’t affect his on-field play, but his previous injuries and lack of athleticism could. Cook has dealt with shoulder and hamstring injuries since college, and he performed poorly in the athletic testing at the combine. For those reasons, the third-best running back in the draft had to wait until the second day to be selected.

But Minnesota didn’t want to wait too long on Cook. Sitting at No. 48, the Vikings traded with the Bengals to move to No. 41 and get Cook.

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The hope is that with two quality running backs, Minnesota’s offensive line will look better than it did last year. Marred by injuries, the Vikings’ line doomed them after a 5-0 start. In turn, Bradford regressed and Minnesota had just two 100-yard rushing games all season long.

General manager Rick Spielman got two run-blocking tackles in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in the offseason—a sign that the Vikings, with no star power at wideout, will maintain their run-heavy ways.

Peterson is gone, and it’s probable that no one will ever wear No. 28 for Minnesota again. But if the goal is to get 1,500 rushing yards from your top back, that can be achieved by combining Murray and Cook in the backfield in 2017.

Grade: B

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