ESPN 1500's Tom Pelissero noted a changing tenor this week at Winter Park as the Minnesota Vikings head into 2012 offseason in earnest.
Gone is the talk fans heard during the offseason of 2011 where Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier espoused a belief that the Vikings could compete for a division title or a wildcard playoff spot. Instead, it's been replaced by the acknowledgement that a rebuilding effort is underway – and in Pelissero's mind – it could take a while.
It certainly could. The Vikings have many holes. But out of the four major professional sports in North America – football, basketball, baseball and hockey – a turnaround can happen the fastest in the NFL.
So while the Vikings are a 3-13 team with a number of leaks to plug, it can't be underestimated how acquiring one or two impact players could quickly change the fortunes of this NFL franchise. And to illustrate that, fans need only look at two Viking teams from the recent past – the 1998 and 2007 squads.
For the 1998 team, drafting Randy Moss turned a 9-7 team into a 15-1 juggernaut. They were a decent team without Moss the year before. But when ole' 84 showed up, the Vikes win total spiked upwards by five. There were other factors that led to that improvement, of course, but Moss certainly had a lot to do with it.
As for the 2007 Vikings team, the year before they were an offensively inept 6-10 team. Then they drafted Adrian Peterson. The squad was still offensively inept at times in 2007 – thanks to Tarvaris Jackson and the worst collection of wideouts in NFL history – but the unit had its big games as well, thanks almost exclusively to the play and presence of Peterson. The Vikings even challenged for a playoff spot that year and finished 8-8.
I do not expect the Vikings to go 15-1 or 8-8 next year. But vast improvement is possible in 12 months and it can come even if the Vikings don't hit homeruns on all of their free agent signings and draft picks over the next three months.
The Vikings can even have some very weak positions (they certainly will have some) and still win more football games in 2012 if they can grab an impact player.
Wide receiver is a great example. Say the Vikings sign a guy like Vincent Jackson or DeSean Jackson. Those two guys must be accounted for as receiving threats, particularly on deep routes. That kind of player will allow Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph and Michael Jenkins more opportunities to beat one-on-one coverage and make plays. That will force teams to blitz Christian Ponder less. It will mean the offensive line won't have to hold their blocks as long. It means teams won't be able to play eight defenders near the line as much. And all of these factors will make the Vikings offence more difficult to defend and more explosive. That will allow the unit to have more explosive plays more often. It will allow them to sustain drives and score more points, which also means the defence will be on the field a bit less and will be playing with the lead more. A better offence will mask some of the Vikings deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball.
So adding one impact player can have a domino effect for the Vikings, vastly improving the team and hastening the rebuilding effort. But first the Vikings have to accomplish the first part – acquire that impact player.