Secret Sauce: How the Minnesota Vikings Rebounded

Photo: © Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

From the Gary Anderson debacle to the Minneapolis Miracle, the Minnesota Vikings have been a franchise known as one to experience one extreme to another. 

After a disappointing 8-7-1 record a season ago, many began to question the signing of quarterback Kirk Cousins, Mike Zimmer's coaching style and general manager Rick Spielman’s tenure. The Vikings have since rebounded with 9-4 record this season thanks to a number of factors.

Backtracking to his first year at the helm, Spielman drafted linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater who were thought to be centerpieces for years to come. Barr continued to progress and Spielman continued to add promising pieces in safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive end Everson Griffen. Following up that mark, The Vikings continued to build up their defense in free agency with tackle Linval Joseph and more homegrown talent.

A trio of players — DE Danielle Hunter, CB Trae Waynes and LB Eric Kendricks — joined the team along with wide receiver Stefon Diggs to give Minnesota one of the better draft classes in team history. The Vikings went on to finish that 2015 season 11-5 only to lose on a last-second field goal in the wild-card playoffs. After a catastrophic knee injury to Bridgewater that left the team in flux, Spielman quickly turned to Sam Bradford — acquiring the former first-overall selection for a first-round selection. However, it didn’t work out as well. Minnesota finished 8-8 in 2016.

Bradford succumbed to injury and continued to struggle, and Case Keenum was inserted into the lineup instead. He helped engineer one of the most memorable seasons to date, one that featured the “Minneapolis Miracle.” But that moment has lost some of its luster after the team suffered a crushing 38-7 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

It also left a large cloud over the quarterback position. Bridgewater was still a question mark and Keenum just finished an outlier season with possibilities of regressing back to the mean. Spielman was tasked with making arguably the biggest decision of his tenure.

He opted to turn away from the options on the roster and signed Kirk Cousins in 2018. A big splash that will now be on the opening page of Spielman’s transactions, Cousins agreed to a three-year, $84-million contract and became the first player to receive a fully guaranteed deal.

After years of constant turnover and a game of musical chairs, Spielman finally found a long-term solution under center. Cousins’ first season with the team didn’t go as either would have hoped. The Vikings finished with a disappointing 8-7-1 record and on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

However, Cousins proved to be worth the contract this season. He is at the tail end of a career year passing for 3,274 yards, 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions, the turnaround of Cousins has one of the biggest contributing factors to the team returning to its winning ways.

Now, all parties — ownership, the team and its fans — can take some comfort in knowing who the leader will be for the foreseeable future.

Written By:

Jordan Reid

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Founder of Former QB and Coach at North Carolina Central Univ.