In OTAs (Offseason Talk & Analysis) all through June and July, the Sports on Earth NFL team will break down each team's offseason transactions, boldest moves and burning questions as they prepare for training camp. Click here for links to every entry in the series.
It is appropriate that Bud Grant had the garage sale to end all garage sales this offseason, because it seems the Vikings are cutting so many ties with their past. The Metrodome bit the dust, as did head coach Leslie Frazier and his coaching staff. Gone, too, are a pair of players who defined an era in Vikings football in Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.
Considering the Vikings have had only one winning season in their last four, this might not be such a bad thing. The feeling this summer is that the younger, hungrier Vikings will be fun to watch.
Biggest Offseason Move: Putting the future of the franchise in Teddy Bridgewater's small hands
The Vikings had a lot of options at the quarterback position. They could have given Christian Ponder a clear path. They could have given Josh Freeman a chance. They could have gone for a veteran free agent like Michael Vick, Josh McCown or Matt Schaub. With the ninth pick in the draft, they could have taken Johnny Manziel, or they could have attempted to trade up for Blake Bortles.
Instead, they chose to re-sign stopgap Matt Cassel, and then trade up from the second round to the last pick of the first to take Bridgewater. At one point not too long ago, Bridgewater had been considered the best prospect in the draft and the likely first overall pick. But Bridgewater's stock plummeted in the winter, having an unimpressive performance at his pro day after sitting out at the combine. NFL teams were concerned about his average arm strength, his 9 ¼ inch hands and his thin build.
The Vikings kept going back to the tape, and they liked almost everything Bridgewater did at Louisville. But instead of taking him with the ninth pick, they chose him at a spot that should keep expectations realistic. Cassel is the starter right now, but a chance exists that at some point in training camp Bridgewater will overtake Cassel. And if it doesn't happen in camp, it's just a matter of time.
Biggest Offseason Gamble: Going young on the defensive line
The Vikings let 145.5 sacks and 11 Pro Bowls walk out the door when they said goodbye to Allen and Williams. They also lost leadership and veteran presence, but they thought the tradeoff for potential and fresh legs justified their decisions.
Their most risky move was re-signing Everson Griffen to a five-year, $42.5 million deal at the start of free agency, with $19.8 million guaranteed. In four years with the Vikings, Griffen mostly has been defined by unfulfilled potential. He has one career start, and never has had more than eight sacks in a season.
But the Vikings -- and a lot of other teams -- believe Griffen might be about to make the connection between talent and production. Retaining Griffen pretty much forced the Vikings to let go of Allen, as they needed to open a place in the lineup and in the budget for the next generation pass rusher.
The Vikings also used that ninth pick in the draft on UCLA's Anthony Barr. Don't blink or you'll miss him coming off the edge on nickel downs (they may have him positioned as linebacker on first and second downs). But he's a raw former running back with limited experience at defensive end, and he will need to be developed by new head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff.
To replace Williams, the Vikes signed free agent defensive tackle Linval Joseph from the Giants. Joseph already is a pretty solid NFL player, but the arrow is pointing up and the hope in Eden Prarie is he can become a better player on his new team.
Biggest 2014 Question: Can the Vikings match up with the elite wide receivers in the NFC North?
Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Jordy Nelson may be looking at the Vikings' depth chart at cornerback and practicing their touchdown celebrations. The Vikings ranked 31st in the league in passing yards allowed and 30th in passer rating against last year, and they didn't do much to fortify themselves at the cornerback position this offseason. Chris Cook, a starter for the last two years, left for the 49ers. Replacing him on the roster is former Panther Captain Munnerlyn, who spots the 6-foot-2 Cook five inches.
The Vikings mostly are counting on young corners Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson stepping up, and on Zimmer and secondary coach Jerry Gray getting the best out of the cover men.
Bold Prediction: Bridgewater will have more success than any other rookie quarterback
His primary competition among the rookies appears to be Manziel, and Manziel's development could be delayed because of the presence of Brian Hoyer and the presence of nightclubs near the Browns' facility. Bridgewater's productive college career argues he is the most NFL-ready of the rookie quarterbacks, and he is in a good situation if he can beat out the veteran Cassel.
Bridgewater and the passing game won't be the focus of opposing defenses as long as Adrian Peterson is on the field. He also will benefit from using play action, as safeties and linebackers are likely to be jumpy about playing the threat of the run. That means throwing lanes will be open, and he has viable receiving targets in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Kyle Rudolph.
The transition through rookie camp, minicamp and OTAs has gone well for Bridgewater. He has learned quickly and has impressed teammates and coaches with his poise and decision making. Though Cassel has remained with the first team, Zimmer has been so encouraged with Bridgewater he indicated he would not hesitate to play a rookie quarterback.
Having new offensive coordinator Norv Turner draw up game plans and teach him the pro game will also work to Bridgewater's benefit. Turner has plenty of experience with young quarterbacks, and there aren't many who understand the position as well as he does. If anyone can develop Bridgewater and bring out his best, it is Turner.