COMMENTARY | The confetti has finished falling on the Seattle Seahawks, and the road to Super Bowl XLIX is officially under way for the other 31 teams in the NFL.
For the Minnesota Vikings, it could be a long one. The team took a big step back from their playoff appearance in 2012 by finishing 5-10-1. A defense that looked formidable two seasons ago devolved into one of the worst in the league in 2013 as the offense was still searching for a quarterback that could take advantage of an eight-man box.
The Vikings enter 2014 with plenty of needs on their roster. While general manager Rick Spielman solved one of those needs by replacing Leslie Frazier with Mike Zimmer, he'll still need to find a way to fix some of the other crucial flaws if they want to make a turnaround similar to what the Kansas City Chiefs had last fall.
Change of Pace Back
It might seem like a strange strategy to take the ball out of Adrian Peterson's hands, but employing a change of pace back would be a way to make Norv Turner's pass-heavy offense more efficient while prolonging Peterson's career.
Peterson will turn 29 on March 21. He's carried the ball 627 times over the past two seasons and the Vikings will want to make sure that he's able to play at a high level as he creeps closer to 30.
With most running backs breaking down when they hit the big 3-0, it would be wise for the Vikings to get someone that can be a compliment to Peterson.
While the free-agent crop seems pretty weak (it would be unlikely that the Vikings would pay big bucks to get Darren McFadden or go as low as La'Rod Stephens Howling), they could use a mid-round draft pick to solve the problem.
By diving into an undervalued running back pool, the Vikings could not only walk away with a guy that can help catch the ball out of the backfield, but someone that could be a bridge for when Peterson runs out of gas.
Perhaps the most maddening development of the 2013 season was the play of the cornerbacks.
The Vikings took a gamble when they cut Antoine Winfield, and the move blew up in their face when they relied on Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson to replace him. The dynamic duo was burned so frequently they should have been featured on an ER cast reunion.
The overall effort of the Viking secondary overshadowed the emergence of Xavier Rhodes, and they'll need to find a solid teammate for the other side if Zimmer wants to make sure the defense has a complete overhaul in 2014.
The free-agent market seems to have some answers as Brent Grimes and Alterraun Verner would look great in purple. The Vikings could decide to go young as well and take a corner in the draft (especially if they decide to wait on a quarterback at 8 where they could get Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard).
With the Vikings getting a healthy Harrison Smith back into the fold on the back end, they must make sure that they get another solid player in the secondary to get back to where they were a couple years ago.
There will be Viking fans that will be angry when Jared Allen and Kevin Williams walk this offseason, but the move is what's best for business. By getting younger, Minnesota's pass rush can be more dynamic and prepare for a future where they'll be facing Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford on a consistent basis.
At defensive end, the Vikings must make it a priority to re-sign Everson Griffen. As a situational pass rusher, he was able to record 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons with eight of them coming in 2012. He will explode as a full-time player and could be a nice compliment to Brian Robison if the Vikings are able to retain his services.
The free-agent market is always a fine plan B, but it will also cost the Vikings a lot of money to get the services of a top player. If they decide to go this route, they could look at Michael Johnson, who thrived under Zimmer's system in Cincinnati for 11.5 sacks in 2012, but also had motivational issues dating back to his days at Georgia Tech.
At defensive tackle, the Vikings will have the luxury of sliding Shariff Floyd to replace Williams, but still need to find someone to play the "Fat Pat" Williams" role that helped the Vikings become a dominant run defense in the late-2000s.
The Vikings could go local with this need as University of Minnesota product RaShede Hageman could be on the board in the second round. At 318 pounds, he could be a perfect compliment to Floyd and return the defensive line to being one of the top units in the NFL.
One of the reasons Leslie Frazier's Cover 2 scheme failed in Minnesota is because they were never able to find a linebacker that could make a major impact. Where Chad Greenway was solid in making plays, he could never duplicate what Derrick Brooks meant to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or what Lance Briggs meant to the Chicago Bears.
With Greenway turning 31 this offseason, the Vikings will need someone that can play aggressively for a coach that loves to blitz.
This process could start in the draft, where there are plenty of linebackers to choose from -- especially in the middle of the field.
C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland and Shayne Skov would all make a great leader for the Vikings' defense and would be able to make the impact plays that the Vikings have been missing for several seasons.
Of course, the million dollar question for Spielman and the Vikings is whether or not they can find a franchise quarterback this offseason.
With the free-agent market only able to produce Michael Vick, Josh McCown and Josh Freeman as top options, the Vikings will have to go through the draft. That's where things get tricky.
With the Vikings pulling a "Win one for Frazier" mentality toward the end of the season, they have fallen to the eighth selection in the draft. That puts them behind four other quarterback needy teams (Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland) in a draft where there's four QB prospects worthy of a top-10 selection.
If the Vikings want to be aggressive, they can decide to trade up as St. Louis has made it known that they are open for business with the second overall pick in the draft. However, with the Vikings needs elsewhere, it seems unlikely that Spielman would give up a truckload of draft picks to get his signal caller.
That's where Spielman could take a gamble and wait until the second round, where Senior Bowl darling Jimmy Garoppolo could be waiting along with Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron.
What we know for sure is that Spielman is down to his last strike on picking a quarterback. He missed on his first chance in 2006 with the Miami Dolphins when he selected Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees, and whiffed when he reached for Christian Ponder in 2011.
Spielman has to get this right by any means necessary. Whether it's being aggressive, conservative, or having a case of divine intervention (like the Green Bay Packers had in 2005), if he's not able to connect on this swing, the Mike Zimmer era could be doomed before it even starts.
Chris Schad is a lifelong Vikings follower that has seen triumph and heartbreak for the franchise over 27 seasons. His work has also been published on Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter @crishad.
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- Rick Spielman
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