EAGAN, Minn. – A team that fell one game short of the Super Bowl last season added a franchise quarterback in free agency, hoping to finally settle the most important position on a long-time basis. It added a pass-rushing defensive tackle to add another factor to the league’s best defense a year ago.
From the beginning, the Minnesota Vikings have been all-in on their push to reach the Super Bowl.
The season’s opening home win against San Francisco validated the feelings, but cracks in the armor showed in Sunday’s tie at Green Bay.
With hopes pinned on the leg of a rookie kicker, Minnesota watched Daniel Carlson miss three field-goal attempts, including two in overtime. Third-year receiver Laquon Treadwell, who had seemingly begun to emerge, dropped two passes. One pass went off his hands for an interception that seemed to end the Vikings’ chances until quarterback Kirk Cousins’ rallied the group in the final minutes to pull off a dramatic game-tying drive.
Three days later, Minnesota finished a flurry of moves to address three positions.
“You know, I texted them the other night and told all those guys thank you for trying to get some more players in here,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday. “Number one, they always do a great job. (General manager Rick Spielman) always says I want to get the players in here that you want to get. We have a great relationship, a great working relationship and I think (vice president of player personnel George Paton) and the scouts do a good job of evaluating talent. They spend all day looking at players around the league to see who might become available, and if they do, they’ve already got a book on them.
“I think we’ve got a great front office and it’s great to see. We felt like we needed to make some moves after that game.”
Minnesota cut its losses and waived Carlson, the kicker it traded up to draft in the fifth round this year. In his place, the Vikings lured Dan Bailey in free agency as he contemplated offers from other teams. Bailey enters this week as the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history. Treadwell remains on the roster, but Minnesota also signed receiver Aldrick Robinson.
Then the Vikings jumped at the opportunity to add back one of its starting defensive players last season in defensive tackle Tom Johnson. After Minnesota had signed Sheldon Richardson in the offseason, Johnson signed with Seattle. He started Week 1 for the Seahawks, who then decided to release Johnson and hoped to bring him back a week later. Seattle never got the chance to follow through because Johnson found another home.
“This team is stacked at all positions,” Johnson said. “I think we’re way prepared and the talent is crazy. I can’t say that enough if you look from the top to the bottom. To contribute in any way, that’s my mindset. Going on with the blue-collar mentality all day. I’m going to be aggressive and hold my end up.”
Johnson will serve as Richardson’s backup a year after starting 15 games last season, just another sign of the depth Zimmer, Spielman and the Vikings have developed. Robinson’s status is uncertain as he joins a new offense in the third week of the season, but Robinson played three season with Cousins in Washington.
“I had a great rapport with him in Washington,” Cousins said. “It’s tough to just jump in Week 3 and pick it up like you’ve been here since April. That’s hard to do, but we’re going to get him caught up as fast as we can and look forward to having him here. He’s a great teammate; will be great for our locker room, a veteran presence to have around and hopefully he can contribute on the field for us.”
No move will be as important or scrutinized as the addition of Bailey.
Super Bowl-hopeful Minnesota put its faith in a rookie kicker. Carlson proved unable to handle the spotlight. Each miss in last week’s game seemed to compound itself and Carlson said confidence probably played a role in his third miss.
Enter Bailey, who has converted 88.2 percent of his career field-goal attempts, behind only Baltimore’s Justin Tucker in NFL history. Bailey never had a season under 84.4 percent before falling to 75 percent on field-goal attempts last season.
But Bailey dealt with a groin injury midway through the season and never regained his form. Through the first six games, Bailey was perfect on seven field-goal attempts and 16 point-after tries. The groin injury caused him to miss four games and he went 8 of 13 on field-goal attempts upon his return and missed the only two point-after attempts of his career.
“I’m not going to say I came back too soon,” Bailey said. “I think I was definitely ready to go back out and compete. I think maybe the rhythm was skewed a little bit, just taking that time off and then trying to jump right back in to being at the top of my game. I don’t know that I would do anything differently.”
Bailey said he’s healthy again but Dallas made the decision to release Bailey and go with Brett Maher after a training-camp competition. Bailey kicked in one preseason game and made the only field-goal attempt and extra-point kick he attempted.
“This guy has been a really good kicker and you know, hopefully, he’s really, really good for us,” Zimmer said, knocking on the wood on the podium in front of him. “I kind of feel the same way about him as I felt about the quarterback position. Someone asked me the other day about the five years I’ve been here we’ve been trying to get that position solidified. If we can get that position solidified like we have with the quarterback, that would be good.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings