Picture it: Vikings Minicamp 2022. Jim Harbaugh standing in the middle of 90 players giving an unhinged and impassioned Super Bowl speech until his voice is hoarse. He fist pumps, throws a football full speed at Johnny Mundt and sprints off holding both hands in the air like Rocky. When Harbaugh gets to the podium out of breath, he declines to talk about how the team was penalized for having too much contact in OTAs and accuses an Associated Press writer of being soft.
Meanwhile Baker Mayfield stays on the field to take a few extra reps with the receivers. He pauses briefly to tweet about how he’s loving Minnesota, then wanders over to his agent and suggests a leak that he’d prefer to be a Packer. A few minutes later, two NFL insiders, a Cleveland reporter and a random Oklahoma Sooner fan tweeted that sources close to Baker have indicated that he won’t be signing a long-term extension as long as the Vikings have Harbaugh in charge. He’d prefer Lincoln Riley. Oh, and he wants them to sign Odell and unretire Fran’s number so he can have it.
Justin Jefferson is off to the side talking with Vikings PR. How should he handle questions about the trading team Adam Thielen to the Jets for a fifth-round pick? Is he happy about Harbaugh bringing Frank Gore out of retirement with the plan to split 500 carries between him and Dalvin Cook. He’s hoping that reporters forget to ask about Harbaugh telling him that he could be the next Michael Crabtree or Sean Dawkins. He’s never heard of either player. And did they really need five Michigan receiver UDFAs?
CJ Ham is exhausted. He took every first-team rep. The linebackers are bruised. Ed Donatell is pleading with Harbaugh to stop telling the players he will cut off their NIL deals and making comments about what the players posted on, “The Ticker Tocker on AOL Online.”
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah watches his 16 draft picks from the top of TCO Performance Center, nods, and then calls up OverTheCap.com again to marvel at how much cap space he created this offseason. He double checks with the training staff that Jameson Williams will be ready by Week 4. The analytics department has unhooked their phone because Adofo-Mensah kept wanting to see more and more of Williams’ tracking data.
The offensive line is looking stout – though maybe that’s because they’re practicing against recent third and fourth-round picks rather than Danielle Hunter, who the Seahawks acquired for a 2023 draft pick.
The local media is split between the team having no idea what it’s doing and this being the best thing they’ve done since acquiring Brett Favre. The national media is stacking up Delta miles by booking numerous flights into MSP.
Nobody has a clue what’s going to happen next.
Back in reality…
These are the types of scenarios you cook up while watching a minicamp practice that is intentionally dull.
Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell went out of his way to have an above-the-shoulders set of spring practices that saw very little in the way of full-speed reps and almost no contact. The roster largely walked away healthy, aside from a “lower leg” injury suffered by receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, but he’s expected back by training camp.
Scroll to Continue
Kirk Cousins is still here. He’s the same. At the end of minicamp he called the lack of reps a “balance” and went into some detail about why Donatell’s defense was tricky. During the up-tempo portion, he made some great throws and had a handful of reps that went sideways. Nothing notable to speak of.
Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen made some good catches. Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith are best friends. Patrick Peterson was pretty chill about the new defense. Very few rookies saw first-team action. There’s a question about who’s playing right guard.
All extremely typical Vikings minicamp stuff. Even this team isn’t usually dramatic in early June.
As we head into the dead period of the NFL schedule, you can not help but think about how different things could have been. When Adofo-Mensah took over, anything seemed possible. The Vikings flirted with the idea of hiring one of the most controversial coaches in football, trading the quarterback, trading expensive veteran players and completely rebuilding or some combination of all those things.
Baker Mayfield reportedly believed the Vikings were going to trade Kirk Cousins for him. Harbaugh was in the building. Trade calls were reportedly made regarding all the players who were staples of the Mike Zimmer era. It seems like this thing came close to being a Madden offseason and instead there was barely a ripple made in the water by hiring a new head coach and GM.
What we’re going to find out is whether that turns out to be a good thing in the short and / or long run. There might have been benefits to trading for Mayfield. Maybe he would have been great when fully healthy and given the Vikings a long-term QB in his prime. And if he was not good, they could have moved on with no cap penalty. On the other hand, Mayfield is combustible. Justin Jefferson might have been demanding a trade to Cincinnati by November.
And speaking of combustible, Jim Harbaugh walks through hell in a suit made of gasoline. Chances are better that he would have renamed the team after himself than been “collaborative.” Though he did win a heck of a lot of football games the last time he was in the NFL. It’s been a while since the Vikings won a heck of a lot of football games.
We will certainly wonder whether spending cap space on defense was the right way to go. Or adding void years to multiple players’ contracts rather than getting the cap right to be a big spender next year. If Kenny Clark throws the center and guard back into Kirk Cousins on the first play from scrimmage, we’re going to point like LeBron telling JR Smith the direction of the basket.
The interesting stuff in the first year of Adofo-Mensah / O’Connell may be nuanced. Do they pass on second-and-10? Do they go for the right fourth downs? Does the players’ relationship with coaching staff result in the team overcoming tough moments rather than wilting? Does Cousins find a touch more consistency?
And then there’s the bigger picture, which is more obvious: Will they return to the playoffs? Are there good signs for the future at GM and HC.
Don’t get me wrong, the fate of the franchise being swung towards rainbows and happy land versus remaining stuck in a pit of misery is a compelling storyline. But we’ll always look back at this offseason and wonder what things would have been like if they had gone full Real World Vikings 2022 mode.