Super Bowl LVI is six days away, pitting the suddenly-dominant Cincinnati Bengals against the 1992-Dream-Team-like Los Angeles Rams. The Bengals are four-point underdogs.
The presumptive next head coach for the Minnesota Vikings will be on the scene in Los Angeles that night. His name is Kevin O’Connell from the Rams, and he outlasted the mighty Jim Harbaugh for a crack at leadership with the Vikings.
While the Super Bowl is unquestionably of the utmost importance for O’Connellhe will transition his resume to Minnesota’s next coach soon after the Super Bowl.
And that will happen one week from now.
O’Connell inherits a Vikings team no longer fearsome on defense after Minnesota led the NFL in defensive proficiency during the first six seasons of the Mike Zimmer era. O’Connell is not a defensive mastermind – Zimmer was, until he was not – so he’ll have to hire the best in the business at defensive coordinator. The Vikings defensive roster is in rough shape, making the offseason a tricky one for new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
Minnesota will be tasked with balancing a playmaker-fueled offense, led by O’Connell’s offensive brain, with a defense that could really go either way. If Adofo-Mensah signs and drafts the right defensive personnel in March and April, the defense could be swiftly restored by a reputable defensive coordinator. If one of those processes breaks down – the roster-building or selection of defensive coordinator – the Vikings will face a Culpepperian-like era of Vikings football when points were plentiful but tackling and other defensive fundamentals are not.
Too, Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell must address the purple and yellow elephant at US Bank Stadium – Kirk Cousins’ contract. His chunky $ 45 million cap hit is incongruent with his typical performance, so the Vikings new leadership must trade the man or extend his contract by a couple of years to alleviate the brutal 2022 cap hit.
As most onlookers will watch the Super Bowl this Sunday for sheer entertainment value, Vikings loyalists will examine O’Connell’s offense under a microscope. Then, when O’Connell formally takes control of the Vikings the following day, Cousins Watch will commence because the 33-year-old will make news either with a trade or an extension.
That’s all on top of the impending free agency period and NFL draft in April. The hire of Adofo-Mensah was humongous for the trajectory of the franchise. But in one week, you’ll get to watch his decision-making unfold as O’Connell travels to Eagan.
The news on Cousins’ future will hit soon after that. Minnesota has not undergone this degree of change since arguably 2006.
Make sure your cellphone alerts are turned on.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).