@GoesslingESPN: Good afternoon, everyone. Hope you're enjoying your Friday. We'll get started here. With Kyle Rudolph, I'm not sure it's fair to disqualify the injury from the evaluation. He had a sports hernia in Week 3, and probably wasn't going to be 100 percent at all this season. He didn't get that much playing time with Teddy Bridgewater before the season, and the Vikings eased him back into his starting role once he returned in Week 11. Rudolph started to look more like himself against the Lions in Week 15, and I think he'll be a nice option for Bridgewater once Rudolph is completely healthy and the two get more time together. Rudolph was deeply grateful to the Vikings for giving him a five-year contract extension in August, and he seems to know what kind of opportunity he has in Norv Turner's offense. It's fair to wonder about his durability a little bit, considering he's missed 15 games in the past two seasons, but if he's healthy, I expect he'll produce.
#VikingsMail After watching Zimmer's scheme for a year, which def positions need an upgrade & which can you get by w/ a lesser player?— Tony Rossi (@tonyrossi22) January 9, 2015
@GoesslingESPN: Good question, Tony. The Vikings spent a few days last week going through organizational meetings, and as they figure out which players they want to keep for 2015, general manager Rick Spielman said they have a much better idea of what they need to make Mike Zimmer's defense function at a high level. If I were looking at places to upgrade the defense, I think I'd start at linebacker; Zimmer asks his front seven to work somewhat in the manner of a 3-4 defense, where linemen are responsible for engaging blockers and linebackers get room to run. As much as we saw the double-A-gap-blitz look from the Vikings this season, another fast, rangy linebacker to pair with Anthony Barr seems like an obvious item for the shopping list. Can Gerald Hodges turn into that? Perhaps, but if there is a chance to add a good prospect in the draft, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Vikings do it (especially since they still need a plan for the future at middle linebacker). A safety that can line up next to Harrison Smith and cover receivers seems like a possibility, too; the Vikings played Andrew Sendejo instead of Robert Blanton at the end of the season, and you never got the sense Zimmer was completely comfortable with his options next to Smith this season. I think the Vikings have a lot of what they need on defense already; if they could get another strong linebacker, a safety, and possibly another cornerback, they would have the makings of a very good defense. Down the line, I could see adding another defensive end (or hoping for more out of Scott Crichton in 2015), with Brian Robison turning 32 this spring.
#VikingsMail What pending free agents are mostly to be retained and conversely most likely to walk?— Jason (@vikingsjazzfan) January 16, 2015
@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings are in relatively good shape when it comes to free agency; many of their players, like Christian Ponder and Jerome Felton, have effectively said they are going to be elsewhere, and there aren't many players the Vikings would absolutely have to keep. The player I think is most likely to get a new contract is defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who proved to be an effective pass-rusher in the team's nickel package and could be in line for a modest multi-year deal. Jasper Brinkley would be cheap to re-sign as a backup, but the Vikings might try to look for an upgrade at middle linebacker. I could see the team bringing back Joe Berger again, after he provided some insurance on the offensive line this season. Overall, though, there is not a glaring need or a big investment looming this offseason. The thing I'd expect the Vikings to do at some point, though, is pursue a contract extension for safety Harrison Smith; he'll be in his fourth year this season, and it seems likely the Vikings will pick up their fifth-year option on him, but it would make sense to lock him up long-term, and it would follow the approach the Vikings have taken with their key young players at this juncture of their careers.
@GoesslingESPN: I sure wouldn't rule it out. Josh Gordon obviously had his breakout season with Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator in Cleveland, and though there is reason to be apprehensive about Gordon's off-field troubles, he's a 6-foot-4 receiver who only turns 24 in April. If you can get a player like that, I'd think seriously about it, particularly while the Vikings are still waiting on the development of Cordarrelle Patterson. It would depend on what kind of mindset Gordon is bringing in to the Vikings' locker room, but he would have a level of trust with Norv and Scott Turner (who was his position coach in Cleveland), and Zimmer has often said he likes working with players who have something to prove. Zimmer, after all, was the guy who helped Pacman Jones turn things around in Cincinnati. If Gordon did hit the open market, I'd think Minnesota would be one of the places he would be considering.
That'll do it for this edition of the mailbag. Enjoy the conference championship games on Sunday, everyone, and have a great weekend. Talk to you on Monday.