EAGAN, Minn. -- The makeup of the Minnesota Vikings began to change less than 24 hours after their season came to an end with a loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday in the divisional playoff round.
The departure of offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who will become the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns, leaves an important vacancy that affects the direction the Vikings will go in 2020. Defensive coordinator George Edwards is also not expected to return, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Minnesota has a lengthy offseason to-do list between a host of possible contract extensions and restructures, deciding how much longer its aging defense can stick together and which of their pending free agents to prioritize. But in the immediate term, the offense is the focal point.
That starts with finding Stefanski's replacement. And as they look back at a season that ended with one playoff win, the Vikings might need to alter their approach in certain areas given that the same issues hurt them in a handful of losses.
What to look for in the next OC: Minnesota is seeking its fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons. The Vikings rebuilt their staff and an entire scheme around what makes quarterback Kirk Cousins successful, so keeping stability is most important.
Chances are the Vikings will want to run the same version of this offense next season, so it makes sense to first look internally for Stefanski's replacement. Given Stefanski ran Gary Kubiak's offense, it is possible Minnesota will ask Kubiak, the assistant head coach, to take over playcalling duties. If Kubiak wants to remain in his advisory role, his son Klint, the Vikings' quarterbacks coach, might get the promotion to offensive coordinator.
"He's a guy that's super detailed," Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said of Klint Kubiak. "He's another guy that just grinds. He takes it to heart, whether we win or lose -- he wants it just as bad as the next guy. I think that's the mindset of all the coaches in that offensive room. They're going to grind, they're going to put it all out there for their guys, and that's what you want as coaches and players and, really, the core of that offensive room."
If either of the Kubiaks are calling plays, the offense won't have to go through a major period of transition for a third straight year. Cousins thrived as a play-action passer under Stefanski. The signal-caller attempted the most passes from under center this season (221) and had the 12th highest QBR (69) on those attempts. The Vikings thrive off this approach, as compared to running their offense primarily out of the shotgun.
If Minnesota opts to look for an outside hire, finding someone who can be on the same page with coach Mike Zimmer has to be the priority. Zimmer does not want to deviate from his team's run-first mentality, so whoever is handed the reins of this offense will need to share that philosophy.
Offensive line needs work: Minnesota's season ended with its offensive line getting dominated by the 49ers, who have the best defensive front in the NFC. Cousins was pressured on 46% of his dropbacks versus San Francisco (16 of 35), which is the second-highest pressure rate of his career, per ESPN Stats and Information research. Zone blocking paved the way for an efficient rushing attack by Dalvin Cook, which made this unit look better than it had the previous season. The scheme itself helped better protect Cousins by rolling him away from pressure, but Minnesota's struggles in pass protection are still an issue.
The offensive line needs to be a priority again this offseason, like it was in 2019, when the Vikings used their first- and fourth-round picks to draft interior linemen. But the issues here present a quandary with how the Vikings can spend their draft capital. Minnesota will select its first-rounder at No. 25, but the O-line is not the only need. Given the uncertainties in the secondary, the Vikings might have to draft another first-round corner as a replacement for Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes or Xavier Rhodes.
Pat Elflein's move from center to left guard didn't pan out. Garrett Bradbury's rookie season at center was rough. Riley Reiff looked good down the stretch of the regular season, but he might not be worth his $13.2 million cap hit next season. These are just a few of the major questions Minnesota needs to address when trying to fix an OL that has had more downs than ups over the past few years.
Run-first mentality: One of the biggest flaws with the Vikings' scheme is the dependency on the run game. Minnesota had the second-highest designed run percentage in the NFL. It is fine to want to be an offense based around the run, but when teams inevitably limit its effectiveness, trouble comes when asking Cousins to beat an opponent on his own.
The Vikings found out the hard way what it is like to compete when they don't have Cook, losing the final two games of the regular season when he was injured. The fact that the majority of the offense runs through him exposes the Vikings' greatest weakness. Minnesota utilized Cook, Alexander Mattison and other backs in the passing game, which helped them become the most effective team in the NFL at generating screen yards with its running backs. But the offense struggled when the run game wasn't working, and they were forced into a dropback passing game, exposing their shoddy pass blocking.
This presents arguably the biggest conundrum for this type of offense. It has led to a conservative playcalling approach that has plagued the Vikings in the biggest moments of the season, including their loss to the 49ers on Saturday. Minnesota has far too often kept with the run when it wasn't going anywhere, leading to its demise.