Vikings hope they've closed NFC North skill-position gap

MINNEAPOLIS -- In terms of pure talent, the Minnesota Vikings might now have their deepest group of wide receivers since 2009, when Brett Favre had Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian at his disposal. Their Friday trade for the Miami Dolphins' Mike Wallace gave them a receivers group with a combined four Pro Bowl appearances, as well as two wideouts (Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright) who had their best seasons in 2014.

The only problem is, neither Wallace nor Greg Jennings has made a Pro Bowl since 2011, and though both left Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks when they signed big contracts within four days of each other in 2013, it's difficult to argue that either one has lived up to those deals. Cordarrelle Patterson's Pro Bowl appearance came as a kick returner, and he went from being a dynamo in the Vikings' offense to an afterthought in 2014, when he struggled to fit more of a traditional receiver role.

Depending on your perspective, the Vikings will either present Teddy Bridgewater with a Mach 1 speedster (Wallace), a skilled technician (Jennings), a sublimely-gifted 23-year-old (Patterson), an impressive physical specimen (Johnson), a slot receiver who can also play outside (Wright) and a fastidious worker who has made marked improvement (Adam Thielen). Or, they'll give him a wideout who fell out of favor in Miami, a 32-year-old who hasn't posted 1,000 yards since 2010, a former first-round pick who hasn't mastered his position, a raw talent, an undersized wideout and a former Division II product. The group could go either way, but the Vikings' goal right now is simply to amass talent and let Bridgewater go to work with it.

"I think you saw the receivers did some good things last year, but you saw us start evolving in the offense, because it's the first year in the system, too," general manager Rick Spielman said Friday night, after the Vikings treated free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson to dinner. "And you saw how much more comfortable Teddy was, especially down the stretch. And they start developing that chemistry. Now, getting another big-play potential threat, as our young guys continue to develop, that's kind of the direction we wanted to go."

That leads us to the process of turning this concoction into something productive. The Vikings had sent several not-so-subtle messages to Patterson about how he needed to improve this offseason, and the addition of Wallace certainly is another indicator that nothing will be promised to the former first-rounder.

The Vikings might have to sort out their financial situation, too; according to ESPN Stats & Information, they have less than $10 million in available cap space after trading for Wallace. They'll need some of that space for draft picks, and they'd have to reserve some room if Johnson accepts their contract offer once he's done visiting the Cincinnati Bengals. Spielman would not discuss the Vikings' financial situation on Friday night, but now could be the time the Vikings work out a restructured contract with veteran linebacker Chad Greenway or approach Jennings about reducing his $11 million cap figure. (It's also worth noting that if Adrian Peterson isn't back next season, none of this is an issue; the Vikings would save $13 million in cap space if he departs.)

Neither Spielman nor coach Mike Zimmer would grant that the Vikings are all set at receiver -- "We'll keep looking," Zimmer said Friday night -- but let's assume they are and take the glass-half-full view for a second. Next year, the Vikings could trot out a three-receiver package with Wallace on one side, an improved Patterson or Johnson on the other, Jennings or Wright in the slot, Kyle Rudolph at tight end and Peterson in the backfield next to Bridgewater. That's an impressive array of options, and for the first time in years, the Vikings might have an answer to the sleek offenses in Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago.

There are certainly larger questions here -- particularly with Peterson, Wallace and a second-year quarterback -- than there are with the Packers' and Lions' offensive personnel. But the Vikings have supreme confidence in their skill-position coaches, with George Stewart molding the receivers, Kirby Wilson working with the backs, Scott Turner developing Bridgewater and offensive coordinator Norv Turner overseeing it all. If it works, for the first time in a while, the Vikings might be adequately armed for the NFC North gunfight.