The Minnesota Vikings made significant progress this season, from having a top-three pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to making it to the playoffs last season.
But many teams have taken that next step from bad to good, only to go right back and falter the next time out. Minnesota had a lot of things go very, very well in 2012, but counting on record performances from Adrian Peterson can't be the team's only tactic for improving in 2013.
In other words, they'll need to show progress throughout the roster and have a strong offseason to remain competitive within the NFC North. They'll need to see more from quarterback Christian Ponder and possibly get him another weapon, and they'll likely need to bring in some solid young talent on the defensive side of the ball, as several key contributors are getting up there in years.
Biggest need: Wide receiver
This position is actually something of a wild card, given the situation with Percy Harvin. He is unquestionably their No. 1 receiver, but after a lot of drama last season, he now wants a new contract. Or perhaps he just wants out of the Vikings organization. Or maybe the Vikings want him out.
Or maybe ... Well, you get the picture. Harvin may or may not be back next season, and on top of that, there's really not much behind him. Jerome Simpson was the No. 2 in 2012 and he did not have a good season. He's also a free agent this season. The team released Michael Jenkins, who caught 40 passes for 449 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season, to free up cap space.
That would leave someone like Jarius Wright getting significant snaps, and that's just not the ideal situation for a Vikings team that wants to make life easier for a young and still-developing quarterback in Ponder.
Other needs: Linebacker, offensive line depth
The Vikings are generally a very complete team. The one pressing need aside from wide receiver is linebacker.
Both Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson are set to hit free agency and neither one of them is a remarkable player to begin with. Henderson has been a solid starter. The Vikings may need to replace both if they sign elsewhere, though.
Outside of that, there are depth issues on the offensive line. Multiple positions don't have clear backups, or rather, they don't have confidence-inspiring backups. Right tackle Phil Loadholt did not get the franchise tag, leaving him to test the waters of free agency. If Minnesota can't get a long-term deal with him, the team will have to look for a reasonably priced replacement in free agency or in the draft.
NFL Draft outlook: Plenty of picks, but late in rounds
The Vikings had a top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and they were able to draft offensive tackle Matt Kalil with that pick. It's going to be a bit harder this time around though, as the Vikings have the No. 23 overall pick in the first round. They made the playoffs, and that puts them after every team that didn't make it. One name to keep an eye on is Alabama's D.J. Fluker, who could replace Loadholt as a blue-chip right tackle.
Fortunately, they have about a full slate of picks. They have a selection in each of the first five rounds, including two picks in the fourth round and two picks in the seventh round. They do not have a pick in the sixth round due to a previous trade.
Salary cap situation: Vikings in decent shape
While the Vikings don't have a load of cap space, they're also not doing so bad. They're in the best shape as far as the NFC North goes, but right about middle of the pack when it comes to the rest of the NFL. They're about $14 million under the cap for the 2013 season.
So they have some room to make some moves, but they could be cutting it close depending on who they sign. The biggest contracts on the books are for Adrian Peterson ($13.9 million) and Jared Allen ($17 million), but neither of those players is likely to lose any money, though there's a chance either player might consider restructuring a small amount if the Vikings need him to.
As far as cap casualties go, tight end John Carlson comes to mind. He has been disappointing since coming in as a free agent and is set to make $4.25 million in 2013.