EAGAN — Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer held his final press conference of the year on Monday. Here’s the key takeaways…
The Vikings will keep the same offensive system
With Kevin Stefanski taking the head coaching job in Cleveland, the Vikings will have their fifth offensive coordinator in five years and quarterback Kirk Cousins will also have a new voice in his ear on game day for the fifth time in his starting career.
Zimmer made it clear he does not want to overhaul the offensive scheme with Stefanski gone.
“I like the scheme, I like the continuity that we have offensively with the coaches and I feel like if we have a couple more pieces and continue to work on the execution of staying with the same play calls, the same motions and formations and things like that it will definitely help the offensive players,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings’ head coach said that he felt the system played a role in Cousins posting career numbers.
“I think Kirk played a lot better this year than he did the year before. The scheme helped him quite a bit. This may have been the best year he’s played in the NFL,” he said. “It’s important not just for Kirk but for the entire offense to have the same system, same calls and things like that so they come in here on Day 1 and it’s not completely foreign to them.”
There was no specific timeline given or comment on whether Gary Kubiak would stay in Minnesota but Zimmer said that he was pleased with the job done by the offensive staff and wants to make sure a new OC would seamlessly fit with the group.
“It may be by the end of the week or it may be a couple weeks,” Zimmer said. “I want to make sure the fit is right. Those guys over there do an outstanding job. I love the way that they work together and communicate. If we do bring somebody in from the outside I want to make sure it’s the correct fit.”
Tough decisions on older players are coming
The Vikings have a lot of money tied up in players who are either 30 or approaching 30, which means they will have to access whether they can still perform at a high level going forward.
“I think we’ll have to make some tough decisions in a lot of areas,” Zimmer said. “We are going to have to sit down with Rick and Rob and George and talk about where we’re at with salary cap, with the age of players, who we feel like are going to be the core players in the future and make all those decisions.”
Based on age and salary, the most notable of the players who could be wearing a different jersey next year are Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Riley Reiff. Cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are free agents.
“It’s definitely hard because I really respect these players,” Zimmer said. “These players — ones who have been with me for six years — they have busted their rear ends and they have done everything I’ve asked them to do. That’s always going to come into play, how you feel about them as a person. But I think yo have to really look at: He’s a great kid, he’s worked his rear end off, they love him here, can he still play? If he can still play, at what level is it? And then you have to match that with the salary and…the salary cap. There’s so many different variables.”
Zimmer is aware that they’ll have to start getting younger and focus on developing talent fast.
“It ends up being a young man’s game,” he said. “The more that we as coaches can help develop these guys the better it is for them. You always like to see guys have success, whether it’s a young guy you’ve grown and he becomes a free agent and goes and has success with some other team or a guy that’s here who you’ve helped develop to become a good player here. All those things are important to us.”
How they’ll evaluate
Because of the way the season ended, Zimmer decided to make a tweak in his process from seasons past. This year he’s giving the coaches time to get away from football before they do final evaluations so they are not swayed by the emotions of ending the season on an ugly loss to the 49ers.
“Part of the reason I didn’t want to do player evaluations today or this week was because I want to get away from everything for a little bit of time and evaluate the players,” Zimmer explained. “You know that if you win everything is great and if you lose everything is the worst in the world. I think it’s important that we take our time, get away from it for a few days, evaluate it and go from there.”
Zimmer said he only watched the tape back the playoff loss once so far and will take time away before he goes through everything again.
“The season is so emotional. You play your rear ends of for 18 or however many games we played and just like the players, they can have a good game or a poor game, the coaches can have a good game or a poor game and I just feel like the more we separate the emotional part of it and sit down and take a good hard look at the players and the coaches as far as what we did good, what we didn’t do good, where they’re at in their careers and go from there.”
On what happened in San Francisco, Zimmer said:
“We emptied our bucket pretty good the week before. Maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe it was a short week. Maybe it was them, they got after us pretty good. We didn’t run the ball very effectively, we didn’t stop the run as well as we needed to. It could have been a lot of factors.”
Getting over the hump
Since Zimmer took over in 2014, the Vikings have become one of the most successful teams in the NFL, making the playoffs three times in the last five years and winning two playoff games. But with another season ending short of a Super Bowl appearance, getting over the top is on the head coach’s mind heading into the offseason.
“I was on the phone with coach Parcells this morning for an hour about getting over the hump. We’ve been to the conference championship, we’ve been to the divisional, we’ve been a wild card game where we lost by a field goal. Trying to figure out how we get over the hump to the next level and eventually winning this thing.”
One of the things that has hindered the Vikings’ chances is only achieving a first-round bye once during his tenure. Three of the final four teams are either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds and no team outside of the No. 1 or 2 has reached the Super Bowl since 2012 and no No. 6 seed has reached since 2010.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman receive contract extensions after a 10-6 season that included a playoff win.
“I love these players, this organization, the owners have been outstanding to me, so I believe there will be conversations here in the near future and whatever happens I’m happy with it.”
Zimmer said that he is not aware of any significant offseason surgeries and the neck injury that landed Mike Hughes on IR “will heal.”