The Vikings closed a disappointing regular season on Sunday afternoon with a 37-35 victory over the always hapless Detroit Lions. Eliminated from playoff contention a week earlier in an embarrassing 52-33 loss in New Orleans, the Vikings finished 7-9 during a season in which they started 1-5, but rallied to get themselves into the postseason mix for a week.
So what’s next after the Vikings failed to make the playoffs for the fourth time in Zimmer’s seven seasons and registered the fewest victories since Zimmer’s first year in 2014? Don’t expect any type of major shakeup. Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman both signed three-year contract extensions last summer that will kick in next season.
Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf aren’t going to be eager to fire their coach and/or general manager after NFL revenues were impacted by the pandemic this season. The Wilfs also like Spielman and Zimmer and odds are good those two will make a pretty strong case that the Vikings can rebound in 2021.
But this doesn’t mean there won’t be changes at TCO Performance Center. Here are five notable players who might have played their last game with the Vikings:
- Anthony Barr, linebacker: The Vikings were set to lose Barr to the New York Jets in free agency in March 2019, but he had a change of heart before signing a multiyear deal that would have paid him $14 million a year. Instead, the Vikings made room for the veteran to return and signed him to a five-year, $67.5 million deal with a potential guarantee of $33 million. Barr had been selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls when he returned to Minnesota but he hasn’t made one in the two years since. In fact, he played in only two games before a torn pectoral muscle ended his 2020 season in Indianapolis. Barr was the Vikings’ first draft pick after Zimmer became coach and the hope was that he would become a dominant player. That did not happen and it’s unlikely the 28-year-old will be kept around on his current contract. Barr carries a $15.1 million salary-cap hit for 2021. If he’s cut, the Vikings will have $7.8 million of dead money on the books but also $7.3 million in cap savings. Some of that might go to Eric Wilson, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017. Wilson, who will be a free agent after making a base salary of $3.3 million this season, has turned into the Vikings’ second best linebacker behind Eric Kendricks.
- Dakota Dozier, left guard: This one has nothing to do with contract and everything to do with performance. Dozier played in 16 games and made four starts in his first year with the Vikings in 2019. It was pretty clear that he was a solid backup and nothing more. But the Vikings decided to give him a shot to compete for the left guard spot in training camp and Dozier won the job. He started all 16 games, despite the fact his pass protection skills were lacking. It helped that Dru Samia’s struggles in his four starts at right guard were so bad that everyone ignored Dozier. The decision to move second-round pick Ezra Cleveland to right guard in Week 6 helped strengthen the interior of the line but certainly did not solve all of the issues. If Cleveland is going to move to his natural position, left tackle, next season, the Vikings almost certainly will be searching for two new starting guards. Dozier, who made $910,000 on a one-year deal this season, could return as a backup, or the Vikings could look elsewhere.
- Anthony Harris, safety: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015, Harris tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions in 2019 and added another in the Vikings’ upset of New Orleans in the playoffs. The Vikings placed the franchise tag on Harris as free agency opened last March but then reportedly began shopping him. Spielman must not have liked the offers he received because the Vikings kept Harris and paid him $11.4 million on the one-year franchise tag this season. It didn’t turn out to be a good investment. Harris struggled at times — in part because he likely was trying to cover up for the Vikings’ young cornerbacks — and did not intercept a pass in 16 games. With the NFL salary cap set to decrease from $198.2 million, it’s almost certain that Harris will be allowed to leave.
- Riley Reiff, left tackle: Reiff had played every snap this season before sitting out Sunday because he was on the COVID-19 reserve list. The 32-year-old had a solid season, but he might be ready for a fresh start and the Vikings might not want to pay him in 2021. Reiff’s base salary was cut from $10.9 million to $5.9 million shortly before the regular season after the Vikings obtained defensive end Yannick Ngakoue from Jacksonville. Reiff didn’t have much choice but to accept the Vikings’ offer given that most rosters were set at that point. Reiff’s base salary for 2021 is scheduled to be $6.65 million and he reportedly will get a $5 million bonus, if he’s on the Vikings’ roster shortly after the new league year begins in March. Will Reiff be willing to restructure again? If he’s not, it won’t be surprising if the Vikings have a new left tackle when next season opens.
- Kyle Rudolph, tight end: A second-round pick of the Vikings in 2011, Rudolph appeared close to departing Minnesota before he agreed on a four-year, $36 million extension in the summer of 2019. This time it looks as if it will be goodbye. Rudolph would carry a salary-cap hit of $9.45 million in 2021. Cutting him would leave $4.35 million of dead money on the books but also free up $5.1 million. The 31-year-old caught only 28 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown in 12 games this season. He missed the final four games because of a foot injury. The Vikings likely will turn to Irv Smith Jr., and Tyler Conklin, who had 15 receptions for 168 yards and one touchdown after Rudolph was injured. Conklin will carry a salary-cap hit of $990,258 in the final year of his contract next season.