Zimmer, Vikings aim to get over hump with changes inevitable

Mon Jan 13 4:21pm ET
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) celebrate a sack in the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)


Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)


Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs in front of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)


Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer speaks at a news conference after the Vikings were defeated by the San Francisco 49ers in an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)


Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, foreground, is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, center, during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. Also pictured at rear is defensive end Dee Ford. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) For the first time in his six years with the Minnesota Vikings, coach Mike Zimmer told his assistants to take a break right after the end of the season before the staff reconvenes in a week or so to assess the roster.

The extra time, Zimmer theorized, will minimize the personal sentiment and recency bias in their evaluations. From the exhilaration of the overtime win at New Orleans to start the playoffs to the sobering lopsided defeat by San Francisco that ousted them, the Vikings sure have a lot to sort out for a team that reached the conference semifinals.

Can they stay on a championship track by committing to the same leadership and stars, or do they need a more significant renovation for a franchise beginning its 60th season and still missing a Super Bowl trophy? Zimmer spent an hour on the phone on Monday with his longtime mentor, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, pondering the big picture.

''We've been to the conference championship. We've been to the divisional game. We've been in a wild-card game where we lost by a field goal,'' said Zimmer, who is 59-41-1 with the Vikings including the playoffs. ''Just trying to figure out, `How do we get over this hump of getting to the next level and eventually winning this thing?'''

Zimmer's contract has just one year left on it, as does general manager Rick Spielman's deal, but team owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf issued a statement of confidence in both of them before the win in New Orleans. Extensions could be coming soon, considering the tension and uncertainty that expiring contracts can create.

''I love these players, this organization. The owners have been outstanding to me,'' Zimmer said. ''I believe that there will be conversations here in the near future and whatever happens, I'm happy with it.''

Change has already started in earnest on his staff, however, with offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski landing the job as coach in Cleveland and defensive coordinator George Edwards being let go amid the expiration of his deal. So Zimmer will not only start the 2020 season with a new offensive coordinator for the fifth straight year, he will now have a different-looking defensive staff for the first time since he arrived in 2014.

Defensive line coach Andre Patterson and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, his son, are two internal candidates for a post that has less responsibility than on most teams due to Zimmer's preference to call the plays.

Though Stefanski was the play-caller and drew praise for his humility and adaptability when offensive adviser Gary Kubiak arrived, the playbook Kubiak brought from his successful days with Denver and Houston proved to be a sound fit for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who directed the running game, made a significant impact on an improved position group, too. Quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, the other son on the staff, makes a third internal candidate for offensive coordinator. Zimmer sounded on Monday as though that's his preference.

''I like the scheme, I like the continuity that we have offensively with the coaches, and I feel like if we add a couple more pieces and continue to work on the execution of staying with the same play calls, the same system, the same motions and formations and things like that, it'll definitely help the offensive players,'' Zimmer said.

CROSSROAD FOR COUSINS

Spielman and Zimmer aren't the only ones without contractual security beyond 2020. Cousins has reached the final year of his $84 million deal, coming off a clear improvement from 2018 to 2019. When the running game gets bottled up and the pass rush overwhelms him, as evidenced by the losses at home to Green Bay on Dec. 23 and at San Francisco on Saturday, Cousins can be quite limited.

But when the play-action attack is working as planned and he has time to throw, he can be one of the best in the league. Now, Cousins has a postseason win on his resume, on the road against a heavily favored foe at that.

''I think this may have been his best year that he's played in the NFL,'' Zimmer said.

Extending Cousins appears to be inevitable, with the Vikings holding only the 25th pick in the first round of the draft and no ready-made replacement on the roster. Given their lack of space under the salary cap, a new deal that combines a short-term pay cut with a longer-term commitment could be the ideal scenario for both sides. As a player who has thrived on careful preparation, such stability ought to only help him continue to improve.

''I certainly love it here and love being a Viking,'' Cousins said.

WHAT'S COOKING?

The next-most pressing matter is the status of running back Dalvin Cook, who has also reached the final year of his deal. Cook broke out in a big way with 1,654 yards from scrimmage, playing in a career-high 14 games, but there's always the league-wide question of how much a team can afford to invest in a position with such a short shelf life.

END OF THE ROAD?

One of the hallmarks of Zimmer's time with the Vikings has been the consistency and stability of a defense with six players who've been picked for Pro Bowls and a seventh, middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was an Associated Press All-Pro selection in 2019. The overall performance of the group slipped this season, though, and the other factors of age and salary make the first real shakeup of the defensive lineup under Zimmer a near certainty.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive end Everson Griffen are the two stalwarts most at risk. Griffen had eight sacks in a solid comeback season, but he's 32 with a scheduled salary cap hit of more than $13 million.

''I want to be a Viking for life,'' Griffen said, ''but it's a business, so we'll figure that out when the time gets here.''

MARKET PRICE

The list of unrestricted free agents is led by safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Trae Waynes, with the secondary headed for undoubtedly the most significant change. Nickel back Mackensie Alexander will be a free agent, too, as will backup safeties Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse.

HOW TO GET IT RIGHT

Tennessee and San Francisco both proved the run-heavy strategy can still work in the current NFL, riding it to reach their respective conference title games. Investing more heavily in the offensive line will be an important next step for the Vikings to make sure their ground game isn't as vulnerable to stalling and that Cousins can cut further down on sacks.

Player Notes
Anthony Harris Mar 31 10:00pm ET

The Minnesota Vikings have been actively discussing a possible long-term contract extension with safety Anthony Harris, according to sources. There has been speculation that the Vikings were looking to trade Harris after putting the franchise tag on him, but they may wind up keeping him after all. There is an increasing belief that the 28-year-old, the NFL's top safety in 2019 per Pro Football Focus, will play for the Vikings in 2020, whether it's on the franchise tag of $11.441 million or on a new long-term deal. Harris' preference is to stay in Minnesota. He wants a deal that would put him among the highest paid safeties in the league, which could be an average of around $14 million per year. The combination of Harris and Harrison Smith give Minnesota one of the best safety combinations in the game. That is, if Harris remains with the Vikes. They'll need a strong safety duo after losing four cornerbacks during free agency.

From RotoBaller

Phillip Lindsay Mar 31 9:50pm ET

Denver Broncos general manager John Elway was non-committal on whether the Broncos would entertain signing running back Phillip Lindsay to a long-term contract extension. Lindsay has been playing for a bargain rate the last two seasons after going undrafted, but not the Broncos had Melvin Gordon III in the backfield as well after they landed him in free agency. In comparison, Gordon is the sixth-highest paid running back in the league. Lindsay, 26 in July, came out of nowhere in his rookie season and made the Pro Bowl, and he's rushed for over 1,000 yards in both of his two seasons. But with Gordon now in tow, Lindsay won't see as many touches, especially in the passing game. It's clear the Broncos don't see him as a three-down back in this league, but they could still keep him around long-term if they can agree on something that compensates him fairly. Fantasy-wise, Lindsay will likely become a low-ceiling RB3/flex in standard-scoring formats while sharing touches with Gordon and Royce Freeman.

From RotoBaller

David Fales Mar 31 5:40pm ET

The New York Jets re-signed backup quarterback David Fales to an undisclosed one-year deal on Tuesday, according to a source. Fales was Sam Darnold's backup for most of last season and will continue to fill that role after playing for head coach Adam Gase and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains in both Chicago and Miami. Since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 draft by the Bears, the 29-year-old has played in parts of just five games and has never started a game. He'll continue to hold the clipboard for Darnold in New York and will have zero fantasy appeal.

From RotoBaller

Dwayne Haskins Mar 31 4:30pm ET

Washington Redskins three-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Brandon Scherff is signing his $15-plus million franchise tender on Tuesday, according to a source. If there is a training camp, he will be required to be there. Scherff, 28, has missed most of the past two seasons due to injuries -- 19 games played over that span -- but he is one of the better offensive guards in the NFL when he's on the field. Locking him up long-term is next on the agenda for Washington, and his services will be needed on the offensive line with young quarterback Dwayne Haskins under center.

From RotoBaller

Desmond King Mar 31 4:30pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said that general manager Tom Telesco, head coach Anthony Lynn and defensive backs coach Ron Milus told him that he will be playing the slot in 2020. "That was the main thing that they brought to me," Harris said. The 30-year-old was asked to cover the opponent's best receiver in his final year in Denver, and he notably struggled after making the Pro Bowl four times (All-Pro in 2016) since 2014. There's no denying that Harris is the most comfortable in the slot, and he could rebound in an all-around sold Chargers Defense in his first season with the Bolts. How Harris' presence affects Desmond King remains to be seen, but this secondary might be one of the best in the NFL on paper.

From RotoBaller

Adam Vinatieri Mar 31 4:20pm ET

The future of kicker Adam Vinatieri remains unknown, according to Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich. Vinatieri has not made a decision on whether he wants to return to kick for a 25th season in the NFL. The 47-year-old future Hall of Famer has been rehabbing his knee following season-ending surgery last year, and the Colts are waiting for his rehab to progress before making a decision on whether they want to re-sign him. The Colts already have Chase McLaughlin on roster, so it will be a tough decision if Vinatieri wants to come back and kick, especially since he wasn't performing up to his standards before he was placed on Injured Reserve. He missed 14 kicks -- eight field goals and six extra points. If Vinatieri returns to the Colts or another team, he won't be worth drafting in most standard fantasy leagues.

From RotoBaller

DeAndre Hopkins Mar 31 4:20pm ET

Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell said that general manager Steve Keim has had talks with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins about his contract. Hopkins was unhappy with his contract in Houston, which is one of the reasons he was dealt to Arizona for pennies on the dollar. The All-Pro wideout will be a bargain at his current salaries for the next three seasons, but the two sides might negotiate something and reach a middle ground eventually. Money aside, the Cardinals got one of the best receivers in the game, and he should make quarterback Kyler Murray even more desirable in fantasy in 2020 and beyond. Hopkins makes a case to be the first receiver off the board in fantasy drafts.

From RotoBaller

Ed Dickson Mar 31 4:10pm ET

The Seattle Seahawks released tight end Ed Dickson on Tuesday, according to a source. Dickson was due $3 million in 2020, and the Seahawks will save most of that money with his release. The 32-year-old veteran played in just 10 games (one start) in his only season in Seattle, catching 12 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns. He has had trouble staying healthy in recent seasons and will be, at best, a depth option for another team on the open market. Dickson's release was expected after the team signed Greg Olsen in free agency. They also have Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister returning.

From RotoBaller

Jadeveon Clowney Mar 31 4:10pm ET

Former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has interest in joining the Seattle Seahawks, according to a source close to Griffen. The Seahawks could also be interested in Griffen if they don't re-sign Jadeveon Clowney, who is asking for close to $20 million a season. Clowney will likely have to sign with another team before Griffen signs, so it might be a while. The 32-year-old Griffen is on the wrong side of 30, but he has had at least eight sacks in five of the last six seasons with the Vikings and has been to the Pro Bowl four times since 2015. He'd be a great fallback option for Seattle if they don't want to meet Clowney's asking price. Griffen is older, but he's also shown more durability than Clowney.

From RotoBaller

Deshaun Watson Mar 31 1:00pm ET

The Houston Texans are in active contract talks with Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. Houston has offered Tunsil $18.5 million per season, but Tunsil's counter-offer is "significantly higher." After the Texans traded two first-round picks and a second-rounder for Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills last year, Tunsil is fully expected to become the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. He's under contract for $10.35 million in 2020 and is seeking a deal that averages more than $20 million per season. The good news is the Texans have around $35 million in salary cap space, which is the second-most in the league behind the Browns. Having Tunsil around long-term will be great news for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

From RotoBaller

Dre Kirkpatrick Mar 31 1:00pm ET

The Cincinnati Bengals released cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on Tuesday. The Bengals went all out to improve their defense in free agency, so Kirkpatrick is being shown the door. The 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Kirkpatrick should still see significant interest late in free agency now that he's available. The 30-year-old hasn't played in a full season since 2015 and started just six games in 2019 due to injuries. He recorded one sack, 33 tackles (27 solo), four passes defensed and one fumble recovery. In the right situation, Kirkpatrick could be an effective veteran presence for another team's secondary.

From RotoBaller

Everson Griffen Mar 31 12:50pm ET

The Cleveland Browns are likely to have free-agent defensive end Everson Griffen on their radar given his connection with the Browns coaches from their time together in Minnesota. Griffen is 32 years old but had 13, 5.5 and eight sacks in the last three seasons with the Vikings and can still be effective on the wrong side of 30. If the Browns sign him for one or two years, they could cut defensive end Olivier Vernon and save $5 million against the salary cap. Griffen would be a nice complement to Myles Garrett on the defensive line as the Browns look to boost their pass rush heading into the 2020 season.

From RotoBaller

Yannick Ngakoue Mar 31 12:40pm ET

The Jacksonville Jaguars have heard from multiple interested teams about a potential trade for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who is turning 25 years old on Tuesday. The Jaguars place a lot of value in the pass-rusher and won't just give him away for a little return. But the former third-round pick in 2016 was unhappy with receiving the franchise tag and isn't interested in a long-term extension with the team. He'll be a prime IDP target no matter where he's playing in 2020 after recording 37.5 sacks in his four seasons in the NFL. Last year he had eight sacks, 41 tackles (36 solo), 13 tackles for loss, 15 QB hits, an interception returned for a touchdown, six passes defensed, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 15 games.

From RotoBaller

Tyrod Taylor Mar 31 12:30pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is training this offseason with free-agent quarterback Cam Newton, thinks he can make a lot of noise with the Bolts if he's given the chance to be the team's starter under center. Things could change, but as of now, Taylor is at the top of LA's QB depth chart. The 30-year-old former sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2011 has one year left on his deal and will make a base salary of $5 million in 2020. The Chargers are moving forward with Taylor, but they haven't given him any assurances of a starting job, and they could very likely take a QB with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Taylor has a strong arm and is mobile, so he could do some damage with the weapons the Chargers have around him, but he'll primarily be a QB2 for fantasy owners with upside for more if he's handed the starting gig.

From RotoBaller

Tom Brady Mar 31 12:20pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said that the team doesn't think quarterback Tom Brady's skills have diminished or that he'll have any trouble playing in head coach Bruce Arians' vertical passing scheme. "Well, the tape to us showed that he had plenty of arm," Licht said. "We felt that he had the ideal arm for Bruce and his system. He can still throw it deep." The GM also said that they think Brady could play for them for over two years. No. 12 had one of the worst statistical seasons of his career in 2019, but in all fairness to him, he didn't have much to work with in the passing game outside of Julian Edelman. With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as his new top receivers, Brady has a real chance to bounce back, even at his age. However, don't just assume he'll return to his glory days either. He'll be a great fantasy backup with the chance for some nice QB1 games along the way.

From RotoBaller

James Conner Mar 31 12:20pm ET

The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to draft a running back this year with James Conner headed into his contract season. The Athletic's Ed Bouchette doesn't think that the Steelers will give Conner a new deal before the start of the 2020 season, so he'll have to prove his worth and stay healthy to remain with the organization beyond the upcoming season. The 24-year-old has RB1 potential when he's on the field, but he just hasn't been able to stay healthy consistently since he took over the lead-back role from Le'Veon Bell. Conner played in just 10 games in 2019, rushing 116 times for 464 yards (career-low 4.0 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He could bounce back with better health and a full season with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center, but fantasy owners will take more caution when drafting Conner as more of an RB2 this year.

From RotoBaller

Dre Kirkpatrick Mar 31 9:53am ET

Cincinnati Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick was released Tuesday, March 31.

From TheHuddle

Yannick Ngakoue Mar 31 9:33am ET

Jacksonville Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue has had several teams inquire about landing him, but the team values him and won't give him away.

Fantasy Spin: Ngakoue had a "down" season with 41 total tackles and eight sacks. However, his six passes defended, one pick, four forced fumbles and one recovery kept him as a midrange DL1. He should be drafted as such in 2020 regardless of where he plays.

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Russell Wilson Mar 31 12:03am ET

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was blitzed 221 times - second-most in the league - and hurried an NFL-high 71 times in 2019.

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Isaiah McKenzie Mar 30 10:33pm ET

Updating a previous report, Buffalo Bills WR Isaiah McKenzie officially signed an undisclosed contract with the team Monday, March 30.

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