Vikings face tough decisions on aging core of players

Darin Gantt
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn’t want to delve too deeply into discussions of particular players, in the immediate aftermath of their season crashing to a halt.

But Zimmer has been in the league long enough to know that change is inevitable.

“At the end of the day,” Zimmer said, via Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “it ends up being a young man’s game.”

The problem is, the Vikings are no longer a young man’s team, with a number of older and expensive stars.

They have three defensive regulars who will be at least 30 and carrying cap figures of $12.9 million or more — defensive end Everson Griffen, nose tackle Linval Joseph, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. On the other side of the ball, four starters will have hit 30 with cap figures of $9.45 million or more — quarterback Kirk Cousins, left tackle Riley Reiff, wide receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

So Zimmer needs some time before he evaluates some of these guys, to do the difficult job of removing emotion from things.

“These players — the ones that have been with me for six years now — they’ve busted their rear ends, and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do. And that’s always going to come into play; how you feel about them as a person,” he said. “But I think you have to really look at: ‘He’s a great kid. He’s worked his rear end off. We love him here. Can he still play? Or, if he can still play, at what level is it?’ And then you’ve got to match that with the salary and every other thing, and match it with the salary cap. So there’s so many different variables.

“But I’ve been extremely fortunate here that, the players that have been here, 99 percent of them are outstanding people. They work really, really hard, and if you guys saw the way that this team approaches each day, each week, going into meetings, going into practice and saw all those things, you’d be very impressed with the way they handle themselves.”

Of course, the Vikings are dealing with a significant amount of change beyond the roster, as they’ll need two new coordinators, with Kevin Stefanski going to the Browns, and George Edwards’ contract expiring and not being renewed. That might actually help them take a fresh look at some hard decisions.

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