EAGAN, Minn. — Mike Zimmer indicated Monday, Jan. 13, that at least a bit of a youth movement is coming for the Vikings.
“At the end of the day, it ends up being a young man’s game,” the coach said at his year-end news conference.
Some older starters on big contracts might not return next season.
According to Jason Fitzgerald, who runs the site OvertheCap.com, the Vikings figure to be about $10 million over the salary cap as free agency approaches in March. The cap is projected to be about $200 million, and Fitzgerald said no NFL team has more money on the books than Minnesota.
The Vikings have four defensive starters who will be 30 or older when next season starts: end Everson Griffen, 32; nose tackle Linval Joseph, 31; safety Harrison Smith, 31; and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, 30. On offense, five starters will be 30 or older: quarterback Kirk Cousins, 32; tackle Riley Reiff, 31; tight end Kyle Rudolph, 30; wide receiver Adam Thielen, 30; and guard Josh Kline, 30.
Smith, Cousins and Thielen appear certain to return, and Rudolph and Kline aren’t far behind. It remains to be seen what might happen with Griffen, Joseph, Reiff and, especially, Rhodes, who seems unlikely to return. Zimmer didn’t discuss specific players but didn’t deny that some veterans will be let go.
“It’s definitely hard because I really respect these players,” he said. “These players and 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.
“That’s always going to come into play, how you feel about them as a person, but I think you really need to look at, ‘All right, he’s a great kid. He’s worked his rear end off. We love him here. Can he still play? If he can still play, what level is it?’ You have to match that with the salary and every other thing and then match it with the salary cap.’’
As it stands, Griffen ($13.9 million), Reiff ($13.2 million), Joseph ($12.95 million) and Rhodes ($12.9 million) would have four to the six biggest 2020 cap numbers, and none has any guaranteed money left. Griffen can opt out of his contract and become a free agent, and there seems to be no way the Vikings will pay him what he is scheduled to make.
Zimmer offered an additional hint about going younger when he talked about how he reduced the workload during practices this season.
“I thought we had a little bit of an older team, and so I had to take care of them a little bit more,” he said. “Next year might be different; we might have to go a little bit harder.’’
There are potential replacements available. Zimmer felt good about the seasons some of the Vikings’ young players had in 2019.
“The more we as coaches can help develop these young guys, the quicker that we can help develop them, the better it is for them,” he said.
If the Vikings decide not to bring back Griffen or Joseph, possible replacements already on the roster include Ifeadi Odenigbo, Stephen Weatherly, Jaleel Johnson and Armon Watts — although Weatherly is an impending free agent.
The biggest issue with Minnesota’s 20 possible free agents is in the secondary. Bound for unrestricted free agency are safety Anthony Harris, who led the Vikings with six interceptions, and cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.
“I think we’ll have to make some tough decisions in a lot of areas, not just in the secondary,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to have to sit down with (front-office officials) and talk about where we’re at with the salary cap, where we’re at with the age of players, who we feel like are going to be core players for us in the future.”
Vikings free agents
Unrestricted: DE Everson Griffen-x, CB Trae Waynes, S Anthony Harris, OT Rashod Hill, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Mackensie Alexander, K Dan Bailey, P Britton Colquitt, CB/PR Marcus Sherels, QB Sean Mannion, G Dakota Dozier, RB Ameer Abdullah, C Brett Jones, WR Laquon Treadwell, LB Kentrell Brothers, S Jayron Kearse, DE Stephen Weatherly and TE David Morgan-y.
Restricted: FB C.J. Ham, LB Eric Wilson.
x-Can opt out of 2020 contract; y-Vikings could toll contract to 2020.