Eighteen of the 22 players who started for the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game are under contract for next season. The team is planning on the return of running back Dalvin Cook from a torn ACL, and it will have a first-round draft pick in April, after trading its top selection in 2017 to Philadelphia.
It would seem things are set up for the Vikings to have another strong season in 2018. Perhaps their two most important positions on offense, however, will have to be filled.
The Vikings are searching for an offensive coordinator after Pat Shurmur was named New York Giants head coach on Monday. They also have to make a decision about their starting quarterback, with Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and possibly Teddy Bridgewater all set to become free agents.
Coach Mike Zimmer admitted it’s “unique” for a team that was a game from the Super Bowl to have offseason questions at offensive coordinator and quarterback, but he didn’t seem in a hurry to make any decisions with either spot.
“It’s part of the process in the NFL,” he said in his season-ending news conference. “You just work through it and go about your business. I remember my first year here, I got here, and I had three names that were potential starters on the defensive board. That’s why you have the draft and free agency and all the process. I’m really not prepared to comment on it after we got back at 3 a.m. yesterday. We’re just going to work through it, like we always do, and go from there.”
A year ago in his final news conference of the season, Zimmer said Sam Bradford had “earned the right to be the starting quarterback.” He would not make the same declaration on Tuesday about Keenum, who will hit the open market in March after completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
There also remain plenty of questions about Bridgewater, who started the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list after coming back from the torn ligaments and dislocated left knee he suffered in August 2016.
The language of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement would suggest Bridgewater’s 2017 contract — the final year of his rookie deal — would toll into 2018 after the quarterback began the year on the PUP list, but it remains to be seen if that rule would hold up to Bridgewater’s situation in practicality, after the quarterback spent the second half of the season on the Vikings’ active roster.
“I don’t have any idea. I’d probably be guessing if I said what I think it is, but I honestly don’t know,” Zimmer said. “You’d have to ask [General Manager] Rick [Spielman].”
Zimmer said the Vikings would have liked to get more game action for Bridgewater, who was inactive for the team’s two playoff games after making a brief return to the field in mop-up duty on Dec. 17 against Cincinnati, but said “for him to get on the field is an unbelievable achievement.
“We researched this injury — there were 24 of these similar types of injuries through all sports. Half of them never came back, and I think the earliest one anybody ever came back was 24 months. So for him to even get to that point to where he was — to be able to come out and practice and compete and get in a game, it was a true credit to him. Would I like to see him more? Yeah.”
Zimmer said Bridgewater “is at the point where he can play. We just have to figure out, where is he at?”
Bradford, who played only six quarters this season, was active as Keenum’s backup for the Vikings’ two playoff games. Zimmer said he talked to Bradford (who did not speak to reporters at the end of the season) on Monday, and added he thinks the 30-year-old is beyond the left knee issues that kept him out most of the season.
“He feels like he is, so we’ll just have to see how he continues to go,” Zimmer said.
As the Vikings search for a new offensive coordinator, Zimmer said he will talk to a number of candidates. He wished Shurmur success in New York, “except for when he plays the Vikings,” and said he hopes the Vikings’ next offensive coordinator will help maintain the chemistry the team’s coaching staff had this year.
One internal candidate could be quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, who previously coached tight ends and running backs in Minnesota.
“I think he’s good. I think Kevin’s a very smart guy,” Zimmer said. “I need to sit down and talk to him. I need to sit down and talk to some other people, and figure out what’s the best thing for us moving forward. You know, this happens. When you’re successful, this happens every year. I hope it continues to happen. I hope I have a coaching tree that’s 200 people long. That’s just the way life goes; when you’re successful, people want your coaches. I think that’s great. It means you’re doing something right.”