After the Vikings missed the playoffs at 8-7-1, coach Mike Zimmer said that it’s a big adjustment for free agents in their first year with a new team.
“I’ve always said, ‘Any free agent that comes in usually plays a lot better his second year than he does his first year,’ ” Zimmer said this past week. “And I don’t know why that’s the case. I think if you look throughout the times, you can even talk about some of the guys we have now. I think Linval Joseph played a lot better his second year. Captain Munnerlyn, when he was here, played a lot better his second year. So, a lot of these guys that come in here as free agents, it takes them a year to get acclimated, whatever the situation is.”
As such, Zimmer expects quarterback Kirk Cousins to be better in his second season with the Vikings.
“He was in the same system for six years. He had to come in here and learn a new system, new team. New coaches,” Zimmer said.
“I have a lot of confidence in Kirk. I’ve talked to him. I’ve talked to some other people about how I can help him better and things that I can do moving forward and so he’s going to come out and play really good next year. He came in here and was a great teammate. He studied real hard, he worked extremely hard at everything he was trying to get done. I do think there’s some areas he could get better at and I’m sure he’d tell you the same thing.”
Zimmer also thinks that this year’s rookies and other free agents will be improved in 2019.
“I think all the guys that came in here last year will do better next year. Some of the draft picks, I do think that a lot of these guys ended up playing for us,” Zimmer said. “Holton Hill, he’ll play better for next year. Jalyn Holmes will play better next year. I think [Chad] Beebe will play better next year. I think a lot of these guys will come in here and play better. And, we’ve got to help them. We have to coach them. We have to coach better. We’ve got to help them be better.”
Certainly, the Vikings’ season was a disappointment, but Zimmer pointed out that there were positives from it.
“Defensively again, we were top five in the league. We were No. 1 in third-down defense, No. 1 in red zone, No. 1 in sacks per play,” Zimmer said. “There were a lot of good things that went on that way. I still think we have a talented football team, and we just need to play a little bit better.”
The Vikings faced a lot of adversity in 2018. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano died right before training camp. Defensive end Everson Griffen missed five games to address his mental health. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired late in the season.
“It might have affected some ways,” Zimmer said. “Most always, teams have some kind of issues that happen. We need to overcome them better. A coach called me the other day and said: ‘You kind of had a perfect storm going on there. You know you lost Pat Shurmur to be the head coach of the Giants, you had a new quarterback and then you have to hire a new offensive coordinator. And then you lose Sparano.’ Kind of like a perfect storm that happened.”
“You know, you don’t think about it at the time, about all the things, the different changes. You just think about how you’re going to get better. Maybe that had a little bit to do with it.”
The Vikings also had many more injuries to deal with this season.
“We lost quite a few more games for starters this year than we did a year ago. And that is a factor,” Zimmer said. “Defensively, we didn’t have anybody hurt last year and we had quite a few guys hurt this year. But, you know, it doesn’t matter, it’s about wins and losses, really, at the end of the day.”
While players don’t return until April when workouts begin, Zimmer has already started working on 2019.
“[I’ve started with the] evaluation of our team,” he said. “Start working on figuring out what I have to do with the coaches. Where we go from there. It’s funny, I’ve got notes that I wrote down the last few days about things I’m thinking we need to do different, we need to change, we need to look at, evaluate, kind of a comprehensive view of what we’re trying to do.”
With several key players — defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, linebacker Anthony Barr and running back Latavius Murray among them — entering free agency, there could be some key roster moves in the offseason.
“I let Rick [Spielman] and Rob [Brzezinski] handle all that salary cap stuff,” Zimmer said. “We like those players. I’m especially fond of all three guys you mentioned. If we can afford them, we’d love to have them. You never know what the market is going to be.”
When asked if he is considering changes to his coaching staff, Zimmer said: “There’s a possibility. I’m still looking at it. It’s not just about changing coaches, it’s about getting better. It’s nice to say, ‘We’ll fire this guy,’ or ‘We’ll do this,’ and there is no one better out there. I don’t think you fire a guy just to fire a guy. You have to make sure you have somebody better.”
• Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman on navigating the salary cap for the 2019 season: “We don’t have a lot of room right now, but our cap planning has always been planned out over the next couple of years. I’m very fortunate to have guys like George Paton and Rob Brzezinski that work here, and we have a great team here working together.”
• Pro Football Focus rated the starting quarterbacks for the 2018 regular season and had the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins ranked No. 14. New Orleans’ Drew Brees was No. 1, with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes No. 2. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers was No. 6. On Cousins, PFF wrote, “Only [Houston Texans QB DeShaun] Watson finished the year with more pressured dropbacks than Cousins. In weeks 1-9, Cousins ranked third in passer rating from a pressured pocket (91.5). In weeks 10-17, he dropped to 20th (69.5).” … The Vikings didn’t land a single player on the PFF rankings for the top 25 offensive linemen this season.
• Jacob Clark, a Rockwall, Texas, native and the Gophers’ top quarterback recruit, will be on campus this month. He told Gophers Illustrated, “I’m all set on Minnesota and I’ll see what I can do with getting some top targets to commit as well.” … Damarion Williams, the 5-11 cornerback out of Highland Community College in Kansas, is one of five junior college players who coach P.J. Fleckexpects to play for the Gophers in 2019.
• The Gophers men’s basketball team looks to be set up to go on a little run. Following Thursday’s victory at Wisconsin, the next four games are against unranked teams, and three are at home: vs. Maryland, vs. Rutgers, at Illinois and vs. Penn State.
• All of the baseball publications have shortstop Royce Lewis as the consensus No. 1 prospect for the Twins. The top overall pick in the 2017 draft, Lewis hit .292 with 74 RBI and 83 runs in 2018 as a 19-year-old between low-Class A Cedar Rapids and high-A Fort Myers.