Scoggins: Change inevitable for Vikings

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 3, 2012 - 9:16 AM

The group of veterans who have made up the core of the team in recent years could be gone.

Moving out day in the NFL always brings reflection and introspection as players pack up their lockers and head for their offseason homes, often unsure which direction their career compass will point next.

Change is the one constant in the NFL. Players always come and go. Teams look different from one season to the next. As Vikings players surveyed the damage one final time Monday, they realized a season like this usually brings consequences and the prospect of wholesale change.

"We're coming off a 3-13 season," veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield said, "so of course change is going to be made."

This time, it can't just be tweaks either, or "retooling" as the team's brain trust described it last offseason. The Vikings have legitimate questions and concerns at nearly every position. They lack quality depth at many spots. An overhaul is in order.

Players know it, too. As much as they want to avoid being an armchair general manager -- not that the team has an actual general manager, of course -- they're also realistic about what lies ahead.

"There's no doubt the landscape is going to shift," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "I don't have the answers to those questions. But you can only imagine that something is going to change."

The roster remake begins with a veteran core that invested much to the organization and helped take the Vikings to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 2009. The group includes Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Williams, Visanthe Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Anthony Herrera and Cedric Griffin. Tight end Jim Kleinsasser played his final game Sunday after announcing his retirement.

All of those players except Griffin are in their 30s and well-compensated. Whether because of age, injury or general ineffectiveness, none of them played to their previous standard this season. The Vikings now must decide how -- or if -- those players fit into their rebuilding blueprint.

"That's the NFL: Eventually teams disband and new players come in," Henderson said. "We'll see how things turn out."

Henderson, a free agent, reiterated that he hopes to return and finish his career with the Vikings. The middle linebacker has long been a favorite of coach Leslie Frazier, who faces some tough decisions with his veteran group.

The front office opted to keep things relatively intact after the team advanced to the NFC Championship Game and sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl in 2009. Their whole "all-in" mentality felt justifiable.

But after the 2010 season crumbled and the roster began to show more holes than cracks, the team refused to accept a shift in philosophy. Frazier dismissed notions that his team faced a rebuilding task. Maybe he felt the problems stemmed more from an odd set of events and circumstances than an actual decline in talent.

Even now, it's still hard to grasp just how fast everything fell apart. From NFC title game to 3-13 in two years. But that's their reality, and now they have to fix it. They can't fool themselves into thinking they're this close again.

"The older you get, you realize you can't control what the front office does and you can't control what direction they take," Williams said. "You hate to see guys leave or not be signed back, but it's part of the job."

Jared Allen said players "get numb" to locker room turnover. He knows it's inevitable this offseason, though, but he expressed faith and confidence in management to make the "right plays" in charting a new course.

"When I first came here I looked at the core guys and I knew we had about four or five years to win a championship," he said. "We got close in '09. Guys are starting to get old. Heck, I'm starting to get old."

He also still plays at an elite level. The same doesn't hold true for other veterans, which is why the Vikings look like a team in transition. There's a limit on how much turnover a team reasonably can handle, of course. The Vikings won't return with 40 new players next season. But they no doubt will have a different look.

"For me, this is an exciting day," Allen said. "[The season] is over. It was miserable record-wise so I'm glad that's over and we can start building on the future now. This is probably the most excited I've been about an offseason to see what direction we're going to go."

Chip Scoggins ascoggins@startribune.com

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