The Vikings embark into the 2019 offseason with lots of questions about their roster. They were among preseason Super Bowl picks after a near-miss in 2018 but completely missed the playoffs at 8-7-1 after Sunday’s loss to the Bears, who took over dominance of the NFC North.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, linebacker Anthony Barr and running back Latavius Murray are three of 13 players set for unrestricted free agency in March.
“I want to play. I want to start. I’m not content with being in a backup role,” Murray said during Monday’s locker-room cleanout. “I want to compete, and Dalvin [Cook] knows that. We push each other. That’s what it’s about. But I would love to be back here for that opportunity to compete.”
Cook, who led the backfield with 920 yards from scrimmage this season, is the Vikings’ unquestioned lead back. So, Murray’s quest to start again could lead him elsewhere this spring. He turns 29 years old on Jan. 18 and might find a better opportunity — in the form of playing time and money — elsewhere in free agency.
“We’ve both mutually expressed our feelings about me returning,” Murray said. “Then I think we also understand the business side of it. So right now, time will tell.”
Plaguing the 2018 offense, and Murray’s touches, was an identity crisis on offense that was not solved despite coach Mike Zimmer asserting his control by firing coordinator John DeFilippo in December.
The Vikings offense finished 20th in yardage, marking the fourth time in five seasons under Zimmer the offense ranked 20th or worse.
“We truly didn’t know what we wanted to do,” Murray said, “and so that was tough.”
‘Lesson learned’ for ailing Rhodes
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes’ up-and-down season ended with a groin injury preventing him from playing in Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Bears. Despite dealing with hamstring, foot and groin injuries, Rhodes still played in 14 games this season. That might have been part of the problem, he said.
“You can’t control injuries in this game. You just can’t. I tried this season to do the most, but it happens,” Rhodes said. “I’ve just got to be better at maintaining my composure, not doing too much. Maybe I was overdoing it, overworking my body this year.”
A year after being selected first-team All-Pro, Rhodes had a career-low seven pass deflections. Zimmer continually downplayed Rhodes’ injuries this season, but Rhodes had a different story.
“One injury happened, I was trying to get back on the field as fast as possible and it caused another one,” Rhodes said. “So, maybe that was a lesson learned for me to not do too much when I have an injury lingering.”
Easy decision for WR Robinson
Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson’s contract expires in March, but he said he would like to return to the Vikings. Robinson overtook the No. 3 receiving role late in the season after he was signed in September for depth. Five of his 17 receptions went for touchdowns.
“I came in Week 3 and fit right in with these guys,” Robinson said. “I embodied what they value the most. I think that’s what will make my decision easy to come back, if they want me back.”
Iloka return unlikely
Don’t count safety George Iloka as one of the Vikings’ free agents eager to return. Iloka signed a one-year deal in August for the veteran minimum, expecting to play a role. Instead, he was benched five snaps into his third start, in Week 8, and Anthony Harris took over the starting job. Iloka, who started 79 games for the Bengals, said he can still be a starter.
“Yes, if given the opportunity,” Iloka said. “My confidence in myself is still very high regardless of how things shook out, the situation, reasons, stuff like that.”
The Vikings’ unrestricted free agents will be QB Trevor Siemian; running backs Murray and Ameer Abdullah; Robinson; offensive linemen Nick Easton, Brett Jones and Tom Compton; defensive tackles Richardson and Tom Johnson; Barr; defensive backs Marcus Sherels and Iloka; and kicker Dan Bailey.