When the Wilf family decided to extend the contracts of both coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman this offseason, it did so with good reason even after the Vikings had a disappointing 2018 season, one that started with Super Bowl aspirations and ended with the club missing the postseason.
Since Zimmer and Spielman teamed up in 2014, the Vikings have posted the third-best winning percentage in the NFC and easily the best in the NFC North at .594 (47-32-1).
But there is no question those contract extensions came with a caveat that this team had to make some big changes heading into 2019 after the Wilfs invested $477 million in U.S. Bank Stadium and at least $90 million in the TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
On top of that, the Vikings had the third-highest payroll in football in 2018, and they are currently carrying the fifth-highest payroll in the league for 2019 at $190.6 million.
Disappointment led to action
Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf said that when the Vikings lost their final regular-season game to the Bears, thus missing the playoffs, the ownership group knew major changes had to happen. But he said it also felt like the Vikings had the right people in place to make those changes.
“Well, it was a disappointing season,” Wilf, also the team president, said last week. “We didn’t like the way it ended and it was a bitter taste in all of our months and we got right to work the day after that game. Coach Zimmer, Rick Spielman, the whole organization has had a plan, and we’re executing it and we like the changes, so far.”
Wilf said that for a team with such a solid core group of players, this offseason has seen a tremendous amount of change.
“We had a real busy offseason, did a lot in both free agency and the draft, and I think we’re set up well for the months ahead and the season ahead,” Wilf said. “We’re in a good direction. We like our team, busy with practices and the next phase of OTAs are next week. It’s the next step in the process.”
Wilf said he was excited by the group of rookie talent Spielman and his staff were able to acquire in the draft. He noted that the team went from starting the draft with only six selections to ending up with 12.
“The draft, very pleased with it. We got 12 good players in the draft,” Wilf said. “As always, we were very active in the free-agency part after the draft, so on all fronts we shored up a lot of areas that needed improvement and we have some really good people, good athletes, that we brought in.”
High expectations for 2019
There is no doubt the Wilfs and the Vikings front office were both pleased with some aspects of Kirk Cousins’ performance in 2018 but also know the only way for him to earn his contract — which will pay him $29 million in 2019, the second-highest total in the NFL behind only Detroit’s Matthew Stafford — is a playoff run.
“I think a year under his belt here in Minnesota and his familiarity with everything is going to bode well,” Mark Wilf said. “He’s doing great. We expect a lot out of him as well as our whole team.”
What are his expectations as the team gets ready to start OTAs? “We expect a lot better season, and we’re working hard every day,” Wilf said. “I know our coaches, and staff, and players are working hard and getting ready for the season.”
Coyle on MIAC, St. Thomas
When current Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle was named the AD at Boise State in 2011, the school was in the process of trying to figure out what conference its football program would play in while also trying to determine what the move of the football program meant for their remaining sports and student-athletes.
Coyle said that his experience at that time was similar to what St. Thomas AD Phil Esten is going through right now as the MIAC considers kicking the Tommies out of the conference because of their continued dominance in several sports.
Coyle also happens to know Esten from when they worked together briefly for the Gophers in 2004 and from Esten’s time as the deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer for Penn State.
“What I can relate to is my first year at Boise State, back in 2012, that’s when Boise State was looking at joining the Big East in football,” Coyle recalled. “We were in the Mountain West in all of our other sports, but the Mountain West said we couldn’t stay there and be a football member. I think I went to league meetings with the Big West, the Big East, the Mountain West, the Western Athletic Conference and the Big Sky Conference. I think I had conversations with all of those conferences trying to find a home for our Olympic sports.
“I know those aren’t easy conversations, and I know Phil will do a phenomenal job leading St. Thomas through some of the challenges they’re going through with respect to their conference affiliation.”
• For all the talk of Miguel Sano returning to the roster, he had been limited to just 301 of a possible 528 games over the past three-plus seasons before he rejoined the lineup for the Twins series with Seattle on Thursday. In that time, he had hit .238 with 66 home runs and 184 RBI.
• Vikings GM Rick Spielman has long looked to add late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents to his top picks. ESPN Stats & Information reported that last season there were twice as many snaps played by undrafted free agents as players picked in the sixth or seventh round.
• The rumors are that if Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is traded, he would go to the Patriots, who lost Rob Gronkowski to retirement and have been acquiring a lot of tight ends. They have already signed Matt LaCosse, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson.
• The Vikings are hoping running back Alexander Mattison, their third-round draft pick out of Boise State, can help replace some of Latavius Murray’s production. Mattison rushed for 172.3 yards per game over his final four college contests.
• NFL analyst Lance Zierlein expects the Vikings to get three extra draft picks next season in compensatory picks because they lost free agents Sheldon Richardson, Nick Easton and Murray.
• Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly is a big champion of mental health awareness and recently attended an NFL Suicide Prevention Night in Arizona.
• FanGraphs, which does baseball standings predictions, gives the Twins an 87.9% chance of making the playoffs.
• On top of their first-round draft pick, the Timberwolves will have a second-round pick they acquired from Charlotte (No. 43 overall) in 2015. The Wolves lost their own second-rounder (No. 40) when they traded for Tyus Jones’ draft rights that year.