EAGAN, Minn. — Several prominent players across the NFL have skipped mandatory minicamps this week, subjecting themselves to team fines out of concern for their contract status in a league where so little is guaranteed.
Everyone is accounted for in Minnesota, where good vibes from the top of the organization to the bottom of the roster can only help the Vikings in their attempt to better their NFC championship game appearance from last season.
"All these guys, they like to be around each other. So I think that's part of it," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We've got a lot of really good guys on this football team who care about not just them, but they care about each other. It's kind of just the way we do things."
Savvy salary cap management steered by executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski has allowed the Vikings to put the majority of their stars in mutually beneficial multi-year deals, but outside linebacker Anthony Barr, wide receiver Stefon Diggs and defensive end Danielle Hunter have all entered 2018 on expiring contracts that must be addressed soon unless the Vikings are willing to let them become free agents and potentially price the club out on the open market.
Still, all three of them have been practicing with the team this week, clearly confident enough in their future earnings to opt for full participation over mild protest. Barr, for his part, missed one week of organized team activities last month, an absence he said was to secure an insurance policy in case of a severe injury that would derail the value of his next deal. He said recently his hope was to have a new contract in place by the beginning of on-field workouts in May, but that's the closest anyone has come to even hinting about dissatisfaction.
Barr is among the 2014 first-round draft picks who've reached their first career crossroad, playing the fifth option year that the majority of teams have exercised for cost control. Then there are the post-first round 2015 picks such as Hunter and Diggs who've entered the fourth season of their rookie deals.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan and Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack have created headlines around the league for staying home this week from minicamp.
"My job is to come in to work, just like you come in to work the same way," Hunter said. "My job is to come in and get on this field and play football."
Clearly, he's been listening to the head coach, as have many of his teammates.
"That's one thing Zim has taught us since he's been here: No one player is more important than the team," Hunter said. "So I guess that kind of grew into the program. The team is way bigger than one person. In order to help the team, you've got to do your job. And we want to be great. We want to be where we need to be. Last year, it wasn't close to that, so we've got to work for that again."