There’s a lot of sad people at Winter Park after the Vikings’ 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, including Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who will head out for two weeks on his ranch in Kentucky to try and forget about how the season ended.
Still, Zimmer already is pondering several offseason decisions, and he said Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford all will be considered for the starting quarterback role next season.
Many assumed Bradford, who made $18 million this season, might not be in the running, but Zimmer said all three are an option.
“I’m sure it will be a tough decision,” he said. “We’re very fortunate that we have three good ones. … We know these guys as good as anybody because we have been around them for a long time. I think it’s difficult making the decision, but I think it’s a good problem to have.”
All three quarterbacks have similar statistics when comparing their most recent healthy seasons.
This year Keenum completed 67.6 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 98.3 passer rating, with the Vikings going 11-3 in his 14 starts.
Last year Bradford completed 71.6 percent of his passes (an NFL single-season record until the Saints’ Drew Brees broke it this season at 72.0) with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 99.3 passer rating, and the Vikings went 7-8.
In 2015 Bridgewater completed 65.3 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a 88.7 passer rating while the Vikings went 11-5.
Only Keenum, however, has remained free of serious injury in his career.
“[Bridgewater] is ready to play. You know, we’ll sort all of those things out here in the next few weeks,” Zimmer said. “We have until March or so until all of this goes. We don’t have to make any of those decisions today.”
Zimmer was specifically asked about Bradford, who completed 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards and three scores against New Orleans in Week 1 before injuring his left knee.
“Sam obviously only played one [complete] game, but in the one game he played great,” Zimmer said. “He is in the conversation as well. He can really throw the football. That is something else we’ll look at.”
Did Keenum’s play surprise him?
“I don’t know if I was surprised at the way he played. I was proud of the way he played,” Zimmer said. “For the most part he took good care of the ball, he moved in the pocket well. He made some great throws and made good decisions under center. I had high expectations for him. He’s an unbelievable kid, great kid. I had a nice conversation with him [Tuesday]. I’m happy for him that he played as well as he did.”
The market might dictate who comes back as the Vikings’ starting quarterback, but the team is in tremendous financial shape.
They have 14 free agents coming off the books, including all three QBs, but they should have about $57 million available in cap space. That’s around $20 million more than the league average.
The big question mark heading into this season was the offensive line, and while Zimmer said they are more settled at that position, they will not stop looking for starters and depth.
“I think when you go into the draft and you go into free agency you’re looking for starters, and even if they’re not starters, they are really good depth players,” he said. “When we go draft a guy, we’re going to continue to draft the best player at whatever position we think it is. If he takes a year or two to develop, so be it.
“But we want to continue. [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] did a great job in the draft this year and free agency. We need to hit that one more year and this team will be solid.”
Zimmer said his emotions after the Eagles loss are still too raw to fully analyze the Vikings’ personnel needs.
“I think the biggest thing for me is to get away from this for a couple of weeks — sit back, get away from everybody, and look at this unemotionally,” he said. “You get attached to these players. And you have to look at it unemotionally at some point in time. You have to look at it as, OK, is this guy good enough? Do we need to replace him? Do we need to add to this position?
“But I don’t think now is the right time to do it. We just came off of a tough loss in the NFC Championship Game. We have been grinding since last July. I think it is best to step back, look at everything and really go through everything with a fine-tooth comb.”
Didn’t see it coming
Zimmer was asked if the two first-half turnovers against the Eagles — an interception returned 50 yards for a touchdown by Patrick Robinson when the Vikings led 7-0, and a strip-sack fumble by Keenum when the Vikings were at the Eagles 16-yard line and trailed only 14-7 — decided the game.
“It was part of the problem,” he said. “We came out and started real well. Had a chance, turned the ball over, [then] in scoring position, we turned the ball over. Honestly we did not play well enough on defense, we turned the ball over on offense, we did a lot of things in this ballgame that we haven’t done all year.
“Yeah, I didn’t expect that. I didn’t see it coming. I told [Hall of Fame former coach Bill] Parcells [on Tuesday] morning, ‘I didn’t see this one coming.’ ”
Still, Zimmer remained encouraged by the team’s play this season.
“We always have high expectations going into the year, but if you would have asked me if we would win 14 ballgames at the beginning of the season, I probably would have said, ‘I don’t think so,’ ” Zimmer said. “But I think the biggest thing was the chemistry of this football team and [in] the locker room.
“I thought we had great leadership. I thought guys came out and played and competed really hard. We won a whole bunch of games at the end, which was a credit to them.”
When asked if any one player surprised, Zimmer named several.
“[Rookie center Pat Elflein] played really well,” he said. “Case Keenum played really well. [Receiver] Adam Thielen played well. We had a lot of guys that came in and played really, really good. [Cornerback] Trae Waynes improved throughout the course of the year. [Linebackers Eric] Kendricks and [Anthony] Barr played really good. When you win that many games, it’s because your players are playing good.”
And if Vikings fans are looking for a silver lining for next season, Zimmer believes running back Dalvin Cook will be ready for training camp after tearing his left ACL in Week 4 against the Lions.
“The reports I’m getting are that he has done really, really well,” he said. “As long as he keeps progressing the same, he should be good.”
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2:30 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. email@example.com