Mike Zimmer is known for refreshing candor during NFL scouting combine week. The Vikings coach will have plenty to discuss Wednesday when he is the league’s last decisionmaker scheduled to address reporters in Indianapolis.
More than 300 college prospects — starting with quarterbacks, tight ends and receivers on Sunday morning — arrived in Indy this week for a slew of on-field drills, medical tests and interviews. But the Vikings’ to-do list extends beyond evaluating picks for the April 23-25 NFL draft.
Zimmer, at his seventh combine as Vikings coach, and General Manager Rick Spielman will oversee several critical parts of team operations happening simultaneously.
Behind the scenes, Vikings brass will meet with player representatives of the team’s 17 players set to become unrestricted free agents March 18. Brian Murphy of Athletes First is expected to be in Indianapolis, where he will oversee any talks for defensive end Everson Griffen, safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Trae Waynes.
Formal negotiations with other free agents can’t begin until March 16, but preliminary talks in Indianapolis can grease the wheels. The Vikings could also address the futures of high-priced veterans under contract such as receiver Stefon Diggs, nose tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
The week’s access to college football’s top prospects gives assistant coaches and scouts chances to build on prep work. Medical evaluations and interviews are considered the most fruitful. The Vikings get 45 18-minute interviews during the day, down from the typical 60 15-minute interviews at night, as the NFL moved on-field drills to the evening for prime-time TV.
The league has business to settle, too. NFLPA representatives and the NFL are scheduled to meet Tuesday, after which the union’s 32 player reps will vote on the proposed collective bargaining agreement. Regardless of the outcome, the proposal — which already has the approval of the owners — could be voted on by all players.
The Vikings, and the other 31 teams, will be watching closely. Same goes for the on-field drills held Thursday night through Sunday night. They will include Gophers receiver Tyler Johnson, safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and linebackers Carter Coughlin and Kamal Martin. No Division III product has been drafted since 2015, but St. John’s tackle Ben Bartch will state his case thanks to a rare invite to the combine.
The Vikings can fill needs — whether at offensive line, cornerback or defensive line — in free agency next month. But cheaper solutions come in the draft, especially along the offensive line, where protection costs a premium in free agency. This week could help decide which offensive tackles are available at the end of the first round; the Vikings pick at No. 25.
This year’s offensive tackle class — led by “a better version of Bryant McKinnie” in Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, according to NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah — has the depth to produce a first-round candidate when the Vikings are on the clock.
On a teleconference Friday, Jeremiah said Tristan Wirfs of Iowa had the most to gain at the combine.
“He’s somebody that has a chance to be an All-Pro guard,” Jeremiah said. “And I know he’s played tackle, he’s played on the right and the left and he’s a good tackle.
“But in terms of having something to gain, if he goes out there and puts on an athletic show, which I’ve heard there’s a chance he does, then he could kind of put that to bed and say, look, I am a tackle.”
The Vikings need upgrades at offensive line and cornerback, but it’s unclear how much they will be in the market for a receiver. If the Vikings receive an adequate offer to trade Diggs, finding a replacement in the draft might be easier than most years, according to Jeremiah.
“In terms of the depth and the talent in this draft, wide receivers and corners, especially the wide receiver group, is as deep as I’ve seen,” Jeremiah said. “I’ve got 27 wide receivers with top three-round grades in this draft. And consider, on average, 31 are taken.”