Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has been leading the team for two years now, which means he has had two offseasons to bring in players that he refers to as “my kind of guys.” These players are usually ones that are hard-working, smart, selfless and do whatever it takes to make the team better.
Zimmer is a great defensive mind and players love an aggressive play-caller, so it was not difficult for him to bring in the free agents he wanted that played on the defensive side of the ball. For offense, he hired Norv Turner, whose proven track record of success was more than enough, along with solid money, to get offensive players to sign with the team.
Along with free agency, the Vikings also brought in Zimmer’s types of players with trades, the draft and some were already on the team to begin with. Now that he has them, though, the problem becomes keeping them.
With the way the NFL is set up with a salary cap and free agency, it is not very often that teams stay together year in and year out. Players will move around, whether it is their choice or the choice of the organization to trade them or cut them.
“I’m going to do everything on my end to hopefully be back next year,” said Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. “But we all know the NFL is a business and we’ve seen a lot of great players and a lot of good players get released and moved from teams. But that’s out of my control, man. All I can do is move forward and control what I can control and understand that God has a plan for me.”
Robison is one Zimmer’s guys who was already on the team when Zimmer took over as head coach. Zimmer raves about Robison’s role on the team and how he will always do the dirty work but never complains, even if he doesn’t always get the big plays that look good in the stat book that other players get to make.
The veteran defensive end is a player that Zimmer loves, but there is a decision to be made. Robison is 32 years old, will be entering into his 10th NFL season and will be owed $5.05 million in 2016 and $6.6 million in 2017. His contract is also team-friendly as it has $2 million of dead money in 2016 and $1 million of dead money in 2017.
With dead money piled up against cap cost, it doesn’t make much sense to release Robison, given that he seems to be one of “Zimmer’s guys.”
Still, the Vikings have some depth at the position with 2014 third-round draft pick Scott Crichton and 2015 third-round pick Danielle Hunter. Crichton has not played a large role on defense, but was one of the main contributors on special teams this past season before he was placed on injured reserve. His game is similar Robison’s, which plays into his limited role on defense, but has Crichton gained enough experience yet to take on a bigger role?
While Hunter’s season started slowly, his role continued to grow late in the season and that led to an increase in production. He finished the season second on the team in sacks with six, which included 3½ in a three-game span. Hunter’s game is more geared to that of a right defensive end than the left end that Robinson plays, but he has already filled in on the left side of the defensive line in passing situations this past season.
Robison is a player that Zimmer loves and would surely like to keep around, but even Robison knows nothing is guaranteed, as unlikely as his release seems.
Another veteran player that was already on the team before Zimmer took over and the head coach has grown to love is linebacker Chad Greenway.
“I love Chad,” Zimmer said. “I hope things work out for him. He’s a great Viking. I sat and talked to him for a while (after the wild card loss). I think his leadership is immense in the locker room, especially with a young football team. I think he took active ownership in the role that he had this year, so I hope it works out. He’s always going to be one of my kind of guys.”
Greenway just finished up his 10th season in the NFL after already renegotiating his contract following the 2014 season so he could stay with the team in 2015. There was some speculation heading into this past season that it would be Greenway’s last, but after making it to the playoffs and losing the way they did he made it clear he wants to come back for at least one more season, even if it’s not with the Vikings.
He would much rather have it be with the Vikings, but he knows it’s possible that he might not be back. He is a free agent this offseason. It’s pretty clear that both sides want a deal to work out, but with key contracts to young players in the organization coming up, signing a 33-year-old linebacker may not be in the team’s best interest.
Another player that Zimmer raved about throughout the 2015 season whom the team could end up parting ways with this offseason is wide receiver Mike Wallace.
“I say this from my heart: I love this kid, I love the way he works, I love the way he competes,” Zimmer said. “I texted him (after the playoff loss) basically and told him the same thing. I said, ‘You know, I know this wasn’t exactly how we planned it out.’ But I love him as a person, a competitor, a football player and I’m disappointed that it didn’t pan out the way I envisioned it and that really and honestly, he’s always going to be one of my kind of guys. I like this kid.”
The Vikings traded for Wallace this offseason in hopes that he would provide quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with a true No. 1 receiver and a downfield threat in the passing game. Neither of those things happened as Wallace ended up having the worst season of his seven-year career. He recorded career lows in yards (473) and touchdowns (two), and tied his career low in receptions (39).
The receiver is still under contract through 2017, but he is owed $11.5 million in each the next two seasons. That is a lot of money to be paying a receiver that is putting up the numbers he did, and if the team chooses to part ways with him they would not take any type of salary-cap loss, as his contract has zero dead money the next two seasons.
It is possible that the team tries to renegotiate his contract with him as he was a very good presence in the team’s locker room and helped mentor some of the younger receivers such as Stefon Diggs, but it would be far less than what he is earning now. If that is the case, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wallace decided to just sign with another team elsewhere.
There are multiple other players that Zimmer likes that could be gone this season or in coming years, but these Robison, Greenway and Wallace are three that he had talked about all season long.
As a head coach Zimmer is going to have to learn to make hard decisions and deal with losses every year. This could be the first offseason where he truly has to make some tough choices and it will be interesting to see how he chooses to handle his kind of players.