In real life, two years is little more than a blip on the radar. When it comes to the NFL, two years is a lifetime.
When the Minnesota Vikings’ 2013 season ended, one of the first moves made on Black Monday was to get rid of head coach Leslie Frazier. Within weeks, Mike Zimmer was hired as the new head coach and he was asked to assess what he had on his roster.
In the two years that have followed, a lot of changes have been made. A lot.
The quarterbacks he inherited were Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman. Freeman would be immediately gone and both Cassel and Ponder would be gone within a year.
Toby Gerhart was the primary backup to Adrian Peterson. He was allowed to leave via free agency.
The top three wide receivers on the depth chart were Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson. Simpson never came back. Jennings was allowed to leave after one season. Patterson is still on the roster, but is mired in the No. 4 or 5 wide receiver position on the current depth chart.
But the more significant changes were on the defensive side of the ball. On the defensive line, the team he inherited had future stars Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd on it, but neither of them were starters – they combined to start just one game in Leslie Frazier’s last season.
The team Frazier left behind had Jared Allen and Brian Robison as its starting defensive ends and Kevin Williams and Letroy Guion as the starting defensive tackles and Fred Evans in the rotation. Of those five players, Robison is the only one that remains.
His starting linebackers were Chad Greenway, Audie Cole and Erin Henderson. The second line of the depth chart was Larry Dean, Michael Mauti and Marvin Mitchell, who had held off rookie Gerald Hodges. In just two seasons, the only linebackers among those seven players still on the roster are Cole and Greenway, with the former fighting for roster survival and the latter almost assuredly entering his final NFL season.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1673012-rookies-need-to-walk-fine... In the secondary, the Vikings had 2013 rookie Xavier Rhodes at cornerback and safety Harrison Smith already in place and beginning to prove themselves. Aside from them, however, was an underachieving group that included starting cornerback Chris Cook and safety depth provided by starter Jamarca Sanford and backups Robert Blanton and Mistral Raymond. Almost all of them were gutted.
Whenever a new head coach comes in, there tends to be a gutting of the old guard. Denny Green famously purged his roster of many of the most vested veterans on the roster almost immediately after taking over. One of Brad Childress’ first big acts as head coach was making the decision to trade Daunte Culpepper, his franchise quarterback. Overhauling a roster isn’t done easily or overnight, but the Vikings have enjoyed their share of success in doing so, despite the initial shock and awe of veteran players being shown the way to the door. Green stunned the world in 1992 when his team won the NFC Central title and would lead his team to the playoffs in eight of the next nine years. Childress enjoyed consistent improvement in his first four seasons, posting records of 6-10, 8-8, 10-6 and 12-4. The improvement was incremental, but consistent and you could see the change had been for the good of the team.
As Zimmer enters his third season as Vikings head coach, he has exorcised some of the primary demons that had plagued his two predecessors – keeping a grasp on the NFC North’s top spot, winning on the road and, most importantly, beating division rivals on the road.
His 2016 Vikings bear only casual resemblance to the team he inherited and was getting to know for the first time two years ago during the Vikings’ May practice period. It is a dramatically different roster and, perhaps for the first time, stocked with nothing but players that can be deemed as “Zimmer guys.”
For those who enjoyed the 2015 season, the potential for a better sequel in 2016 is waiting on the horizon. When the 2016 season starts, 31 other teams are going to have a healthy respect for the Vikings – a point they intend to emphasize with each passing week.