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MEMORY POLICE – Minnesota Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf had enough of being relevant one year and an afterthought the next.
Their decision on Monday to fire coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman – who had been together since 2014 – meant an overhaul in an attempt to rebuild the Vikings into a legitimate candidate.
Wilfs considered this the only way they could correct the ship after missing the playoffs in back-to-back years, the first time it had happened during Zimmer’s eight years in Minnesota. They had gone out of their way to try to be competitive while performing a soft rebuild after last making the post-season in 2019. The Vikings then parted ways with veterans who were considered too expensive and heavily dependent on rookies. to bridge the gap.
That approach is what brought the Vikings into this position in the first place, with a 7-9 finish in 2020 and an 8-9 record in 2021. This time, Wilfs decided to tear things down and start over. Two playoff wins in eight seasons were not enough to justify continuing the course with Zimmer and Spielman, both of whom received contract extensions ahead of the 2020 season.
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“We appreciate Rick and Mike’s commitment to the team’s success on the field, their passion for making a positive impact in our community and their dedication to players, coaches and staff,” Wilfs said in a statement. “While these decisions are not easy, we believe it is time for new leadership to lift our team so we can consistently fight for championships.”
Wilfs says they will begin an “extensive search” for their next general manager and head coach immediately and that it will be conducted internally.
Hiring a general manager who will then hire the 10th head coach in franchise history is the right order.
Leaning on trusted staff like Rob Brzezinski, the Vice President of Football Operations who has been with the Vikings for 23 seasons, and the CEO Andrew Miller is also the right approach. Minnesota can bypass the route of hiring a search firm to find its next general manager and head coach and use two people who understand the culture of the Vikings organization.
The Vikings started Day 1 of the offseason with sweeping changes. The rest of this offseason may not be less tumultuous with major decisions to be made about the roster.
The first order for Minnesota’s next general manager and head coach will come on the same page regarding Kirk Cousins’ contract. Zimmer and Spielman will forever be linked to their collective decision to sign the quarterback to a fully-guaranteed $ 84 million contract in 2018 and then extend him with a $ 66 million two-year deal ahead of the 2020 season. Cousins is coming off one of his best seasons statistically, but a lack of playoff success as well as eight losses with one possession this season does not reflect well on anyone who is expected to be a franchise quarterback.
Cousins’ contract runs through the 2022 season and comes with a salary cap of $ 45 million. If the next GM and head coach can not see Cousins as the quarterback who could lead this team to Super Bowl battle, they could choose to move him this offseason via a swap deal. For that to happen, Wilfs would probably stomach paying a bulk of Cousins’ $ 35 million base salary, which is already fully guaranteed, to move him to another team. It could basically be seen as paying millions for the first-round draft pick that the Vikings would expect to receive in return, but it’s still a high price to pay – yet one that Wilfs could find necessary as part of the team’s reconstruction.
There are other ways the team could get its salary cap back in a healthy position to be competitive in free agency while building towards the future, and that could come by parting – again – with expensive veterans like Danielle Hunter, Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith.
The moves Wilfs made on Monday signal that they are tired of just being competitive. They have owned this team for 16 years, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into contracts and facilities and do not have a Lombardi trophy to show for it.
Last low season, Wilfs North split $ 46 million into guaranteed contracts for defenders to try to rebuild a unit that had fallen apart. The Vikings finished in 31st place defensively in 2021, the worst placement they have had under Zimmer, known as a defensive coach.
As the dust settles from Monday’s demolition, there are a handful of things to consider when looking back on the era that was.
Zimmer compiled a record of 72-56-1 in eight seasons, averaging 9.1 wins a year. Minnesota was more often relevant than it was not, but only had one race to the NFC Championship Game to show for it.
The same goes for Spielman, who had been with the Vikings since 2006, first as the team’s vice president of player staff and then as general manager since 2012. He hit on a number of successful draft picks, cornerstone franchisees like Justin Jefferson, Brian O’Neill, Hunter, Stefon Diggs, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Smith.
He also stumbled in the first round with Matt Kalil, Sharrif Floyd, Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hughes and Garrett Bradbury.
Both Zimmer and Spielman contributed to the Vikings being one of the most stable franchises through the eight seasons, but that stability never yielded sustainable success. The ownership of the Vikings could no longer stay the course.
“We are determined to have lasting success and bring Vikings fans to the Super Bowl championships they expect and deserve,” Wilfs said in their statement.