Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman opened his annual bye week meeting with reporters on Tuesday with a quick assessment of his team’s first six games this season.
“I guess the best way to put it is ‘exciting,’ ” he said.
While that certainly fits — five of the Vikings’ six games have been decided on the final possession, two in overtime — it might not be exactly how fans would assess it. Nerve-wracking, maybe, and so far disappointing.
In fact, the close wins and losses haven’t inspired confidence so much as induced fans to think about whether head coach Mike Zimmer or Spielman might be out of a job before season’s end. Zimmer is in his eighth season as coach; Spielman has had a player personnel role in Minnesota since 2006.
Asked Tuesday whether he is concerned for his job security, Spielman said, “No, not at all.”
The Vikings (3-3) entered this week’s bye after consecutive last-second victories over the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers to offset a 1-3 start. But no one is predicting Minnesota will compete for a Super Bowl this year, or even overtake Green Bay (5-1) to win the NFC North.
“We’re 3-1 in the conference, which is huge — especially as we get going in this playoff race — and 1-0 in the division,” Spielman said.
That’s a silver lining, for sure, but the Vikings will emerge from the bye week facing a gauntlet of four straight division-leading teams, starting with Dallas on Oct. 31, and are unlikely to add pieces before the Nov. 2 trade deadline so will finish the season with the same roster that is 1-3 against teams currently .500 or better.
The Vikings have lost their best cornerback, Patrick Peterson, for at least three games — he was placed on injured reserve Monday with a hamstring injury — and have about $3.4 million in cap space available. But the Vikings have solid veterans at quarterback, running back, defensive end and linebacker, and the offensive line appears to have come together with the addition of rookie Christian Darrisaw.
Spielman said he expects Peterson will be back for the team’s first meeting with Green Bay on Nov. 21.
“I think we’ll monitor everything like we always do. There’s always a lot of calls this time of year,” Spielman said “I don’t want to call it (as if it’s) a fantasy football thing. You have cap ramifications. How do contracts fit? How does that affect your club going forward? How does that affect your salary cap for the following year?”
NFL teams don’t tend to add help for a playoff run. There were 10 trades before last year’s trade deadline, but that’s rare.
“It is hard when you do make trades for someone to come in, not only to learn a system, get acclimated to the locker room, get comfortable with everything, and that takes some time,” Spielman said. “… This is such an 11-on-11 team game that it takes some time to create that chemistry.”
The Vikings are, in fact, still working on that chemistry after signing players to one-year deals, including starters and rotation players such as cornerbacks Peterson and Bashaud Breeland, linebacker Anthony Barr, rejuvenated end Everson Griffen, safeties Xavier Woods and Mackensie Alexander and placekicker Greg Joseph.
Barr, a 2014 draft pick, has been part of the core defense Spielman and Zimmer have been building around and led the Vikings to the 2017 NFC championship game. Those players, such as safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Eric Kendricks, are now seasoned veterans with only two postseason wins to their credit.
That’s not to mention quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is 33, owed a total of $56 million this season and next — and has led the Vikings to the playoffs once (1-1). The Vikings have had success asking veterans to take pay cut to create cap space but what the Vikings have called the core seems to be aging out of its championship window.
“Eventually, guys get older and eventually, you know, you have to make some business decisions,” Spielman said. “It’s not the first time we’re going to have to do (that). We’ve done it the past couple years since I’ve been here, but that’s where you hope you have some young guys that are developing and are going to be able to step in and fill those roles.”
First- and second-year players matriculating in this season — such as receiver K.J. Osborne, offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw, and defensive linemen D.J. Wonnum and James Lynch — are part of that plan, as well as rookies not playing this year such as quarterback Kellen Mond.
Asked if he has looked into whether Cousins should get another extension, Spielman said, “We’ve already looked at that two years ago. We looked at it this offseason. It’s all part of roster planning. You’re always continuing to look forward (at) where we’re projecting the cap will be next year.”
“We do have some challenges coming up next year,” he added.
And this year, as well.