Vikings

Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski on the sideline against Oakland in a game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sept. 22. On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns agreed to hire Stefanski as head coach. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

EAGAN, Minn. — Kevin Stefanski has headed to Cleveland. George Paton could join him.

A source confirmed Monday, Jan. 13, an ESPN report that the Browns have requested and received permission to interview Paton, the Vikings’ assistant general manager, for their GM position.

The request was made a day after Stefanski agreed to become Cleveland’s head coach. The Vikings’ offensive coordinator this season, Stefanski became available when the season ended with a 27-10 playoff loss at San Francisco on Saturday.

Stefanski, who was with the Vikings for 14 seasons, has a long association with Paton, who has been with them for 13 seasons.

Also, the Vikings have parted ways with defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. He had been on staff since Mike Zimmer became head in 2014.

Gray becomes the second defensive coach to move on after six seasons under Zimmer. Defensive coordinator George Edwards left when his contract expired.

Cousins' 'best' season

Zimmer lauded the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who had the best passer rating of his career (107.4) in his second season in Minnesota.

“I think Kirk played a lot better this year than he did the before,” the coach said. “I think, obviously, the scheme helped him quite a bit, and so I think this may have been the best year that he’s played in the NFL.”

Zimmer declined to discuss whether the Vikings might try to extend Cousins’ contract. He has one year left on a three-year deal that will pay him $29.5 million in 2020. He said coaches will be evaluating Cousins and all other players in about a week.

Offensive line improves

Zimmer said he was pleased with a number of things the Vikings did during the season. One was the play of the offensive line.

“They improved quite a bit,” he said. “I think (line coach) Rick Dennison did an outstanding job with them. I think the (new zone-blocking) scheme helped them.”

Referring to rookies Dru Samia and Oli Udoh, Zimmer said the Vikings have some young offensive linemen who “basically redshirted” who should be able to help in the future.

Briefly

It seems unlikely impending free-agent safety Jayron Kearse will return. “Wish they appreciated me enough to make me want to come back,” he wrote on Twitter.

Zimmer said cornerback Mike Hughes, placed on injured reserve with a neck injury just before the start of the playoffs, “should be good to go” for spring drills. Zimmer doesn’t anticipate any Minnesota players needing offseason surgeries.

A source said defensive end Stacy Keely, who spent the season on Vikings’ practice squad, will sign a reserve/future deal.

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