Vikings lament ‘abrupt’ end of 2022 season, turn focus to 2023
The team has a number of key impending free agents and a lackluster defense will need to be rebuilt.
EAGAN, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings players filled up garbage bags filled with their belongings in the locker room Monday. Many said goodbye to one another. And then they were out the door.
It all happened a lot sooner than anyone on the team expected.
“Still trying to process it,” center Garrett Bradbury said. “It’s so abrupt.”
After a 13-4 season, the Vikings lost their playoff opener to the New York Giants 31-24 on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. And now it’s time to go on vacation.
“I’m kind of getting that feeling of the best team didn’t win (Sunday),” running back Dalvin Cook said. “That’s how the league works sometimes. But I’m just proud of these guys and this group, 2022, (with) everything we accomplished.”
Soon, though, it will be time to start thinking long and hard about 2023. And there are lots of questions facing the Vikings.
The team has a number of key impending free agents. A lackluster defense will need to be rebuilt, and it remains to be seen if Ed Donatell will remain as defensive coordinator. And the Vikings have salary-cap issues.
Bradbury, who returned Sunday after missing five games with a lower-back injury, will be the most notable free agent on Minnesota’s offense come March. Bradbury, who didn’t have his fifth-year option for 2023 picked up last May, reiterated that he wants to return. And after a season in which he was rated as the NFL’s 10th-best center by Pro Football Focus, that is certainly a possibility.
“I love it here,” said Bradbury, who talked during the season about wanting to re-sign after making a base salary of $2.24 million in his fourth season. “I love this locker room, the coaches, the culture that’s been put in place. We’ll cross that bridge in the coming months. … I’ve expressed that I want to be here.”
Other notable impending free agents include defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson; cornerbacks Patrick Peterson, Chandon Sullivan and Duke Shelley; running back Alexander Mattison; tight end Irv Smith Jr.; kicker Greg Joseph, and long snapper Andrew DePaola.
DePaola said Monday he would “love to be back,” and after making first-team All-Pro, it’s reasonable to assume he will return. Sullivan said “of course” he wants to return but it’s uncertain if that will happen since he had his share of struggles on a unit that ranked No. 31 in the NFL in total defense during the regular season and offered little resistance against the Giants.
The Vikings have a number of high-priced veterans, and it’s uncertain if some will be back. Among those on the books now without guaranteed money for 2023 are safety Harrison Smith ($14.7 million base salary) wide receiver Adam Thielen ($11.82 million base), Cook ($10.4 million base) and linebacker Eric Kendricks ($9.15 million base).
“That’s (a) question that doesn’t have anything to do with me,” Cook said when asked if he has thought about the possibility he might need to rework his contract to remain with the Vikings.
Cook pointed to general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell to help answer that question. The two, in their first year on the job in 2022, weren’t available for comment on Monday.
“I’m not even thinking about that right now,” Kendricks said of some high-priced veterans not returning.
Salary cap looms
The Vikings have salary cap issues. The cap hasn’t been set for 2023 but using a projected number of $225 million, analyst Jason Fitzgerald, who runs the website OvertheCap.com, has Minnesota $19.38 million over that number. Only three teams currently are more over the cap than the Vikings.
During the offseason, the Vikings might sign star receiver Justin Jefferson to a lucrative contract extension that would start with the 2025 season and likely pay him more than $30 million a year. Jefferson, who this offseason is eligible for an extension for the first time after three years in the NFL, said Monday it’s “not really something that I’m worried about” and that the Vikings “don’t even really have to give me an extension this year.”
What Jefferson was thinking most about Monday was the abrupt end to the season.
“It’s definitely tough to get this type of loss, just knowing that we’re so close as a team and that we wanted to be on that Super Bowl platform,” said Jefferson, who led the NFL with 128 receptions and 1,809 receiving yards, “You could call it a good season. I wouldn’t call it a success. Everybody wants to get to the Super Bowl.”
The Vikings were an astounding 11-0 in one score games and were 13-4 during the regular season despite being outscored overall by three points. While the defense faltered when it really counted in the playoffs, Kendricks shrugged that off Monday and preferred to mostly emphasize some of the positives of the season.
“It’s always about the guys in the locker room,” said Kendricks, an eight-year veteran. “We just had so much fun this year. It (stinks) it’s over with. … Obviously disappointment, for sure (to lose Sunday). We can’t ignore that. In the same breath, we won 13 games this year, did a lot of good things, won a lot of games, showed a lot of resilience.”
Bradbury also sought to look at some of the positives.
“In the playoffs, you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game,” he said. “We didn’t do that. It’s tough to swallow that pill. You have to move on. There’s really good things building here. Coach O’Connell has done an unbelievable job. Coming into work every day, this was the most fun I’ve had by far. … It’s tough that it ended the way it did.”
Now, Bradbury hopes it won’t be the end of his time in Minnesota.
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