MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings offered a mix of reflection and pondering uncertain futures on Sunday, less than 24 hours removed from a season-ending 27-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
A 10-6 mark put the Vikings in the NFC Playoffs for the third time in six seasons under Mike Zimmer. Team owners issued a public statement offering their support of Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman two days before the Vikings upset the Saints in the Wild Card playoffs, after rumors were circulating that the Dallas Cowboys were inquiring about Zimmer. The Cowboys have since replaced Jason Garrett with Mike McCarthy.
Sunday marked locker room cleanout day for the Vikings, with defensive players still wondering what went wrong as the 49ers ran for 186 yards, got two touchdowns from Tevin Coleman and dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The 49ers ran 47 times and had the ball for more than 38 minutes, while the Vikings had 46 total plays.
“It always sucks whenever we have one of those outlier games. A couple times a year we just don’t play like ourselves and we give up something ridiculous in the rushing game or in the passing game,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. The thing about playoff ball is if you have one of those types of games, there is no bouncing back, that’s it.”
The other harsh reality after a playoff loss is it might be the last game for some wearing Vikings jerseys. There are 15 unrestricted free agents that have to decide if they have a future with the Vikings, or have to move on elsewhere.
“It’s scary. I mean I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Weatherly, who has been with the Vikings for four seasons and expressed his desire to stay in Minnesota. “It’s a great place, and I just have a lot of roots that I’ve developed here. It would be awesome, but I have no idea what’s about to happen.”
The future might be a little cloudier for one of Weatherly’s defensive line teammates, Everson Griffen. It was a bounce-back season for the 10-year veteran, who played in all but one game and finished with eight sacks.
Griffen missed five games during the 2018 season to address mental health concerns after an incident at a downtown Minneapolis hotel. He talked in the offseason about “winning the day, winning the moment” and looked like his old self in 2019.
He took a pay cut to come back to Minnesota, but is now due $12.9 million next season. His stance hasn’t changed and he doesn't want to go anywhere, but that decision may not be his to make. The Vikings could cut Griffen to clear salary cap space.
Griffen says he can play another three or four seasons, and he's currently under contract through 2022.
“I want to be a Viking for life. But it’s a business, so we’ll figure that out when that time gets here,” Griffen said.
After experiencing personal adversity in 2018 that had the organization concerned for his well-being, Griffen considers himself fortunate to have been healthy, mentally and physically, this season. He felt like himself again, and was one of the anchors of the defense.
“It took a lot of discipline, it took a lot of asking for help, it took a lot of just courage to be able to get yourself where I needed to be,” Griffen said. “I love this team, I love this organization. They took care of me when I needed it the most, I want to be a Viking.”
All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks, despite not being named to the Pro Bowl, led the Vikings with 110 tackles. He paused when asked about what Griffen means to the defense, nearly getting emotional.
“He works hard on the field, you can’t mistake his film. I’ve been with him for a while now, it’s been awesome playing with him,” Kendricks said.
Players made it clear Sunday, they weren’t ready for the season to be over. After finishing 10-6 and upsetting the Saints in the Wild Card playoffs, the Vikings had bigger aspirations. The 49ers crushed those at the line of scrimmage.
“At the end of the day, you have to be somewhat proud where we made it, but we just didn’t want it to finish that way. We wanted to go farther,” Griffen said.