MINNEAPOLIS - It’s a day nobody in the NFL wants to face, but one that’s ultimately a harsh reality for 31 out of 32 teams in pro football: Locker room clean out day.
That day was Monday for the Minnesota Vikings at TCO Performance Center. Their 2022 season came to an end after a 31-24 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Instead of heading to San Francisco to face the 49ers for a trip to the NFC title game, Minnesota’s season is over.
Kevin O’Connell and staff held a team meeting Monday morning, and players said their goodbyes for the offseason. Many of them were still processing the loss, and the reality that the season is over.
"I’m trying to get that feeling that the best team didn’t win yesterday. That’s how this league works sometimes," running back Dalvin Cook said. "I’m just proud of the guys, this group. I’m proud of these guys and everything we accomplished, just didn’t get it done yesterday."
The Vikings won 13 games, won the franchise’s first division title in five years and hosted a playoff game. They won 11 games by one score, and Sunday was their first loss of the season in that scenario. Now they’ll be watching the rest of the NFL Playoffs on TV. So was the 2022 season a success?
"Obvious disappointment for sure, we can’t ignore that. But in the same breath, we won 13 games this year, we did a lot of good things, won a lot of close games, showed a lot of resilience. But didn’t get it done," linebacker Eric Kendricks said.
"We had a good season, I wouldn’t call it a success. Everybody wants to get to the Super Bowl, that’s the success of the season," wide receiver Justin Jefferson said. "You can say you had a good run at the Super Bowl and where you want to go and where the future can go."
The Vikings now face the reality that the 2023 roster will likely look very different from the one that was together for the final time on Monday. Many players talked about how close the 2022 roster was and how they embraced the culture built by O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
"Just the guys, it’s always about the guys in the locker room. Just had so much fun this year, it sucks it’s over with," Kendricks said. "You put in the work, just happy I got to experience it with these guys. Great bunch of dudes, love them to death."
NEW CONTRACT COMING FOR JUSTIN JEFFERSON?
Justin Jefferson had a historic season with the Vikings. He led the NFL in catches and receiving yards, falling just shy of Calvin Johnson’s regular season record. He has the NFL record for receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons, and broke Randy Moss’s regular season yardage record.
Jefferson has one more year remaining on his rookie contract, but is eligible this offseason for an extension. It’s in the best interest of the Vikings to get one done sooner rather than later. Jefferson deflected that talk on Monday.
"It’s not something I’m really worrying about or I have my mindset on. It’s just really performing for my team, doing whatever I need to do to get this team to where we want to go," Jefferson said. "I’ll be wherever I’m wanted. If they want me here, I’m here. That’s not something I can really control. I want to win a Super Bowl. That’s the thing that I’m most focused on."
A new deal for Jefferson will likely require at least $30 million per season, leaving the front office with some decisions to make on other players to afford keeping him.
GARRETT BRADBURY AMONG VIKINGS ENTERING FREE AGENCY
Garrett Bradbury walked off the field Sunday and it dawned on him that it might be his final time walking off the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in a Vikings’ jersey. He’s in a group that could enter free agency, and those players include Patrick Peterson, Greg Joseph and Alexander Mattison among the top names.
"It’s weird, never been in this situation before. Love what they’re building here and I’d love to continue to be a part of it. We’ll just see how the business plays out," Bradbury said.
It’s uncharted territory for the 2019 top draft choice.
"Yeah it’s hard, you try not to think about it because you just try and live in the present. But it could’ve been my last home game at U.S. Bank yesterday, which is kind of tough to think about walking off the field," Bradbury said. "I don’t know, never been here before so it’s just a lot of emotions. Love this group, love this team, it’s a great organization. It’s awesome."
Bradbury returned Sunday after missing five straight games with a back injury.