MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The oldest player on the Minnesota Vikings this season not named Brett Favre was sitting in the locker room recently when he started assessing the team’s future.
“They’ll need to rebuild around here,” defensive tackle Pat Williams said. “It’s going to be kind of rough.”
Williams is one of several high-profile players with expiring contracts on the team as the Vikings move forward with new head coach Leslie Frazier and try to rebound from a 6-10 debacle that was a far cry from a Super-Bowl-or-bust campaign.
“It will be dramatically different. We have a number of free agents,” Frazier said. “But that’s not any different than most teams in the NFL. You go through an evolution almost every season it seems, with roster change.”
Frazier insisted the Vikings are closing to returning to the NFL’s elite, and owner Zygi Wilf echoed the sentiment in a separate interview after Frazier was introduced on Monday.
Frazier and vice president for player personnel Rick Spielman will have to make a series of savvy moves for that to happen, though.
Williams isn’t likely to be re-signed, and three other starters in the front seven — defensive end Ray Edwards and linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber — have deals that are coming due. So does wide receiver Sidney Rice.
Underperforming, expensive players like wide receiver Bernard Berrian and starting safety Madieu Williams will be critically analyzed. Running back Adrian Peterson could be in line for a hefty contract extension, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe will also enter the final year of his deal.
Then, of course, there’s the unsettled quarterback situation with Favre’s declared retirement.
“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but it wasn’t pretty green on this side either,” said quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, whose contract is up, too. He added: “A fresh start might be good. Who knows? I’m just looking forward.”
Berrian said he had a “great” conversation with Frazier on Monday and expressed optimism about bouncing back from the least productive season of his career. Edwards said Frazier’s hiring wouldn’t have a bearing on where he decides to play, and it’s possible the Vikings won’t pursue him whenever free agency begins in an offseason dominated by NFL labor negotiations and the possibility of a lost season.
Greenway said his hope is to stay in Minnesota, but he acknowledged some anxiety from the uncertainty.
“I have kids and a wife that wants to know where she’s going to live next year, and that’s all part of it too,” Greenway said, adding: “Can’t do too much about it. Just going to stay patient.”
Frazier will stress stronger participation in the team’s offseason programs. Several stars skipped some or all of them last year, with Peterson missing minicamp and Favre refusing to commit until mid-August.
“We really want to be all-inclusive. We want to be team-first,” Frazier said. “That means some guys are going to have to sacrifice some things this offseason and be a part of the team.”
Wide receiver Percy Harvin, one of the players who worked out on his own last spring and summer instead of at Winter Park, said he’s on board with Frazier.
Harvin said he’ll spend some time training with Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson this year but will participate in the offseason practices (OTAs, in NFL lingo). That’s if they’re held and the owners don’t declare a lockout, of course.
“Everybody thought, with everybody coming back that we just were magically going to make it to the Super Bowl this year,” Harvin said. “So I think a lot of people got a wakeup call, myself included. So we’re all ready to get this thing rolling.”
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie sounded ready, too. He’s hired a personal trainer to follow him around the country — “even if I’m on vacation,” he said — and vowed to drop 20 pounds to get back to his college weight. That means he was pushing 360 pounds this season.
“Quickness, endurance, just a lot of stuff,” McKinnie said. “I’m getting older, too. So when you get older you’ve got to make sure you handle those things.”
Frazier didn’t offer any specifics about what, if any, schematic changes he’ll make, but he said he’ll evaluate all of the systems including the defense. Linebackers coach Fred Pagac made the game-day calls when Frazier took over, ordering more blitzes. The strategy was particularly effective in the win at Philadelphia last week.
Some of the coaching staff could change, too. Frazier said he wants a run-first offense to feature Peterson more prominently, but he wasn’t ready to name his preference for a particular system.
“I don’t want to be married to anything,” Frazier said. “I want to really open it up and make sure we’re doing the right thing that ensures that we have the best chance at being successful.”
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