Mike Zimmer hints at roster overhaul, holds out hope for Jared Allen
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First-year Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has other things to worry about before the NFL draft in May.
Questions such as defensive scheme put the cart before the horse of negotiations with the Vikings' troop of free agents, which includes the team's highest-paid player from a year ago in defensive end Jared Allen.
An otherwise candid Zimmer gave out the boilerplate quote in his Friday press conference from the NFL Scouting Combine that he's 'hopeful' the team can come to terms with Allen.
"We'd love to sign all of our guys, obviously when I was in Cincinnati a year ago, we had a lot of free agents and weren't able to sign them all," Zimmer said. "Unfortunately in today's NFL we understand we're not going to be able to sign them all. Hopefully we can get worked out with [Allen] and we'll see how it goes."
'Worked out' likely means a massive salary reduction from the $17 million Allen earned in 2013 to a more reasonable price for what will be a 32-year-old defensive end come next season. The Vikings already extended one 30-plus defensive end in Brian Robison last season and also have a 26-year-old Everson Griffen to continue negotiations with.
While general manager Rick Spielman and first-year offensive coordinator Norv Turner hammer out the plan at quarterback, Zimmer's forte and immediate focus appears to be on the Vikings' defense -- which finished last in scoring (480 points allowed) and gave up a NFL-record tying 37 touchdown passes (tied for most since 1970).
Pinning down the end next to Robison will be a key part of the equation for Zimmer to implement his style that proved successful as the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Regardless of who that defensive end is, Zimmer revealed the Vikings' roster needs 'a lot' of work.
"Anytime you finish 31st in the league [in yards allowed], you have a few holes," Zimmer said. "We're going to need a lot of good football players."
Zimmer ran a 4-3 scheme with the Bengals that predicated on a front-four pass rush and press corners that consistently thrived in man-to-man coverage. With the Vikings' personnel, it's likely Zimmer sticks with the 4-3 due to their extreme youth and age at the linebacker position.
Although Zimmer admitted he hasn't studied any college players yet, he's already conveyed the type of players he wants in Minnesota to his scouts.
"One of the first things we did was brought all the scouts in, put some tape on and talked about the different players we had in Cincinnati," Zimmer said. "Tried to show them: 'This is the techniques we play, this is what we're looking for.'"
But part of getting the players that 'fit the system' is moving on from the ones that don't.
With underwhelming players like Letroy Guion set to make $4.3 million next season and an aging Chad Greenway with a $8.2 million cap hit, shedding or restructuring players under contract -- as Spielman has noted -- will be a major part of Zimmer's roster overhaul to get the Vikings defense the way he wants it. 1500ESPN's Judd Zulgad broke down the team's free agents on Thursday.
"I've been so involved in looking at our players, free agency, just starting to get going on the draft," Zimmer said. "Really we'll start evaluating quarterbacks once we get back after the Combine. I haven't looked at any college football players yet."
Zimmer on Ponder
The Vikings' current quarterback scenario may be as unstable as any in the league, but that doesn't appear to be Zimmer's place in the discussions quite yet.
With former 12th-overall pick Christian Ponder as the only cadence caller under contract, Spielman has noted he'll lean heavily on guidance from first-year offensive coordinator Norv Turner, whose quarterback history includes passers from Troy Aikman to Kerry Collins to Brandon Weeden.
But Zimmer reserved complete judgment of Ponder until he can get on the field with him in April (if Ponder is still there.)
"I think everybody realizes Christian has a ton of ability, great arm, runs good, very bright guy," Zimmer said. "I think everybody wants him to live up to expectations that not only we have for him but he has for himself.
"The patience part...I'm not a patient person with anybody. I think once we get on the field, we'll figure those things out."
Patience is fleeting not only with Zimmer, but with most NFL front offices. The 'three-year' rule for quarterbacks has shrunk, just as the grace period for coaches has diminished. Patience is what likely earned Ponder his nine starts last season after Matt Cassel proved to be the better quarterback for the team.
But, as Zimmer said, he's not very patient and that likely won't bode well for Ponder.