Zimmer’s winter priorities are critical, with OC and QB

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) After winning 14 games, including his first postseason victory with Minnesota and a second NFC North title in four years on the job, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has a team set up to sustain such success.

The items on his to-do list are major issues, though.

Finding an offensive coordinator has become the top priority, following the departure of Pat Shurmur to become the head coach of the New York Giants. Then there’s the matter of working with general manager Rick Spielman to identify a starting quarterback for 2018, with contracts scheduled to expire for Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater.

The offensive coordinator will be determined first and likely have some input into the quarterback quandary, too, but sorting out the age, ability, cost, durability and unrealized potential of Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater will be the more complicated and critical task.

Having been awake with angst until 3 a.m. following Minnesota’s 38-7 loss at Philadelphia in the NFC championship game on Sunday, Zimmer said at his season-ending news conference Tuesday that he hasn’t pointed his mind down that path yet.

”My whole focus was on the now and not so much the future,” Zimmer said. ”Rick and I talked about that earlier. We said, `Let’s just go through the season. Let’s figure it out after the season.’ We’ll go through that process and go from there and see how that goes. We’re just going to work through it.”

Though Zimmer was staying true to the status report, he also didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement of Keenum.

”I’m going to work through the process, just like I always do,” Zimmer said, when asked for a specific evaluation of the year Keenum had after going from unheralded backup to season-saver. ”We’re going to evaluate all the players. We’re going to evaluate everybody and go about our business like we always do.”

As for Bradford, whose knee injury yielded the position to Keenum, Zimmer said Bradford told him on Monday that he feels like he is past the trouble that limited him to two starts in 2017.

As for Bridgewater, who took Bradford’s spot on the active roster for the second half of the schedule only to be bumped back to third string and did-not-suit-up status for the playoffs, Zimmer said the Vikings naturally would have preferred to see a fuller picture of on-field action following his recovery from a major knee injury. Keenum’s success made that impossible for Bridgewater, who hasn’t appeared in a high-stakes situation in more than two years.

”For him to even get to that point to where he was and be able to come out and practice and compete, get in a game, was a true credit to him,” Zimmer said, adding: ”He’s at the point where he can play. You just have to figure out where’s he at, because obviously we didn’t get to see him through games.”

Not many teams in NFL history will have such a strong season to come within one win of the Super Bowl, only to have the sport’s most important position in such an uncertain state, but that’s where the Vikings find themselves.

”I guess it’s unique, but it’s part of the process in the NFL,” Zimmer said. ”You work through it, and you go about your business.”

As for the offensive coordinator vacancy, Zimmer said he’ll take his time to try to get the right hire. He didn’t rule out internal candidates such as quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, but he also acknowledged the benefit of new ideas from the outside.

The defense could not have been better in the regular season, ranking first in both fewest yards and points allowed, but it faltered over the final five quarters of the playoffs. Nick Foles and the Eagles torched this proud group for 456 total yards.

”I have to do a better job in some areas as far as maybe sticking to some things too much because we’re successful,” Zimmer said.

As for the Super Bowl that will be painfully played on the team’s home turf at U.S. Bank Stadium, Zimmer will not be in attendance, in case there was any question. He’ll be at his vacation ranch in northern Kentucky, inevitably cringing from time to time about coming so close to the franchise’s first championship.

”Our fans were unbelievable the way they helped this football team out. They talked about bringing the whole state together, the state of Minnesota and Vikings fans throughout the world,” Zimmer said. ”That made me feel good, that we were able to bring a bunch of people and try to work for something for a common goal. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to finish it for them, so that is one of the disappointments.”

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