EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Mike Zimmer and Teddy Bridgewater will be forever linked with the Minnesota Vikings, regardless of how the team fares over the rest of their time together.
This is the state of the NFL. For all the excess credit or blame that continually falls on the head coach and the quarterback, success or failure in this league is unavoidably linked to these two people.
Despite the losing record produced by their first season with the Vikings (7-9), Zimmer and Bridgewater not only kept their reputation in tact but gave reasons to believe they'll be together in Minnesota for a while.
"Honestly, I never felt overwhelmed, from the day I walked in," Zimmer said Tuesday at his final news conference of 2014.
He added: "Are there some things that I would do differently? Sure. Did I make some mistakes? Sure. But I felt like each and every day I came into work that I gave this team, the fans and the organization the very best that I could give them. And I believe in my head that I'll be even better next year with everything that I do."
Over the past 10 offseasons, the Vikings have changed coaches three times and searched for a quarterback a lot more than that.
With Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers again on top of the NFC North with Green Bay, there's a long way to go for Minnesota to reach the conference's elite.
Finally, though, the Vikings have entered a winter without any questions about who'll be running the team or who'll be taking the snaps.
The Vikings finished 7-9, but their last five losses were by a combined 16 points. Bridgewater threw 12 interceptions against 14 touchdown passes, but he was at his best this month and posted a 64.4 completion rate that was the third-best rookie-year mark in NFL history. Bridgewater also gained the respect of teammates on both sides of the ball with a balance of humility and confidence.
"The guys around here, they've allowed me to be more assertive with them. We have a great group of men here that they will take leadership, whether it's from the coaching staff or from the youngest player on the team," Bridgewater said.
Here are some other key themes to know about the Vikings as they enter the offseason:
Running back Adrian Peterson's absence from all but one game, the fallout from the child-abuse case that came up in Texas, was a major hurdle both Zimmer and Bridgewater had to overcome this year.
The Matt Asiata-Jerick McKinnon tandem, though productive at times, likely won't be enough. Given Peterson's age, contract and public image, his return in 2015 is hard to fathom. He's suspended by NFL through at least April 15, and as Zimmer indicated Tuesday the Vikings prefer to settle his status as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly in free agency and the draft. But Zimmer said he would welcome Peterson back, "if it works out that way" and "he gets his life in order."
The Vikings were one of the youngest teams in the league this season, but Peterson isn't the only highly paid veteran who could be cut before his contract expires. Linebacker Chad Greenway, who missed three games with broken ribs and another because of a knee injury, said he'd love to return for a 10th year but realizes the nature of the NFL for players over 30.
Zimmer said he believes Greenway is still good enough to start at the weak side position, but to do so he'd probably have to take another pay cut.
"It won't simply come down to money or business or anything. It'll come down to what's best for the family," Greenway said, hinting he'd rather stay than sign elsewhere for a better deal.
Fullback Jerome Felton and left guard Charlie Johnson are two other key players who could be let go for cap relief. Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley will be a free agent.
Bridgewater plans to return to the Miami area this winter and gather the wide receivers together at some point to work out and continue to develop their chemistry. He also revealed that he's relied on former Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb for advice.
"He's a guy who had success in this league, and he's someone that I look toward as a mentor or for guidance," Bridgewater said.
One of the most disappointing players was wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson, who scored only two touchdowns, none by kickoff return, and vanished from the offense down the stretch as Charles Johnson and Adam Thielen surpassed him. Zimmer said he has a mentor he declined to name in mind for Patterson.
"I think this will be good for him, and hopefully he'll follow through and get to where he needs to get to," Zimmer said.
Left tackle Matt Kalil also had a letdown year, but his blocking was better over the last several weeks. He said he'll have his knee examined again. After surgery last offseason, it didn't feel right most of the year. But Kalil said he's confident in a bounce-back 2015.
"I know what I've got to do. I don't know if this sounds bad or not, but I'm not worried about it," Kalil said.