EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — As the Minnesota Vikings packed their personal belongings in the locker room at Winter Park on Monday, one overriding feeling was felt from several of the players — relief.
Most of the Vikings played hard right to the bitter end of a 3-13 season, which matched the worst single-season record in team history. But it was obvious Monday the losing had worn on players at the end of the season.
“Relieved,” receiver Percy Harvin said of his feeling Monday. “Can finally close this book up and throw it in the trash.”
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Harvin was one of the players to give it his all until the end, finishing with the best season of his three-year career. He’s already tried to rally teammates into being active during the offseason and participate in training activities.
There’s a sense of relief even for players such as cornerback Antoine Winfield, who was limited to just five games because of injury.
“You’re kind of relieved that it’s over,” Winfield said. “But you hate the way that it ended. Guys worked so hard. It’s fun to be in the locker room around the guys. You know everyone’s about to go in their different way. You’ll see them in a couple of months. Hopefully, they’ll come back in shape, so we can get on a run next season.”
The players also embraced the reality of their situation. After a frustrating 3-13 season, there will be many new faces the next time they come back to the locker room.
Over a third of the roster is filled with free agents. Other players could be salary-cap casualties as their pay outweighs their production. The longest-tenured player, Jim Kleinsasser, is retiring, and coach Leslie Frazier hinted at possible retirement from guard Steve Hutchinson, who ended the season on injured reserve with a concussion.
There also could be changes in the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Fred Pagac’s job is reportedly in jeopardy along with other members of the coaching staff. Frazier didn’t speak to the media Monday. He met with players, coaches and staff and is scheduled for a season-ending press conference on Tuesday.
The players aren’t sure what to expect, but are interested to see what transformations take place.
“There’s no doubt the landscape’s going to shift,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a schematic deal or a coach. We don’t know. I don’t have any answers to those questions. You can only imagine that something’s going to change.”
The need for change frustrates Greenway, who was signed to a five-year contract extension during the preseason.
“When you put people’s jobs on the line by the way you’ve played, that’s become an issue with players because you know you haven’t done enough,” Greenway said. “Whether it be other players you’re playing beside, other coaches, anybody. You don’t want to have to put people in that position. Simply the fact we didn’t get enough wins or play well enough on Sundays to do that is a reality that’s not fun. But the excitement you talk about or the anxiety moving forward is what are we going to do to right the ship, and how are we going to become a team that be legitimate again?”
Three defensive starters are free agents with linebackers E.J. and Erin Henderson and safety Husain Abdullah entering free agency. Abdullah missed the final seven games with a concussion and isn’t sure what his future holds and knows he could be one of the changing faces.
Abdullah accepts his situation and understands it’s part of the business of the NFL.
“It’s the NFL, there’s changes all the time,” Abdullah said. “No team has the exact same 53 faces year in and year out. It’s definitely going to be an interesting offseason. I know they’re going to do what’s in the best interest of the Vikings.”
Defensive end Jared Allen, who fell a half-sack shy of the NFL single-season record, is ready to turn the page on the season, but didn’t approach Monday’s moving day as a relief.
After providing perhaps the biggest highlights in a miserable season, Allen’s excited to turn the page and start working toward the 2012 season with a fresh slate.
“It was miserable, record wise, so I’m glad it’s over,” Allen said. “We can start building for the future now. It’s probably the most excited I’ve been about an offseason to see what direction we’re going to do.
“I’ve got all the faith in the world in our management and ownership that they’re going to make the right plays and we’re going to be real competitive next year. You look at the Rams; they were 4-12 and then went and won the Super Bowl. Anything’s possible in this league. I’m excited to get back to work.”
Vikings agree to future contracts: Minnesota signed seven players from its practice squad to future deals. Tight end Allen Reisner spent time on the active roster this season. Offensive lineman Chris DeGeare was a fifth-round pick of the Vikings in 2010 and spent the entire 2011 season on the practice squad.
Also signed were rookie receivers Kris Adams and Kerry Taylor, rookie offensive lineman Butch Lewis, first-year defensive back Reggie Jones and second-year linebacker Tyrone McKenzie.