Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, officially, begin Monday.
Broached with the topic of Super Bowl expectations in his introductory news conference a month ago, Cousins insisted he could only look a month ahead. But the work had unofficially began by reaching out to teammates. He was allowed to seek out receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen for workouts, but not until Monday can he and his teammates convene with coaches in the Vikings facility.
“Get to work April 16th with the organization,” Cousins said. “That is where my focus lays and from there we’ll build and have those [Super Bowl] conversations down the road.”
At this point, Vikings coaches can only talk the playbook with Cousins. On-field drills are prohibited until after the NFL draft. Returning players and newcomers will get acquainted with Mark Uyeyama, the Vikings’ second-year strength and conditioning coach. Under NFL rules, the start of the offseason workout program consists of only strength, conditioning and physical rehab.
Player attendance is voluntary. However, many teams, including the Vikings, draw up workout bonuses in player contracts to incentivize participation in an agreed-upon percentage of these workouts. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, nose tackle Linval Joseph, safety Harrison Smith and defensive end Everson Griffen all have $100,000 tied in to attending these workouts.
Head coach Mike Zimmer can also set a tone with his team meetings and decisions. Zimmer openly pondered this offseason — again — about whether he should give up defensive play-calling after the Vikings’ first No. 1 scoring and yardage defense since 1970.
It’s the ripple from a playoff run that started to deteriorate late against New Orleans and bottomed out in Philadelphia. The defense allowed 48 points in the final five quarters. For the most part, Zimmer said there won’t be any drastic changes to the way he operates the team.
“I’m not going to change,” Zimmer told reporters during the NFL owners’ meetings this spring. “The first time I have a chance to have a meeting with the players, I’ll talk to them about all those things. Just about, ‘You want to say you’re as good as your last game? OK, let’s put the tape on.’ ”
The intention isn’t to show the NFC Championship Game loss on the first day, Zimmer said, but to make clear status quo won’t cut it. The Vikings’ unorthodox splashy free-agent signings of Cousins and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson are of a final-four team making a final push.
But like his quarterback, Zimmer just wants to focus on April 16.
That’s what he will tell the players Monday.
“No one gets to start 13-3 or 14-4, whatever it was,” Zimmer said. “We got to start at 0-0 just like everybody else.”