INDIANAPOLIS – There won’t be any letdown by the Vikings in 2016 now that they knocked the Packers off their perch atop the NFC North.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman made that clear when he addressed the media on Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We still haven’t reached all of our goals,” Spielman said. “We have to take the approach that we’re starting over.”
The Vikings will remain plenty hungry in 2016, especially after their season ended in such heartbreaking fashion, with a missed chip-shot field goal costing them a wild-card playoff victory over the Seahawks.
Spielman credited coach Mike Zimmer, who will be entering his third year, for changing the culture in Minnesota in a short time and developing a “true grit mentality” that was on display when the Vikings came into Lambeau Field in Week 17 and ended the Packers’ four-year reign atop the division.
Moving forward, Spielman is planning for life at some point without running back Adrian Peterson, even though there’s no sign the current NFL rushing champ is slowing down. It’s just the kind of reality that’s on any GM’s mind at draft time.
“It’s amazing, the stamina (he has) and physical specimen he still is,” Spielman said. “Eventually at some point everyone has to retire. Maybe Adrian defies the odds and plays until he’s 50, I don’t know.”
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the division, but the Vikings have another young playmaker emerging in receiver Stefon Diggs, who could be a top target of young QB Teddy Bridgewater for a long time to come.
“He’s not the biggest receiver from a height standpoint, but with his catching radius, he makes plays like a big receiver,” Spielman said of Diggs, who was drafted in the fifth round last year.
The receiving position is strongly on the minds of Green Bay’s other division rivals as well.
Detroit is still waiting to hear whether or not star Calvin Johnson is going to retire while the Bears are trying to re-sign Alshon Jeffery to a new contract.
New Lions GM Bob Quinn said there’s no update on Johnson’s status nor a deadline for a decision.
“I don’t have any expectations,” Quinn said regarding Johnson’s future, revealing that the two spoke recently. “We had a good conversation. He didn’t tell me if he’s leaning one way or the other.”
In his first year on the job, Quinn sounded like a GM who plans to be active in free agency. Whether that means going after top or mid-level free agents could depend on the Lions’ salary-cap situation, which in part hinges on Johnson.
“This team didn’t make the playoffs last year. There’s a reason for that,” Quinn said. “The talent needs to improve. That’s why I’m here.
“I want to build the depth of this team. We have good players, but the depth needs to improve. That’s something I’m going to set out to do in free agency.”
Assuming the Bears bring back Jeffery, his receiving partner is expected to be Kevin White, last year’s first-round draft pick who missed all of 2015 due to injury. White was the No. 7 overall selection last year, and the Bears draft 11th this year, so their 2016 team will in effect be adding two top-tier draft picks.
“He’s got good size, quickness, explosion, big hands, yards after catch can be a positive,” Bears coach John Fox said of White. “But at the end of the day, he has to go out and prove that. It’s going to take some time, but now we have time and he’s healthy.”
The Bears will look different at running back, with Matt Forte not coming back. Fox said Forte’s days playing football are definitely not over, but the Bears like what they have in youngsters Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey, noting that Carey is “pretty special” as a runner after contact.
“What allowed us to make the decision (on Forte), albeit a difficult decision, is the confidence we have in our young backs,” Fox said. “The workload and the definition of their role will be up to them.”
Fox also expressed confidence in veteran QB Jay Cutler, who was the subject of all sorts of speculation when Fox took over the Bears a year ago. Fox feels “a lot better” about Cutler after working with him for a full season and called him a “bright spot” for the Bears in their 6-10 campaign.
“I saw way more about his mental toughness, way more about how he can execute an offense under pressure,” Fox said. “I’m very, very pleased with what I saw and what we have to work with moving forward.”