EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings reported for minicamp this week with a dress-up theme — sports jerseys — that came with a contest to award the most creative player.
The assignment generated by quarterback Kirk Cousins spread through the entire organization, with roughly two-thirds of all staff wearing one to work on Tuesday — some current, some throwback, some random choices in between.
“All Kirk’s idea,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said. “That was his whole deal, and the guys took it and ran with it.”
Cousins chose a Georgetown-era Allen Iverson jersey. An assistant coach who wanted to needle his boss, whom O’Connell declined to name, found a replica of the head coach’s jersey from his college career at San Diego State. New Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy, in a head-to-toe Vancouver Grizzlies uniform featuring former point guard Mike Bibby, was declared the winner. Bibby happens to be Murphy’s uncle.
“When you spend time with your teammates, when you ask questions, when you get to know them, when you care about them, it just changes the way you pull for them and the way you pull for each other, the way you work together,” Cousins said. “During the season, even during training camp, it’s difficult to find the time to do that.”
Cousins has been taking small groups of teammates out for dinners this spring, too, including one outing to a Chili’s restaurant near Vikings headquarters that fit right in with the quirky-yet-wholesome dad brand he’s presented to the public throughout his career.
The Vikings cleared $9 million from their salary cap last week by releasing running back Dalvin Cook, the ultimate move in what has amounted to a major offseason makeover.
Dumping locker room leaders and longtime standouts such as Cook, wide receiver Adam Thielen and linebacker Eric Kendricks has on one hand been a jarring turn for a 13-win team and on the other hand made good sense in the context of data-based decision-making and maximum flexibility the front office under general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has stated as guiding roster-crafting principles. The Vikings also traded edge rusher Za’Darius Smith to Cleveland for two late-round draft picks.
O’Connell said this week he’s “well aware” of the resulting leadership void created by those decisions and has thus challenged some of the younger standouts on the team to help fill it.
“It just has a natural progression, and you always have the next group of guys that are ready to step up and take on a bigger role — not just on the field but certainly in the locker room,” Cousins said.
Having started his sixth season in Minnesota while playing the most important position on the field, Cousins would naturally gravitate to these efforts. The fact that he did not have his contract extended this offseason has made his team-building efforts all the more notable — and perhaps noble, too.
The Vikings under Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell have essentially placed Cousins into yet another prove-it year, without any promise he’ll be able to remain in purple beyond this season per his stated preference. Cousins, speaking to reporters on Wednesday after the conclusion of minicamp, acknowledged as much.
“I think we’ll probably talk about the contract next March,” Cousins said, “and until then just focus on this season and the job to do right now.”
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