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Dane Mizutani column: Vikings boast best job openings in NFL. And it’s not close.

While various teams in the league have vacancies to fill this offseason, no team can offer what the Vikings can. This is not a rebuild. Far from it.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings fans react during the Dec. 26, 2021, game against the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- On a frigid Monday morning in Minnesota, the Vikings finally pivoted.

The tandem of general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer were shown the door by team owners Mark and Zygi Wilf. What happened wasn’t a surprise considering the Vikings have missed the playoffs the past two seasons with losing records.

Though the Vikings closed out the regular season with a 31-17 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the game felt more like a funeral, the final chapter for a longstanding regime that never got the franchise where its rabid fanbase hoped it could be.

There certainly have been good moments since Spielman arrived in 2006 and ultimately hired Zimmer in 2014. Together they managed to keep the Vikings relevant for the better part of a decade, Spielman pulling the strings behind the scenes, Zimmer making sure the pieces produced on the field.

The franchise experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows with both men working hand in hand.

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Who could forget the Minnesota Miracle on Jan. 14, 2018, when Case Keenum found Stefon Diggs for a seemingly impossible 61-yard touchdown as time expired? That lifted the Vikings to a 29-24 playoff win over the New Orleans Saints and catapulted them into the NFC Championship Game.

A win away from playing Super Bowl LII on their home field, the Vikings followed up an incredible win by looking completely overmatched in a 38-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

That playoff run was a microcosm of how things went with Spielman and Zimmer in charge. For as good as the Vikings have been over the past decade, they have never been good enough.

That was especially this case this season. And so, the Wilfs finally decided it was time to move on.

“Our goal is to consistently contend and win championships,” Mark Wilf said. “We are clearly disappointed in the football results this season. And over the course of the past few weeks, this is something we’ve been thinking and deliberating quite a bit on. This past week we kind of finalized this direction that we’re beginning on now.”

What does that new direction look like? That remains to be seen. It sounds like the Vikings plan to conduct a search for a new general manager first, then let that person, whoever it is, help in the search for the new head coach.

It shouldn’t be hard for the Wilfs to find interested candidates for both positions.

These are the best job openings in the NFL. And it’s not close.

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While various teams in the league have vacancies to fill this offseason, no team can offer what the Vikings can. This is not a rebuild. Far from it.

“We have high expectations for this football team,” Mark Wilf said. “We believe we can be super competitive right here in 2022.”

There’s reason to believe that because of the state-of-the-art facilities at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, because of the homefield advantage that U.S. Bank Stadium provides, and most important, because of how much talent the Vikings have on the roster.

Whoever steps in as general manager and head coach will inherit stars like receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Dalvin Cook on offense, as well as top-tier talent like linebacker Eric Kendricks and safety Harrison Smith on defense.

Still under contract are receiver Adam Thielen, offensive tackles Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill, defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Piece, and potentially defensive end Danielle Hunter, whose status is up in the air after suffering torn a pectoral muscle this season.

That’s more talent than pretty much every other team in the NFL currently looking for a general manager and/or head coach.

Only the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders have a legitimate argument as a better situation, while the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars are in much worse spots than the Vikings as far as roster construction goes.

“We have a lot of really, really good football players,” Thielen said Monday. “And I think we’re close. As an older guy, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to play. I’m excited that we’re not far away, and if we get the right people in here, we could potentially take it to the next level.”

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“We expect to be back in the hunt next season,” O’Neill added. “This isn’t a tear-down. This isn’t trying to restock the whole entire roster. We have guys who are going to be here for a while who are talented and will put us in winning situations.”

The only knock of the Vikings as a destination is that being saddled with quarterback Kirk Cousins and his $45 million cap hit next season might not be very enticing. To that point, Cousins could be a tradable asset this offseason, and worse-case scenario, he will be off the books after next season.

Whoever is in charge of the Vikings at that point — both general manager and head coach — can work together to find their franchise quarterback of the future. That type of flexibility is something else not many teams can offer.

“We believe we have a strong, strong foundation here,” Mark Wilf said. “As difficult a decision as it was, we feel it’s the time and place to go in this direction to get us to the next level, which is where we all want to be.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGSFOOTBALL
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