Tagged in: Minnesota

Grizzlies rout Timberwolves 124-96 to tie series at 1 apiece

Ja Morant scored 23 points and handed out 10 assists as the Memphis Grizzlies looked much more like the team that posted the NBA’s second-best record, routing the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-96 on Tuesday night to even up their first-round Western Conference series at 1 apiece.

Morant went to the bench with 4:40 left to a huge ovation. He finished a rebound shy of a triple-double. Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. each added 16 with Jackson hitting 4 of 7 from 3-point range as the Grizzlies set a franchise-record for largest margin of victory in the postseason.

Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins stated Morant was phenomenal along with the bench outscoring Minnesota 60-43. “This is our recipe …,” Jenkins said. “But this is the more the style that we got to play.”

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Seven Grizzlies ended in double figures with Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman Sr. and Ziaire Williams each having 13. Tyus Jones added 10.

Game 3 is Thursday night in Minneapolis.

Anthony Edwards, who scored 36 points in his playoff debut in Game 1, led Minnesota with 20. All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Naz Reid and Taurean Prince had 12 each off the bench, and D’Angelo Russell added 11.

The Timberwolves dominated the series opener after scoring a franchise-record 41 points in the first quarter.

This time, officials stayed very busy calling 20 fouls in a very long first quarter. That kept the NBA’s top scoring teams in the regular season from getting into any rhythm as they combined to shoot 33 free throws.

At one point, Memphis had Steven Adams, Jackson, Clarke and Dillon Brooks on the bench with two fouls. That forced coach Taylor Jenkins to turn to Tillman who didn’t play in Game 1, and he turned in the best playoff game of his young career.

The Grizzlies grabbed their biggest lead of this short series at 30-23 on a floater by Jones with 2:11 left, and they led 33-32 after the first quarter when Morant’s long buzzer-beater attempt hit off the rim and off.

“Then our offense just dried up. Our shot selection in the second quarter basically started the avalanche,” said Minnesota coach Chris Finch, who added that the Grizzlies also started controlling the glass. “That’s really where the game was won.”

Memphis started running in the second and opened the quarter with an 11-2 run and finished on an 11-5 run for a 60-49 lead at halftime with Morant not scoring a point. Patrick Beverley summed up Minnesota’s struggles when his layup before the buzzer rolled off the rim.

The Grizzlies pushed that lead to as much as 27 with a 25-9 run in the third, and Morant scored 12 in the quarter hitting 5 of 7 shots, including both 3-pointers.

His layup gave Memphis a 87-60 lead with 4:15 to go in the third, and the Grizzlies led 96-77 going into the fourth. Minnesota was the NBA’s best-shooting team outside the arc and outscored Memphis 48-21 in Game 1 as the Grizzlies shooting 26% outside the arc with only three knocking down a 3-pointer.

This time, Memphis shot 11-of-34 with six Grizzlies knocking down at least one.

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CB Patrick Peterson says he’s re-signing with Minnesota Vikings

Cornerback Patrick Peterson announced Wednesday on “All Things Covered,” the podcast he co-hosts with Bryant McFadden, that he will be re-signing with the Minnesota Vikings on a one-year contract.

“I’m gonna stay put in Minnesota and run it back with the guys. Keep it in the North,” he said, while donning a Vikings cap.

He stated other teams his agent was talking to included the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Commanders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He said Tampa Bay’s interest was dependent on whether they re-signed Carlton Davis, which they ultimately did.

He said the addition of new head coach Kevin O’Connell and his pick for defensive coordinator, Ed Donatell, has him excited to return. “I just felt it was right just to be there and grind with those guys and try to all come together for that common goal. The team is stacked,” he said.

“Like I always talked about last year, we just didn’t put it together in certain situations but we got even better, I believe, this year in the offseason by adding a great offensive mind in Kevin, adding pass rusher (Za’Darius Smith) to help Danielle [Hunter], with Ed coming from his defensive background … these guys are definitely trying to put the pieces into place and now it’s just on us, the coaching staff and the players, to go out and executive and put together the best game plan possible to get some dubs.”

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He said he would like to play three more seasons, including the 2022 season.

“I feel great, it just all depends on what the body feels,” he said.

After 10 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals where he earned three All-Pro honors and was named to eight consecutive Pro Bowls, Peterson signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Vikings in 2021.

Peterson, 31, brought a wealth of experience to the Vikings secondary as he transitioned into a role that did not rely on him shadowing opponents’ top receivers the way he had throughout the prime of his career in Arizona. While in Minnesota, Peterson played an important role in helping develop young cornerbacks like Cameron Dantzler, Kris Boyd and Harrison Hand.

Peterson still excelled as a run defender and might opt to explore a move to safety at this point of his career, a move he discussed at the tail end of the 2020 season while still with the Cardinals.

The cornerback walked away from the 2021 season with a pick-six in the Vikings’ Week 18 finale versus the Chicago Bears to extend a streak of recording an interception in all 11 seasons he has played in the NFL.

He appeared in 13 games for the Vikings after a hamstring injury forced him onto injured reserve from Weeks 7-10 and a COVID-19 diagnosis caused him to miss a Week 13 loss at Detroit.

Peterson said his goal is to play 15 seasons before considering retirement, which could feature a move into broadcasting. His podcast that he co-hosts with Bryant McFadden, his cousin and a seven-year NFL vet, is a weekly obligation for the cornerback.

The Cardinals selected Peterson fifth overall in the 2011 draft. He has 29 interceptions in his 11 NFL seasons.

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Minnesota Vikings reach deal with free agent linebacker Jordan Hicks

The Minnesota Vikings have reached a deal with free-agent linebacker Jordan Hicks, the team revealed Tuesday.

Terms were not released, but multiple reports said the two-year deal was worth $12 million.

The Arizona Cardinals released Hicks last week in a move that saved the team $6.5 million on their salary cap. Hicks, who turns 30 in July, has started 51 consecutive matches, the third-longest active streak among all NFL linebackers.

He played at a high level last season, registering 116 tackles and four sacks, but the Cardinals made the move to give fellow inside linebacker Zaven Collins, drafted in the first round last year, more playing time.

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The Vikings already have veteran middle linebacker Eric Kendricks on their roster, but new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has said he plans to use both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. Hicks thrived in the Cardinals’ 3-4 and wore the green dot on his helmet, which signaled he was calling defensive plays.

Hicks signed with the Cardinals in 2019 and posted more than 100 tackles in all three seasons with Arizona, including a career-best 150 his first year there.

He spent the first four campaings of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, who selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft.

He missed 21 regular-season games due to a variety of injuries during his time with the Eagles but didn’t miss a game (all starts) in three seasons with the Cardinals.

Hicks has career numbers of 638 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 11 interceptions.

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Minnesota Vikings officially hire ‘innovative’ Kevin O’Connell as new head coach

The Vikings formally hired Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as the 10th head coach in franchise history Wednesday.

Vikings co-owner and president Mark Wilf called O’Connell “a strong leader, an innovative coach and an excellent communicator” in a statement issued from the team.

“Kevin played the game at all levels, which gives him a unique connection to players, and he is highly respected throughout the league,” he said.

Co-owner and chairman Zygi Wilf lauded O’Connell for his “football IQ” and said he “is passionate about preparing, developing and communicating with his players.”

“Beyond the Xs and Os, everyone we spoke with throughout this search process spoke highly of Kevin’s ability to motivate players, coaches and staff,” he said.

The Vikings plan to hold a news conference to introduce O’Connell as their new coach Thursday.

O’Connell, 36, becomes the second-youngest current NFL head coach, behind his now-former boss, Sean McVay, also 36 but eight months younger.

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Minnesota had not been permitted to revealed that it was hiring O’Connell while the Rams were still playing in the postseason.

Los Angeles’ season ended Sunday, culminating with its Super Bowl LVI triumph.

O’Connell was one of four candidates to receive a second interview with the Vikings, along with Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, then-Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

“As I spent time with Kevin during the interview process, it became immediately clear he will be a great partner in building this football team for long-term success,” Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in the statement. “He understands what is critical to leading a team that wins at the highest level, and he has an ability to simplify the complex, which will help us in problem-solving in all football areas. He is a genuinely positive person who will help create a high-energy internal environment.”

O’Connell is expected to take Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator Wes Phillips with him to Minnesota as his offensive coordinator or passing game coordinator, league sources have told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown also will interview with the Vikings for their offensive coordinator job, per Schefter.

The Vikings also have their defensive coordinator for O’Connell’s staff, officially hiring Ed Donatell on Thursday. In addition, veteran defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been added as assistant head coach.

O’Connell becomes the second coordinator in two years on Sean McVay’s staff to land a head-coaching job, joining former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who was hired by the Chargers last year. He is the fourth current NFL head coach who worked under McVay. The Bengals’ Zac Taylor and Packers’ Matt LaFleur are the others.

O’Connell replaces Mike Zimmer, who was fired last month after eight seasons. The Vikings finished with an 8-9 record and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

O’Connell finished his second season as the Rams’ offensive coordinator since joining the franchise in 2020. Before that, he was with Washington for three seasons, as offensive coordinator in 2019, passing game coordinator in 2018 and quarterbacks coach in 2017 when he supervised current Vikings starter Kirk Cousins.

After dabbling in broadcasting, his first NFL coaching job came with the Browns in 2015 as their quarterbacks coach. The following year, he worked on special projects for the 49ers, when he befriended Adofo-Mensah, the recently appointed GM of the Vikings who was in research and development for San Francisco.

O’Connell was a quarterback in the NFL, taken by the Patriots in the third round of the 2008 draft and also spending time with the Lions, Jets, Dolphins and Chargers in five seasons through 2012.

He attempted only six passes for the Patriots as a rookie, the only regular-season attempts of his career, and he was released the following year.

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Los Angeles Chargers hire Ryan Ficken as special teams coordinator

The Chargers have hired longtime NFL assistant Ryan Ficken to be their special teams coordinator.

He substitutes Derius Swinton II, who was let go after one season.

Ficken spent the last 15 years with Minnesota and was the Vikings’ special teams coordinator in 2021.

Before that, he was a special teams assistant for eight campaigns. During his time in Minnesota, Ficken also worked with the wide receivers and running backs.

A graduate of Arizona State, Ficken, 41, started his coaching career with a three-year stint as an assistant at UCLA.

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The Chargers have struggled on special teams for several years.

Ficken will be tasked with trying to improve an inconsistent Chargers special teams unit. Los Angeles improved as the season went along because of the midseason signings of returner Andre Roberts and kicker Dustin Hopkins. Roberts led the league with a 32.8-yard kick return average while Hopkins was 18 of 20 on field goals after joining the Chargers.

A short time later, then-head coach Anthony Lynn took over special teams to finish the season.

In 2021, the Chargers added returner Andre Roberts and kicker Dustin Hopkins — both veterans — in October. Their arrivals boosted a unit that steadily improved but still concluded near the bottom in the NFL’s overall rankings.

Last month, coach Brandon Staley decided to make a change, dismissing Swinton and special teams assistant Mayur Chaudhari.

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Cousins throws for 2 touchdowns as Vikings beat Bears 17-9

The Minnesota Vikings have little margin for error and plenty of room to improve as they try to secure a playoff spot.

Not that Kirk Cousins needed a reminder. Or, for that matter, coach Mike Zimmer.

Cousins threw two touchdown passes, and Minnesota defeated the struggling and short-handed Chicago Bears 17-9 on Monday night.

The Vikings (7-7), part of a tight pack of teams vying for one of the NFC’s seven playoff spots, were in line for their most lopsided victory before Justin Fields threw a touchdown pass to Jesper Horsted on the game’s final play.

That score aside, Minnesota withstood several scoring threats by Chicago down the stretch coming off a win over Pittsburgh in which the Vikings nearly blew a 29-0 lead.

“I think we have work,” Cousins said. “I think there is a lot to improve upon. We’re playing three really good opponents up ahead. We’re probably going to need everyone, so there is not a lot of room for error and we have to tighten the screws here and play our best football down the stretch.”

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The Vikings’ final three matches are at home versus the Los Angeles Rams and at NFC North champion Green Bay before they host Chicago in the finale. The result in this one was hardly a surprise given the state of the Bears (4-10).

Chicago lost for the eighth time in nine games, and with 14 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, that seemed inevitable. Receiver Allen Robinson was on it, as was the starting secondary.

The health issues also hit the coaching staff, with all three coordinators testing positive for the coronavirus during the week.

Defensive coordinator Sean Desai was cleared to return hours before kickoff. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was not cleared, so Nagy called plays. And special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was out.

Cousins, who struggled last week, didn’t exactly dominate in this one. He was 12 of 24 for 87 yards with an interception and got sacked four times. The two-time Pro Bowler also connected with Justin Jefferson for a 12-yard touchdown in the first quarter and threw a 7-yarder to Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the third.

Dalvin Cook ran for 89 yards, after going for 205 versus Pittsburgh in a sooner-than-expected return from a dislocated shoulder.

D.J. Wonnum had a career-high three sacks and the Vikings recovered three fumbles on the way to their second straight win after back-to-back losses.

“It’s not just playing better, it’s getting better,” Zimmer said. “It’s getting better in the run defense, getting better in the pass coverage, it’s getting better in protection. It’s getting better in running the ball. It’s all those things. We’re trying to get better so we can get to that spot where we’ve got to get to.”

For the Bears and their fans, it was another frustrating outing.

Fields threw for 285 yards and ran for 35 in his second game back after missing two with broken ribs. The rookie completed 26 of 39 passes playing behind a line missing both starting tackles, with right tackle Larry Borom on the COVID list and left tackle Jason Peters out with an ankle injury.

Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks each had two sacks. Quinn has 16 this year, leaving him just shy of Hall of Famer Richard Dent’s franchise record of 17 1/2 in 1984. But Chicago committed nine penalties for 91 yards in a sloppy performance that had fans again booing at times and making their feelings about coach Matt Nagy known, chanting “Fire Nagy!”

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Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook has dislocated shoulder

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook dislocated his shoulder during Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Cook is anticipated to miss at least the next two matches — Sunday at the Detroit Lions and the following Thursday versus the Pittsburgh Steelers — with the hope being he can return the next week for the Monday, Dec. 20, game at the Chicago Bears, the source told Schefter.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer would not disclose the nature of Cook’s injury Monday and stated his star running back was “day-to-day.”

“That’s what they’re telling me,” Zimmer said.

Cook was carted off the field late in the third quarter and ruled out for the remainder of the game.

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He was injured after being brought down by Niners defensive tackle Kevin Givens following a handoff.

The running back lost the ball in the process of being tackled and immediately grabbed for his chest with his right arm when he hit the ground.

He stayed down on the field for several minutes as athletic trainers tended to him. Both Vikings and Niners players knelt around Cook while he was moved onto a cart before being taken off the field and back into the locker room for further evaluation.

Cook’s day ended with 10 carries for 39 yards and six receptions for 64 yards. He was replaced by backup running back Alexander Mattison, who rushed three times for 8 yards and caught one pass for 2 yards after Cook left.

In other news Monday, the Viking placed cornerback Patrick Peterson on the reserve/COVID-19 list, putting his availability for Sunday’s game versus the Lions in question.

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Minnesota Vikings TE Irv Smith Jr. likely to miss season after undergoing surgery on meniscus

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a meniscus injury, according to coach Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer did not give a timeline for Smith’s return but acknowledged that the Vikings are preparing for the third-year tight end to miss the whole season.

“We knew it was probably going to be a little while anyway,” Zimmer said. “Those are all part of things you have to plan for.”

Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Smith is facing a recovery timetable of 4-5 months. The Vikings placed Smith on the reserve/injured list later Wednesday.

Zimmer stated Monday that Smith was injured during Minnesota’s preseason finale at Kansas City, although it’s difficult to discern how and when he suffered the injury. The tight end was on the field for only 11 plays, and there was no noticeable moment where he appeared to get hurt.

“Sometimes injuries are like that,” Zimmer said. “You [don’t know] until you get in there. Honestly, with Danielle [Hunter] last year, that was about as insignificant as you can imagine. Then you get in and X-ray and MRI and do all those things and find out it’s more significant than you think.”

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Smith was primed for a breakout season at the time of his injury, having risen to the top of the Vikings’ depth chart at tight end after the departure of Kyle Rudolph during free agency. With Rudolph injured during the final four matches of the 2020 season, Smith stepped in and recorded three touchdowns on 20 targets, finishing the year with 30 catches for 365 yards and five scores.

“He’s just a great football player, and there’s no reason to think he wasn’t going to have a great year, but he’s got a lot of good football ahead of him,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “I would expect, whenever he’s back, the same great player that he was last year and that he was this August.”

According to Zimmer, team doctor Dr. Christopher Larsen repaired Smith’s injured meniscus instead of removing it, which could have led the tight end to develop an arthritic knee condition. Meniscus repair involves a longer recovery than a clean-up type procedure but will benefit the long-term health of Smith’s knee.

On Tuesday, the Vikings made a move to mitigate the loss of Smith, signing veteran tight end Chris Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick from the New York Jets for a 2022 fourth-round selection.

Minnesota also claimed former Jacksonville tight end Ben Ellefson on Wednesday.

After critiquing his team’s tight end depth as “not very good,” Zimmer said the Vikings would be looking to add additional players as they constructed the initial 53-man roster. Herndon spent three seasons with the Jets and found himself on the trading block after falling down the depth chart during training camp.

Last season, Herndon struggled with drops and fumbles and transitioned into more of a blocking tight end. He bounced back toward the end of 2020, recording 31 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns.

Minnesota will also lean on its No. 2 tight end, Tyler Conklin, in Smith’s absence. Conklin returned to practice this week after dealing with a hamstring injury he classified as “minor.”

Like Smith, the 2018 fifth-round pick had a strong showing at the end of the 2020 season. Conklin finished his third year with 19 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown and developed into a consistent blocker.

Even if Smith had been able to play this season, the Vikings didn’t see specific responsibilities he would handle versus Conklin, which could bode well for this offense as it tries to compensate for the loss of its potential breakout star tight end.

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Everson Griffen signs with Minnesota Vikings, says he regrets leaving to sign elsewhere in 2020

Veteran free-agent pass-rusher Everson Griffen signed with the Minnesota Vikings, the team revealed Monday.

The terms of Griffen’s contract were not disclosed.

Griffen, 33, was selected by Minnesota in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft and spent a decade with the Vikings. From 2010 to ’19, Griffen totaled 74.5 sacks, which ranks seventh in franchise history. He was named a Pro Bowler four times in Minnesota, including three consecutive seasons from 2015 to ’17.

In February 2020, Griffen opted out of his contract and became a free agent. He signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys in August 2020 and was traded to the Detroit Lions two months later. In 14 matches last season, Griffen registered six sacks, 33 tackles (seven for loss) and 14 quarterback hits.

Griffen said he was waiting for the “right fit” as a free agent and noted how difficult last year was having to move his family from Minnesota to Dallas to Detroit in the middle of a pandemic. His familiarity with the Vikings’ scheme and close relationship with players like Danielle Hunter and defensive line coach Andre Patterson drew him back to Minnesota.

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“Honestly, I wanted to be here,” Griffen said. “I really wanted to be here. I felt like this was the best fit for me throughout the whole league. I really wanted to be here and I’m excited to be back. I’m just happy that things worked out the way they did and they welcomed me back with open arms.”

As Griffen reflected on why he left Minnesota instead of taking a pay cut after opting out of his previous deal, the defensive end expressed regret with his decision.

“I left because I thought the grass was greener on the other side, to be honest, and it wasn’t,” Griffen said. “Going to Dallas, going to Detroit, the grass wasn’t greener. I didn’t get the love that I got here with the fans, with the coaches, with the players and the grass wasn’t greener. I learned I’m back home and I’m happy to be home. “

One of Minnesota’s top position questions in training camp is determining who will start opposite Hunter at defensive end. 

Stephen Weatherly and D.J. Wonnum have been the front-runners throughout the preseason, but the team left the door open for more competition at that spot when it brought in Griffen for a workout last week.

Wearing an unfamiliar No. 58, which he noted was a “little bit” weird, Griffen was at practice Monday and participated in light individual work. Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that the Vikings plan to use Griffen as a “situational” pass-rusher. Griffen said he’ll play “wherever they want me.”

Griffen met with Vikings brass last week following his workout to confirm, “that my head was in it. That I’m in a good place.” The defensive end took a month-long hiatus during the 2018 season to focus on his health and wellbeing after the Vikings ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation and two separate incidents involving police authorities led to him being hospitalized.

Griffen opened up about his struggles last year and told NFL Network that he lived in a sober house for three months starting in Oct. 2018.

Earlier this offseason, Griffen composed a handful of insulting tweets where he called Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins “ass” and claimed that Zimmer never wanted to sign the QB. The defensive end said he planned to speak to Cousins and apologize.

“I haven’t really talked to him yet but I’m going to get around to doing that,” Griffen said. “Apologize to him, apologize to Coach Zimmer, [general manager] Rick [Spielman] about what I said. I take full ownership in that. I’ve still got to talk to Kirk and apologize to him about that.”

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Vikings GM Rick Spielman agree to multi year extension

The Vikings have locked up Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer for the next four campaigns.

The team informed Monday the General Manager’s multiyear contract extension is done. Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reports that Spielman’s extension runs concurrent with that of coach Mike Zimmer, who signed his multiyear year two weeks ago.

That means both are signed through the 2023 season.

“It’s great,” Zimmer said Monday on a conference call, via Tomasson. “Rick’s done a phenomenal job with me here, and I think it’s a good team. I think . . . ownership, the coaching staff, the management, I think all that stuff is really good, and it’s been really good for all of us.”

Spielman and Zimmer both were entering the final year of their contracts. “Wanted to start off by thanking the Wilf family,” Spielman said in conference call. “My family and I have been blessed for 15 years to be a part of this organization and very excited about the future and what lies ahead for us.”

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Spielman became the Vikings’ General Manager in 2012, six years after arriving in Minnesota as vice president of player personnel.

The team has made the postseason four of his eight seasons as G.M. and reached the NFC Championship Game in the 2017 season.

Minnesota ranks ninth in the NFL with a .570 winning percentage (72-54-2) during that eight-season span.

“We appreciate Rick’s work ethic, diligence and commitment to the Vikings,” Vikings owner/chairman Zygi Wilf said in a statement. “We continue to have the utmost confidence in him as we work to assemble championship-caliber teams to reach our ultimate goal of winning a world championship.”

During the 2020 NFL draft, Spielman turned 12 picks into a seven-round NFL-record 15 selections with two additional picks gained for the 2021 NFL draft through trades. The Vikings’ 2020 class is the largest since the NFL condensed its annual draft to seven rounds in 1994.

It also marked Minnesota’s first 15-member class since 1985, tying for the largest overall draft class since 1976, when the team added 17 players over 17 rounds.

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