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In the aftermath of the playoff loss, the Vikings empty their lockers and take stock of the season

For months, video monitors at the Vikings training center showed the players’ daily schedule: weightlifting and recovery sessions, team meetings, guided tours, practices. On Monday, the daily planner was gone, replaced only by the “Our Team, Our Way, Our Process” graphic coach Kevin O’Connell commissioned ahead of his first season.

The lights in the Vikings indoor court were a little dimmer than usual, the hallways were eerily quiet as players left team meetings and headed out to start their offseasons. Less than 24 hours earlier, they kicked off their second home playoff game at US Bank Stadium with noise levels exceeding 120 decibels. Their 31-24 loss to the Giants, however, ended all their plans and dampened their enthusiasm.

O’Connell reminded players at an exit meeting of all the Vikings accomplished in 2022: becoming the third team in franchise history to win 13 regular season games, winning the team’s first NFC North title since 2017 and set an NFL record with 11 one-score wins. But an uncertain offseason lies ahead, with four defensive starters from Sunday’s game set to hit free agency and a handful of franchise games possibly in line to leave.

So the Vikings’ final task of the 2022 season was to say goodbye and keep both surprising achievements and a sudden exit in perspective.

“You could call it a good season. I wouldn’t call it a success,” receiver Justin Jefferson said. “Everybody wants to get to the Super Bowl. That’s the hit of the season. You can tell you had a good run at the Super Bowl and where you wanted to go and where the future might take you. isn’t exactly what we wanted, but it’s really good to get back to it and see the good things about it.”

Jefferson, who has a good chance of winning NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors after leading the league in catches (128) and yardage gains (1,809), could also be one of the greatest stories from the Vikings offseason. He is eligible to receive a contract extension ahead of his fourth season and could command a deal worth more than $30 million per season.

He said Monday that the contract discussion “comes with success,” adding, “They pay me what they pay me. They don’t even really need to give me an extension this year. It’s not really something that worries me.

“I want to win a Super Bowl. That’s what I focus on the most.”

By the time Jefferson returns for his fourth season, the Vikings roster could undergo a number of changes. They could need to clear nearly $20 million in cap space before the start of the 2023 league year in March, which means players such as linebacker Eric Kendricks and running back Dalvin Cook could be released or asked to restructure their contracts by then.

Kendricks said on Monday he was “not even thinking about it right now” when asked about his future in Minnesota, while Cook said: “You have to talk to [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] and ‘KO’ [O’Connell] about that. That’s not my kind of question.”

Players have spoken throughout the season about how many close relationships they have, saying a playoff loss would sting more because it would mean inevitable changes in the locker room. Those changes are a reality on the business side of the game, said linebacker Jordan Hicks, who made the Vikings his third different team this season. Those changes seem closer than ever now that the 2022 Vikings have played their last game.

“You bond, you create relationships that really last longer than wins and losses,” Hicks said. “When we’re on the road, we can look back on those memories and see how much we’ve accomplished together.”

In three months, the players who remain on the 2022 roster will be back in town to start O’Connell’s second season, trying something resembling continuity.

“There’s a foundation built here,” Hicks said. “As we move forward, these are the standards we hold to continue the process we had.”

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