Vikings' Zimmer: Signing Cassel a priority
MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has made it clear. He wants Matt Cassel back.
Cassel last month opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. But the Vikings are hoping to retain the quarterback when they can begin signing free agents on Tuesday.
Zimmer already has talked to Cassel about returning.
“I would love to have Matt Cassel back if Matt Cassel wants to be back,” Zimmer said Thursday. “I don’t know if that will happen or won’t happen. But we’re going to find a quarterback somewhere. ... If Matt wants to come back, I’m sure that we’ll get it worked out.”
Minnesota can negotiate exclusively with Cassel’s camp Saturday through Tuesday, but Zimmer said he expects Cassel will want to explore what other opportunities might be out there.
“I think everyone wants to explore,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a bunch of pretty girls looking at him right now, and he wants to explore and see what’s best for him.”
The Vikings, after releasing defensive tackle Letroy Guion and wide receiver Greg Childs on Thursday, have about $40 million to spend under the NFL’s salary cap.
Minnesota’s quarterback problems last year were well chronicled. The team started Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman at different times and finished 5-10-1. At least Cassel provided some reasons for optimism, playing a key role in every victory.
Zimmer said he wants to bring back free-agent wide receiver Jerome Simpson, whose Vikings future had been in doubt following an arrest last November on suspicion of DWI. The Pioneer Press reported Wednesday that the Vikings are seeking to re-sign Simpson, who pleaded guilty in January to two lesser charges.
“If Jerome wants to come back — he wants to be here, and he feels like it’s a good fit — then we’ll be more than willing to welcome him back,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer spoke of an interest in re-signing free-agent defensive linemen Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen but added it might not be financially reasonable to keep all three.
“We’re going to continue to try (with) Kevin, we’re going to try to talk to Jared, we’re going to try to talk to Everson,” Zimmer said. “But there comes a point where the money that they’re getting, or money that they’re asking or the money that we’re willing to pay, there’s a line there somewhere.”
Allen, 31, made $17 million last season and would have to take a big pay cut to return to a defense that might not emphasize him getting big sack totals. Zimmer said Allen “has to decide how much money that needs to be due for him to buy into doing’’ what the Vikings want.
Zimmer wouldn’t tip his hand on the chances of the Vikings retaining free-agent cornerback Chris Cook, who told the Pioneer Press last week he wants to re-sign. Zimmer confirmed he spoke earlier this week with Cook, but wasn’t happy Cook tweeted that information on Monday.
“My impression is that he probably shouldn’t be tweeting our conversations,’’ Zimmer said. “He’s a guy that has some ability that I’ve had some luck in the past with, getting guys to play good that have ability. So if he comes back here, then I’m going to coach him as hard as I can and see if I can get him to play good.”
In response to Zimmer, Cook tweeted Thursday, “So I guess I can’t say that I had a conversation with a coach now.”
The Vikings have 16 unrestricted and two restricted free agents, and obviously have an interest in free agents from other teams. But Zimmer stressed the Vikings must be wise with how they spend.
“We’ve got a lot of holes to fill,’’ said Zimmer, adding there are more on defense than offense. “But we want to be smart with how we use the money. … Everybody sees that Maserati and they want to go buy it and you know you probably shouldn’t, you should probably buy a Ford F-150 like I got. Because if you get the F-150, you can keep building the pieces you need.”
Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman appear to be on the same page.
“We’ll have enough room to do some of the things that we need to do, but I still don’t believe in going out there and just spending money to spend it,” Spielman said. “It’s got to be something that is real specific to what we need.”
Foremost, the Vikings need a quarterback. But they might have to wait until after Cassel tests the market to find out if he’ll be returning.