FARGO, N.D. -- Unless the Minnesota Vikings' experiment with Mike Wallace had turned out to be an unqualified success, it always stood the risk of being a one-year project. The Vikings sent a fifth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins a year ago to acquire a player scheduled to make $11.5 million in 2016. When players making that much are available in a trade for that little, and none of the money is guaranteed, things in the NFL have a way of changing quickly.
"It was more about money than anything else," coach Mike Zimmer said at the NFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday. "I thought he was a great kid. ... Every day he comes to practice; he works. Even when he's frustrated, he doesn't really say he's frustrated."
Zimmer had little interest in addressing Wallace's week-old comments about Teddy Bridgewater, other than to say the receiver and the quarterback had a good relationship when they were together in Minnesota. After Wallace, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens last week, said he needed to play with a "real quarterback," the receiver clarified his comments, saying he hadn't meant to disparage Bridgewater.
Nonetheless, Wallace's departure didn't leave Zimmer feeling like the Vikings needed to replace him with another veteran receiver.
"We had a receiver here that was making a lot of money that really didn't do what we needed to do," Zimmer said. "So I don't know that it's a necessity to go out and sign another wide receiver. We've got to get better with the guys we've got, and we've got to fix other areas that can allow these receivers to be more effective in the games."
That, of course, doesn't mean the Vikings won't take a receiver in the draft in April. But a thin free-agent crop didn't offer any obvious upgrades, and Zimmer made the point several times on Wednesday that the passing game can improve simply with better protection for Bridgewater. It also didn't sound as though the coach had given up on Charles Johnson, and the Vikings know they still could get a boost if Cordarrelle Patterson figures things out as a receiver.
"If he wants to be something other than just a returner, this is the year he has to do it. If he wants to be a NFL wide receiver, this is his time," Zimmer said. "A lot of guys grow up slower than others, at different times, in different stages. Guys kind of blossom in their third or fourth year. I don't know if it's going to happen -- I hope it does, for our sake. I'm not trying to make excuses for him, but he wasn't at Tennessee very long. There's a lot of other factors: I don't think he was quite really ready when he came in the NFL, as far as all the things you have to do to be a really good professional football player. You're always hoping -- because he has the talent to do it. But there's guys that do and guys that don't. Right now, he's right on the fence."
Patterson has been working with route-running coach Steve Calhoun in Orange County, Calif., and said last month he knows his fourth NFL season could be a make-or-break year. If he emerges, or Johnson recaptures his form from 2014, the Vikings might be able to get by without adding another proven receiver. At the moment, they certainly seem to be leaning toward trying to make it work without outside help.
"You could probably say [last year was disappointing] about every receiver we had, except maybe [Stefon] Diggs," Zimmer said. "[Johnson] and Jarius [Wright], and hopefully Cordarrelle, and Diggs, we'll just keep plugging away. I'd like to have more personnel everywhere, but I don't necessarily think it's something we have to do to win."