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The stunned frustration of the Vikings' locker cleanout

After losing to the Giants, Vikings players didn't know what to say about the season and what comes next

EAGAN — The Minnesota Vikings expected to spend the Monday after Wild Card weekend preparing their gameplan for the San Francisco 49ers. Instead, they cleaned out lockers.

Less than 24 hours since losing 31-24 to the New York Giants at US Bank Stadium, it was hard for players to talk about, well, just about anything.

“I wasn’t expecting us to be in this situation, I’m just dealing with it right now,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said.

It didn’t seem right to reflect on the good times. It felt wrong to talk about the season as a failure after winning 13 games, many of which came in dramatic fashion. And how could anyone discuss the bright future ahead when nobody really knows what’s next considering the age and contract status of so many players?

Vikings’ players had not seemed to have come to terms yet with the shock of the season coming to an end against a 9-7-1 Giants team that they defeated only a few weeks ago. Week after week they watched someone step up in the biggest moments but that never came versus New York. Even when reporters prodded players to give themselves a little pat on the back, they couldn’t get past the paradox of winning a division title in the regular season and then losing in the first round.

“We had a good season, you can call it a good season but I wouldn’t call it a success,” receiver Justin Jefferson said.

Both Kendricks and Jefferson were struggling with the fact that they wouldn’t be going through any more battles with their teammates for a long time.

“This team was definitely close,” Jefferson said. “Our team chemistry is something that we emphasized on as soon as [Kevin O’Connell] came into the building. It’s definitely one of the closest teams that I’ve been around. It’s tough to have this type of loss knowing that we’re so close as a team.”

“The guys, it’s always about the guys in the locker room,” Kendricks said. “We had so much fun this year. It sucks that it’s over…I’m just happy that I got to experience it with these guys in the locker room.”

Nobody wanted to talk about their futures on Monday, not even Jefferson, who is eligible for a contract extension that would likely make him the highest paid receiver in NFL history.

“It’s not really something I’m really worrying about or that I have my mindset on,” Jefferson said. “The money stuff, that comes with the job. I’ll be wherever I’m wanted. If they want me here, I’m here. That’s not something that I can really control.”

Some players’ 2023s are very much up in the air, including Kendricks and Dalvin Cook. Neither are free agents but cutting Kendricks would create $9.5 million in cap space and Cook around $8 million and both played below their previous standards.

“That’s not my job to determine, I’m just going to do what I do,” Kendricks said.

“Those are are questions that have nothing to do with me, it has to do with Kwesi, my agent and [O’Connell],” Cook said.

The uncertainty with the roster made it difficult for anyone to argue on locker cleanout day that next year is their year. The only positive spin for the future was regarding the working environment that O’Connell created.

“The biggest difference was coaching around here,” Cook said. “Guys believed that we could win each and every game. When you have that type of coaching, you have got guys who are willing to fight and work. Wanting to come into work and enjoy it. It was a pleasure to have.”

In the long run, players will probably look back at 2022 as a pretty special season. They went undefeated in one-score games and walked off in unpredictable fashion over and over, from the crazy game in Buffalo to the largest comeback in history versus the Colts. But reminiscing about the good times won’t be happening for a while for the players who thought they would be flying to San Francisco rather than headed on vacation.

“I’m not there yet, honestly, I’m here to win so it’s still upsetting,” Kendricks said.

Related: Justin Jefferson on his contract: 'If they want me here, I'm here'

Related: Thielen on uncertain future: 'I do know that I have a lot of ball left'