EDEN PRAIRIE, Minnesota — New Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has taken a methodical approach to evaluating the team's muddled quarterback situation, refusing to make any concrete statements about the position until he had time to do his homework and come to a decision.
With free agency less than a week away, the coach appears to have come to at least one conclusion: Zimmer wants Matt Cassel to return to Minnesota next season, if the free agent-to-be decides he wants to be with the Vikings.
"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. And if it's not Matt Cassel, then we'll find someone else.
"I want guys who want to be here. I want guys that want to be part of the franchise, be part of the organization, be part of the team. And if Matt wants to come back, I'm sure that we'll get it worked out."
Zimmer said he has had conversations with Cassel, who went 3-3 in his six starts last season and was on the field at the end of the game for all five Vikings victories, to that effect. Cassel opted out of his contract last month and Zimmer said he expected Cassel to explore free agency before the quarterback makes a decision. Free agents can sign with new teams starting on Tuesday.
"He's got a bunch of pretty girls looking at him right now," Zimmer said, referring to teams that are expected to court Cassel in free agency. "And he wants to explore and see what's best for him. I don't blame any of these guys. In free agency, I think that's why they have the rules is that they get a chance to go see what their market's worth."
Last year Cassel split the duties with Christian Ponder for most of the season, with Josh Freeman also getting one start. Cassel completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,807 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"I think the team rallied around him a lot but I think the team has a lot of confidence in him," Zimmer said. "Other than playing against him I don't that much about him yet other than the conversation that we had on the phone."
The Vikings have the eighth overall pick in the upcoming draft and are expected to look at drafting a quarterback. But with star running back Adrian Peterson approaching 30 years old, bringing in a veteran quarterback to serve as a bridge until that young player is ready is an avenue the team will consider.
One player Peterson wants the Vikings to pursue is Michael Vick, who likely will be looking for a starting job after losing his in Philadelphia to Nick Foles. Peterson tweeted on Thursday that Vick "would (instantly) make the Vikings a playoff team!"
"I think he has his opinions," Zimmer said about Peterson. "I like Adrian a lot from the little time that I've talked to him. I know that he's a great running back. I don't know anything else."
Zimmer said he would also like to have receiver Jerome Simpson and longtime defensive stars Jared Allen and Kevin Williams back as well, if all three decide they want to play for the Vikings and accept what could be different roles than the ones they had under the previous regime. Allen and Williams likely would have to take significant paycuts to return.
"I think it would be great for him to finish here," Zimmer said of Allen, "but I do understand the business part of all this stuff and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."
In general, Zimmer said the Vikings have "a lot of holes to fill" on both sides of the ball as free agency approaches. But the coach expected the team to take a pragmatic approach, focusing more on the draft than making a big splash by signing high-priced veterans.
"I think if we go out and spend a whole bunch of money now, we'd be upset two years from now because some of them didn't work out," Zimmer said. "So we're going to be real diligent in how we approach this and making sure that not only is it best for next year, but best for the long run too."
NOTES: The Vikings released DT LeTroy Guion and WR Greg Childs. Guion started 31 games in six seasons with the Vikings, but the team saved $4 million by cutting him. Childs was a fourth-round draft choice in 2012, but never played in a game after tearing the patellar tendons in both knees in training camp during his rookie year.