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Vikings Free Agency: What’s Happened? What’s Next?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 18, 2013 – 5:18 am

Rick Spielman may prefer to and excel at building his team through the draft. But the Vikings GM has illustrated this year that he also views free agency as an important vehicle to improving his roster. We’re not even a week into the New League Year, and the Vikings have already been one of the NFL’s most active teams when it comes to shuffling the roster and making improvements.

Here’s a quick look at what the Vikings have done so far, and what might be next…

Got Jennings? Vikings do
The Vikings finished the 2012 regular season with the 31st-ranked passing offense, so during the offseason you can be sure that adding talented pass-catchers will be atop the priority list. To that end, the Vikings have already taken a huge step forward by signing WR Greg Jennings. After being a thorn in the Vikings side for the past 7 seasons, Jennings will now be a helping hand to Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and QB Christian Ponder. The signing of Jennings was met with wild excitement from a Vikings fan base that has watched the former Packers pass-catcher torch them for 63 receptions and 10 TDs in 15 games vs. the Purple.

rick-jennings

Loadholt, other UFAs re-signed
Spielman is asked every year what his priority will be in free agency. And every year he responds by saying that re-signing his own free agents is atop his wish list. Early in this year’s free agency, Spielman attacked that wish list. The focal point of that effort was re-signing RT Phil Loadholt, and the Vikings got the job done. Aside from Loadholt, the Vikings were also able to reach agreements with 5 of their other 6 unrestricted free agents (UFAs), including: OL Joe Berger, Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, S Jamarca Sanford and WR Jerome Simpson.

Harvin traded
In what may go down as one of this year’s more notable moves across the NFL, the Vikings traded WR Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, and for doing so received three draft picks – a 1st-rounder (#25) and 7th-rounder this year, and a 3rd-rounder next year. The trade gives the Vikings 11 selections in this year’s draft, including 6 in the first 4 rounds. If the Vikings use both 1st-rounders next month, it will mark the second consecutive year they’ll net a pair of 1st-round picks in a draft. That’s a good way to improve the talent level on your roster.

Winfield cut
In a move that is a great illustration of the type of difficult decisions NFL franchises have to make each year, the Vikings released CB Antoine Winfield. At first blush it seems like a startling move, but given Winfield’s salary and given some of the team’s other priorities, it was a decision that was in the best interests of the franchise. It may have set the stage for the Loadholt re-signing and/or the Vikings ability to go out and get Jennings to help the passing game. Spielman did say that the team is open to Winfield returning at some point this offseason.

Calling for backup – Cassel signed
On the same day the Vikings made a big splash in signing Jennings, they also secured another QB to add to the mix behind starter Christian Ponder. The Kansas City Chiefs released Matt Cassel, and the Vikings immediately swooped in to pick him up. Cassel is an experienced passer in the NFL (62 starts) who was Tom Brady’s backup in New England when the Patriots went 16-0 and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2007. Also, when asked to play, Cassel has responded. He guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record after Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season and he was also a Pro Bowler as the Chiefs starter in 2010, passing for 27 TDs and authoring a passer rating of 93.0.

Misc.
In other developments, the Vikings tendered restricted free agent (RFA) CB AJ Jefferson, so he is set to return for 2013. WR Michael Jenkins was cut and earlier in February the Vikings signed former CFL standout CB Roderick Williams.

What’s next?
– The only UFA the Vikings weren’t able to re-sign was middle LB Jasper Brinkley, who has subsequently signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings could look to free agency to fill that spot, they could wait until the draft to find a middle LB, they could rely on Audie Cole to win that job, or they could enact one or more of those possibilities in combination.
— Looking at the roster right now compared to the roster at this time of the year in 2012, the Vikings are at or above capacity at most spots on the roster. There are two exceptions: offensive tackle and running back. Last year at this time, the Vikings had 6 running backs and right now they have 5. Last year at this time the Vikings had 5 offensive tackles and this year they have 4. Of course the Vikings could wait until the draft to fill the voids in each spot, they could find a free agent on the open market, or they could do both.


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Who’s In, Who’s Out? Vikings Busy On First Day Of League Year

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 13, 2013 – 5:42 am

The first day of the New League Year did not disappoint. It was a hectic day full of signings, reports of signings, cuts, trades and roster shuffling. The Vikings were in on the mix for much of it. Here’s a rundown of what the Vikings accomplished on Tuesday, with another busy day possibly in store for the organization on Wednesday…

– The Percy Harvin trade was finalized. After 4 seasons of receptions, returns and runs for the Vikings, Harvin was shipped to Seattle in exchange for a 1st-round pick and a 7th-round pick in April’s draft plus a 3rd-round pick in the 2013 NFL. That’s a nice haul for the Vikings, who now have 11 selections in this year’s draft and will have a pair of 1st-round picks in back-to-back seasons (Matt Kalil-Harrison Smith in 2012, #23 and #25 overall in 2013).

– Phil Loadholt re-signed with the Vikings and is looking to “finish what we started in Minnesota.” Securing Loadholt allows the Vikings to carry continuity along the offensive line into the 2013 season, as all 5 starters from last year will return in 2013. The average age of the 5 starters is just 25.8 years old.

– While investing in youth by securing three more draft choices and re-signing Loadholt, the Vikings parted (for now) with 15-year veteran CB Antoine Winfield. It was a hard decision, said Vikings GM Rick Spielman, but one the team made with the best interest of the team in mind. Spielman did not rule out a return for Winfield to the roster.

– Spielman was asked about a report that the team and TE John Carlson restructured the contract they agreed to a year ago, but the Vikings GM declined to get into specifics of the restructurings.

– Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, special teams ace and safety Jamarca Sanford, and WR Jerome Simpson all used Twitter to announce that they’ve reached deals to remain with the Vikings. Reports also surfaced on Tuesday that OL Joe Berger re-signed with the Vikings. No official word yet from the club, but this is good news given how much of a priority Spielman and the Vikings front office put on re-signing their own free agents.

– Spielman described the Vikings as being “in good shape” from a salary cap standpoint even after reportedly re-signing 6 of their own free agents, including what figures to be a significant multi-year deal for the road-grading Loadholt. Great work by the Vikings front office.

– Agree with him or disagree (I agree with him), Spielman is steadfast in his opinion of how to best build a roster that can sustain long-term success – through the draft and by retention of core players. Free agency has a place, no question, but it’s a limited place. This quote from Spielman during his press conference on Tuesday sums up the philosophy well: “Well we think we’re going to compete next year, there’s no doubt about that because we were a playoff team last year. By keeping your own and continuing to build through the draft and the success we’ve had the last couple of years with this draft and feel very strong about this draft class coming up, that that’s the approach and philosophy that we believed in and it’s showing that we are having success with that philosophy.”


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Free Or Not To Be Free? A List Of Vikings Free Agents

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 11, 2013 – 5:31 am

In 2012 the Vikings notched the greatest single-season win improvement in franchise history, moving from 3 wins in 2011 to 10 wins this past season. This offseason the team will look to further improve the roster through the retension and acquisition of free agents and the development of another strong draft class.

The first step in that process has already begun, as the Vikings front office is in the process of evaluating its own class of free agents as well as the large group of players scheduled to become free agents on Tuesday, the first day of the new League Year. Before a team delves into the free agent market, it must first address the status of its own free agents. Will the Vikings re-sign most of their free agents? We don’t know that yet. But we do know which Vikings players are scheduled to become free agents.

Below is a list of the Vikings restricted free agents (RFAs) and unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Also, click here to check out the vikings.com 2013 Free Agent Glossary.

Restricted Free Agents
CB AJ Jefferson

Unrestricted Free Agents
WR Devin Aromashodu
OL Joe Berger
LB Jasper Brinkley
FB Jerome Felton
LB Erin Henderson
RT Phil Loadholt
LB Marvin Mitchell
S Jamarca Sanford
OL Geoff Schwartz
WR Jerome Simpson


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Vikings Issue First Depth Chart Of Preseason

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 8, 2012 – 5:19 am

There’s a long way to go before NFL teams have to make roster decisions, but there’s not a long way to go before teams take the field for their first preseason game. So while there’s still plenty of time for players to make their case for a roster spot, NFL teams began releasing their initial preseason depth charts this week.

You can find the Vikings initial depth chart by clicking here.

There aren’t any major surprises or developments in the depth chart, but here are a few notes…

– As expected, Brandon Fusco is listed as the starter at RG, with Geoff Schwartz as his backup. Chris DeGeare is listed as the backup at LG behind Charlie Johnson.

– Lex Hilliard is listed as the 3rd-team RB, with Derrick Coleman and Jordan Todman stacked evenly behind Hilliard.

– Veteran Joe Berger is listed as the backup center, with undrafted college free agent Quentin Saulsberry listed with the 3rd team.

– D’Aundre Reed is lasted as the backup left DE and Nick Reed backs up Jared Allen at right DE.

– Tyrone McKenzie is in the lead for backup middle LB duties, with Audie Cole listed as the 3rd-team middle LB. Everson Griffen is also with the 3rd-team, listed at the weakside LB position.

– Marcus Sherels backs up Antoine Winfield at one CB position and Chris Carr is behind Chris Cook at the other CB spot. Based on my observations at practice, Carr would be ahead of Sherels in any 3-CB defensive alignment.

– Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are listed as starters at safety, with Harrison Smith behind Sanford at FS and Eric Frampton behind Raymond at FS. This is a fluid position, and Smith has been getting more and more reps with the 1st-team.

– Percy Harvin is listed as the top kickoff returner and Sherels is listed #1 at punt returner. Sherels also backs up Harvin at kickoff return and rookie WR Jarius Wright is listed as the backup punt returner.


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Roster Rundown: Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 24, 2012 – 7:00 am

Few position groups will be as heavily scrutinized early this season more than the offensive line. The Vikings have been one of the NFL’s best rushing teams over the past several seasons, but the combination of a need for improvement in pass protection and multiple new starters in the group will have many keeping close tabs on the men up front.

The offensive line is the subject of today’s Roster Rundown…

The Vikings will bring 15 offensive linemen with them to training camp, probably a standard number in League circles. While we can be fairly certain on four of the five starters heading into training camp, there will still be plenty of competition up and down the line in both the starting lineup and especially for the reserve spots.

John Sullivan is solid at center and has developed into one of the best five or so players at his position in the entire League. Sullivan began his career as Matt Birk’s understudy and eventually rose to starter status, where he snapped to Brett Favre in his first season as the starter and has progressed nicely ever since. There are two other players listed as centers on the Vikings roster who will compete for a backup role behind Sullivan – Joe Berger and Quentin Saulsberry. Berger is a returning veteran with seven seasons of experience and Saulsberry is an undrafted college free agent out of Mississippi State.

The Vikings should be set at both OT positions as well. Phil Loadholt returns at RT and should be sufficiently motivated in a contract year. Fans have grown tired of his penalties and occasional pass protection letdown, but my sense is Loadholt is sitting on a nice season. At LT the Vikings of course have 1st-round pick Matt Kalil. Sullivan has described Kalil as a “freak” athletically. Other OTs listed on the Vikings roster are: Pat Brown, Levi Horn, DeMarcus Love, Geoff Schwartz and Darrion Weems. Brown and Love are returning from last year’s team, Schwartz was a free agent pickup for the Vikings this offseason and could compete for the starting RG spot, and both Horn and Weems are undrafted college free agents.

The addition of Kalil at LT allows the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson over to LG, perhaps his more natural position. Johnson has the athleticism to play OT, but Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained to me earlier this offseason that his arm length is not ideal for the position. Moving him inside to LG will put Johnson is a better position to succeed, and it will allow Johnson to help Kalil transition to the NFL game. The RG position is up for grabs at this point. I expect Brandon Fusco to open camp as the starter, but both Schwartz and Chris DeGeare should have their sights set on winning the job as well. The two other OGs listed on the Vikings roster are Tyler Holmes and Austin Pasztor, a pair of undrafted college free agents.

A lot of names to go over there, but it just means more competition for the position group as a whole. The top three aspects of the offensive line I’ll be watching at training camp are…

– Who looks the best at RG? Fusco has the early edge based on the offseason program, but both DeGeare and Schwartz are in the mix as well.

– How does Kalil adjust to the NFL? Going against Jared Allen every day will help Kalil a ton if the 1st-round pick can strike a balance between taking his medicine from Allen and others on defense while also establishing himself as Ponder’s blindside protector.

– Does Loadholt take a big step forward this year? He was solid as a rookie in 2009 when he helped the club go 12-4 and play in the NFC title game, but since then he’s produced mixed results. Loadholt is one of my favorite guys on the team and I know he takes pride in his game, so I expect him to take a big step forward in his second year working with well-respected OL coach Jeff Davidson.


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An Economical, Long-Term Plan For The Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 13, 2012 – 6:06 am

Accustomed to watching a top tier running game since 2007 and tired of watching their brand-new franchise QB run for his life, Vikings fans are anxious to see the team make moves to improve the offensive line. But even with USC LT Matt Kalil expected to be the Vikings 1st-round pick next month, Vikings fans want more.

And it’s understandable. Christian Ponder was sacked 30 times in just 11 games, plus the Vikings released RG Anthony Herrera and LG Steve Hutchinson this past weekend, opening up a pair of vacancies in the starting lineup.

As a result, Ben Grubbs and Carl Nicks – a pair of OGs who have 3 Pro Bowls and 2 All-Pro selections between them – are in high demand among Vikings fans. Both are scheduled to become free agents at 3:00 p.m. CT today, and both play positions of need for the Vikings.

While both players would serve as upgrades at their position, don’t expect the Vikings to enter the bidding for their services. The Vikings do have a considerable amount of salary cap space, but signing Nicks would eat much of it up and the Vikings have more than just one player on their wish list; Grubbs will likely command an expensive salary as well. With other needs on the roster, the Vikings would be better-served, in my view, to use their free agency money on other positions, such as CB or WR.

A big part of my opinion on the matter is the plan I’d like to see the Vikings put into place this offseason to improve the offensive line. No, there may not be high-priced and Pro Bowl-caliber free agent signings on the horizon, but I still foresee the Vikings solving their offensive line woes. And I see them solving it by going young. Hear me out…

– Take Kalil in the 1st round, which will provide a starting LT and yield a replacement for Hutchinson at LG with Charlie Johnson sliding over. He will play better and will feel more comfortable at LG.
— John Sullivan has emerged as a Top 5-7 center in the NFL according to those who know more about it than me, and the Vikings locked him up to a contract extension last season. He becomes the leader of this young group, especially with Hutchinson no longer in the picture.
— At RG the Vikings can lean on veteran Joe Berger and 2nd-year player Brandon Fusco. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from coaches and players about Fusco’s progress last year and his prospects for the future.
— To round out the line, Loadholt will be back as the starting RT. He had a down year in 2011 and he’ll be the first to acknowledge that. But 2012 is a contract year for him, he’s been around Winter Park for much of the offseason, and OL coach Jeff Davidson is determined to help him improve. I like that situation.
— Lastly, other youngsters such as Chris DeGeare and Pat Brown can compete for playing time along the line should one of the proposed 5 starters falter or suffer an injury.

Are there questions here? Certainly. And there’s no guarantee my proposed solution will work. But for this Vikings team, coming off a 3-13 record with several holes to fill in the starting lineup – particularly the wide receiver position to help Ponder – I believe a young and affordable offensive line with some upside is a better group than a veteran, expensive collection of veterans who are being paid more for past production than they are for expectation.

Nicks and Grubbs are names most fans recognize, and I understand why Vikings fans demand the team pursue them. But you can’t have All-Pros at every position, or at least you can’t sign All-Pros in free agency at every position. I have confidence in the plan I laid out above, and more importantly I have confidence in the young players on the roster and the experience and tutelage Davidson can bring to the meeting room.

What do you say, Vikings fans? Are you okay with the team going young on the offensive line so they can pursue more talented players at other important positions? Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry.


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Several Vikings Step Up In Win Over Washington

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2011 – 2:27 pm

The Vikings earned a tough 33-26 road victory over the Washington Redskins on Saturday, and there was nothing conventional about how the game unfolded. Minnesota jumped out to 10-0 lead, trailed 13-10 early in the 3rd quarter, watched both Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder leave the game due to injury, and then outscored Washington 23-13 the rest of the way to notch the win.

To be on the road and face that much adversity – Peterson left with a severe knee injury and Ponder suffered a concussion – but still come out with a win is a testament to the Vikings depth and refusal to quit on the season.

Peterson and Ponder were both forced out of the game early in the 3rd quarter. Backups Toby Gerhart and Joe Webb stepped right in and were productive for the rest of the game. Gerhart finished with 109 yards on 11 carries, the first 100-yard game of his career, and Webb was 4 of 5 for 84 yards and 2 TDs, and he also added 5 carries for 34 yards and 1 TD.

But it was more than just Gerhart and Webb who stepped up on Saturday. Seven-year veteran Joe Berger started at LG in place of Steve Hutchinson, rookie interior OL Brandon Fusco replaced Anthony Herrera at RG after Herrera left with an injury, rookie S Mistral Raymond grabbed an INT and ended a big-time drought for the Vikings defense, and Brian Robison forced and recovered a fumble off of Rex Grossman.

There are more examples of guys who stepped up in the victory, but you get the picture. And Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was clearly pleased with the way his team played, from the top of the roster all the way to the bottom.

“As I mentioned earlier, just a good overall effort by our football team to go on the road and get a win against a Redskins team that had just come off a big win against the Giants the week before,” Frazier said during his customary day-after-the-game press conference. “And to handle some of that adversity that occurred during that game, to see the number of players who stepped up like they did, whether it be Toby Gerhart, Joe (Webb) coming into the game when Christian (Ponder) was injured, some of our defensive guys just stepping up, Mistral Raymond coming back and getting an interception for us, the big caused fumble by Brian Robison as well.

“A lot of good things in that football game. A lot of guys contributed to that win on Saturday, which really should be a spring board for us as we prepare for this ball game against Chicago.”


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Asher Allen, Hutchinson Ruled Out; All Others Probable

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 23, 2011 – 11:54 am

The Vikings on Friday ruled CB Asher Allen (concussion/shoulder) and LG Steve Hutchinson out for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Both players sustained their concussions last week against the Saints and neither player was able to participate in practice this week.

RG Anthony Herrera (knee), S Jarrad Page (hamstring), DT Kevin Williams (knee) and LB Erin Henderson (illness) were all full participants in practice on Friday and are all listed as probable.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier in the week that Joe Berger would start if Hutchinson was unable to play. It’s expected that rookie interior lineman Brandon Fusco could also see some action with Hutchinson unavailable.


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Berger, Fusco Will See Action If Hutchinson Is Unable To Play

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 22, 2011 – 3:31 pm

Vikings LG Steve Hutchinson was forced out of last week’s game against the Saints after suffering a laceration to his face. As it turns out, Hutchinson also suffered a concussion in the game. Because of those injuries, Hutchinson has been unable to participate in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

If Hutchinson is unable to play in Saturday’s game at Washington, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said that 7-year veteran Joe Berger would get the start and also that rookie Brandon Fusco might see some playing time as well.

Should Berger get the start, it will not be the first time he sees the field for the Vikings. Berger filled in for Anthony Herrera for 5 games from Week 7 to Week 12 when the starting RG was dealing with a knee injury. Berger’s ability to provide depth at both LG and RG is precisely the reason the Vikings added him to the roster earlier in the season.

“He did well,” Frazier said of Berger’s time filling in for Herrera. “We felt like he is a guy who is more than capable of playing the guard position and playing center as well. When he was in there he did a fine job so we’re not stressed. We’d like to have Steve for sure, but Joe showed that he can get the job done.”

As for Fusco, he’s been active for just one game this season. The 6th-round pick is listed as a center, but he, too, has position flexibility. Frazier said the team has given consideration to rolling him into the game as well.

“We talked about that, just to be able to see him move around and just see how he does,” Frazier said. “We’re going to see how the game is going and maybe get that done.”

 Even at 2-12, the Vikings primary goal is to win the game. Vikings players and coaches continue to work hard during the week to be in a position to win on game day. But it also isn’t a bad idea to get a better look at players such as Fusco to see if they have the potential to a part of the team’s long-term plans.


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Offensive Line, Defense Step Up In 2nd Half vs. Panthers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2011 – 9:01 am

Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder deserve every ounce of credit coming their way in the aftermath of Sunday’s 24-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers. But if you have any more credit to pass around, throw some to the Vikings offensive line and the defensive effort because both were very good in the 2nd half at Carolina.

We’ll start with the offensive line, a group that has received more than its fair share of criticism lately and also a group dealing with injuries. C John Sullivan returned to action on Sunday from a concussion suffered 2 weeks ago and RG Anthony Herrera wasn’t able to go this week because of a knee injury. Fortunately for the Vikings, veteran lineman Joe Berger stepped into both roles over the past 2 weeks and the offensive line has improved along the way.

In the 2nd half on Sunday, the Vikings put together a pair of methodical drives where the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. The first drive came in the 3rd quarter and culminated in a 9-yard Peterson TD run. The drive went 85 yards in 12 plays and took 5:41 off the clock. The second long drive came in the 4th quarter and culminated in the game-winning FG. The drive went 72 yards in 13 plays and took 7:10 off the clock.

In those two drives, the offensive line paved the way for a total of 14 carries between Peterson and Gerhart for 85 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 1 TD. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave did a great job of mixing in Gerhart occasionally to give Peterson a rest, and the offensive line consistently dominated the line of scrimmage to open up creases for the Vikings RBs. On the 3rd-quarter drive, here is a list of gains on the ground: 4, 9, 9, 11, 15, 1, 3, 9 (TD).

The Vikings had a 7-minute advantage in time of possession in the 2nd half, including an 11:01 to 3:59 advantage in the 4th quarter.

Defensively, the secondary will be criticized for giving up 7 receptions and 100 yards to Steve Smith and for giving up a 1st down on a 4th and 15 play late in the game. That’s all fair game, but ultimately the defense did a good enough job to contribute to this victory, and their effort in the 2nd half was much improved.

In the 2nd half, the Vikings allowed fewer 1st downs, total yards and rushing yards, and they forced Carolina into three 3-and-out drives that led to 10 Vikings points and, ultimately, the game-winning drive that was capped by a 31-yard Ryan Longwell FG.

Again, there are certainly areas that need improvement on this Vikings team, and the offensive line and defense are not absolved from that fact. But there’s no question that the 2nd half performances registered by the offensive line and the defense were major keys in the Vikings ability to scratch and claw their way to a win on the road against the Panthers.


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