The launch of the Offseason Program means a return to Winter Park for many Vikings players. But it also marks the arrival – for the first time – at Winter Park for other Vikings players. There are several veteran players who are new to the Vikings, and they’ll begin the process of assimilating to their new team this week.
Vikings fans are familiar with Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Everson Griffen and Chad Greenway. They are not familiar with Matt Cassel, TJ Conley, Greg Jennings, Greg McCoy and Roderick Williams. Now is a great time to get to know them.
Here’s a look at a few fresh faces now playing for the Vikings (you’ll get to know all of them as the offseason program progresses)…
We got Greg!
The Vikings reached across the Minnesota-Wisconsin border to nab a big-time Packers playmaker once again this offseason, signing WR Greg Jennings to conclude the first week of NFL free agency. After being a thorn in the Vikings side for the past 7 seasons, Jennings will now be a helping hand for the Vikings. He instantly upgrades the receiving corps and provides that group of players on the roster with a leader. 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.
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 Ponder. The Kansas City Chiefs released Matt Cassel early in free agency, 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.
From North of the border to the NFC North
The Vikings have reached into the Canadian Football League (CFL) with success in the past. Bud Grant became the second head coach in franchise history after leading the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to 4 Grey Cup titles over 10 seasons. This offseason the Vikings once again reached into Canada to try and improve the franchise, signing CB Roderick Williams. He measures in at 5-10, 180 pounds and he’s 26 years old. Williams is technically an undrafted rookie because this is his first NFL contact, but he’s played at a high level in the CFL for 3 seasons, collecting 11 INTs and 1 all-star honor for the Edmonton Eskimos in that time.
Edmonton released Williams, who attended the same school as Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier (Alcorn State), from his contract specifically so he could pursue an opportunity in the NFL. That opportunity will be with Frazier and the Vikings.
An extra leg
It’s not uncommon for teams to carry an extra kicker or punter during the offseason program and training camp, and the Vikings moved early in the offseason to add a punter to their roster in TJ Conley. An undrafted free agent in 2009 after playing college football at the University of Idaho, Conley joined the NY Jets from 2009-2011 and was a free agent in 2012. He was the Jets starting punter in 2011, the only year he recorded statistics, and in that season he punted 92 times in 16 games for a gross average of 42.7 and a net average of 38.8. None of his punts were blocked and none were returned for TDs, while 32 of them landed inside the 20 and 32 were returned for an average of 7.5 yards.
The real McCoy
Sometimes one team’s trash is another team’s treasure. The Vikings will test that theory with CB/return specialist Greg McCoy. He was a 7th-round pick of the Chicago Bears out of TCU in 2012 and was cut on final cutdown day heading into the regular season. McCoy then spent time on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. He had 7 INTs in 51 career college games at TCU and he was named his conference’s special teams player of the year in his final season after averaging 30.6 yards per return and scoring 2 TDs on 37 kickoff return attempts.
Tags: Greg Jennings, Greg McCoy, Matt Cassel, Roderick Williams, TJ Conley
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 73 Comments »
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– 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.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Winfield, Audie Cole, Christian Ponder, Erin Henderson, Greg Jennings, Jamarca Sanford, Jerome Felton, Jerome Simpson, Joe Berger, Matt Cassel, Phil Loadholt, Rick Spielman, Roderick Williams
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While the rest of us were winding down on Friday after a busy week of free agency, the Vikings front office was ramping up their effort to continue improving an already young and talented roster. Early Friday afternoon the Vikings finalized the signing of former Patriots and Chiefs QB Matt Cassel to beef up the competition at QB behind starter Christian Ponder.
It was the signing late on Friday afternoon that created the biggest buzz in the Vikings fan base, though, as the team completed its courtship of WR Greg Jennings by signing him to a contract. Jennings has been a thorn in the Vikings side since he entered the League in 2006 as a 2nd-round draft choice of the division rival Green Bay Packers, but now he’ll be a helping hand for a Vikings offense that looks to improve its passing game while maintaining its identity as a dominant, physical run-first group.
By now you’ve read up on both signings to get all the formal information. But here are some fun facts about your two newest Vikings…
– Attended same high school as NY Yankees legend Derek Jeter (Kalamazoo Central).
– Married to the former Nicole Lindsey. Couple has 3 daughters: Amya, 5; Alea, 3; and Ayva, 2 and 1 son: Aice.
– Caught Brett Favre’s 400th career TD pass.
– Also caught Brett Favre’s 420th and 421st TD passes as the future Hall of Fame QB chased, matched and surpassed Dan Marino’s career record for TD passes.
– Caught Aaron Rodgers’ first career TD pass.
– Posted 68 receptions and 10 TDs in 15 games vs. the Vikings while helping Green Bay to an 11-4.
– Made an appearance on the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds, playing the role of a lab.
– Grew up in Northridge, CA where he helped lead his squad to the 1994 Little League World Series.
– Was selected in the 36th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft by Oakland.
– Teammates at USC with Ryan Kalil, older brother of Vikings LT Matt Kalil.
– Majored in communications at USC where he was roomed with Carson Palmer and Troy Polamalu.
– Married to Lauren, the couple has daughters Quinn and Ella.
– Backed up Brady on 2007 Patriots squad that went 16-0 in the regular season and played New York in Super Bowl.
Tags: 2013 Free Agency, Greg Jennings, Matt Cassel
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 768 Comments »