Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
New Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner is hoping the team can get a dynamic young quarterback, but still pictures running back Adrian Peterson as the key to the Vikings offense.
“We want to make big plays, we want to be an explosive offense, and we want to run the ball,” Turner said today at Winter Park.
The new Vikings coaching staff was officially named today by new coach Mike Zimmer. Turner and defensive coordinator George Edwards fielded questions from the media.
Turner, a head coach for 15 NFL seasons, with three different teams, was Cleveland offensive coordinator last season.
When Turner was approached about taking the job by Zimmer, Turner said his decision was made when, “I looked at the roster, I looked at the offensive side of the ball. I think this is a group that can be real good, and I think we can be good real fast.”
Turner said the Vikings’ quarterback situation is “a process we got through, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Matt Cassel is opting out of his contract with the Vikings, which would leave Christian Ponder as the only QB on the roster as free agency begins March 8. Turner, however, said the door isn't closed on Cassel, and he also had nice things to say about Ponder.
Turner pointed to the success Seattle had after taking QB Russell Wilson in the third round.
“When you have the No. 1 defense in the league, it’s easier to play quarterback,” Turner said. “Everyone is in agreement to adding a young quarterback to the organization, so it’s just a matter of going out and getting him.”
Turner, who was coaching San Diego when Peterson set the NFL single-game rushing record of 296 yards as a rookie, said he has talked to Peterson.
“He understands the biggest thing to me is we are trying to win,” Turner said. “And he’s at the point in his career where he wants to make the playoffs and have some success in the playoffs and whatever it takes for us is what he wants to do.”
Edwards, who has been offensive coordinator for Washington and Buffalo, was linebackers coach in Miami last season.
“We have some good young talent that we can come in and develop,” said Edwards. “We don’t think we’re that far off.”
The Vikings gave up the most points of any NFL team last season, and are expected to undergo a lot of defensive changes.
“We can’t change everything schematically, but we want to put people in the right positions,” Edwards said.
He said he hadn’t done much evaluating of players, adding “we’re really just getting started here.”
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel will opt out of his team-friendly contract before Friday’s deadline, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. Cassel's deal would have been worth $3.7 million this season, but had the option to forgo the final season of a two-year, $7.4 million deal he signed last year with the Vikings.
Calls to Cassel's agent, David Dunn, were not immediately returned.
The move makes sense for Cassel. It's a very thin free agency class for quarterbacks this offseason, headlined by Michael Vick, Josh McCown, Kellen Clemens and Josh Freeman, who spent the final 12 games of the season with the Vikings.
Cassel would climb, arguably, to the top of that free agent class as a serviceable quarterback looking for a multi-year deal. He’ll likely get more money than he would’ve received if he decided to remain with the Vikings under his current contract.
Of course, Cassel could also re-sign with the Vikings for more money after free agency opens March 11. At the moment, Christian Ponder is the only quarterback on the Vikings' roster.
Whether the Vikings can sign Cassel remains unknown given the demand at quarterback. Six of the top 11 teams in the NFL Draft need a quarterback. Given the free agency class and the uncertainly of how many rookie quarterbacks would be ready to start immediately, Cassel could be looked at as a starting short-term quarterback for a franchise that seeks to develop its future quarterback through the draft.
If Cassel didn’t opt out of his deal, the Vikings would owe him a $500,000 roster bonus (which is part of the $3.7 million) if he is still on the team a week after the official league season begins March 11.
Cassel, 31, played in nine games for the Vikings this season, starting six. He was 25th in the NFL in passer rating (81.6). Cassel started Week 4 against Pittsburgh in London when Christian Ponder was injured and led the Vikings to their first victory. Freeman was signed the following (bye) week, and Cassel struggled in a loss to Carolina. He returned to backup status, replacing Ponder in three games, twice because of injury. In Week 13, he beat Chicago after replacing an injured Ponder in the second half, and claimed the starting job with a strong performance in a loss at Baltimore the following week. In a Dec. 15. victory over Philadelphia, he had the best performance by a Vikings QB this season — 26-for-35 for 382 yards and two TDs. His passer rating of 90.7 was 13th in the NFL at that time, but fell after a loss to Cincinnati and a season-ending victory over Detroit.
Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, signed a four-year contract for $10.15 million that is fully guaranteed. His signing bonus of $5.8 million is paid out evenly over the four years. For 2014, his salary is $1.76 million with another bonus of nearly $1.5 million. If the Vikings cut him this offseason, they would be on the hook for that money and a $3.2 million salary cap hit.
Cassel's career has been full of ups and downs. He was a backup to Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer at USC, and is the only modern-era quarterback who never started a college game to have started an NFL game.
The Patriots drafted Cassel in the seventh round (230th overall) of the 2005 draft, and he was a backup to Tom Brady for four seasons in New England. In 2008, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game, and Cassel played the rest of the season, leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record. With his four-year contract expiring, the Patriots gave him the franchise tag early in 2009 and traded him to Kansas City for linebacker Mike Vrabel and a second-round draft choice.
Cassel's big season with the Patriots paid off. The Chiefs signed him to a six-year, $63 million contract that included $28 million in guaranteed money. He started in 2009, and in 2010 made the Pro Bowl as Kansas City won the AFC West. He injured his hand after 10 games in 2011, however, and after starting in 2012 he eventually lost his job to Brady Quinn.
Cassel was released last March, and the Vikings quickly signed him to back up Ponder. Here's Mark Craig's feature story on Ponder, written before last season.
New Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is 57, has coached 35 years, and been an NFL assistant for 20 seasons. But this is his first head coaching job.
It appears he'll probably have an assistant who can fill him in on how to run a team.
Norv Turner, who has been head coach of three NFL teams and offensive coordinator for four, is reported to be near reaching an agreement to be the Vikings offensive coordinator. Adam Schefter, the NFL "Insider" for ESPN, filed that report this morning, a day after he reported the Vikings got permission to speak to Turner from the Browns. Turner is the Browns offensive coordinator, but a lame duck because coach Rob Chudzinski has been fired.
Turner, 61, has been head coach of the Raiders, Chargers and Redskins. He was offensive coordinator on two Dallas teams that won Super Bowls.
The Vikings press conference to "introduce" Zimmer, who was hired yesterday, has been set for Friday morning.
Adrian Peterson admits he was "uncomfortable" in Sunday's loss at Cincinnati. Groin and foot injuries have limited his ability to perform, but Peterson said he's hopeful that he will be able to play the season and Metrodome finale Sunday against Detroit.
“I’m feeling OK," he said. "I’ve felt better. My body has been able to rest a little bit. I’m trying to push to Sunday.”
Peterson planned to practice Thursday to see how his body feels. He said that will give him some idea of his availability for Sunday.
“With a couple of more days of rest in front of me, I’ll be able to distinguish if I’ll be able to go out there be productive," he said. "Stay tuned. Right now my mindset is to be out there and finish strong with my teammates.”
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier removed Peterson from the Cincinnati game early in the second half because the Bengals had a big lead and Peterson clearly was not himself. Peterson said the groin injury that's bothered him for weeks actually gave him more trouble than his right foot sprain.
"The foot was a pain that I already had set in my mind that I was going to have to deal with," he said. "Sometimes when I was pushing off, I felt it. I got tackled a couple of times and twisted up and the pain kind of stuck around for a minute. But that’s something I knew I was going to have to deal with. As far as explosion, that kind of hindered me a little bit. The groin as well. So I felt uncomfortable Sunday.”
The Vikings don't expect to have Toby Gerhart available on Sunday. He re-aggravated a hamstring injury chasing down a fumble return on the opening series against the Bengals.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel was named the FedEx Air Player of the Week.
Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns in the 48-30 victory over Philadelphia. He also rushed for a touchdown.
Since taking over the starting quarterback role on December 1, 2013, vs. Chicago, Cassel has thrown for 890 yards, third-most in the NFL during that span behind Tom Brady (1,153) and Peyton Manning (1,089).
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