Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
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.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
Remember when the Vikings arrived in the Twin Cities a few months ago for the start of the offseason working program and Greg Jennings said Norv Turner’s offense was making his head spin? He gave the juicy sound bite, but he wasn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed by the new offense. After all, the philosophy, the scheme and even the terminology are completely different.
Fast forward to today, the last day in July. The Vikings are now on their fourth time through the installation of Turner’s offense, according to first-string quarterback Matt Cassel, and the offensive players -- and most importantly the quarterbacks -- have gradually gotten it down.
“Each and every day we're working hard to continue learning the nuances of the offense, some checks, and also trying to see it through Coach Turner's eyes,” Cassel said Sunday night.
Cassel and fellow veteran Christian Ponder got an early advantage over first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, who didn’t join the team until May. Those guys were in the building and in the offense a month earlier. But Bridgewater has proved to be quick learner, putting him in this battle with Cassel.
“It’s a huge difference compared to where things were before,” Bridgewater said. “For me, I'm a step ahead from when I first started learning the playbook.”
Some heads are surely still spinning. But it has looked like these two QBs have theirs on straight.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- My colleague Mark Craig hung out with Norv and watched tape of Teddy.
--- CB Xavier Rhodes is still learning to trust his instincts at the pro level.
--- Bracing for a potential Chris Kluwe lawsuit, the Vikings hired two high-powered attorneys.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
You have to think years of good drafting (2011-2014) will pay off for #Vikings soon. Unreal talent assembled, just needs to pay off.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) July 29, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Bears QB Jay Cutler is not resting on his success from last season.
--- Lions QB Matthew Stafford feels rejuvenated working with Jim Caldwell.
--- The Packers are cashing in at Lambeau Field.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
After a day off, the Vikings are back on the field in Mankato today. Their morning walkthrough got pushed back to 11:20 a.m., and it is now special teams only. They practice in pads at 3 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The Vikings allowed 37 passing touchdowns last season, tied for second-most in NFL history, according to Pro Football Reference. You would think with the explosion of NFL passing attacks that the dubious record would be held by a recent team, but it was actually the 1969 St. Louis Rams who allowed 38 passing touchdowns -- and that was in 14 games. The 1981 Baltimore Colts and 1961 Washington Redskins also allowed 37 in one season. Obviously, the Vikings need to be better in 2014, but the good news is Mike Zimmer's Bengals ranked 11th in 2013 with 22 allowed.
Ted Wells and Roberta Kaplan are joining the Vikings legal team as they brace for a possible lawsuit from former punter Chris Kluwe just eight days before the two sides were scheduled to meet and discuss a possible settlement.
Wells provided the NFL with a report earlier this year on the atmosphere of bullying in the Miami Dolphins locker room. Kaplan is best known for her work opposing the Defense of Marriage Act.
Clayton Halunen, Kluwe's attorney, said on Tuesday there's an Aug. 6 meeting scheduled between Vikings management and their lawyers. It will be the first time Kluwe and his attonrey will meet with Vikings management since July 17, the day before the team released a 29-page summary.
Halunen first felt hopeful once he heard news about the Vikings retaining Wells and Kaplan but said this afternoon he was suspicious by the moves, specifically Kaplan's recognition with the LGBT community.
"I think it’s very convenient at this stage with their fourth law firm that they’re bringing in someone from the community," Halunen said. "It sounds to me like a strategy to obtain public support because the LGBT community has been outspoken about what’s happened and the refusal to make the report public. This is merely an effort to try to address those concerns that have been made public."
A source said during the investigation there was a six-month tolling agreement signed on Aug. 1 that no law suit would be filed in the case. Halunen confirmed the tolling agreement is set to expire on Aug. 1 but both sides are working on an extension beyond the Aug. 6 meeting.
Once the tolling agreement expires, Kluwe is free to continue with his lawsuit. He has threatened to sue for more than $10 million because the team won’t release the full investigation into his claims about what he calls its culture of discrimination. Kluwe and Halunen said that “substantial” evidence was left out of the 29-page summary of the report that the team released two weeks ago.
The summary concluded Priefer did, and he has been suspended for the first three games of the regular season.
Here is the official Vikings release on adding the high-powered attorneys:
VIKINGS RETAIN ROBERTA KAPLAN AND TED WELLS
“We pride ourselves on the workplace environment that we have created, centered on diversity, tolerance and respect. In consideration of our standards and the great sensitivity to the issues raised by Chris Kluwe and his attorney - and their potential litigation – the Vikings have retained Roberta Kaplan and Ted Wells, two well-respected and extremely experienced partners at Paul, Weiss, as well as Minneapolis-based Joseph Anthony, founding shareholder and chief executive officer of Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A., to serve as the team’s counsel.” – Kevin Warren, Executive Vice President of Legal Affairs & Chief Administrative Officer.
Kaplan most recently has been recognized for successfully arguing before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of her pro bono client Edith Windsor in United States vs. Windsor, the 2013 landmark Supreme Court case in which the nation’s highest court ruled that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the U.S. Constitution by barring legally married same-sex couples from enjoying the wide-ranging benefits of marriage conferred under federal law. As a result of that case, at least 28 courts throughout the United States have since relied explicitly on Windsor and held that gay couples should be accorded equal rights under the law.
Among other areas of expertise, Wells has extensive litigation experience in complex civil and corporate litigation. He has been recognized as one of the best jury trial lawyers in the United States by numerous publications. Wells recently led the thorough investigation concerning issues of workplace conduct with the Miami Dolphins.
Anthony has tried a significant number of cases and arbitrations to verdict in Minnesota and throughout the country. For the past 15 years he has been selected to the Minnesota "Super Lawyer” list and has been ranked by Super Lawyer Magazine in the top 2 or 3 trial lawyers in the state since 2008.
At this time, the Vikings will have no further comment about this pending litigation.
Cullen Loeffler was seemingly put in a difficult spot when independent investigators hired by the Vikings approached him after the 2013 season. Say one thing and he could put his boss’s job -- and his own -- in jeopardy. Deny it and he would have gone against the word of his former teammate.
Loeffler, the Vikings’ long snapper since 2004, chose to corroborate former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s claim that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer uttered an anti-gay statement during a team setting in 2012. His involvement in the investigation led to an acknowledgement from Priefer that he did make the remark that ultimately led to a three-game suspension.
Today, Loeffler said he never worried about losing his job and said he has the team’s support.
“It wasn’t difficult,” he said. “I just told the truth, as the Vikings wanted me to tell the truth. They’ve been supportive throughout the process and it wasn’t hard for me at all.”
While one can’t justify making an anti-gay comment -- especially that “nuke the gays” comment Priefer is apparently apologizing for -- at their workplace (or anywhere else, really), context is key in this situation. And Loeffler maintains he thought Priefer was joking when he said it, as he told the investigators.
And allegedly Kluwe was in on the joke, too.
“I never thought that it was a serious comment,” Loeffler said. “I always thought it was a joke. They both laughed about it. I never thought anything about it.”
Kluwe laughed about it?
“It happened so long ago,” Loeffler said. “I don’t really remember the exact reaction other than that he had laughed as well at that time.”
Loeffler said that he hasn’t talked to Kluwe “in quite some time,” their last conversation taking place before Kluwe’s made his claims public in a January article on Deadspin.com.
After a few questions about Kluwe, Loeffler said he is ready to move on from this situation and getting his focus back to snapping footballs cleanly and flying under the radar.
“I’m glad that the investigation has now come to a close,” Loeffler said. “Now back here, I’m excited about playing football and I’m ready to go.”
As Vikings players reported to training camp at Minnesota State Mankato this afternoon, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made his first public comments since it was announced last Friday that the team was suspending him for two to three games following the investigation into former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s claims that Priefer made anti-gay comments in a team setting.
Priefer, who is required to participate in sensitivity training, opened with a lengthy statement.
“I’d like to start off by saying that I like to set a higher standard for myself -- a higher standard of conduct, a higher standard of work ethic, a higher standard of being a father and a husband and I expect a lot from my players as well,” Priefer said. “My wife and I raise our children this way in terms of our last name and what that means. Remember who you are. In this regard, in this situation, with my comment, I failed. I didn’t just go below the bar. I went way below the bar. I made a mistake. I was wrong. I brought a lot of undue attention to the Minnesota Vikings organization and brought an unwanted distraction, and I apologize. The apology that I spoke about, that I put out on Friday, I want to reiterate that in a very humble and sincere manner.”
Priefer was then asked what he regretted most about the situation involving himself and Kluwe.
“The biggest thing I regret is I brought a lot of bad publicity to the Minnesota Vikings and I felt like I let my family down,” the emotional coach said, choking up as he finished that sentence.
Priefer wouldn’t go into specifics about what he said to Kluwe or what he said to independent investigators during their six-month investigation, referring reporters to the 29-page summary that was released by the Vikings last Friday in chorus with the announcement of his suspension.
“I spoke to the appropriate individuals and I cooperated throughout this entire process and the results are in that investigation, and now I think it’s time to move on,” Priefer said.
Later asked if he wanted the full report to be made public, he responded, “I haven’t seen the whole report, so I wouldn’t know.”
General manager Rick Spielman was also made available to media today, and he also declined to answer questions about the specifics of the investigation.
Asked if the team considered firing Priefer when determining his punishment, Spielman replied, “When the report came out last Friday I know we reviewed everything, and this is what we thought and our ownership thought was the best course of action.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer said he is standing behind Priefer, who he decided to keep on his staff after he replaced Leslie Frazier in January and after Kluwe’s made his claims on Deadspin.com.
“We all make mistakes,” he said. “We all try to learn from our mistakes. And I think this guy is a very high-character, quality person that I want to stand behind. Honestly, I want to stand behind him because I know what is inside of him, I know what’s in his heart. And he made a mistake, and if anyone here hasn’t made a mistake, I want you to raise your hand, because I know I’ve made plenty.”
Priefer said it “hurts” that he won’t be with his players for at least the first two weeks of the season (he won't be allowed inside the team facility). He expects to spend the first week of the regular season in sensitivity training, though he doesn’t know yet what exactly that entails. If he participates in that training, the Vikings say they will consider reducing his suspension from three games to two games. He respects their decision to suspend him and said “It’s one that I will fulfill.”
“I’m not going to change the way I coach and I’m not going to change the way I teach,” Priefer said. “But I’ve learned a lesson. I have learned a lesson here. That’s a great thing about this situation, I’m going to look back and say something good had to come from this. But I learned a hard lesson, I’ve got to be sensitive to other people in what I say and that’s not going to happen again.”
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said negotiations have stalled with the Vikings and that he will go forward with the lawsuit.
Kluwe and his lawyer, Clayton Halunen, both said they’re in the process of litigation at the moment. They said the Vikings were still not interested in releasing the full report, which was a non-negotiable part of the settlement. Kluwe expects the lawsuit to be filed as early on Monday against the Vikings, claiming discrimination on the grounds of human rights, religion, defamation and “tortious interference for contractual relations.”
Kluwe said along with releasing the report, he asked that the Vikings would donate $1 million to LGBT charities and also suspended special teams coach Mike Priefer, who Kluwe alleged made anti-gay remarks in a letter to Deadspin in January, for four-to-eight games under the conduct policy of the NFL and the Vikings.
“At this point it seems that there’s a culture there that needs to be changed,” Kluwe said on Friday. “If there was anything in the report then people need to know that. And obviously there is something in the report because the Vikings don’t want to release it. If it cleared the team, they would have it out. They would’ve released it any time and put it out. It’s pretty obvious there’s something in there that they don’t like.”
Kluwe expressed his frustration on Twitter on Friday afternoon, claiming that “next week is open season.” He’s disappointed that the Vikings wanted to be transparent with the investigation but have waited seven months without even releasing the report.
“And all of a sudden, they decided they don’t want to do that anymore,” Kluwe said. “Frankly, I find that unacceptable.
“The NFL is a business and the Vikings are a business just like any other business. If they’re going to take public funding for stadiums, if they’re going to take public funding for Super Bowls, then they have an obligation to react under the appropriate state laws. They can’t foster an environment that hides homophobia and bigotry because no other corporate environment will allow that.”
We have reached out to the Vikings for comment and will update when we hear back.
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