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.
The Vikings were active before and immediately after the start of free agency, spending big bucks to re-sign defensive end Everson Griffen and quarterback Matt Cassel then bolstering their defense by adding defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
Now, a month after the NFL’s shopping spree began, all of the marquee free agents have been snatched up and the spending has died down around the league. But G.M. Rick Spielman and the Vikings have shown they still plan to tinker with the roster, evidenced by last week’s signing of wide receiver Lestar Jean and their contract offer to free-agent safety Kurt Coleman.
As of this morning, the Vikings have just under $11 million in salary cap space remaining, according to overthecap.com, so they will likely carry financial flexibility into the 2014 season.
That space could also allow them to offer an extension to an emerging young player -- tight end Kyle Rudolph is an obvious candidate -- before that player comes close to reaching free agency.
That is a post for another day, though, because today, I wanted to take a closer look at how the Vikings have spent their money. The website overthecap.com is a valuable resource, and it allows you to look at how much money each of the 32 teams is spending for each position.
For example, even though the Vikings are still in need of a backup running back to take some of the burden from Adrian Peterson, something my colleague Mark Craig explored over the weekend, no team has committed more of their salary cap space to the running back position.
As of this morning, the Vikings had $61.28 million of their cap space allocated to offensive players and $52.93 million to defenders. Their three specialists combine for a $2.41 million cap figure.
Let’s run though the numbers and see how much the Vikings are paying at each position group.
Quarterback ($8.98 million, 20th in the NFL): The Vikings are spending $8.98 million at the quarterback position after bringing back Cassel with a two-year, $10.5 million deal. Christian Ponder, a former first-round pick turned clipboard-holder, has a cap hit of $3.23 million. A dozen teams are spending less at the position, including the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, which shows how helpful it can be to have a quality starting quarterback on a rookie deal.
Running back ($19.16 million, most in the NFL): The Vikings have the NFL’s best back in Peterson, but he also carries a premier contract. Peterson has a cap number of $14.4 million this season, the highest cap figure on the team and the highest among NFL running backs. And with $2.13 million on the cap, Jerome Felton is carries one of the highest figures among fullbacks.
Wide receiver ($12.29 million, 21st in the NFL): Greg Jennings, in the second year of his contract, will count for $7 million against the cap. But the rest of the team's wide receivers combine to make just over $5 million. At $1.64 million, Cordarrelle Patterson should be bargain.
Tight end ($1.97 million, 30th in the NFL): Only two teams are spending less money on tight ends than the Vikings. In the final year of his rookie deal, Rudolph has a cap hit of $1.47 million.
Offensive line ($23.05 million, 17th in the NFL): The Vikings have one of the NFL's better pairs of starting offensive tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but they are only counting for a combined $11.14 million in salary cap space. Center John Sullivan has a cap hit of $4.75 million. The collective cap hits of those three will go up in 2015, but only about $3 million combined.
Defensive end ($16.59 million, ninth in the NFL): Despite letting long-time sack specialist Jared Allen walk in free agency, the Vikings still have a large amount of salary committed to this critical position. Griffen's $8.2 million cap figure is second on the team to only Peterson. Fellow starter Brian Robison, who also got a new deal from the Vikings, has a $5.7 million cap figure.
Defensive tackle ($11.27 million, 11th in the NFL): Joseph, the newcomer at nose tackle, has a cap figure of $5.75 million, fifth-highest on the Vikings roster. Sharrif Floyd, a 2013 first-round draft pick and the other projected starter at defensive tackle, carries a cap hit of $1.84 million.
Linebacker ($11.03 million, 24th in the NFL): The Vikings have a lot of youngsters at this position group, and those guys come relatively cheap. Veteran starter Chad Greenway, however, has a big cap number of $7.2 million, which ranks third on the Vikings behind Peterson and Griffen.
Cornerback ($9.81 million, 25th in the NFL): Munnerlyn was a significant signing for the Vikings, who needed a corner to play in the slot. But he carries a modest cap hit of just $3.33 million. Only one other Vikings cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, has a cap hit of more than $1 million. Derek Cox, a former starter in Jacksonville then San Diego, will make just $780,000.
Safeties ($6.40 million, 21st in the NFL): Starting strong safety Jamarca Sanford has a cap hit of $2.5 million, higher than starting free safety Harrison Smith, who has a $1.95 million cap figure.
With the 2014 NFL draft a month away to the day, now seems like a good time to check in to see whom the growing number of NFL draft analysts have the Vikings picking in their latest first-round mock drafts.
Sneak preview: Their need for a long-term solution at quarterback is a reoccurring theme.
While a few notable draft analysts project that the Vikings, who need a major turnaround on defense, will address the defensive side of the ball with the eighth overall pick, the consensus is that the Vikings will select a quarterback in the first round for the second time in four years.
One quarterback in particular is being linked to the Vikings a lot.
Dan Kadar, SB Nation: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. “Although media reports may disagree, choosing Bridgewater with this pick wouldn't be a reach,” Kadar wrote. “In fact, he's our top-rated quarterback. In a sense, this would be the anti-Christian Ponder choice. Instead of reaching for a quarterback, the Vikings could sit at eight and get the best one available.”
Dan Brugler, CBS Sports: Bridgewater. “The Vikings have been linked to Bridgewater in recent weeks and if he's still on the board with this pick, could they really pass on him? I don't see how and they shouldn't,” he wrote.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. “At face value, Johnny Manziel and Mike Zimmer may seem like an odd couple -- but sometimes those situations work out the best,” Miller wrote. “His style of play may not be prototypical, but you can certainly appreciate his skill set and the ways in which he makes a defense uncomfortable. No one will understand that better than Zimmer given his background as a defensive coordinator.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. “If I were to rank the two or three likeliest teams to trade out of their first-round pick, the Vikings would be right in the mix,” McShay wrote. “But if they stay put, I think the Vikings take the best player available, either offensive tackle Jake Matthews or cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State. I'll go with Gilbert, the top corner prospect on our board who has excellent speed, size and playmaking ability.”
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh. “The re-signing of Matt Cassel gives Rick Spielman plenty of options on draft day,” Brooks wrote. “He could replace Kevin Williams with a Geno Atkins-clone who is an ideal fit in Mike Zimmer's aggressive scheme.”
Doug Farrar, Sports Illustrated: Bridgewater. “The Vikings still have Christian Ponder under contract, and they re-signed Matt Cassel. But Zimmer will still have a problem if he expects either of those guys to lift the Vikings out of the cellar in a very tough NFC North division," he wrote. "Bridgewater was maligned by many after a less than impressive pro day, but he has a lot of skills, he sees the field well, and though his ceiling may not be as high as Manziel’s or [UCF quarterback Blake] Bortles’, that may appeal to Zimmer, who wants a quarterback he doesn’t have to worry about.”
Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. “With Jared Allen gone, the Vikings are in desperate need of a defensive playmaker,” Farmer wrote. “Barr fills the bill.”
Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. “The Vikings won't take just any quarterback at this spot in the draft for Norv Turner's offense,” he wrote. “If Carr is available he makes the most sense. Minnesota may have to jump over Oakland to get him.”
Matt Smith, NFL.com: Bridgewater. “They have a Pro Bowl left tackle in Matt Kalil, a Hall of Fame running back in Adrian Peterson and two solid receivers,” he wrote. “The need is a quarterback who is able to navigate all of those tools as efficiently as possible.”
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Bridgewater. “His so-so pro day performance didn't help his cause one bit, and we're now down to debating whether he should be throwing with or without a glove,” Banks wrote. “That's the way the pre-draft fault-finding process works, especially for first-round quarterbacks. But the Vikings might represent a pretty soft landing for Bridgewater, who wouldn't have to be rushed onto the field with veteran Matt Cassel re-signed and ready to handle the starting job this season.”
Jared Allen said he doesn't hold any hard feelings against the Vikings and thinks the Bears are closer to a Super Bowl than people think during his introductory press conference on Monday.
Allen signed a four-year deal worth up to $32 million with the Bears this offseason. He said he still respects the Vikings organization for allowing him to play through the entire six-year, $73.26 million deal he signed in 2008. Allen, who turns 32 on Thursday, said there were certain things the Vikings lacked that he was looking for this offseason.
“I don’t wish any ill-will against them, but I’m excited to be a Chicago Bear, I’m excited to play against them, I’m excited to still be in this division,” Allen said. “It was time to move on. They got a direction they’re going, and we’ve got a direction we’re going.
“I wish them all the luck except to not have it against us. They’re another competitor now. They’re another team and that’s what it’s about.”
Allen turned down an opportunity to play with the Seahawks, fresh off their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, to join the Bears. When asked about his decision and whether Chicago is close to winning a Super Bowl, Allen said, “Absolutely this team is closer than people think. Don’t get me wrong, Seattle is a great team and they have great parts. They’re also in a crazy good division where the Niners aren’t no joke out there either. But the Bears, I don’t know statistically what it is but just playing against them, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are two of the top receivers you’re going to play against at that size. I know what it takes to prepare for this offense, and it [stinks].”
Allen also downplayed reports that he would retire if he didn’t find a suitable offer. He said money wasn't a major factor in his decision.
“It was never my intent but my point was that if I was going to throw my cleats and pads on for a team that had no chance,” Allen said. “They’re rebuilding at this point in your career and you’re laying it all out there because I still feel like I’m the best at what I do. If not the (best), one of.
“There’s always a threshold that I had to excess and say, ‘Is it worth going below this?’ But that was kind of my process going through. It was never, ‘Oh, if I don’t get X amount of dollars, I’m walking away.’ That was never the case.”
The Vikings have made it official. The guy who bounced Brett Favre's head off the ice at TCF Bank Stadium in the Vikings' last and only game at TCF Bank Stadium will be wearing purple the next time the team plays a game at TCF Bank Stadium.
Former Bears defensive end Corey Wootton has indeed signed his one-year deal. He's the fifth defensive lineman the team has signed or re-signed since the start of free agency.
Wootton, a five-year veteran who was a fourth-round draft pick of the Bears, comes in as the experienced backup defensive end that the team lost when Everson Griffen was re-signed to replace Jared Allen as the starter at right end.
Wootton has 11 sacks in 45 NFL games. The first sack of his career was the last play of Favre's career. It came Dec. 21, 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Vikings were forced to play there because of the Metrodome roof collapse. Favre was ruled out of the game earlier in the week, but ended up playing anyway. He leff the game with a concussion after the Wooten sack, didn't play the following week in the season-ending game at Detroit. And, as of 10:29 this morning, he remains retired.
The Vikings will play the next two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium while their new stadium is being built.
Vikings free-agency tracker …
We’re tracking all things Purple, starting with what’s already happened and projecting what still needs to happen as the Vikings work their way through free agency. Here we go:
QB Matt Cassel: Agreed to terms on a two-year, $10 million deal on March 8. Signed the deal March 10.
What it means: The Vikings would have gone into free agency with their No. 1 need being a veteran quarterback to serve as their temporary bridge to the future. Cassel, who went 3-3 and played in all five of the Vikings’ wins a year ago, isn’t perfect, but he’s the best-case scenario in a weak quarterback market. Now, the Vikings can shift their QB focus to picking the right one in the draft.
DE Everson Griffen: Agreed to terms on a five-year, $42.5 million deal on March 8. Signed on March 10.
What it means: A starting right defensive end to replace Jared Allen would have been priority No. 2 heading into free agency. Signing the 26-year-old Griffen filled that need with a familiar player who’s been solid, is full of star potential and is heading into his prime seasons.
MLB Jasper Brinkley: Signed a one-year deal before the free-agency signing period began March 11.
What it means: The Vikings let Brinkley, a starter in 2012, walk away before the 2013 season. Then he failed in Arizona and was released after the season. So we’re not talking any guarantees here. He will compete with Audie Cole and Michael Mauti at middle linebacker with perhaps one of them being able to move over and compete with Gerald Hodges at the weak-side linebacker spot.
C-G Joe Berger: Signed a one-year deal March 11.
What it means: Berger might be the most underrated player on the team. He's primarily a center, and he’s been good enough to start there. But he also can be a serviceable starter and backup at both guard positions as well.
RB Matt Asiata: Exclusive rights free agent signed his one-year tender.
What it means: Asiata is a good No. 3 running back and special teams player. The Vikings still can use a change-of-pace back with pass-catching skills as their No. 2 back.
NT Fred Evans: The 30-year-old unrestricted free agent signed a one-year deal on March 13.
What it means: Evan will continue to provide depth on the nose, which is something he's done with the Vikings since 2007. He's not a front-line talent, but is a wide body with experience. Makes too many silly encroachment penalties while lined up with his head right over the ball, but is a good player to have for depth and emergency situations.
WR Jerome Simpson: The acrobatic, but inconsistent veteran receiver signed a third consecutive one-year, "prove-it" deal with the Vikings on March 14.
What it means: Focusing just on football, it means the Vikings now have four experienced receivers to go along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. Are those four receivers written down in pen as the top four that will start the season? No. Beyond Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, anything can happen, depending on whether the Vikings come across something better between now and September. But Simpson gives new offensive coordinator Norv Turner a deep threat that can leap and pick passes out of the air. Of course, Simpson also is prone to disappearing for long stretches, dropping too many passes and getting in trouble off the field. His arrest for DWI last December could result in another league suspension to go with the three-game punishment he served when he joined the Vikings in 2012.
LG Charlie Johnson: Agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal on March 15.
What it means: Although he struggled last season and the Vikings were willing to lose him while they focused on higher priorities, Johnson has started 48 of 49 games since joining the Vikings in 2011, including all but one game at left guard the past two seasons. With Johnson's return, the starting line should remain intact for a third straight season. General Manager Rick Spielman said he's impressed by the progress of Jeff Baca, a sixth-round pick a year ago, and that the team will be looking to address the offensive line in the draft. But re-signing Johnson, 30, for about $2.5 million this season suggests the Vikings are willing to let Johnson handle the position while they groom a backup that could take his spot as early as 2015.
HELLO, NEW FACES
NT Linval Joseph: Agreed to a five-year, $31.5 million deal on March 11, the first day of the signing period.
What it means: Well, the Vikings didn’t have a starting-caliber nose tackle on the roster. They also haven’t had a true nose tackle in top form since Pat Williams’ last dominant season in 2009. Not coincidently, that was the last time the Vikings played shut-down run defense. Priority No. 1 defensively for new coach Mike Zimmer is shut-down run defense. Joseph is a 6-4, 328-pounder who’s only 25 and was a second-round pick in 2010.
CB Captain Munnerlyn: A competitive, hard-nosed, 5-8, 195-pounder, he signed a three-year, $14.3 million deal with $7 million guaranteed on March 13.
What it means: The Vikings finally have someone to replace Antoine Winfield, 12 months after making a calculated, financial-based mistake in releasing him and placing blind faith into Josh Robinson, a second-year pro who had never played inside over the slot in the nickel defense. Munnerlyn has three years of experience at starting outside and sliding inside when his former team, the Panthers, went to the nickel. He's also a 25-year-old rising star who made plays on a defense that ranked No. 2 in the league in yards and points allowed last season. In five seasons in Carolina, Munnerlyn, a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, returned five of seven career interceptions for touchdowns. The guy he replaces, Chris Cook, a second-round pick in 2010, is still looking for his first career pick. He signed with the 49ers on March 14.
CB Derek Cox: The 6-1, 180-pound Cox signed a one-year deal on March 13 and hopes he can reclaim what he had for four years in Jacksonville and lost last season in his only year with the Chargers.
What it means: Remains to be seen. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer proclaims himself to be "The Fixer." Well, if he can fix this guy, he might have three good corners in Xavier Rhodes, Munnerlyn and Cox. Cox had 12 interceptions in four seasons with the Jaguars after being drafted in the third round in 2009. He signed a big deal with the Chargers last year, but was benched three times and essentially given up on after a horrendous outing against the Chiefs in November. The Vikings have eight corners on the roster, but they'll be looking for more, probably in the draft.
DT Tom Johnson: At 6-3 and 290, the 29-year old signed a one-year contract worth $875,000 on March 20.
What it means: He's another cog in the middle of the defensive line. Settled in with the Saints the past three seasons after moving all over the world to play, but New Orlean's 3-4 didn't suit him. Will likely be at three-technique, although his experience at end could make him versatile. A bit old, but it's a low risk and Zimmer clearly wants to improve the interior line.
DL Corey Wootton: The 6-6, 270-pounder got a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, plus incentives, on March 21.
What it means: Wootton can play both tackle and end, but is likely to be more of the latter under Zimmer. He had a hip issue that hampered him in Chicago, where he played the past four years. Wootton started 15 games for the Bears last season, so he's not chopped liver. This is an intriguing signing, if he returns to full health.
OG Vlad Ducasse: The 6-5, 320 pound Ducasse visited Winter Park early in free agency, and agreed to a one-year deal Sunday.
What it means: A four-year veteran, it's possible Ducasse could be a guy who moves around the line, as he was a tackle in college. Another low-risk signing that means the Vikings won't have to draft many offensive linemen. As we wrote in December in a feature on Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, the Vikings got younger and cheaper on the defensive line during free agency.
1. Veteran quarterback (Re-signed Matt Cassel) 2. Starting right defensive end (Re-signed Everson Griffen) 3. Young, true run-stuffing nose tackle (Signed Linval Joseph) 4. Cornerback (Signed Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox) 5. Left guard (Re-signed Charlie Johnson and added Vlad Ducasse)
6. Linebacker: The roster includes only unproven prospects behind Chad Greenway. Unfortunately for the Vikings, there doesn’t appear to be any good fits in free agency based on skills or age. This need is something that will be addressed in the draft. The muddied picture also will begin to clear once the new coaching staff identifies Greenway’s role and how and where intriguing youngsters Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges fit.
Other needs: Change-of-pace backup running back and more competition at strong safety. Where things stand: The running back could come as a bargain deal late in free agency or late in the draft.
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