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 three or four years, a former Packers star decides to come west and bail the Vikings out of a gigantic jam.
Ryan Longwell filled a gaping hole at kicker in 2006 and went on to post six successful seasons. Brett Favre stepped in for a QB-starved outfit in 2009 and led it to within seconds of a Super Bowl. And now former Packers receiver Greg Jennings has signed on with a Vikings team that's bone dry at receiver and hasn't had a legitimate No. 1 wideout since Sidney Rice was catching passes from Favre in 2009. Jennings' deal is for five years, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Jennings doesn't fit Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman's normal parameters for a free agent. Jennings will turn 30 in September and has missed 11 games because of knee and core muscle injuries over the past two seasons.
But here's what Jennings is: Productive. Although he caught only 36 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, he did post 1,100-yard seasons from 2008 to 2010.
Jennings will be introduced during a press conference at Winter Park at 7:15 p.m. We'll have more later this evening.
On Friday morning at Winter Park, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman is scheduled to meet with local reporters to discuss the team’s preparations for next week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. But inevitably, the discussion will turn toward the Percy Harvin trade rumors that surfaced in a big way this past week.
As speculation spreads that the Vikings will spend some time in Indy casting Harvin-baited hooks into the NFL waters with supreme interest in what they might reel back in, Spielman will be asked to comment on all that’s being hypothesized.
Well, we’ll save you the suspense. When the questions are asked – and we’re setting the over-under on Harvin inquiries at 4.5 – Spielman will suddenly seem like his top receiver catching a bubble screen. Darting this way, dodging that way, impossible to corral. He’ll almost certainly reiterate that Harvin is a good football player – blue chip in fact – while vaguely issuing a reminder that the Vikings don’t like to get rid of really good football players.
But will that mean Harvin is certain to be back in purple in 2013? Absolutely not.
Fact of the matter is, from a business standpoint, it does Spielman no good to publicly say anything of substance about Harvin’s future with the team. Not if he has at least some interest in gaging the trade market. Which means that the Harvin story will be wrapped in rumor and innuendo for at least the next few weeks and possibly longer. Which, in turn, means the debates will intensify between those who think Harvin is an irreplaceable playmaker who needs to be kept long-term versus those who think the Vikings should pull the trigger on a trade while the value of doing so may be at its highest.
To help you better understand all the moving parts of this saga, we’re providing legitimate arguments from both sides. Keep Percy? Trade Percy? Feel free to continue this discussion, as you see fit, at your office or local watering hole.
Keep Percy: Here’s your obligatory reminder that through eight games last season, Harvin was the NFL leader in catches with 60. At the season’s midpoint he was on pace for 120 catches and 1,334 receiving yards. For a while, his presence alone made Christian Ponder seem like a guaranteed long-term answer at quarterback. Remember after Week 7 when Ponder ranked near the top of the NFL in completion percentage? Simply because he could flick the ball to Harvin within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage then let number 12 do the rest? Yep, Harvin’s an absolute beast. He’s as slick and sleek as a waxed Porsche while also somehow providing the power of a Humvee.
Trade Percy: Nobody is disputing Harvin’s playmaking ability. The adjectives Sharpied onto his scouting report include explosive, versatile, swift and strong. But those are quickly followed by these: mercurial, moody, temperamental. When Percy’s happy, he’s one of the Vikings’ most lovable stars. When he’s not happy, break open the Advil cabinet. Don’t forget how bizarre it was last summer when Harvin expressed significant unhappiness during the team’s mini-camp, requested a trade but then failed to elaborate publicly on what the heck was bothering him. What’s that all about?
Keep Percy: Forget last summer. That episode settled down within 72 hours. What about last fall and that remarkable 5-2 start the Vikings got off to? Not possible without Harvin’s contributions. We talk a lot about his skills as a receiver. But remember in Week 4 when he also returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a score in Detroit, a TD that wound up being the difference in a 20-13 win? And what about the rushing TD he had a week later against Tennessee, which was followed a few quarters later by a mind-bending display of elusiveness on his way to a second score? Watch this again. Still need reasons to keep Percy?
Trade Percy: That 5-2 start you referenced? Well, guess what. The Vikings finished the season 5-2 as well. And that seven-game closing stretch came without Harvin. He was out with a sprained ankle that ended his season. And after the Vikings put Harvin on injured reserve and he vanished from the facility, the Vikings won their final four regular season games. Not saying, just saying. Sure didn’t seem like Harvin’s presence was a prerequisite for success.
Keep Percy: Look, playmakers like this don’t grow on trees. The Vikings were fortunate that some of Harvin’s character issues made him slide down the draft board in 2009. It was a calculates risk when they picked him. And to take that for granted now would be reckless. Especially for a team that needs so much help at receiver. It’s not like they’re overflowing with depth at that position. Plus, now seems to be the right time to issue a reminder that Harvin doesn’t turn 25 until May 28. That youth translates into big-time upside.
Trade Percy: Is now also the right time to bring up Jarius Wright? The rookie sure seemed to show rapid signs of growth down the stretch. And in the Vikings’ biggest game of the season, that playoff-clinching win over Green Bay in Week 17, Wright had three grabs, 90 yards and a TD. He may not be quite as explosive or dynamic as Harvin. But he can serve a similar role and doesn’t seem to carry half the baggage. Wright was inactive for the first nine games last season yet never seemed to fuss or mope. That’s an underrated asset.
Keep Percy: Trading one of your established stars is dangerous beyond all belief. What do the Vikings think they can get in return for Harvin? That, after all, will be a big piece to this trade puzzle. Logic may infer that a player of Harvin’s caliber should allow the Vikings to demand at least one first-round pick and some change in a deal. But the way NFL business logistics are, it won’t make much sense for any team to surrender a first-round pick for a guy who’s only signed through next season and then will need to be re-signed at a very big cost. So if the Vikings are only looking at getting a second- or third-rounder and a throw-in pick or two in the later rounds, is that really enough to give up a guy who’s probably your second best player behind Adrian Peterson?
Trade Percy: Led us right into our next point. That eye-popping salary Harvin will demand will be a HUGE piece to this puzzle. And inside NFL circles, there’s chatter that Harvin is not just expecting a long-term extension, he’s expecting to be PAAAIIID. You can thank Twin Cities-native Larry Fitzgerald for exploding market on receivers. The contract extension Fitzgerald signed with Arizona, an eight-year deal worth up to $120 million, changed the game. Let us give you some numbers of receiver contracts subsequently signed over the past two offseasons. Vincent Jackson: five years, $55 million. Santonio Holmes: five years, $50 million. Pierre Garcon: five years, $42.5 million. Sidney Rice: five years, $41 million. Marques Colston: five years, $40 million. Those are exorbitant sums. And before you make a long-term investment like that, you best be sure you’re going to be able to manage Harvin’s mood swings and volatility while also hoping his style of play doesn’t turn him into a major durability risk.
Keep Percy: Harvin is better than Santonio Holmes, better than Garcon, better than Rice. He would be worth every bit of a contract that pays him $8-, $9-, maybe $10 million per year. Plus, a shrewd front office will structure the deal so that it’s heavy on incentives to minimize their risks in the event that Harvin either gets injured or has a meltdown.
Trade Percy: If you’re talking $8- or $9 million per year, by all means, start working out a deal. But we’ll say it again. Harvin believes he’s worth more than that. Much more than that. And he might be commanding a deal in the ballpark of Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson, whose extension with Detroit was seven years and $132 million. That, my friend, is just ludicrous cash to be throwing around. Percy Harvin is a great football player. But he’s not on the level of Fitzy or Megatron. You know most of those names we mentioned a minute ago? Jackson, Holmes, Rice, Colston. Know what they have on their resume that Harvin doesn’t? A 1,000-yard receiving season. So how can a guy who has never surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in a season command in excess of $12 million per year? That’s where this could get extra dicey for Spielman. There’s also a lingering fear that if Harvin already has prima donna tendencies, giving him such a huge payday might create an egocentric monster that can’t be tamed.
Keep Percy: Tired of hearing all these concerns about Harvin’s moods. Are they really that big of a deal? Within the locker room, he isn’t considered a cancer. He hasn’t really been a divisive force amongst teammates. Most of those guys admire how hard he works, how hard he plays and how dynamic he is. If anything, he’s simply a young kid who can be irritable and cause headaches for the coaching staff and front office. This is the NFL. And if any franchise has the kind of even-keeled and patient head coach to deal with such volatility, it’s the Vikings with Leslie Frazier. Frazier has both the tolerance and the desire to continue molding Harvin. And Harvin has said in the past that he loves playing for Frazier, too. So what if that comes with an occasional immature outburst now and again?
Trade Percy: Again, there is absolutely nothing to say Frazier is fed up with Harvin beyond a point of no return right now. He continues to compliment Harvin and has gone on record to say he wants him as part of this football team. But the biggest question here may not be whether the Vikings want Harvin around but whether Harvin wants to be around the Vikings. And if he has checked out and decided that he wants a fresh start in a new place, sometimes there’s no turning back. And for a team looking to continue its impressive resurgence by building around selfless, low-maintenance, no-drama guys, perhaps now’s the perfect time to cut the cord. Get what you can now before the drama builds and becomes a major distraction.
Keep Percy: We’ll leave you with this.
Trade Percy: And we’ll leave you with this.
They've faced Brandon Marshall. They've faced Larry Fitzgerald. They've faced Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. They've faced Calvin Johnson not once, but twice.
But the Vikings haven't faced anything like they're going to face on Sunday against the Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers are one of only two teams that have four receivers with at least 35 catches and two touchdowns. Of those three teams, the Packers are the only one to have those four targets and their best receiver, Greg Jennings, returning this week after missing the past seven games because of a sports hernia surgery.
So, Alan Williams, how big a test are these Cheesehead receiving targets?
"The biggest test we'll face all year from a group standpoint," Williams said. "You have to defend everybody they have on the field. You can't just take away one guy. If you take away one guy, another one will hurt you. We'll have to be honest and play sound, fundamental football and everyone will have to stand up and do their job this week because they all can hurt you."
The Packers have Randall Cobb with 58 catches, 613 yards and seven TDs. they have Jordy Nelson with 45 catches, 648 yards and six TDs. They have James Jones with 42 catches, 495 yards and eight TDs. And they have tight end Jermichael Finley with 35 catches, 388 yards and two TDs.
The only other teams with four targets that have at least 35 catches and two TDs? Peyton Manning's Broncos and Drew Brees' Saints.
Williams defends Allen ... sort of: Williams was asked what he thought of the block that defensive end Jared Allen threw on Sunday. The blind-side shot didn't draw a penalty, but it did blow out Lance Louis' knee and cost Allen a fine for 21 grand.
Said Williams, who hadn't read the league's report on the play: "[Allen] is trying to get a block to spring our guy through to get a touchdown. I'm not sure. It's a little bit, you can't see it great on the film. It is what it is. The NFL gets to make the final choice on that and we respect their decision."
Musgrave calls drops `uncharacteristic': Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave isn't worried that his receivers didn't receive very well last Sunday. There were at least six drops, including three by Jerome Simpson.
"That was uncharacteristic of our group of wide receivers and we expect them to bounce back," Musgrave said. "We had a good practice yesterday and we look forward to getting back on the field and making improvements."
Why no Adrian on third- and fourth-and-two?: Musgrave was asked what's up with not handing the ball to Adrian Peterson on third-and-two and then fourth-and-two from the Bears' 8-yard line on Sunday.
He said: "We anticipated blitz. We didn't do very well in any of the third- and fourth-and-shorts during the game. I think the first two third-and-shorts, we threw it for 25 yards each time [actually 25 and 13]. We anticipated blitz there."
Musgrave said the next two third-and-short plays were Peterson runs in which he was stuffed. But the plays he was likely referring to came after the two plays from the Bears' 8-yard line. Peterson and Christian Ponder botched a handoff exchange that resulted in a lost fumble on third-and-one. Later, Peterson was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-one.
"That's an area where we need to improve, both conceptually and execution-wise," Musgrave said.
Walsh gets lesson from Peppers: Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer had warned rookie kicker Blair Walsh about Julius Peppers' extra long arms and how they tend to get in the way of field goals. But Walsh had to find out the hard way when he mishit a 30-yard attempt that Peppers swatted away.
"Blair did not get under [the ball] enough," Priefer said. "It was great protection and they knocked it down. That's Peppers. He's done it to us before, he did it to us last year. He's done it his whole career. I think he's got 13 blocks. There was really, virtually no penetration. He just jumped straight up. He just timed it up and on a low kick, you're going to knock it down."
Priefer said Walsh typically hits the ball so high so quickly that he has negated the penetration that some teams have gotten this season. Walsh also corrected the problem on his next kick, a PAT.
"He's not rattled at all," Priefer said. "I've been around young kickers and punters and players who make excuses. He made no excuses. He went over the bench and said, `Great protection, fellas. It was my fault. We'll get it corrected.'"
Two-point conversion mishap won't deter Priefer's aggressiveness: Priefer pointed to the Vikings' four blocked kicks this season as the reason he won't back off aggressive blocking schemes. The Bears exploited one of those schemes -- and eight-man overload to the left -- when holder Adam Podlesh, the team's punter as well, took the snap, got up and scored a two-point conversion to give the Bears an 18-3 lead.
"I'm a pretty aggressive guy," Priefer said. "In fact, the next one, the field goal right before the half, we went to an eight-man overload again. That's who I am, and we ended up blocking that one. And we tipped another one early. We're going to continue to be aggressive. Coach Frazier wants us to be aggressive.
"Do I need to a better job in situational awareness? Probably. But it's nothing that they schemed. They got us on it and they got an extra point. Obviously, we lost by 18 and it didn't matter, but it could have mattered. So do I want it corrected? Absolutely. But we're still going to be aggressive, we're still going to go after people and we're still going to block kicks."
Frazier said the players executed the PAT block attempt the right way.
"In fact, Jamarca Sanford almost made the play," he said. "If that's a fake field goal, and they have fourth-and-four or more to go, we're going to stop them."
Priefer also questioned why the Bears would put Podlesh at harm over one point.
" You run the risk anytime you do [what they did]," he said. "If you're going to have your punter go in there and do that, well, good luck. You can [tear] an ACL. You can break a collarbone, you can do something bad. But if they want that extra point, that's up to them. Whatever. I'm cool with it."
Priefer said he had thought that someone might try what the Bears did.
"I've tried to mix [the schemes] up," Priefer said. "But I just didn't mix it up enough."
Priefer not buying wind as Kluwe's excuse: Punter Chris Kluwe has tweeted and talked about how the wind affected the drop on the punt that he shanked out of bounds for 23 yards on Sunday. Priefer isn't buying it. At least as an excuse for that kind of shank.
"I think the snap took him a little bit right and he rushed it a little bit," Priefer said. "He said the wind blew it. Whatever. I don't know. It shouldn't happen. It wasn't that windy. It was a beautiful day. Are you kidding me? For Chicago in late November? It was a gorgeous day.
"He had four punts. Three of the four were pretty good punts. The last one was fantastic. So he had just the one [bad punt]. We have to eliminate those at all costs."
SEATTLE -- Adrian Peterson has two touchdowns and is nearly halfway to that 300-yard rushing game that he keeps saying is possible.
But the Vikings are getting beat by yet another rookie quarterback. Seattle's Russell Wilson has completed 10 of 14 passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns as the Seahawks lead 20-17 at the time. Golden Tate has two of the touchdowns, including an 11-yarder in which he made four defenders miss tackles, leaped to the goal line and inched the ball over before being blown up by Everson Griffen, who jarred the ball loose a fraction of a second too late.
On just 12 carries, Peterson has 144 yards and touchdown runs of 1 and 4 yards as the Vikings have taken a surprising 17-14 halftime lead over the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
The second play of the game featured a career-long 74-yard run by Peterson. It broke the 73-yarder he had as a rookie against Chicago and could have been 75 yards if cornerback Brandon Browner hadn't caught him from behind at the 1-yard line. Peterson later scored from the 1.
It was Peterson's franchise-record 13th career run of 50 yards or longer, breaking a tie with Robert Smith. Peterson also topped 100 yards in the first half of a game for the 12th time in his career. The next highest total? Two by Smith.
Seattle matched Peterson's first touchdown with a 17-yard touchdown drive set up by Percy Harvin's fumble on a running play. Tate caught a 6-yard touchdown in tight coverage by A.J. Jefferson in the back of the end zone.
Blair Walsh gave the Vikings a three-point lead with a 36-yard field goal with 5:25 left in the half. But Wilson drove the Seahawks 80 yards in 12 plays, with Tate scoring his second TD with 44 seconds left. Kevin Williams blocked the extra point, keeping it at a three-point game.
Former Viking Sidney Rice gave Seattle a 14-7 lead when he caught a
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with Seattle at CenturyLink Field, we asked Nick Eaton, who covers the Seahawks for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …
1) The Seahawks’ offense goes through Marshawn Lynch.
Yes, Vikings back Adrian Peterson leads the NFL in rushing right now with 775 yards. But Lynch isn’t far behind. The bruising back has 757 yards. And he’s part of a Seattle attack that is ground-oriented to its core. In eight games this season, the Seahawks have averaged 31 rushing attempts and 26 passes. Lynch, meanwhile, is coming off a 12-carry, 105-yard outburst in last Sunday’s loss in Detroit.
That included his longest run of the season, a 77-yard TD sprint during which he hit a hole on the right side of the field and was never touched on the way to the house.
“That was weird to see,” Eaton said. “Because he rarely gets out into the open field and is just able to sprint free. He’s always just busting through, always getting those power bursts. Five yards here, 5 yards there. And I think the most underappreciated thing about him is how headstrong he is. He keeps going and going and barreling through whether he’s getting big yards or not. He never lets up.”
That’s a scary thought for a Vikings defense that has struggled the past three weeks against the run.
2) The Seattle defense is solid on every level.
Up front, end Chris Clemons is a menace. He has seven sacks this season and 29 since joining the Seahawks in 2010. In the linebacking corps, K.J. Wright has a team-best 63 tackles. And that secondary? Corners Richard Sherman (6-foot-3, 195) and Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) are big and physical and apply a regular dose of press coverage to receivers. Plus, safeties Kam Chancellor (6-3, 232) and Earl Thomas (5-10, 202) can deliver some shots as well.
The Seahawks rank fifth in the NFL in yards allowed (312). They allow an average of 85 yards per game on the ground. They’ve also held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 6.4 yards per attempt with a 78.6 rating.
“They’ve been solid against the run and they have been really successful against deep passes,” Eaton said. “You can see how their corners can intimidate opponents at times. Every now and then you see those dropped passes where it’s obvious that receivers are rattled from all the contact and all the hits earlier in the game."
3) Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson can be sneaky dangerous.
Heading into the draft, Wilson faced questions about his height – he’s 5-11 – and whether he’d be able to see over defenses and create proper throwing lanes. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll looked past that and saw a guy who was consistently smart, efficient, driven and poised.
Yes, Seattle signed Matt Flynn to a huge contract in the offseason with the belief that he’d be their quarterback of the future. But Flynn is dealing with an elbow injury and Wilson won the starting job outright anyway with an training impressive camp and preseason.
The rookie out of Wisconsin via N.C. State hasn’t set the world on fire in his first eight starts. He has a .614 completion percentage and has thrown for just 1,466 yards with 10 TDs and eight picks. Overall, Seattle ranks 31st in passing offense (171.1 ypg).
But Wilson has shown he has a presence that his teammates respect.
“His demeanor is so even keel,” Eaton said. “And he has such a level head. It’s been impressive to see the way he came in here and just owned the position from the get-go.”
Oh, and the rookie quarterback has shown he has that clutch gene. He led late game-winning touchdown drives against Green Bay and New England. In last week’s loss to Detroit, he engineered a 12-play, 87-yard march that put the Seahawks ahead 24-21 with 5:27 left. And in the season opener against Arizona, a 20-16 Seattle loss, Wilson took the Seahawks from their own 20 to the Cardinals 4 before three incompletions in the end zone finished the game.
“From what he’s shown, he has an obvious ability to deliver in big moments,” Eaton said. “And you have to figure as young as he is he’s going to keep getting better.”
Former Viking Sidney Rice remains Wilson’s most potent target. Rice has 28 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s been their most consistent receiver so far,” Eaton said.
4) The Seahawks defense isn’t impenetrable.
With a three-point lead in the final minutes Sunday, Seattle was picked apart by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who led a methodical 16-play, 80-yard TD march. Stafford completed 10 of 15 passes on the drive, dismantling the Seahawks with a dizzying array of short passes. The game-winner was a 1-yard pass to Titus Young. That was the sixth completion on the drive for less than 8 yards.
And that may be a bit of an Achilles’ heel for a defense that has been solid just about everywhere else.
“At times, it seems those short passes and those dump offs have given the Seahawks substantial trouble,” Eaton said. “It’s hard to figure why that is. But you saw it with the Lions, all those short-little gains. They found that weakness and exploited it with a bunch of quick-hitters.”
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