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.
One area where the Vikings need to get much better, on both sides of the ball, is on third down.
Of course, it is easy to look at where the Vikings ranked defensively and point to that as the bigger issue, but the offense’s inability to convert on third down was also very costly a season ago.
You can probably spread the blame throughout the offense from the pass protectors to the guys running the routes. But in the end, there is a reason why the quarterbacks make the big bucks. And on third down last season, the Vikings quarterbacks ranked among the NFL’s least efficient.
According to Pro Football Focus, only former Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, now with the Seahawks, fared worse than Matt Cassel on third down. Christian Ponder was not much better.
On the 80 dropbacks that PFF charted, Cassel completed just 37 of his 70 attempts for 536 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. His accuracy percentage -- completion percentage taking drops into consideration -- on third down was near the bottom of the league at just 62.9 percent, lower than quarterbacks such as Josh Freeman, Thaddeus Lewis and Brandon Weeden.
Interestingly, it was the shorter conversions that gave Cassel the most trouble. He ranked near the bottom of the league on both 3rd-and-medium and 3rd-and-short. When it came to the latter, Cassel completed just one of his 10 attempts with a NFL passer rating of zero point zero.
As for Ponder, he completed 41 of his 66 third-down attempts for 443 yards and his accuracy percentage was a little higher than Cassel's at 66.7 percent. He threw three interceptions on the down, though, with no touchdowns. Ponder also took 12 sacks, a lot on only 92 dropbacks.
The Vikings converted 36.4 percent their third downs, last in the NFC North and 19th in the NFL.
The Vikings ended the first round of the NFL draft with a flourish, making a trade to get quarterback Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville with the 32nd and final pick.
The Vikings traded their second round pick (No. 40) and a fourth rounder (No. 108) to Super Bowl champion Seattle for the pick.
Earlier reports had the Vikings trying to get a first-round pick to nab Johnny Manziel, who went 22nd overall to Cleveland.
Matt Vensel described Bridgewater's rise and fall earlier this week here.
The Vikings are very interested in Johnny Manziel.
Manziel had his pro day at Texas A&M today, and by all accounts, he acquitted himself well. The Vikings were represented by GM Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner.
NFL.com reported the Vikings contingent would be having dinner with Manziel tonight and would then have formal meetings with him tomorrow.
When asked about Manziel's performance -- which came before a large crowd that included former President George H.W. Bush -- Zimmer told Charean Williams of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram: "It was different. It was a different workout." Because of the crazy atmosphere, Zimmer also told Williams it was a "sideshow" and that the Vikings would have a private workout with Manziel that wouldn't be choreographed, as Pro Day quarterback workouts tend to be.
Williams reported there were eight NFL head coaches and eight NFL general managers in attendance.
Coincidentally, the Vikings have the eighth pick in the draft.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported every NFL team was represented by someone except the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears.
Manziel told the NFL Network: "My main thing is I'm not scared of anything. I don't play that way. Why come out here in a scripted workout and be scared of anything? Throw the pigskin around and let's have fun. This was a football player's dream."
He completed 61 of 64 passes during the workout, ending with a 60-yard bomb.
The Plain Dealer also quoted Norv Turner, who was the Browns' offensive coordinator last season. Said Turner: “I think coaches and scouts want to see a quarterback physically throw the ball. You get to watch game tape and see how he plays. This guy is an amazing player, and then you see his physical skills. It just helps to see a guy in person . . .
“Here’s the deal: You only get so many opportunities to evaluate a player, and to not use every single one of them makes no sense to me. We’re going to exhaust every opportunity to evaluate a player. You get an opportunity to meet with a guy, and who knows what will come out of that? It might be something good . . . If you’re allowed to do these things, it makes sense to do them.”
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle had some interesting observations.
By the way, the Vikings confirmed the signing of Vlad Ducasse today. The former Jets guard agreed to a one-year deal on Monday.
Oh yeah, if you haven't seen Adrian Peterson's Hyperice promo, here it is.
Quarterback Matt Cassel, set to become an unrestricted free agent this weekend, is re-signing with the Vikings, according to two NFL sources.
Cassel's new contract is for two years. He would be considered a bridge to the next Vikings quarterback, likely a draft choice this season.
Jason LaCanfora of cbsports.com reported the deal was worth $10 million. For comparison sake, the Jaguars signed another "bridge" quarterback, Chad Henne, to a two-year deal on Friday that is worth $8 million, including $4.5 million guaranteed.
The agreement was first reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (@rapsheet).
Cassel, 31, opted out of a two-year contract he signed with the Vikings in 2013 that was worth $7.4 million.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has said, during the offseason, that the team would like to sign a veteran quarterback in free agency and also draft a college quarterback.
Teams are allowed to begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents who weren't with their teams last year on Saturday, but cannot sign them until Tuesday.
Cassel last spoke with reporters after the Vikings’ season-ending 14-13 victory over the Lions in the last game at the Metrodome on Dec. 29, saying: “I love playing for the Vikings. The fan base here is absolutely amazing. The team was special. It was a great team to play for. I really enjoyed my time with my wife, myself, my kids, a great community and everything else that goes along with it. So, would I love to be a Minnesota Viking? Absolutely, without a doubt.”
The Vikings have the eighth pick in the NFL draft on May 8. Of the first 11 teams drafting, five others have a need at quarterback. Four college quarterbacks — Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Derek Carr of Fresno State — are projected to be top-10 picks.
Cassel played in nine games for the Vikings last season, starting six. He was 25th in the NFL in passer rating (81.6). 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.
Ponder is also under contract through 2014. The 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, he 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.
Cassel 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.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel officially opted out of the final year of his two-year contract today, Pro Football Talk reported, citing a league source.
Cassel signed a two-year, $7.4 million deal before last season to back up Christian Ponder. By the end of the season, Cassel was the team's starter.
By exploring the free agent market, Cassel stands to get a long term contract for more money. The Vikings could still re-sign him when free agency begins March. 8.
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