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.
UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr and Louisville inside linebacker Preston Brown will both visit the Vikings for their “top 30” event on Monday and Tuesday, according to two NFL sources.
Barr could be an option for the Vikings with their eighth overall pick. The projected first round pick switched from running back to linebacker two years ago and started every game during his junior and senior seasons. Barr was a first-team All-American last year and led the Bruins in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (20).
Listed at 6-5 and 255 pounds, Barr ran the 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds and finished the three-cone drill in 6.82 seconds, third among linebackers.
Brown led the Cardinals with 98 tackles last season. The second-team All-AAC linebacker posted 13 tackles in Louisville's Sugar Bowl victory over Florida in 2011. Listed at 6-1 and 251 pounds, Brown ran the 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds. NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki described Brown as an “aggressive, high-collision Mike linebacker best paired with a demanding position coach who will extract the most from him.”
Adam Zimmer is the Vikings' linebackers coach and could fit that description if he's like his father, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.
The Vikings have a need at linebacker heading into the draft. They signed Jasper Brinkley to a one-year deal in free agency as they seek two starters to play alongside Chad Greenway. The Vikings have three young, but still unproven, linebackers in Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti on the roster.
Along with Brown, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is expected to attend the event according to ESPN.
Nearly two years after Adrian Peterson stunned the NFL and surprised the medical field by returning from a devastating injury to threaten the NFL’s single-season rushing record, the Vikings running back’s left knee remains the standard by which all other surgically-repaired knees are measured.
Peterson tore the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament in his knee late in the 2011 season, an injury that turns most NFL running backs into mere mortals. But Peterson not only returned to the field eight months later, he rushed for 2,097 yards and a dozen touchdowns.
Looking back Wednesday on his recovery and his record-setting season, Peterson acknowledged that he made things difficult for his peers by creating unreasonable expectations for ACL recoveries.
“I knew that when I came back and had the kind of season that I had, I knew that it was going to be hard for anyone to duplicate that type of success after an ACL,” Peterson said on a conference call to promote Hyperice, an ice compression wrap he says aided him in his recovery two years ago and also after his groin surgery this winter. “Why do I say that? I say that because just coming back is one thing. That work that I put in, I can’t really express to you how hard I worked, how hard I grind.”
But Peterson tried. Over the next 60 seconds or so, he described a rehab program that made most, if not all, of the muscles I have ache. Every day, he would ride an exercise bike and do other things to rehab his knee. Then he did upper-body workouts in the gym and performed other exercises to strengthen his quads, hamstring and groin. And that was all before lunch. He then would go meet up with his personal trainer, who had him do plyometrics and other activities to help him strengthen his lower body and regain his flexibility and range of motion in his left knee.
“And I did that for months,” said Peterson, who turned 29 three weeks ago.
After rushing for 230 yards in the first three weeks of the 2012 season, he eclipsed 100 rushing yards in 10 of his final 13 games and topped 200 yards in two of them. Peterson came up eight yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, but he carried the Vikings into the playoffs.
“I was better and I knew just the work alone would be hard for anybody to duplicate,” Peterson said. “So I set the bar high and I knew it was going to raise some trouble for some other people.”
There were 63 ACL injuries during the 2012 season, according to NFL, and some were suffered by standout players such as Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb, Houston Texans inside linebacker Bryan Cushing and New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. While the injuries to and the circumstances for each player are different, each of those players experienced a drop-off in their play and production with some (Griffin and Clemons) steeper than others (Revis) in 2013.
No ACL last season was scrutinized more than the one in Griffin’s right knee. Griffin, who reached out to Peterson’s trainer for advice after suffering his knee injury, struggled at times last season before he was benched by (now former) Redskins coach Mike Shanahan for the final three games.
So what made Peterson the exception to all the rules about ACL recoveries two offseasons ago? While he acknowledged that genetics were probably a factor, he mostly chalked it up to hard work.
“That’s not to say that other guys didn’t work hard to come back,” Peterson said. “But I know the kind of work that I put in and I tried to share that with people, but people have their own ways. That’s perfectly fine as well. But I knew it was going to be extremely hard for someone to come out and put in the work that I put in.”
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.”
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.
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