Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
Remember all that exuberance Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman had late night back on April 25 and again the next afternoon? Spielman had hit the trifecta, landing three first-round picks in the NFL Draft.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd at No. 23.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes two picks later.
And then, after a blockbuster trade with New England, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was added to the mix with the 29th overall pick.
Spielman was glowing when he introduced the three picks at Winter Park upon their arrival the next day.
Media saw the 1-2-3 package -- three potential difference makers at three positions of need -- and lauded the Vikings for their vision and aggressiveness.
The most optimistic of fans began wondering whether the most memorable draft in franchise history had just taken place.
And now? Well, the Vikings are in the final hours before training camp begins in Mankato and none of those three difference-makers has signed his rookie contract.
Time to panic, right?
Our one-word response: Re-lax. It’s no big deal.
Honestly. It’s not.
Don’t forget, a year ago the Vikings top draft pick, left tackle Matt Kalil (selected at No. 4 overall) didn’t finalize his deal until the day players reported to training camp. Kalil put ink to paper in an office at Winter Park, then got in a car with quarterback Christian Ponder and zipped down to Minnesota State University to join the action.
Didn’t miss a meeting. Didn’t miss a walk through. Didn’t miss a practice.
Might we expect the same for Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson? We might.
And yet even if none of the three picks were to sign on Thursday, here’s a few things to digest to keep it all in perspective.
In other words, the chances of any of the Vikings’ three first-round picks missing significant time is next to none. And no one is anticipating any sort of lengthy holdout for any of the three players.
Furthermore, don’t forget that Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson all participated in the team’s rookie mini-camp in May followed by three weeks of Organized Team Activities and another week of mandatory mini-camp. So it’s not like they haven’t already had a chance to make a first impression on teammates and the coaching staff. They've already been through plenty of early orientation.
So what’s the hold-up with these contract you might ask? It’s just the nature of the beast. Deadline pressure is fast becoming a factor in negotiations, influencing a staring contest in which teams don’t want the distraction of the headlines that'd come with top draft picks not locked up before camp begins. And rookies don’t want to be late to their first training camp.
But what must be reiterated is that under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was installed in 2011, there really isn’t a whole lot for first-round picks and teams to haggle over. With the new rookie salary structure, first-round picks fit into slots with the maximum value of their deals having very little wiggle room. All first-rounders get four-year deals with a fifth-year team option.
Most often at the center of these first-round pick negotiations: a) the amount of guaranteed money in the deal; and b) the inclusion or exclusion of offset language, which is essentially fine-print provisional details teams try to install to relieve themselves of financial responsibility in the event that they eventually cut a first-round pick, whom another team then signs.
Getting a little too technical here now, right?
So here’s another thing to keep in mind. As of Wednesday morning, 14 of 32 first-round picks were unsigned. So it’s not as if the Vikings are dragging their feet and behind the rest of the NFL. There’s a general waiting game that occurs as players and teams try to keep tabs on the contracts signed by rookies in similar pick range. And so it goes.
The agents for Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson are making their closing arguments. And at Winter Park, Vikings Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski is working to iron out every last detail in the contract verbiage.
The priority: getting all three players to Mankato for the first team meeting, which will occur Thursday evening. That’s a gathering that head coach Leslie Frazier stresses. A year ago, Frazier believed he could set the tone for an entire season with his introductory address at training camp and stressed the importance of having all 90 players present. Last year, Frazier used that meeting to deliver a sermon on focus and preparation. He asked players to avoid outside distractions. He told them to ignore the widespread prognostications that said that, after 2011, the 2012 Vikings were more of a laughingstock than a playoff contender. And Frazier insisted his players develop an identity from the very first training camp practice as a group that was united and prided itself on playing smart, tough, disciplined football.
That may sound like Disney-movie fluff to some. But many teams, especially young ones, take that first coaching address to heart. And even with outsiders laughing at the 2012 Vikings' playoff aspirations, the players followed their coaches lead and began thinking big immediately and working accordingly.
So yes, from top to bottom of the Vikings’ organization, there’s recognition that Frazier's emphasis on Thursday night’s meeting has merit. That will likely have a bit of influence on the late stages of negotiations with Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson. But it won't be a make-or-break factor in the business side of things. Even with all three players still unsigned, there is no reason whatsoever for worry.
Before long, the looming contract issues with three promising rookie talents will be finished. So rest easy.
Two of the Vikings' three seventh-round picks are in.
First, with the 213th overall pick, Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti. Mauti -- whose father and brother also played at Penn State -- was a very highly-touted player coming to Penn State. But a series of injuries derailed much of his college career. Among those injuries are three ACL tears. The first, sustained before the 2009 season, wiped out that year for him. He came back with a very strong 2010 season, with 67 tackles -- 5.5 for loss -- and two sacks. But another ACL tear four games into the 2011 season ended that year.
He came back to play in 2012. He had 96 tackles and three interceptions before yet another ACL tear, sustained against Indiana, ended the season with one game to go. After the final injury he sent a letter to every NFL team expressing his love for the game and determination to return from yet another surgery and play in the NFL.
Mauti, who played both strongside and middle linebacker at Penn State, said he hopes to be cleared for practice in time for training camp.
When healthy Mauti is considered a very instinctual player, stout at the point of attack. Lack of speed and his injury history will work against him.
With the 214th pick the Vikings took North Carolina guard Travis Bond, a huge (6-6, 329-pound) right guard.
Bond was the starter at right guard his final two seasons at North Carolina. His size and strength make him an intriguing prospect, but his tendency to play high and difficultly using his hands effectively made him last until the seventh round.
And, finally, with the 229th pick in the draft, the Vikings drafted Florida State defensive tackle Everett Dawkins.
The Vikings used the 28th pick in the sixth round (the 196th overall) on UCLA lineman Jeff Baca, who grew up in California going to Bruins games with his father, who is now deceased.
Baca made 45 career starts at UCLA, including eight at left tackle as a true freshman. Overall, he started 25 at guard and 20 at tackle. He also played some center at the Senior Bowl. He was a second-team all-Pac-12 by the coaches in 2012 and was named the team’s outstanding senior of the year on offense.
He was academically ineligible in 2010. In 2011 he hurt his ankle during spring practice and needed surgery. He returned in time for the second game of that season, starting at tackle the rest of the year.
Baca is considered to be one of the more tenacious blockers in this draft class, especially adept at pass protection. But, even at 6-3 and 302 pounds he is not overly large by today’s offensive line standards.
Baca said in a conference call that he was thrilled with the prospect of blocking for Adrian Peterson, was comfortable playing any position on the offensive line and said his versatility and athletic ability were his strongest points.
About that 2010 ineligibility? He said he was a pre-med major his first two years at UCLA. In the spring quarter of 2010 he took Spanish, biology and chemistry, failing two of the three. After that? "I changed my major to political science and ended up making the honor roll seven of the eight quarters after that," he said.
So, the moral of that story is that being a politician is easier than being a doctor? "Absolutely," he said.
With their fifth-round pick -- the 155th overall -- the Vikings took UCLA punter Jeff Locke in a move that seems eerily reminiscent of last year's decision to draft kicker Blair Walsh.
That decision to take Walsh ultimately meant the end of veteran Ryan Longwell's time with the team. Will the decision to take the left-footed Locke mean Chris Kluwe's time with the Vikings is over?
Locke compiled a career 44.23 punting average in his career at UCLA. As a senior he was named first-team all-Pac-12 and was an honorable mention all-America by SI.com while being a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. He led conference punters with 34 punts inside the 20-yard line (21 of which were downed at or inside the 10) and added 68 touchbacks on 86 kickoffs.
Kluwe is coming off a season in which his 39.7-yard net average was the best in his eight-year career with the team. Kluwe, of course, is also well-known for his very public stances on the issues of the day. Kluwe is due to be paid $1.45 million this upcoming season.
The Vikings used their pick in the fourth round Saturday – the 120th overall choice – on Penn State outside linebacker Gerald Hodges.
Hodges is a converted high school quarterback and wrestler who started his college career at safety before moving to linebacker during his true freshman season due to injuries on the Penn State defense.
The 6-2, 237-pound Hodges was a two-time all-Big Ten Conference selection. He was named to the second team in 2011 and the first team in 2012. He led Penn State in tackles both in 2011 (106) and 2012 (109), with 18.5 tackles for loss in that time.
He is good at dropping in pass coverage – he had seven pass breakups and was tied for second o his team with two interceptions in 2012 -- and can play the run physically.
Hodges was a leader on a Penn State defense that finished second in the Big Ten and 16th nationally in scoring defense (19.1 points per game).
Hodges played weakside linebacker in 2011 and was on the strong side in 2012. In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Hodges said he'd never played inside linebacker until he played ILB as part of a 3-4 defense in the East-West Shrine game.
That said, he said he's willing and able to play inside should the Vikings want to try him there: "I feel very comfortable with my potential, with my ability to move quickly and hit gaps," he said.
Here are some other tidbits from his conference call:
--He admitted he had hoped to go earlier in the draft, and was feeling rather stressed by the process. So he decided to take a shower in an attempt to relax. "As I came out of the shower my phone was ringing," he said. "It was Minnesota on the phone, and I saw they were on the board with the next pick. It was an amazing feeling."
--On being recruited by and playing for Joe Paterno: "It's like being coached by a legend while he's still coaching," Hodges said. "He taught you a lot about playing football, but at the same time he taught you a lot about being a man and showing respect."
--Hodges was among a handful of Penn State seniors who worked to keep the team together as the Jerry Sandusky story unfolded. He called it a maturing process.
|Vikings (3506)||People (1)|
|AFC (85)||Bears (436)|
|Ex-Vikings (42)||Football on TV (50)|
|Lions (326)||NFC (1319)|
|NFL draft (229)||NFL post-season (28)|
|Packers (488)||Super Bowl (226)|
|Vikings coaches (66)||Vikings defense (250)|
|Vikings fans (114)||Vikings injury report (283)|
|Vikings management (28)||Vikings off the field (273)|
|Vikings offense (359)||Vikings quarterbacks (252)|
|Vikings road games (75)||Vikings rookies (33)|
|Vikings roster moves (40)||Vikings special teams (35)|
|Vikings training camp (132)||Injury report (336)|
|Off the field (126)||On the road (78)|
|Quarterbacks (295)||Rookies (76)|
|Roster moves (16)||Vikings draft (263)|
|Vikings trade talk (2)||Vikings players (792)|
|Adrian Peterson (901)||Anthony Herrera (161)|
|Antoine Winfield (408)||Ben Leber (97)|
|Bernard Berrian (213)||Bobby Wade (16)|
|Brad Childress (634)||Brett Favre (805)|
|Brian Robison (160)||Bryant McKinnie (106)|
|Cedric Griffin (194)||Chad Greenway (188)|
|Chester Taylor (79)||Chris Kluwe (108)|
|Darrell Bevell (111)||E.J. Henderson (183)|
|Heath Farwell (48)||Jared Allen (386)|
|John Sullivan (200)||Kevin Williams (217)|
|Leslie Frazier (890)||Madieu Williams (78)|
|Pat Williams (150)||Percy Harvin (667)|
|Phil Loadholt (160)||Ray Edwards (173)|
|Ryan Longwell (143)||Sage Rosenfels (102)|
|Sidney Rice (272)||Steve Hutchinson (189)|
|Tarvaris Jackson (169)||Tyrell Johnson (151)|
|Visanthe Shiancoe (216)||Brad Childress (638)|
|Darrell Bevell (112)||Leslie Frazier (899)|