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.


Posts about Packers

Vikings begin free agency focus on CBs, DEs

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: March 9, 2014 - 9:43 AM

The three-day negotiating window opened on Saturday and the Vikings focused on two needs on Day 1: defensive end and cornerback.

The Vikings made contact on Titans unrestricted free agent cornerback Alterraun Verner, according to an NFL source. The Jets and Rams are among other teams to reach out to arguably the best cornerback in free agency. Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray was Verner’s defensive coordinator for the last three seasons in Tennessee.

Verner and Xavier Rhodes would be a significant upgrade at cornerback next year, but Verner won’t be cheap. Packers re-signed cornerback Sam Shields on a four-year, $39 million deal. Verner should receive more money than Shields in his deal.

The Vikings also reportedly reached out to Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, according to ESPN. They were among a number of teams to make contact to Johnson’s representation as he reportedly won’t return to the Bengals. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has been Johnson’s defensive coordinator for the last five years in Cincinnati.

We’re still two days away until free agency officially begins, but the Vikings haven’t made much contact to some of the defensive tackles on the market. They only have one serviceable defensive tackle on the roster in Sharrif Floyd and will need a big nose tackle to pair up with Floyd on the defensive line. The Vikings have some interest in defensive tackle Derek Landri, who was cut by the Buccaneers last month, but it hasn’t materialized into an offer.

Landri is free to sign with any team at the moment because he was cut. He can make contact and schedule visits with teams unlike players that will become unrestricted free agents on Tuesday, such as Johnson and Verner, that must wait until after the three-day negotiating window.

Reviewing the Vikings' 2010 NFL Draft

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: February 25, 2014 - 10:48 AM

The Vikings made eight selections in the 2010 NFL Draft following a 12-4 season that ended a win away from a spot in Super Bowl XLIV. Only four of those players selected were on the roster last season and all will be free agents this season.

The team has since gone 24-39-1 with more coaching changes, two, than playoff games, one.

The Vikings didn’t operate with a general manager at the time but general manager Rick Spielman was Vice President of player personnel and handled the draft, but former head coach Brad Childress had final veto power on all personnel moves. Spielman didn't have the final say as he does now.

“Different philosophy back then,” Spielman said. “It was a different structure back then. Some haven’t panned and some have, but I think what we’ve done since then is go back and assess and analyze and I know exactly what went wrong with the ones that didn’t make it and what went right with ‘em. But we’ve used that as we’ve gone forward especially over the last two draft classes. Basically that’s my total responsibility now."

Well, a lot didn’t pan out. When asked about the philosophy in the draft, Spielman repeated, “I’ll just leave it at that it was a different philosophy.”

It’s a big reason why the Vikings have struggled to remain consistent and now have an emphasis to build through the draft. Here’s a look at who they picked and some notable players they missed in each round.

First Round

The Vikings traded their 30th overall selection to the Lions for a second (34th) and seventh (214th) pick. They also swapped fourth round selections.

The Lions drafted Cal running back Jahvid Best, who retired due to his concussion history.

Noteworthy players after selection: OT Rodger Saffold to the Rams (33rd overall pick; second round)

Second Round

With the second pick in the second round acquired from Detroit, the Vikings selected Virginia cornerback Chris Cook. The team needed a cornerback and Cook had the size and athleticism listed at 6-2 and 212 pounds at the time, but he turned out to be a bust.

Cook hits free agency without an interception in four seasons with the Vikings. He missed the final 10 games in 2011 due to an ongoing domestic assault arrest that was he was later found not guilty. He was cleared on gun charges that same year prior to the arrest.

On the field, Cook couldn’t stay healthy. He played 12 games last season, a career-high, but he wasn’t productive. He was ejected in Week 13 against the Bears after making contact with an official after allowing a 46-yard touchdown catch to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who previously had an 80-touchdown against Cook and set the franchise record with 249 receiving yards.

Noteworthy players after selection: S T.J. Ward to the Browns (38th overall); TE Rob Gronkowski to the Patriots (42nd overall); LB Daryl Washington to the Cardinals (47th overall)

The Vikings traded up to the 51st overall pick, swapping second round picks with the Texans and giving their third round pick, to select Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.

He served as Adrian Peterson’s backup and had his most productive season when Peterson tore his ACL in 2011. Gerhart has a career-high 109 carries for 531 yards.

Both Cook and Gerhart are free agents this offseason and it doesn’t appear that either will return. Gerhart wasn’t a bust however and will draw some interest from other teams as a possible starting running back.

Noteworthy players after selection: DE Carlos Dunlap to the Bengals (54th overall); LB Sean Lee to the Cowboys (55th overall);

Third Round

The Vikings didn’t have a third round pick due to the Gerhart trade.

Noteworthy players after selection: WR Brandon LaFell to the Panthers (78th overall); WR Eric Decker to the Broncos (87th overall); LB NaVorro Bowman to the 49ers (91st overall); TE Jimmy Graham to the Saints (95th overall)

Fourth Round

After swapping fourth round selections with the Lions, the Vikings drafted USC defensive end Everson Griffen with the 100th overall selection.

He was considered to be a first round pick but there were questions about his effort and off the field issues. Following his rookie season, Griffen was arrested twice in three days for public intoxications and driving with an invalid driver’s license.

Griffen made just one start in four seasons behind defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen. He’s so versatile that the Vikings used him at all four positions on the defensive line during his tenure.

Griffen and Gerhart were clearly the two best players the Vikings selected in the draft but both were primarily backups over the last four years. Though Griffen has expressed interest to return, the Vikings will have a difficult time bringing him back. There aren’t many good 4-3 defensive ends in the draft and free agency.

Noteworthy players after selection: CB Alterraun Verner to the Titans (104th overall); TE Aaron Hernandez to the Patriots (113th overall); TE Dennis Pitta to the Ravens (114th overall); DT Geno Atkins to the Bengals (120th overall): S Kam Chancellor to the Seahawks (133rd overall; fifth round); WR Riley Cooper to the Eagles (159th overall; fifth round)

Fifth Round

With the 161st overall selection, the Vikings drafted Wake Forest offensive tackle Chris DeGeare. He was wavied and signed to the practice squad in 2011 and released right before the start of the 2012 season. He spent that season on the Titans’ practice squad.

DeGeare has signed a reserve/future contract with the Giants in January.

The Vikings also had a compensatory pick and selected Gophers linebacker Nathan Triplett with the 167th overall pick. He was cut in preseason and spent three seasons with four teams after the Vikings. He wasn’t signed with a team last season.

Noteworthy players after selection: DE Greg Hardy to the Panthers (175t5th overall; sixth round); RB James Starks to the Packers (193 overall; sixth round); WR Antonio Brown to the Steelers (195th overall; sixth round); WR Trindon Holliday to the Texans (197th overall; sixth round)

Sixth Round

With the 199th overall pick, the Vikings selected UAB quarterback Joe Webb. The team got good value for Webb, who served as a wide receiver, running back, quarterback and special teams.

However, his tenure with the Vikings will be remembered for his performance in the franchise’s last playoff game. He was the starting quarterback in the 2012 NFC Wild Card matchup against the Packers due to a deep tricep bruise quarterback Christian Ponder suffered in the final regular season game against Green Bay.

Webb became the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to start a postseason game after not starting in the regular season. He went 11 of 30 for 180 yards with an interception and a fumble in the 24-10 loss.

Noteworthy players after selection: WR Marc Mariani to the Titans (222nd overall; seventh round);  DE George Selvie to the Rams (226th overall; seventh round)

Seventh Round

The Vikings selected Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler Jr. with the 214th overall pick and Rutgers linebacker Ryan D’Imperio with the 237th overall selection. Shuler Jr. was cut twice by the Vikings in 2010 and 2012. He spent last season on the Falcons practice squad.

D’Imperio switched from linebacker to fullback was cut in 2012 by the Vikings. He retired before the start of last season after signing with the Giants.

Vikings roster analysis: Linebackers

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: February 19, 2014 - 6:29 AM

We'll take a daily look at where the Vikings' roster stands at the moment position-by-position leading up to our NFL Combine coverage next week.

Position: Linebackers

On the roster: Chad Greenway, Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, Simoni Lawrence, Michael Mauti

Free agents: Desmond Bishop, Marvin Mitchell, Larry Dean (restricted), Erin Henderson (released)

The Vikings have already made two roster moves at linebacker this offseason. They released Erin Henderson and signed former Gophers linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who spent the last two seasons in the CFL.

There’s some young talent on the roster that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and his son, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, will inherit in Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges.

Cole, who will turn 25 by the start of next season, started at middle linebacker when he replaced Henderson during the season before spraining his ankle.  His recorded a sack during his rep as a starter on an A-gap blitz against the Packers and finished with 13 tackles. He matched that performance with 13 tackles against the Ravens two weeks later.

The seventh round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft at worst will be a serviceable special teams player and backup linebacker given his aggressive mentality. He’ll have a shot to earn a starting position in training camp either at middle or inside linebacker.

Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were used sparingly on defense and mainly on special teams, but the Penn State linebackers will also get a shot at a larger role next season. Mauti, 24, made it through his rookie season playing in 14 games after three torn ACL injuries in a five-year span at Penn State. If his knees can hold up, the seventh round pick in last year’s draft has always had the potential as a starting inside or middle linebacker.

Hodges, 23, played in 11 games during his rookie season. He was projected as an outside linebacker last year in the draft but was hardly used at the position with Chad Greenway on the roster.

Zimmer will get a chance to work with the young linebackers before the draft in May. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could be available when the franchise is on the clock with the eighth overall selection.

Greenway started all 16 games for a fifth consecutive season, but his play regressed last season playing through two broken bones in his wrist for most of the season. Greenway, 31, was graded 34th among 35 qualifying 4-3 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus. Greenway is expected make a base salary of $6.4 million next season, which trails just running back Adrian Peterson on the roster. It might benefit the franchise to restructure his contract this offseason if it needs more cap space.

“He is as tough an hombre as there is for him to play linebacker with a broken wrist through a lot of the season,” Spielman said on Friday. “I know that is healed and healthy now. He would never make an excuse for that either.”

Vikings release LB Erin Henderson

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: February 7, 2014 - 4:54 PM

The Vikings released linebacker Erin Henderson on Friday. The move, which will save the team $2.1 million in cap space next season, was inevitable, given Henderson's rocky end to last season.

Henderson, 27, was arrested twice on drunken driving charges in a little more than a month, first on Nov. 19 in Eden Prairie and next on New Year’s Day in Chanhassen. The first arrest caused Henderson to miss the Packers game in Week 12 because of  “personal reasons.”

Henderson, who declined comment Friday, said after the first arrest that he needed the time away to self-reflect, sensing a change was needed ... until he made the same mistake again after the season ended.

The 2008 undrafted free agent out of Maryland spent six seasons with the Vikings. He played in 14 games last year and finished second on the team with 134 tackles.

Audie Cole made his first career start against Green Bay, replacing Henderson at middle linebacker, and had 11 tackles. Henderson’s reps decreased, with Cole receiving a larger role on defense until he was placed on injured reserve with a sprained ankle heading into the final game of the season.

Cole will be entering his third season. Second-year players Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges are also expected to play larger roles next season.

Vikings' Cordarrelle Patterson named to All-NFL team

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: January 13, 2014 - 12:22 PM

Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was selected on the Pro Football Writers Association All-NFL and All-NFC teams as a kick returner.

He was one of 17 first-time All-NFL honorees by the PFWA. Patterson was the only player selected on either team from the Vikings.

It's been a pretty nice start to his offseason so far for the rookie. Patterson was named into the Pro Bowl as a return specialist and also earned the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month honors for December to go along with the PFWA's selection. He's one of five candidates up for Rookie of the Year (fans can vote here on the award)

Here's the complete All-NFL and All-NFC teams:

2013 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM
Offense
QB – Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
RB – Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs; LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
WR – Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns ; Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
TE – Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
C – Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
G – Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Louis Vasquez, Denver Broncos
T – Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
Defense
DE – Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams; J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
DT – Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
OLB – Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts
MLB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
CB – Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks; Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs; Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Special Teams
PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
P – Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
PR – Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs
ST – Justin Bethel, Arizona Cardinals

2013 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM
Offense
QB – Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
RB – Matt Forte, Chicago Bears; LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
WR – Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions; Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
TE – Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
C – Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
G – Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers
T – Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles; Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
Defense
DE – Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers; Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams
DT – Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
OLB – Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers; Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
MLB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
CB – Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals; Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
S – Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks; Donte Whitner, San Francisco 49ers
Special Teams
PK – Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks
P – Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
PR – Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks
ST – Justin Bethel, Arizona Cardinals

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