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 have yet to exercise quarterback Christian Ponder’s fifth-year option for the 2015 season, according to the NFL Players Association’s records. The deadline to do so for 2011 first round picks is on May 3.
Some teams have already done so: The Texans picked up defensive end J.J. Watt option, the Chargers exercised defensive lineman Corey Liuget’s option, the Jets picked up defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson’s option and the Ravens did the same with cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Cowboys will reportedly pick up offensive tackle Tyron Smith’s option as well.
The 2011 draft is the first class to go through the fifth-year option process since the new collective bargaining agreement. The top ten picks have their salaries decided by the average top ten highest salaries for players at the same position the previous year.
In Ponder’s case, he falls in the next category as the 12th overall pick. The same formula is used for picks 11-32 except it’s the average of the third through 25th highest salaries last year.
Watt, who was selected just before Ponder, will receive $6.96 million in 2015 based on the third through 25th highest defensive end salaries.
Of course for quarterbacks, that number will be larger. Crunching the numbers, it’ll cost the Vikings around $10 million when looking at the quarterback salaries from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (third) down to Cardinals backup quarterback Drew Stanton (25th). It isn’t fully guaranteed however unless Ponder is on the roster on the first day of the league year. However, it is guaranteed if Ponder gets injured.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman declined to discuss the possibility of fifth-year option for Ponder at the NFL Combine in February. When asked if there’s a reason would not option a player just to retain his rights, Spielman said, “Those are things that we’ll discuss internally.”
It'd be surprising if it happens given Ponder's production and there doesn't seem to be much value in excercising the fifth-year option. At $10 million, it'd be difficult to trade Ponder. Outside of that, the only other option would be to cut him before the 2015 NFL calendar begins.
The Vikings will look to draft a rookie quarterback in the draft and signed Matt Cassel to a two-year deal in the offseason. Ponder seems to be the odd man out in the team's future plans.
In his prime, Antoine Winfield, who last played for the Vikings and in the NFL in 2012, was one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks at covering shifty slot receivers. If he got beat, he usually wrapped them up and limited the damage. He was a good blitzer and excellent run defender, too.
Last season, though, the Vikings did not have a reliable defensive back who could consistently stick with slot receivers. Three Vikings played more than 50 snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. They were, in order of most snaps played, Josh Robinson (212), Robert Blanton (201) and Marcus Sherels (119). Sherels and Robinson allowed the most yards per coverage snap among slot defenders, according to Pro Football Focus. Blanton was the best of that bunch, but quarterbacks still had a 121.0 passer rating when targeting him while he covered slot receivers.
Enter Captain Munnerlyn, who was solid when operating in the slot for the Carolina Panthers.
While it wasn’t exactly Munnerlyn Island, he allowed just 1.09 yards per snap in coverage the past two years, a number that would rank among the top 12 qualifying corners in 2013, per PFF. He also surrendered just one reception for every nine coverage snaps, which was respectable. He was beaten for just one touchdown in 803 snaps in the slot while picking off a pair of passes.
“When I’m on the field, I’m the big difference. I can make a whole lot of plays in this defense,” Munnerlyn, who with 3.5 sacks last season was also an effective blitzer, said Tuesday at Winter Park. “Start outside and then slide in to play the nickel back. That’s what I’m going to do. Start outside and slide into the nickel back. Make plays. Bring the physical toughness to this secondary and go out there and get my hands on some balls and take them to the house.”
Munnerlyn has seven career interceptions. He returned five of those picks for a touchdown.
While Munnerlyn again acknowledged that he would start on the outside and move inside in sub packages, he said he isn’t sure which sideline he will defend in the base defense. Xavier Rhodes usually lined up as the left cornerback as a rookie. Munnerlyn was on the left a lot, too.
“We haven’t talked about what side. Doesn’t matter,” said Munnerlyn, who signed a three-year, $15 million contract last month. “I played both in Carolina before. So it doesn’t matter.”
And given how often offenses use three or more wide receivers -- it was on more than half of the snaps across the NFL in 2013 -- Munnerlyn will be lining up in the slot a lot of the time anyway.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will work out for the Vikings on Saturday at Winter Park, according to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter. It has also been reported that Bridgewater will be at the team's Top 30 gathering on Monday and Tuesday.
The Vikings had a private workout with Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on Friday, an NFL source confirmed to our Matt Vensel.
The team has been in contact with Garoppolo since the East-West Shrine game. From there, Garoppolo earned a spot on the Senior Bowl roster, where the Vikings again reached out to Garoppolo. He was also at the NFL Combine and Director of College Scouting Scott Studwell was at his Pro Day.
It’s noteworthy that offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn’t get a chance to watch Garoppolo at the East-West game or at the Senior Bowl. His son, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, was at the Senior Bowl as head coach Mike Zimmer was assembling his coaching staff.
While Garoppolo did throw at the Combine, where he measured at 6-2 and 226 pounds, but this could be Turner’s first shot of watching Garoppolo in person. The Walter Payton Award winner for FCS most outstanding player led the FCS with 5,050 passing yards.
The Vikings met with LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger on Thursday following his Pro Day. They’ll remain busy next week with their “Top 30” event scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
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.”
Dane 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.”
If you aren't a child and your memory is intact and you're an NFL fan who has somehow managed to maintain the ability to think for yourself, you've probably already flagged Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's "flags" comment concerning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
In fact, in the up-is-down, down-is-up world of pre-draft misdirection, some of you probably heard or read Zimmer's highly-publicized comments and came away thinking, "Hey, maybe the Vikings like this kid more now than they ever have."
As Master Tesfatsion posted Monday, here's what Zimmer told 104.9 The Horn in Austin when asked about Johnny Football:
“We asked him all kinds of questions. ...There are some flags that come up. All of the things that happened out in Los Angeles, the commercials and all that stuff (Manziel had a cameo in a recent McDonalds commercial with LeBron James); the position of quarterback in the NFL is such an important position and the reason these guys need to be a totally football-minded guy is the pressure of the position and being the face of an NFL team and doing everything right. That’s the thing you want to know about him -- will he be into work early every single day? Will be the last to leave? Will he be the guy that is working the hardest to get better?
“There is a change, otherwise all of these other quarterbacks that have come up through the years would have made it, from the college game to the NFL game as far as the speed of the defense and some of the complexities of the different defenses. So that position has got to be a position that really eats, breathes, and sleeps football where he is going to take it upon his shoulders to win. At least the Peyton Manning’s, Drew Brees’ of the world have done that and really all we have to go on in the NFL is past history.”
First of all, it's always nice to hear a coach say something that doesn't cause a veteran NFL media member's eyeballs to glaze over. Secondly, Zimmer didn't say anything that's out of whack with logical thinking by those of us in the non-football genius camp. Anybody who sells "Johnny Football" as his persona is likely heading in one of two directions: Superstar or future draft-day punch line. Try making that call with your job hanging in the balance.
What we can't deduce from Zimmer's comments, however, is how he or the Vikings actually feel about Manziel. Honesty isn't the best policy in the NFL. It's treason come spring time.
Two years ago, Rick Spielman took over as general manager. He had plenty of time to convincingly hide the team's slam-dunk affection for left tackle Matt Kalil with the third overall pick. He also had the benefit of glaring needs that matched two other top-five caliber prospects in receiver Justin Blackmon and cornerback Morris Claiborne. For competitive reasons, Spielman even managed a straight face when saying repeatedly that all three were ranked evenly on the Vikings' draft board. (Maybe his fingers were crossed).
Spielman also managed to get people to let their guards down on the value of left tackles. He'd ask people to name the nondescript left tackles that protected some of the game's greatest quarterbacks.
“There’s the adage that you go back and forth on – is the left tackle that important or is it more important to have playmakers on offense?" Spielman said before that 2012 draft.
Spielman wasn't doing anything wrong. In fact, he was doing everything right. Let's just try and remember that from year to year when we're tempted to put too much weight on what anyone affiliated with the NFL says about the draft before the draft.
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