If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion.
Here we go …
Question 1: Will the Vikings make a run at a big name free agent wide receiver this offseason?
I’ll answer that question with two questions. Number one: how many “big name” wide receivers do you expect will really be out there? Number two: Do you want Percy Harvin around for a long time to come?
Let’s get the outlandish big-name guys out of the way first. No, Randy Moss isn’t coming back. And no, Victor Cruz, who will be a restricted free agent, won’t be getting out of New York either.
So that takes us to a franchise-tagged big name. New England’s Wes Welker? Not coming here.
Over the next three-and-a-half months, three biggest names that will likely be thrown around often by fans as possible Viking targets might be Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings.
Wallace fits the need for a vertical threat, an outside playmaker who can be electric when he’s dialed in. Bowe wants out of Kansas City in the worst way and has a chance to post his fourth career 1,000-yard season with a strong finish. And Jennings’ days in Green Bay are likely over in big part because, well, Aaron Rodgers can get along just fine with the other receivers he has – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones.
So Jennings will almost certainly hit the open market in March. And he’ll have to convince interested teams that he’s not suddenly injury prone. (A knee sprain limited him late last season and a sports hernia has kept him out of the Packers’ past seven games.)
But the biggest thing Vikings fans have to consider as they weigh the team’s free agent options at receiver is that if there is a strong urge to keep Harvin around for the long haul – and that priority seems to be there – the major need of negotiating Harvin’s contract extension will take precedent.
Locking Harvin into a long-term deal will cost a pretty penny and it’s quite rare that an organization will dish out huge money to two players at the same position, thus restricting them from making a big splash at other positions.
So realistically, if getting an extension done with Harvin is a top priority, the Vikings may either have to look at second-tier free agent receivers or the use draft to bolster that position.
Here are some names …
Free agents who might be worth a realistic look: Donnie Avery and Brandon Gibson.
Receivers who might be worth a look in the first three rounds of the draft in April: Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton, Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, Baylor’s Terrance Williams, Southern Cal’s Robert Woods, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins. (Hunter, Woods and Hopkins are all underclassmen.)
Question 2: When Mistral Raymond returned that fumble for an apparent touchdown Sunday in Chicago, the whistle did not blow. Yet the replay officials overturned the fumble on a replay review, taking away seven points from the Vikings. But in the Thanksgiving day game in Detroit, a similar play took place, but the call was not overturned because the whistle did not blow even though the Houston player's knee was down. Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought if the whistle is not blown, the play is live and the call cannot be overturned. No?
No. Not correct.
The Lions were victimized by a strange technicality. You’re right that the whistle didn’t blow on Justin Forsett’s 81-yard TD run, even though his knee and elbow were both down. But the play was ultimately classified as unreviewable because Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw his challenge flag to request a replay review on a play he can’t request a review for.
This season, by rule, all scoring plays are automatically reviewed upstairs. Unless, of course, an outraged coach throws an unnecessary challenge flag, which the NFL rules inexplicably state aborts the option for review. So Detroit not only couldn’t get a brutal officiating mistake rectified, they were also given a 15-yard penalty for Schwartz’s thrown red flag.
In the Vikings’ case, Raymond’s touchdown was indeed reviewed. And officials ultimately determined Matt Forte’s knee was on the ground by the time he lost control of the football. So, by that ruling, it wasn’t a fumble by and so Raymond’s return was negated.
Confused? You should be. Blame the NFL’s nonsensical rule book for creating so much chaos in that Lions-Texans game.
Question 3: I hear so much about Brandon Fusco being a weak link on the offensive line. But given that Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier seem to be somewhat rational, surely Fusco must do something good. What is it?
When he’s playing with an edge and playing with confidence, Fusco can be a mauler in the run game. He’s got decent quickness and stays on his blocks. But there have been too many times this year when he’s seemed confused and overwhelmed. Remember, this is a guy who has made all of 11 NFL starts after playing his college career at Division II Slippery Rock. So the adjustment to the speed and intensity of this game can be steep.
I asked Frazier about Fusco’s struggles on Monday, a day after Geoff Schwartz got the majority of work at right guard against Chicago.
Here’s what Frazier said of what causes Fusco’s lapses: “It’s more the footwork and sometimes getting top heavy. [He’s] leaning a little bit too much one way or the other. And he’s just losing some of his fundamentals as an offensive guard. There are some things that technically he’ll get off on at times. And then it creates problems for our offense.
“When he’s on, he’s a very good player. But there are moments where he’s just a little bit off from a fundamental standpoint.”
Question 4: My sense is that because the Vikings record is better than most expected it to be at the beginning of the year, I hear praise for Coach Frazier from outside Viking land. However, fans don't seem to share this view and are increasingly upset with Frazier. What are the Frazier backers seeing that I don't? And what are us fans seeing that the others don't?
What the Frazier backers see is exactly what you have already noted. Through 11 games, the Vikings have been better than just about everyone expected. And the coach deserves some credit for that. Yes, there is still a lot of room for improvement with this squad. And even with a 6-5 record, the Vikings have many, many flaws. But Frazier has done a good job of putting this team in position for a rebound season. If they win two of their final five and finish at 8-8, I don’t see how this season could be considered anything less than a step in the right direction.
Frazier has a unique ability to connect with players. He was instrumental in mollifying Percy Harvin over the summer when Harvin’s discontent bubbled to the surface and led to a bizarre trade request. And Frazier has also done a good job of getting this team to focus on the little things each week while also retaining big-picture perspective.
Yes, he has his flaws. He struggles at times with clock management late in halves and late in games. And he may not always override some of Bill Musgrave’s run-pass play calls when it seems he should.
Plus, after such a disastrous loss like this last one in Chicago, it’s fair to question whether Frazier had his team prepared the way he should have going into a game that could have put the Vikings atop the NFC North.
But look at some of the early wins. The beatdown of San Francisco is most notable. The blowout of Tennessee and the two Detroit wins also had plenty of moments that proved the coaching staff’s ability to implement a strong game plan.
Frazier will likely never have universal support from the fan base. But he does have a vision that can be believed in and an ability to push a team forward through struggle.
So as for what disgruntled fans are seeing that the Frazier backers don’t? They see five losses – including four in the past games – and a team that has a bunch of obvious weaknesses. And with that in focus, it’s easy to lose perspective on how bad this team was a year ago and what the realistic turnaround time is.
Take a deep breath. Let some things play out. Remember what 2-9 felt like last year at this time. Things are moving in the right direction.
Question 5: Erin Henderson had what I thought was his worst game of the year Sunday. Do you feel he will be allowed to fade away into free agency next year?
Question 6: With all the guys who signed one-year deals last offseason, who should the Vikings want back next season?
The disconnect with the Henderson situation is that he views himself as having a much higher value than he really does. We saw that last March when he hit free agency and there weren’t any suitors willing to pay him what he felt he deserved.
The Vikings let the market establish itself, then brought him back for a one-year deal worth $1.45 million. Henderson took the one-year contract with hopes he’d have a big year in 2012 and cash in with a much more lucrative long-term deal. Somewhere. But he’s had an average season to date and will have to come to grips with what his price tag really is.
I’m not saying the Vikings won’t bring him back. After all, that’s a position that has very little depth for this team. And Jasper Brinkley and Marvin Mitchell will also be free agents in March. But there will have to be a reasonable agreement for that to work out.
As far as the other guys brought in on one-year deals, the most notable are: Jerome Simpson, Jerome Felton, Mitchell, Geoff Schwartz and Devin Aromashodu. Felton is the only one of that group who has had anywhere near a significant impact.
I would not be surprised if all the others were left to walk at season’s end.