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 will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers.
And of course, we have to start with the hottest topic in the NFL, which is that oh-so-controversial Packers loss in Seattle. What appeared to be a Green Bay game-sealing interception was instead ruled a Seahawks touchdown, producing a 14-12 Seattle win. In case you slept through Tuesday, that call produced a wave of negative publicity.
Question 1: For all the people out there calling for Roger Goodell's head, could you please clarify his ability (or lack thereof) to unilaterally end the lockout? It's my understanding he works for the owners, and it's the owners who have forced this issue, along with the regular refs, who could have taken the earlier deal offered to them.
Question 2: An unfortunate byproduct of last night's game is a lot of talk show commentary that Goodell and the owners should "step up and do what it takes" to get the regular refs back on the field. But is it true that the main sticking point in negotiations is that the NFL wants the refs to be full-time, and they are refusing as most of them have other lucrative careers? So - which side really is most interested in highly professional refs? Bud Grant has said for 40 years that the NFL needs full-time refs. Gotta go with Goodell and the owners on this one.
First and foremost, what I said during the chat remains true. While the call that ended the Pack-Seahawks game was a disaster, it produced an asinine amount of breathless outrage. Yes, it was a terrible call that changed the final result. But it was still just a Week 3 football game. And based on the television and Twitter reaction that’s been brewing since, you might have thought Hitler and Sandusky were on the officiating crew.
Anyway, to get back to the issue at its core, Monday night’s embarrassment certainly isn’t good for the NFL. But the masses should know that the ongoing labor negotiations between the league and the NFL Referees Association have never really revolved around whether the real refs are competent or far superior to these imposters that are now doing the games while totally in over their heads. There is so much more to this. And no one did a better job of summarizing the divide between the NFL and the real refs than Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.
There's also this statement delivered by Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, which you should read.
Included in King’s piece Tuesday:
One of the emerging and major reasons why a deal has been so elusive, according to a source, is that the NFL is insisting on getting some control of the officials back that it has ceded in past negotiations with the NFLRA. This includes the league's desire to have three seven-man officiating crews in reserve with the ability to replace -- either for a game or longer -- underperforming current officials.
Another source with knowledge of the locked-out officials' position said Tuesday that the NFL would not guarantee that they would work at least 15 games in a regular season. Currently, other than due to injury, an official that starts a season works the full season. The officials source said that this is the main crux of what the NFL is trying to do in these negotiations: wrest back control of the officials' performance week to week in an NFL season. I've been told that the NFL is insisting on being able to make in-season changes to crews based solely on performance of individual officials.
In other words, the flood of negative publicity that’s engulfed the league in the past three weeks isn’t something Goodell seems overly concerned with as the NFL tries to negotiate a deal that works with its objectives.
Anyway, let’s move on to the Vikings, whose 24-13 upset of San Francisco will now stay further under the radar nationally because of Golden Tate-Gate.
Question 3: Can Zygi open the checkbook and pay Percy yet?
Question 4: Do you think ownership and GM Rick Spielman see Percy Harvin’s value and will be willing to shell out the big bucks for a contract extension? Are the character and durability questions outweighed by his talent?
Harvin's future in Minnesota is a deep contractual issue that the Vikings will have to dig into eventually. But character issues don't seem to be a major worry. Harvin is off and running on what appears like it will be a career year. He’s got 27 catches through three weeks and continues to be a dynamic offensive weapon who continually gives opposing defensive coordinators headaches. He’s as tough and versatile a receiver as you’ll find in this league. And his base salary for 2012 is $915,000. Which means, obviously, he’s currently being paid less than he’s worth. But he’s still in the middle of his rookie contract. And remember, Harvin slipped down the draft board in 2009 which figured in heavily to where his contract was slotted.
Harvin is signed through the 2013 season and it’s always been Spielman’s m.o. to take care of his stars with extensions before they begin or as they enter the final year of their deals. That’s how things went down a year ago with Chad Greenway and Adrian Peterson. And there’s every expectation that the front office will see to it that Harvin is treated fairly when the time comes for him as well. But there’s also no rush just yet. Why not let the 2012 season play out a little more? Why not gauge Harvin’s durability and consistency some more before worrying excessively about the extension? At present, Harvin does not seem concerned with his contract and is focused solely on doing what he does best: catching passes and steamrolling anyone who gets in his way.
Interestingly, Jared Allen’s contract will also expire after the 2013 season. He’s making a base salary of $11,619,850 in 2012 and is due to make more than $14.2 million next season. Seems like it may be difficult financially for the Vikings to keep both of those guys, especially as they begin thinking ahead about potential future extensions for other core guys like Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph. Heading into the 2014 season, Allen will be 32. Harvin will be 26.
Long story short: if Harvin keeps playing the way he’s playing, the Vikings will notice and reward him accordingly.
Question 5: If you were Bill Musgrave, would you chew Ponder out for not seeing Adrian Peterson wide open on the TD pass to Kyle Rudolph or compliment him on threading it after seeing the defender's back was turned?
Both. No question about it.
Peterson was uncovered and all alone on the fourth-quarter TD pass you’re referring to. San Francisco came with an all-out blitz. It was so all-out that one of the league’s premier playmakers jogged unaccounted for into the end zone and began jumping around, waving his arms, begging for Ponder to throw him the ball. Ponder missed it. And that’s a bad mistake. I asked him about that play on Monday and he just sort of blushed realizing Peterson was far more wide open than Rudolph. That could have been a bad mistake if that pass fell incomplete and the Vikings didn’t score a TD on that series. But Ponder also made a decent read on that play, recognizing the blitz and knowing Rudolph would be one-on-one against a safety in Donte Whitner on whom Rudolph had a 10-inch height and 50-pound weight advantage.
“It was one-on-ones and a mismatch with [Kyle] on a linebacker and so I gave ground and I knew that for him, it was a mismatch,” Ponder explained after Sunday’s game. “And before he even came out of the break, I didn’t have time so I just put it up and it was a little short and he made a heck of a play.”
Question 6: I’ve been bashing Musgrave since the day the Vikes hired him. But I have to give him credit for how he’s handling Ponder. Good coaches adjust their system to the players, not vice versa. Playing to Ponder’s strengths and not forcing things has worked out very well so far. Please tell “casual” fans that the deep ball is not necessary to win games.
To the last point, eventually the Vikings will have to show a deep threat to loosen things up for Peterson in the running game and Harvin and Rudolph in the short and intermediate territory. But let’s move on to Musgrave. And now might be a good time to direct you to the story Mark Craig wrote on Musgrave before Sunday’s win. It’s a pretty entertaining read.
As for Musgrave’s ability to adapt to the guys he’s coaching, this is the kind of underrated brilliance that’s needed to win big in the NFL. It sounds simple. And yet a lot of coaches in a lot of sports screw this up. Heck, a lot of folks in a lot of different businesses screw this up. The best leaders have the most success when they find the talents in their personnel and work their tails off to bring it out.
This is why this past offseason was so invaluable for Ponder’s growth. Because he had the chance to work one-on-one with Musgrave. They went through the playbook repeatedly. And Ponder even had veto power on certain reads on certain plays with the Vikings’ staff flexible enough to tailor things to what made him most comfortable. Now? Ponder is making throws he’s good at with reads he understands. He’s doing what they’ve asked of him: avoiding costly sacks and turnovers. And this is a direct byproduct of the partnership that he’s developed with the offensive coordinator.
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