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 re-signed linebacker Larry Dean on Monday, the team announced. It's a two-year deal, according to an NFL source.
Dean hasn't missed a game in three seasons. He's made 48 consecutive appearances since his debut in 2011. The undrafted free agent from Valdosta State played a big role on special teams last year and finished second on the team with a career-high 18 special teams tackles.
Dean is the third player the Vikings will re-sign in the last four days. The team agreed to terms with quarterback Matt Cassel and defensive end Everson Griffen over the weekend. The Vikings will also sign linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who was drafted by the team in 2009, on a one-year deal.
The Vikings will re-sign another highly coveted unrestricted free agent before free agency begins on Tuesday. The team has agreed to terms with defensive end Everson Griffen on a five-year deal worth $42.5 million with $20 million guaranteed, according to three NFL sources. Griffen will make $27 million over the first three years of his deal.
Jared Allen's agent, Ken Harris, confirmed tonight that Allen would not be returning to the Vikings. Harris said there are five teams in the bidding for Allen, with three standing out.
Harris said the Vikings and Allen reached the parting of ways on Saturday night. Allen's six-year, $72 million deal expired last season.
As well, Jasper Brinkley (@Jasperhitman54) tweeted that he was rejoining the Vikings. He was the team's starting middle linebacker in 2012 before signing with Arizona for last season. When reached by phone, Brinkley said the contract was for one year.
Griffen was excited by his new deal.
“I’m going to rise to the occasion because that’s who I am," he said. "The Minnesota Vikings know that, and I’m ready to rise to the occasion and give them everything I’ve got.”
Griffen was considered one of the best defensive ends in free agency with Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, who the Vikings made contact with on Saturday when the three-day negotiating window opened.
Griffen has made just one start in four seasons with the Vikings as a backup defensive end to Brian Robison and Allen. Griffen has been a flexible option in the past as a defensive lineman that could play all four positions.
“They’re going to use me; I haven’t been used and it’s time,” Griffen said. “The money is always a good thing but at the same time I finally get to be used. Coach [Mike] Zimmer…coach Zimmer, yeah coach Zimmer is going to use me. The Minnesota Vikings are going to use me in every way possible. The only thing you guys can do is wait, just wait for this to erupt.
Griffen said family and Vikings Zimmer’s style were two important factors into his decision to stay in Minnesota. He is engaged and has an 18-month-old son, Grayson
“It doesn’t mean everything to everyone but it means the world to us,” Griffen said. “It’s special and happy to be there and be a part of the Minnesota Vikings.”
Griffen said Zimmer is the best fit because of his blunt mentality. He wants Zimmer to criticize and praise him when it’s warranted.
“I don’t need a coach to beat around the bush,” Griffen said. “I need a coach that’ll be in my face and tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I’m doing right. What I’m doing wrong, that’s all I care about. I don’t care what I’m doing right. When I’m doing right, I know what I’m doing right. When I’m doing wrong, tell me.”
The Vikings agreed to terms with quarterback Matt Cassel on Friday and have now filled their two biggest needs before free agency officially begins on Tuesday at 3 p.m CT.
“We’re not talking about losing; we’re talking about winning man,” Griffen said. “No, the Minnesota Vikings, we’re on the up rise right now. I just want to win and be great.”
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.
Free agency begins on Tuesday, but you know the NFL. Nothing begins until there is some sort of buzz designed to hype the actual beginning of something.
So, for the second straight year, the league presents the three-day "legal tampering" period that kicks off at 11 a.m. today. This replaced the illegal tampering period that became too difficult to hide when multiple multi-million deals kept being announced .008 seconds after free agency opened.
Be careful over the next three days. Agents typically
manipulate dictate the story anytime teams with millions of dollars are chasing after players hoping to make as many of those millions of dollars as possible. And I'm not sure if you realize this, but agents don't always deal in non-fiction.
This year, team's have a record $133 million salary cap. And that number is expected to keep climbing. So a lot of players are about to be overpaid.
The Vikings are believed to have more than $35 million to spend even after agreeing to re-sign Matt Cassel. (Yeah, we bought the non-fiction tale that he was Houston-bound). The Vikings still need a quarterback in the draft, but for the purposes of free agency, scratch Michael Vick, Josh Freeman and any other QB off your list.
Here is one person's list of the Vikings free agency needs in order:
Defensive end: The Vikings don't have a starting right end on their roster. Free agency is the best place to get one by either re-signing Everson Griffen or chasing after Cincinnati's Michael Johnson.
Nose tackle: Again, the Vikings don't have a starter on their roster. And they need a Big Pat Williams-esque monster to set the middle of what was a pushover defense a year ago. The Giants' Linval Joseph would look real good.
Weak-side linebacker: I'd put this ahead of middle linebacker because this is the one linebacker spot where the current projected starter -- second-year pro Gerald Hodges -- is the least known comodity. The Vikings liked the guy enough to draft him. But we really don't know whether he can play anything but special teams. Of course, the market for UFA linebackers is weak, so don't get too excited.
Cornerback: This is a weakness, obviously, but I put it this low because the Vikings at least have Xavier Rhodes, a potential star, and Josh Robinson, who's still a work in progress and might develop into a good backup some day. But make no mistake, this is a high priority.
Middle linebacker: Not sure how the new coaching staff feels about Audie Cole and Michael Mauti. But given the state of the UFA linebackers, I'd stick with these two and look toward the draft. Restricted free agent Vincent Rey of Cincinnati wouldn't cost the Vikings a draft pick because the Bengals put the lowest tender on him.
Guard: Again, this could be a higher priority depending on what the new staff thinks of second-year guard Jeff Baca. Baca is a project, but the Vikings took him in the sixth round last year. With Charlie Johnson not expected back, Baca would be the starter on the left side. Right guard Brandon Fusco also hasn't taken the league by storm, but the Vikings have too many other needs to worry about him at this point.
Strong safety: Love Jamarca Sanford for his hard-working, overachieving mentality and locker room leadership. But if the Vikings can pair Harrison Smith with another top-shelf safety like a T.J. Ward, that would change the Vikings' defense immediately.
Wide receiver: There's prototypical talent (Cordarrelle Patterson), experience (Greg Jennings) and under-the-radar potential (Jarius Wright). But the Vikings could use more quality depth.
Backup running back: Not a priority in free agency because good backup running backs can be found late in the draft or among the rookie free agent pool. But worth shopping for at least.
Quarterback Matt Cassel, set to become an unrestricted free agent this weekend, is re-signing with the Vikings, according to two NFL sources.
Cassel's new contract is for two years. He would be considered a bridge to the next Vikings quarterback, likely a draft choice this season.
Jason LaCanfora of cbsports.com reported the deal was worth $10 million. For comparison sake, the Jaguars signed another "bridge" quarterback, Chad Henne, to a two-year deal on Friday that is worth $8 million, including $4.5 million guaranteed.
The agreement was first reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (@rapsheet).
Cassel, 31, opted out of a two-year contract he signed with the Vikings in 2013 that was worth $7.4 million.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has said, during the offseason, that the team would like to sign a veteran quarterback in free agency and also draft a college quarterback.
Teams are allowed to begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents who weren't with their teams last year on Saturday, but cannot sign them until Tuesday.
Cassel last spoke with reporters after the Vikings’ season-ending 14-13 victory over the Lions in the last game at the Metrodome on Dec. 29, saying: “I love playing for the Vikings. The fan base here is absolutely amazing. The team was special. It was a great team to play for. I really enjoyed my time with my wife, myself, my kids, a great community and everything else that goes along with it. So, would I love to be a Minnesota Viking? Absolutely, without a doubt.”
The Vikings have the eighth pick in the NFL draft on May 8. Of the first 11 teams drafting, five others have a need at quarterback. Four college quarterbacks — Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Derek Carr of Fresno State — are projected to be top-10 picks.
Cassel played in nine games for the Vikings last season, starting six. He was 25th in the NFL in passer rating (81.6). In a Dec. 15. victory over Philadelphia he had the best performance by a Vikings QB this season — 26-for-35 for 382 yards and two TDs.
Ponder is also under contract through 2014. The 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, he signed a four-year contract for $10.15 million that is fully guaranteed. His signing bonus of $5.8 million is paid out evenly over the four years.
Cassel was a backup to Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer at USC, and is the only modern-era quarterback who never started a college game to have started an NFL game.
The Patriots drafted Cassel in the seventh round (230th overall) of the 2005 draft, and he was a backup to Tom Brady for four seasons in New England. In 2008, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game, and Cassel played the rest of the season, leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record. With his four-year contract expiring, the Patriots gave him the franchise tag early in 2009 and traded him to Kansas City for linebacker Mike Vrabel and a second-round draft choice.
Cassel's big season with the Patriots paid off. The Chiefs signed him to a six-year, $63 million contract that included $28 million in guaranteed money. He started in 2009, and in 2010 made the Pro Bowl as Kansas City won the AFC West. He injured his hand after 10 games in 2011, however, and after starting in 2012 he eventually lost his job to Brady Quinn.
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