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.
Josh Freeman, whose tenure as the Vikings’ starting quarterback last season lasted 60 disastrous minutes, will join the New York Giants, according to his agent, Erik Burkhardt.
The Vikings signed Freeman last October after he was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who made him their first-round pick in 2009. The Vikings were juggling quarterbacks, having already given starts to Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel, when they made the surprising signing.
After a blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 6, Freeman got the call a week later against the New York Giants, a game that was played on "Monday Night Football." Freeman, who was still learning the playbook, was overmatched from the start. He completed just 20 of his 53 attempts for 190 yards -- that's 3.6 yards per attempt -- with one interception. The only points the Vikings scored in the 23-7 loss came on an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown by Marcus Sherels.
Freeman suffered a concussion in the loss and was replaced by Ponder in their next game. He would not appear in another game for the Vikings, despite inconsistent play at the position.
Freeman will presumably get a chance to compete to be Eli Manning’s backup in New York.
Despite playing five seasons in the NFL, none more trying than his last one, Freeman is just 26, so he might still turn his career around. He has completed 57.6 percent of his career attempts for 13,724 yards and 80 touchdowns with 67 interceptions. He has a 77.8 career passer rating.
If there is one peer that Adrian Peterson considers his closest rival and the guy he really, really, REALLY wants to top, it would no doubt be Chris Johnson.
Peterson has never come out and said that. But anyone who has interviewed him since 2009 knows this to be the case.
When the 2009 season began, Peterson was, well, Peterson. In the eighth game of his 2007 rookie season, he ran for a league-record 296 yards. In his second season, he ran for a Vikings franchise-record 1,760 yards.
Johnson, who joined the league a year later than Peterson, was a 1,200-yard rusher as a 2008 rookie. Good, but no Peterson.
In 2009, however, things began to change, at least temporarily. For the first time in his three seasons, Peterson was being asked to name the best running back in the league.
It’s a setup question when tossed out to someone of Peterson’s abilities. Naturally, Peterson bristled at the notion that Johnson was better than him.
But Johnson kept piling up the yards before reaching the exclusive 2,000-yard club (2,006). Meanwhile, the same question kept being lobbed at Peterson and Johnson just to see what they’d say.
Johnson wasn’t shy about declaring himself the best running back in the league. Meanwhile, Peterson’s initial reaction usually was to answer the question with a question: “Who do you think is the best?” Then he’d smile and keep the conversation professional, but assert his competitive side.
In 2011, Johnson was a training camp holdout. It took the Titans coughing up $54 million over four years to get him back to work. Peterson congratulated him. Weeks later, Peterson topped him with a seven-year deal worth up to $100 million.
In 2012, Peterson joined Johnson in the 2,000-yard club, rushing for 2,097 in the season that immediately followed a knee reconstruction.
Now, two seasons later, Johnson has been released by the Titans as the age of the devalued running back position marches on. Tennessee chose a $4 million salary cap hit and no Johnson over a $10 million cap hit and Johnson. And while Johnson didn’t have the greatest season a year ago, he’s still a durable and productive back under the age of 30 (29 on Sept. 23).
Johnson has missed only one game in his career and is one of only six running backs to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first six season. Four of them are in the Hall of Fame.
But a career-low 3.9-yard average per carry was lackluster enough for the Titans to dump him.
On a conference call last week, Peterson was asked about a trend that’s seen a pass-oriented league devalue running backs. Former Vikings running back Toby Gerhart’s $4.5 million in guaranteed money is the most by a 2014 free-agent running back and is less than kickers Robbie Gould ($8.85 million) and Dan Bailey ($7.5 million) and punter Pat McAfee ($5.3 million). Johnson is expected to land a relatively modest deal, and no running back is expected to be taken in the first round of the draft for a second straight year.
“You know, it’s just kind of how it is, unfortunately,” Peterson said. “There are a couple of guys who are different from that. I feel like I’m one of them.”
Peterson then made it clear that his one-time rival wasn’t one of them last season.
“Chris Johnson, maybe if he would have ran for 1,800 yards, he’d have a different story about how much he could be bringing in [this year],” Peterson said.
“It’s all about what have you done for me lately. Unfortunately for the guys who were in free agency this year didn’t have incredible numbers or incredible seasons to be able to get the type of [money] they wanted in free agency. I feel like that’s it. I feel like me and a couple of other guys are going to keep it alive as far as running backs being able to come out and keep the running back position at a top level. That comes with guys putting in the hard work and being able to produce and show that when they step on the field.”
Washington State strong safety Deone Bucannon is the latest name that will attend the Vikings’ “Top 30” event, which starts today. Bucannon will visit on Thursday, according to an NFL source.
Some names that will also attend include UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Louisville linebacker Preston Brown, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Boise State defensive end/linebacker Demarcus Lawrence and North Dakota State offensive lineman Billy Turner.
Bucannon would be a good fit with the Vikings and appears to be a Day 2 pick. While Jamarca Sanford is returning, Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman should have a shot to compete for Sanford's starting strong safety spot. Harrison Smith returns as well at free safety.
During the second half of last season, the Bengals used a three safety rotation under Mike Zimmer. Chris Crocker, who signed as a cornerback, shifted over to safety. It’s unknown whether Zimmer will implement that with the Vikings given the amount of injuries the Bengals had on defense at the time.
Back to Bucannon though, he was a first-team All-American last season. There have questions about his ability to drop in coverage, but he was impressive during Senior Bowl week. Bucannon has been known as an explosive hitter that also forced here fumbles last year. Bucannon had 114 tackles last season and six interceptions.
Listed at 6-1 and 211 pounds, Bucannon finished in the top three in every individual workout at the Combine among safeties.
Former Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams said he has boarded a flight from New York with "nothing really to report" following his visit with the Giants today.
"Had a good visit and gonna see what happens!" Williams said via text message, indicating that the two sides have not made a decision despite the fact Williams left town without a deal.
Williams, who arrived in New York on Monday night, has not ruled out playing what would be a 12th NFL season after spending the first 11 with the Vikings. The Giants were the first team to bring Williams in for a visit. They're looking for a tackle to play alongside Cullen Jenkins after the Vikings signed nose tackle Linval Joseph earlier in free agency.
The Vikings have filled their depth at defensive tackle and had already ruled Williams out of their plans.
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