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.
If you follow the gurus, read the mock drafts and allow yourself to actually believe anything that an NFL executive says before the draft, you know that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is ...
A, The best quarterback in the draft and the No. 1 overall pick. Unless he's ...
B, Overrated and not as good as Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles and will be taken behind them, somewhere in the top seven picks. Unless, of course, they're ...
C, Truly falling out of favor, dropping in the draft and might be available when the Vikings are on the board at No. 8.
Somewhere amid the confusion and behind the smokescreens are answers that won't be revealed until the draft in May. The Vikings' attempt to get those answers continued Sunday when, according to an NFL.com report, they met with Bridgewater in Louisville on the eve of his much-anticipated pro day today. It's much-anticipated because, A, far too many people have been trained to overhype athletes throwing footballs and running 40-yard dashes in t-shirts and shorts in the spring, and B, Bridgewater didn't work out at the scouting combine last month.
The Vikings spent a day last week taking in Alabama's pro day. They looked at several prospects, but most notably quarterback A.J. McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley. You wouldn't think McCarron would be taken at No. 8, but, who knows. No one thought Christian Ponder would go No. 12 in 2011, and McCarron was a lot better college player than Ponder.
According to NFL.com, six NFL coaches are attending Bridgewater's pro day. One of them is Vikings caoch Mike Zimmer. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman also is one of several GMs in attendance.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle ran an article Sunday in which University of Houston defensive coordinator David Gibbs and Rice defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond broke down the strengths and weaknesses of Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles. Both D-coordinators faced all three last season.
Gibbs, a former Gophers defensive coordinator and NFL defensive backs coach, said of Bortles and Bridgewater: “I see two safe picks. … I don’t see the bust.”
Meanwhile, Thurmond might have summed up how a lot of us feel about Manziel entering the next level.
"He's like carrying nitroglycerin around," Thurmond said. "If you put it in the trunk of your car, you might get where you're going. But, boy, you're always afraid it's going to blow up."
Bortles' pro day is Wednesday. Manziel's is March 27.
Vikings left guard Charlie Johnson has confirmed that he has agreed to re-sign for a two-year deal that should keep the team's starting offensive line intact for a third straight season.
"We have an agreement in place for me to come back," said Johnson, who will get $5 million over two seasons. "And that is ultimately what I wanted to happen coming into this process."
The Vikings went into free agency interested in re-signing Charlie Johnson, but were willing to let him go while they addressed their many other needs, particularly on defense. Johnson wanted to return but told the Star Tribune earlier in the week that he had "about five teams" that were interested in him and that he was prepared to leave.
Although Johnson struggled last season, he still gives the Vikings continuity rarely seen in today's NFL. He has started 48 of 49 games including one playoff contest since joining the Vikings as a free agent in 2011. Johnson played the 2011 season as Bryant McKinnie's replacement at left tackle. He slid inside to left guard when the team selected Matt Kalil fourth overall in 2012 and has started 32 of 33 games in two seasons at left guard.
His return also would mean that the Vikings are likely to have the same starting five offensive linemen for the third straight season. They'll also be joined by the same offensive line coach, Jeff Davidson, who has been with the team for the past three seasons.
The team's willingness to let Johnson walk in free agency means he's not exactly a lock to start. But his contract probably means he'll start this season while second-year pro Jeff Baca, a sixth-round pick last year, and possible a rookie draft pick are groomed to take his place as early as 2015.
General Manager Rick Spielman had said Friday that the team wanted Johnson back but would also make offensive line an area of focus in the draft.
It sounds like Vikings Vice President of Football Operations and noted Salary Cap Guru (see: Seahawks, Hutchinson, poison pill) Rob Brzezinski is managing the money to General Manger Rick Spielman’s liking so far during free agency.
Asked Friday how the salary cap figure was coming along, Spielman said, “We’re in great shape.
“Rob has done a great job of monitoring our cap. The one thing as you guys know, you don’t spend up to the cap at this point. You still have your draft picks that have to be signed and added in there, you also have to leave some cushion as you head into the season for your practice squad, you have to leave some cushion for injury replacement guys. But Rob Brzezinski has done an outstanding job of keeping us very competitive with the way our cap is set up.”
Today, the website overthecap.com reports that the Vikings are $16.3 million under the $133 million cap. Make that $16,351,900 if you’re really into details. But that does not, however, include Jerome Simpson’s one-year deal, so the figure will adjust once the Simpson contract is filed with the league.
The site also reported that linebacker Chad Greenway, fullback Jerome Felton and safety Jamarca Sanford agreed to restructured deals in the past two days that will save $2.3 million under the cap.
Greenway agreed to take a $1 million pay cut to $5.5 million in exchange for a full guarantee of the $5.5 million. Felton reportedly dropped his base salary by $500,000 to about $1.5 million in exchange for being able to void next season. Sanford dropped his to about $750,000 to about $2.5 million. Felton and Sanford also got incentives to earn back the money.
Vikings free-agency tracker …
Updated March 15 with LG Charlie Johnson agreeing to a two-year, $5 million deal ...
We’re tracking all things Purple, starting with what’s already happened and projecting what still needs to happen as the Vikings work their way through free agency. Here we go:
QB Matt Cassel: Agreed to terms on a two-year, $10 million deal on March 8. Signed the deal March 10.
What it means: The Vikings would have gone into free agency with their No. 1 need being a veteran quarterback to serve as their temporary bridge to the future. Cassel, who went 3-3 and played in all five of the Vikings’ wins a year ago, isn’t perfect, but he’s the best-case scenario in a weak quarterback market. Now, the Vikings can shift their QB focus to picking the right one in the draft.
DE Everson Griffen: Agreed to terms on a five-year, $42.5 million deal on March 8. Signed on March 10.
What it means: A starting right defensive end to replace Jared Allen would have been priority No. 2 heading into free agency. Signing the 26-year-old Griffen filled that need with a familiar player who’s been solid, is full of star potential and is heading into his prime seasons.
MLB Jasper Brinkley: Signed a one-year deal before the free-agency signing period began March 11.
What it means: The Vikings let Brinkley, a starter in 2012, walk away before the 2013 season. Then he failed in Arizona and was released after the season. So we’re not talking any guarantees here. He will compete with Audie Cole and Michael Mauti at middle linebacker with perhaps one of them being able to move over and compete with Gerald Hodges at the weak-side linebacker spot.
C-G Joe Berger: Signed a one-year deal March 11.
What it means: Berger might be the most underrated player on the team. He's primarily a center, and he’s been good enough to start there. But he also can be a serviceable starter and backup at both guard positions as well. With starting left guard Charlie Johnson still testing the market, Berger at least gives the Vikings someone with experience who could start at left guard.
RB Matt Asiata: Exclusive rights free agent signed his one-year tender.
What it means: Asiata is a good No. 3 running back and special teams player. The Vikings still can use a change-of-pace back with pass-catching skills as their No. 2 back.
NT Fred Evans: The 30-year-old unrestricted free agent signed a one-year deal on March 13.
What it means: Evan will continue to provide depth on the nose, which is something he's done with the Vikings since 2007. He's not a front-line talent, but is a wide body with experience. Makes too many silly encroachment penalties while lined up with his head right over the ball, but is a good player to have for depth and emergency situations.
WR Jerome Simpson: The acrobatic, but inconsistent veteran receiver signed a third consecutive one-year, "prove-it" deal with the Vikings on March 14.
What it means: Focusing just on football, it means the Vikings now have four experienced receivers to go along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. Are those four receivers written down in pen as the top four that will start the season? No. Beyond Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, anything can happen, depending on whether the Vikings come across something better between now and September. But Simpson gives new offensive coordinator Norv Turner a deep threat that can leap and pick passes out of the air. Of course, Simpson also is prone to disappearing for long stretches, dropping too many passes and getting in trouble off the field. His arrest for DWI last December could result in another league suspension to go with the three-game punishment he served when he joined the Vikings in 2012.
LG Charlie Johnson: Agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal on March 15.
What it means: Although he struggled last season and the Vikings were willing to lose him while they focused on higher priorities, Johnson has started 48 of 49 games since joining the Vikings in 2011, including all but one game at left guard the past two seasons. With Johnson's return, the starting line should remain intact for a third straight season. General Manager Rick Spielman said he's impressed by the progress of Jeff Baca, a sixth-round pick a year ago, and that the team will be looking to address the offensive line in the draft. But re-signing Johnson, 30, for about $2.5 million this season suggests the Vikings are willing to let Johnson handle the position while they groom a backup that could take his spot as early as 2015.
HELLO, NEW FACES
NT Linval Joseph: Agreed to a five-year, $31.5 million deal on March 11, the first day of the signing period.
What it means: Well, the Vikings didn’t have a starting-caliber nose tackle on the roster. They also haven’t had a true nose tackle in top form since Pat Williams’ last dominant season in 2009. Not coincidently, that was the last time the Vikings played shut-down run defense. Priority No. 1 defensively for new coach Mike Zimmer is shut-down run defense. Joseph is a 6-4, 328-pounder who’s only 25 and was a second-round pick in 2010.
CB Captain Munnerlyn: A competitive, hard-nosed, 5-8, 195-pounder, he signed a three-year, $14.3 million deal with $7 million guaranteed on March 13.
What it means: The Vikings finally have someone to replace Antoine Winfield, 12 months after making a calculated, financial-based mistake in releasing him and placing blind faith into Josh Robinson, a second-year pro who had never played inside over the slot in the nickel defense. Munnerlyn has three years of experience at starting outside and sliding inside when his former team, the Panthers, went to the nickel. He's also a 25-year-old rising star who made plays on a defense that ranked No. 2 in the league in yards and points allowed last season. In five seasons in Carolina, Munnerlyn, a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, returned five of seven career interceptions for touchdowns. The guy he replaces, Chris Cook, a second-round pick in 2010, is still looking for his first career pick. He signed with the 49ers on March 14.
CB Derek Cox: The 6-1, 180-pound Cox signed a one-year deal on March 13 and hopes he can reclaim what he had for four years in Jacksonville and lost last season in his only year with the Chargers.
What it means: Remains to be seen. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer proclaims himself to be "The Fixer." Well, if he can fix this guy, he might have three good corners in Xavier Rhodes, Munnerlyn and Cox. Cox had 12 interceptions in four seasons with the Jaguars after being drafted in the third round in 2009. He signed a big deal with the Chargers last year, but was benched three times and essentially given up on after a horrendous outing against the Chiefs in November. The Vikings have eight corners on the roster, but they'll be looking for more, probably in the draft.
1, Veteran quarterback (Re-signed Matt Cassel) 1, Starting right defensive end (Re-signed Everson Griffen) 1, Young, true run-stuffing nose tackle (Signed Linval Joseph) 1, Cornerback (Signed Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox) 1, Left guard (Re-signed Charlie Johnson)
1, Linebacker: The roster includes only unproven prospects behind Chad Greenway. Unfortunately for the Vikings, there doesn’t appear to be any good fits in free agency based on skills or age. This need is something that most likely will be addressed in the draft. The muddied picture also will begin to clear once the new coaching staff identifies Greenway’s role and how and where intriguing youngsters Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges fit.
Other needs: Change-of-pace backup running back, depth at defensive end and the three-technique tackle position, more competition at strong safety. Where things stand: The running back could come as a bargain deal late in free agency or late in the draft. Depth on the defensive line remains an area of focus since Bears free agent tackle Henry Melton left town without a deal on Friday.
Vikings free agent left guard Charlie Johnson said by phone today that he remains in communication with the Vikings but has been told to look around first before the two sides talk further.
"I guess the one thing I can say is the ship hasn't sailed, but they're willing to let me go out and see what other options are out there," Johnson said. "Once that happens, we'll go back to them and go from there."
Johnson said he and his agent have lined up interested teams, but wouldn't elaborate.
"Right now, we're at about five different teams that we're in communication with," he said. "Other than that, we want to keep it close to the vest right now."
Johnson came to the Vikings in late summer 2011 during a hurried-up free agency period that was condensed because of the NFL lockout that year.
"It's a little strange because the first time I was a free agent, I didn't have this much time to be patient and look at different options," Johnson said. "It's definitely a blessing, but at the same time, you'd like to know what's going to happen and know whether I'm going back to Minnesota or moving in another direction."
Johnson has started 48 out of 49 games, including one playoff contest, since joining the Vikings. He started 16 games at left tackle in 2011 and has started at left guard for every game but one since then.
Currently, the Vikings have two players on their roster who could start at left guard: Joe Berger, who backs up all three interior line spots, and Jeff Baca, who was a sixth-round draft pick a year ago.
"It's been an interesting couple of days," Johnson said. "Just looking to see what's out there. That's about it. We'll see what happens. By the end of this week, I'll know what's going on."
Johnson said he's not upset that the Vikings have chosen to let him explore his options first.
"It's just business," he said. "They have a plan in place and my people and myself have a plan in place. That's just the way it is. I've been around eight years and have had a lot of friends and teammates go through the same situation. So I know how it works. Ultimately, it will get figured out one way or the other."
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