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.
The NFL released its preseason schedule on Wednesday, which -- unless you are the rare fan who gets geeked up for exhibition games -- is noteworthy because it means the regular season schedule will be unveiled soon, too. The NFL hasn’t yet said when, but it should be in the next two weeks.
We do know who the Vikings will be playing this season. And where. We just don’t know when.
The Vikings play the NFC South in 2014. They last drew that division in 2011 as they rotate through the different NFC divisions every three years. They host the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium and will travel to play the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They play the AFC East for the first time since 2010. The New England Patriots and New York Jets will come to the Twin Cities and the Vikings will travel to play the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.
They also play the St. Louis Rams (on the road) and the Washington Redskins (at home) because those two teams, like the Vikings, finished last in their respective NFC divisions in 2013.
And, of course, the Vikings will play each of their NFC North rivals twice.
Only four opponents were playoff teams in 2013: the Packers (twice), Panthers, Saints and Patriots.
We will break down the opponents in greater detail once the schedule is announced, but here is the quick rundown of their home and road opponents this season (with 2013 records in parenthesis).
HOME: Bears (8-8), Lions (7-9), Packers (8-7-1), Falcons (4-12), Panthers (12-4), Patriots (12-4), Jets (8-8) and Redskins (3-13).
AWAY: Bears (8-8), Lions (7-9), Packers (8-7-1), Saints (11-5), Buccaneers (4-12), Bills (6-10), Dolphins (8-8) and Rams (7-9).
Jared Allen turns 32 years old on Thursday.
That'll make him six years older than his former understudy, Everson Griffen, which is the primary reason Allen is now a former Viking and current Chicago Bear dreaming of pretend calf-roping his way up and down TCF Bank Stadium this fall.
Allen's departure, which took place without so much as a preliminary discussion between the Vikings and Allen's agent, was universally accepted as making perfect sense. After all, there are only so many starting jobs and piles of money to go around in the NFL. Plus, the Vikings have a new coaching staff, a different defense and, let's be honest, they probably aren't going to win the NFC North, let alone the Super Bowl, before Jared celebrates birthday No. 33. The timing and circumstances made it a natural NFL split.
Griffen's age and expired contract made him the logical choice to receive the starting right end job and the 5-year, $42 million pile of cash. Had the Vikings clung to Allen, they would have lost Griffen because, well, four years and one NFL start was the extreme limit of Everson's patience as a promising heir apparent.
Given the same pick of players, the Bears probably would have made the same choice for the same reasons. But -- and this is a big but that seems to have been lost -- let's stop just assuming that Griffen at 26 will be better than Allen at 32. Even Griffen has admitted that his career to this point still comes with the label of great potential. Allen may have made 10- to 15-sack seasons look routine, but they're not.
Also, the Vikings know better than anyone that Jared Allen has a history of making gambles pay off. The Chiefs took a chance on him when he was a nobody at Idaho State. That paid off. The Vikings took a chance on Allen during his wild-child, one-step-from-a-lengthy-suspension phase. That paid off massively even though the cost was $73.26 million over six years and a package of draft picks that included a first-rounder.
For the Chiefs, Allen developed from fourth-round draft pick to elite defensive end. For the Vikings, Allen grew up and kept his nose out of trouble while progressing to potential Hall of Fame defensive end. For the Bears, Allen has to fight his toughest battle: Age.
Bears General Manager Phil Emery believes in Allen to the tune of up to $32 million over four years.
On Monday, Emery talked about how he always goes back and tries to confirm that his major decisions are going to be right decisions.
"After [a] signing has happened or after the choice has happened, I do a little transaction check," Emery said. "You can call it buyer’s remorse check if you want. But I always watch one more tape after it’s happened to make sure that I had all the ducks aligned and that we are getting the person and the player that we thought we were."
Here's how that process went with the Allen signing, according to Emery:
"With Jared [Monday morning], before he came in to talk, I randomly went through his games and I looked and I said, ‘I need something at the end of the  season,’ to see where his motor was at that part of the year, and I need something against a good opponent. Somebody that was in the playoffs. So I grabbed the Eagles tape [a 48-30 Vikings win]. I did not remember at the time that they put it on the Eagles pretty good.
"Let’s see what this guy’s got against Jason Peters, who went to the Pro Bowl. Two sacks, tackle for loss, two hits on the quarterback, two pressures, felt pretty good. Feel real good about him being here, so you passed the test Jared. Relentless player, high-energy player, successful in all areas of his life. He’s greatly grown through his time in the league. This is a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time all-pro. ... But he continues to have productivity and that’s why we were interested. At this point in his career with 11 ½ sacks last year, 52 tackles, in the top end of rushers in this league and the top end of defensive players. Very excited to have him here, very excited to welcome him."
Griffen was a good choice for a Vikings team in transition. But Allen also was a good choice for a Bears team that plays the Vikings twice a year.
Jared Allen said he doesn't hold any hard feelings against the Vikings and thinks the Bears are closer to a Super Bowl than people think during his introductory press conference on Monday.
Allen signed a four-year deal worth up to $32 million with the Bears this offseason. He said he still respects the Vikings organization for allowing him to play through the entire six-year, $73.26 million deal he signed in 2008. Allen, who turns 32 on Thursday, said there were certain things the Vikings lacked that he was looking for this offseason.
“I don’t wish any ill-will against them, but I’m excited to be a Chicago Bear, I’m excited to play against them, I’m excited to still be in this division,” Allen said. “It was time to move on. They got a direction they’re going, and we’ve got a direction we’re going.
“I wish them all the luck except to not have it against us. They’re another competitor now. They’re another team and that’s what it’s about.”
Allen turned down an opportunity to play with the Seahawks, fresh off their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, to join the Bears. When asked about his decision and whether Chicago is close to winning a Super Bowl, Allen said, “Absolutely this team is closer than people think. Don’t get me wrong, Seattle is a great team and they have great parts. They’re also in a crazy good division where the Niners aren’t no joke out there either. But the Bears, I don’t know statistically what it is but just playing against them, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are two of the top receivers you’re going to play against at that size. I know what it takes to prepare for this offense, and it [stinks].”
Allen also downplayed reports that he would retire if he didn’t find a suitable offer. He said money wasn't a major factor in his decision.
“It was never my intent but my point was that if I was going to throw my cleats and pads on for a team that had no chance,” Allen said. “They’re rebuilding at this point in your career and you’re laying it all out there because I still feel like I’m the best at what I do. If not the (best), one of.
“There’s always a threshold that I had to excess and say, ‘Is it worth going below this?’ But that was kind of my process going through. It was never, ‘Oh, if I don’t get X amount of dollars, I’m walking away.’ That was never the case.”
The Vikings have made it official. The guy who bounced Brett Favre's head off the ice at TCF Bank Stadium in the Vikings' last and only game at TCF Bank Stadium will be wearing purple the next time the team plays a game at TCF Bank Stadium.
Former Bears defensive end Corey Wootton has indeed signed his one-year deal. He's the fifth defensive lineman the team has signed or re-signed since the start of free agency.
Wootton, a five-year veteran who was a fourth-round draft pick of the Bears, comes in as the experienced backup defensive end that the team lost when Everson Griffen was re-signed to replace Jared Allen as the starter at right end.
Wootton has 11 sacks in 45 NFL games. The first sack of his career was the last play of Favre's career. It came Dec. 21, 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Vikings were forced to play there because of the Metrodome roof collapse. Favre was ruled out of the game earlier in the week, but ended up playing anyway. He leff the game with a concussion after the Wooten sack, didn't play the following week in the season-ending game at Detroit. And, as of 10:29 this morning, he remains retired.
The Vikings will play the next two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium while their new stadium is being built.
Defensive lineman Corey Wootton, who was with the Bears the past four years, agreed to a one-year contract with the Vikings on Thursday.
Both Wootton (@coreywootton) and his agent, Mike McCartney, tweeted that Wootton would be coming to Minnesota. Fox Sports reported the deal was worth $1.5 million with incentives worth another $500,000.
Wootton, 6-6 and 270 pounds, started 15 games last season with one sack. The 26-year-old had arthroscopic hip surgery following the season.
Wootton, a fourth round pick out of Northwestern in 2010, was the Bear who sacked Brett Favre, giving Favre a concussion at TCF Bank Stadium in a 2010 game that marked his final NFL appearance. The sack was Wootton's first in the NFL.
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