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.


Posts about Lions

20-year perspective: Vikings' 223rd overall pick

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: May 1, 2014 - 11:13 AM

TODAY'S LOOK BACK: The 223rd overall pick.

Looking back on previous NFL drafts is oh so much clearer than looking ahead to the next one. So today, we'll go back through the past 20 drafts to give some historical perspective on the 223rd overall pick, which the Vikings own in the seventh round of next week's draft. We'll work our way up to the first round with a daily look at each round.

Pro Bowlers picked No. 223 since 1994: None.

Have the Vikings picked No. 223 since 1994?: Yes. In 1996, they took Duke tackle Jon Merrill. He never played for the Vikings or in the NFL.

Ouch 1: In 1998, the Cowboys took running back Tarik Smith. He never played a game. When the draft was over, the Rams signed linebacker London Fletcher as a rookie free agent from Division III John Carroll in Cleveland. Fletcher played 256 games over 17 seasons for three teams before retiring after last season.

Ouch 2: In 2002, the Cardinals took tight end Mike Banks. He played 18 games with no starts. Nineteen picks later, the Steelers signed defensive end Brett Keisel. And if that weren't enough, the Steelers also signed linebacker James Harrison as a rookie free agent. Keisel and Harrison helped the Steelers win a couple of Super Bowls. Harrison was the league's defensive player of the year in 2008.

Ouch 3: In 2003, the Ravens took tight end Trent Smith. He played five games. After the draft, the Chargers signed three rookie free agents -- tight end Antonio Gates, guard Kris Dielman and receiver Kassim Osgood -- who have combined on 15 Pro Bowl appearances.

Here's a year-by-year look back at the No. 223 pick:

2013: The Pick: DT Nicholas Williams, Steelers. Could Have Had: Free-agent TE Joseph Fauria, Lions.

2012: The Pick: OLB Travis Lewis, Lions. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB Vontaze Burfict, Bengals.

2011: The Pick: FB Shane Bannon, Chiefs. Could Have Had: LB Malcolm Smith (No. 242), Seahawks.

2010: The Pick: CB R.J. Stanford, Panthers. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Victor Cruz, Giants.

2009: The Pick: S Troy Nolan, Texans. Also took: Free-agent RB Arian Foster, Texans.

2008: The Pick: QB Alex Brink, Texans. Could Have Had: Free-agent FB Mike Tolbert, Chargers.

2007: The Pick: OT Mike Otto, Titans. Could Have Had: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (No. 250), Giants.

2006: The Pick: QB D.J. Shockley, Falcons. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Miles Auston, Cowboys.

2005: The Pick: WR Marcus Maxwell, 49ers. Could Have Had: NT Jay Ratliff (No. 224), Cowboys; QB Matt Cassel (No. 230), Patriots.

2004: The Pick: CB Jacques Reeves, Cowboys. Could Have Had: C Scott Wells (No. 251), Packers; free-agent WR Wes Welker.

2003: The Pick: TE Trent Smith, Ravens. Could Have Had: Free-agent QB Tony Romo, Cowboys; free-agent TE Antonio Gates, Chargers; free-agent G Kris Dielman, Chargers; free-agent WR Kassim Osgood, Chargers.

2002: The Pick: TE Mike Banks, Cardinals. Could Have Had: DE Brett Keisel (No. 242), Steelers; Free-agent LB James Harrison.

2001: The Pick: SS Than Merrill, Buccaneers. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB Antonio Pierce, Redskins.

2000: The Pick: DE James Cotton, Bears. Could Have Had: Free-agent C Shaun O'Hara, Browns.

1999: The Pick: OT Ryan Young, Jets. Could Have Had: Free-agent TE Jermaine Wiggins, Jets.

1998: The Pick: RB Tarik Smith, Cowboys. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB London Fletcher, Rams;  free-agent C Jeff Saturday, Colts.

1997: The Pick: WR Mike Adams, Steelers. Could Have Had: Free-agent NT Pat Williams, Bills; free-agent RB Priest Holmes, Ravens.

1996: The Pick: OT Jon Merrill, Vikings. Could Have Had: Free-agent K Adam Vinatieri, Patriots.

1995: The Pick: LB Jessie Cox, Colts. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Wayne Chrebet, Jets.

1994: The Pick: None. There were only 222 picks. Could Have Had: Free-agent QB Kurt Warner, Packers; Free-agent S Robert Griffith, Vikings.

Totally unfounded Vikings trade speculation and the cost of moving up or down

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: April 25, 2014 - 1:21 PM

The NFL draft being held in early May means that we will be subjected to an additional two weeks of relentless draft speculation. Frankly, I’m feeling a little left out.

So since it’s almost the weekend, let’s get wacky and put our speculating hats on and take a look at which teams picking around the Vikings might be interested in brokering a draft night trade.

Heck, this might even be informative. After all, G.M. Rick Spielman has shown he isn’t afraid to wheel and deal, so it is worth getting an idea of what it would cost to move up from No. 8 and what could be gained from moving down, according to the old-school NFL draft value chart. Of course, demand (or lack thereof) can change the cost, but the chart is a helpful starting point.

SCENARIO #1: BLOCKBUSTER TRADE WITH THE RAMS

Spielman has made aggressive trade-ups in each of the past two drafts, but that would be nothing compared to a potential bold move for the No. 2 pick. The Rams have two picks in the top 13 and there is speculation they could be looking to drop back from No. 2 and accumulate more picks. So what would it cost Spielman to make a splash by moving up six spots? The value chart says a fair deal would be trading the Rams a 2014 second-rounder and a 2015 second-rounder (and maybe throwing in a late-round pick). Of course, the cost would likely be even greater if the Texans passed on Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 pick. The Rams could really cash in then.

SCENARIO #2: JUMPING UP TWO OR THREE SPOTS

The Raiders at No. 5 and the Falcons at No. 6 are two teams that could end up dropping back. The Raiders have a ton of needs and could benefit from adding a couple of extra picks. The Falcons, meanwhile, are a team that many feel could try to move up because they gambled a couple of years ago on Julio Jones. But that deal hurt their overall depth, and they could look to replenish the roster if they feel they can get a player they really like a couple of picks later. A second-round pick or a combination of a third and a fourth might be enough to get this done.

SCENARIO #3: CATCHING A FALLING STAR (QB)

Now it’s time to really start speculating. Say the Vikings really love a certain star quarterback. We’ll call him Johnny Bridgebortles. He is still on the board at No. 7, but the Vikings get a call from the Buccaneers, who inform them that a team in the teens has expressed an interest in trading up for a quarterback. Maybe it’s real. Maybe it’s not. But if you love a certain QB, do you have the stones to sit tight at No. 8? To move up, it might cost a fourth-rounder. Or maybe even one of your two third-round picks. But if you really believe that Johnny Bridgebortles is the answer at quarterback -- and I’m not saying they think he is -- it’s a deal you might be forced to make.

SCENARIO #4: DETROIT WANTS A WIDE RECEIVER

Another popular draft rumor you keep hearing -- and that fact that you keep hearing it might prompt you to question its merits -- is that the Lions want to trade up and select a wide receiver to play alongside Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Wait, these are the Lions we are talking about, so trading up for a wide receiver actually sounds totally legitimate. Anyway, if Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans is still on the board and the Vikings aren’t all that interested, they could score an extra fourth-round pick by swapping picks with the Lions, who have the No. 10 pick.

SCENARIO #5: DROPPING TO THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK

Spielman is known for trading up. But with a new coach tasked with overhauling the league’s 31st-ranked defense, maybe he considers dropping back to give Mike Zimmer a couple of extra draft picks to build with. One team that comes to mind is the Rams, who are picking at No. 13. But since we’re throwing stuff off the wall here, let’s look at what the Vikings could stand to get if, say, the Ravens wanted to make a Spielmanian move up the draft order. It might bum you out if the Vikings were to slide back nine picks, but would you feel better about it if they added a second-rounder, a sixth-rounder and a late-round pick in 2015? It’s something to think about.

U of M pleased NFL, Vikings accommodated home schedule requests

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: April 24, 2014 - 1:09 PM

When the Vikings made their move to TCF Bank Stadium official, there were a number of scheduling requests the University of Minnesota asked the NFL and the Vikings in their facility use agreement. Only one of the restrictions was mandatory, but the Vikings schedule this season will minimize any potential conflicts.

The Vikings schedule pretty much accommodated every request in the agreement. It’s pretty impressive (and surprising) the NFL did when it has 31 other teams to consider, and it’ll make for a better experience -- for fans, the Vikings and the university – in the team’s first year at TCF Bank Stadium.

"We are pleased that the Vikings and the NFL did their best to construct a schedule within the spirit of our agreement," Gophers senior associate athletic director Chris Werle said in a statement. "It’s our goal to make the transition as seemless as possible while we host the Vikings for the next two years. Having the football teams play on the same weekend only once during the first season will certainly help alleviate strains on the nearby neighborhoods, traffic, support staff and campus grounds."

Per the agreement:

* The Vikings could use TCF Bank Stadium for one weeknight game when classes weren’t in session (on a date coordinated and approved by the school).

The one weeknight game was the only restriction the NFL and the Vikings had. The Vikings have their mandatory Thursday night game on the road against the Packers in Week 5.

* The Vikings “shall make best efforts” with the NFL to avoid schedule conflicts with the school’s academic calendar. Some of the events included move-in (Aug. 15, 25-26, 30), Welcome Week (Aug. 27-Sept 1) and Finals (Dec. 12-18).

The Vikings host their final preseason game on Aug. 16 against the Cardinals. Their home opener isn’t until Sept. 14 against the Patriots, and they’re on the road for the only game on Finals week (Dec. 14 at Detroit).

*The Vikings “shall make best efforts” with the NFL to avoid scheduling games during the Minnesota State Fair and on Gophers football home games.

The Vikings are on the road for their final preseason game (Aug 28 at Tennessee), which is the only game during the Minnesota State Fair (Aug. 21-Sept. 1).

The next suggestion is a bit more challenging, but there’s surprisingly only one weekend that both the Gophers and Vikings play at home. The Gophers host Northwestern on Oct. 11 when the Vikings host the Lions on Oct. 12.

* “The Vikings’ coordination efforts with the NFL shall also include best efforts to accommodate University’s reservation of 2 Sundays in November and 2 Sunday’s in December for University home basketball games.”

The Vikings have a bye week on Nov. 9, then a road game at Chicago on Nov. 16. In December, the Vikings have back-to-back road games against the Lions on Dec. 14 and the Dolphins on Dec. 21.

Cole discusses benefits that two-week head start had for Vikings linebackers

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: April 18, 2014 - 2:56 PM

As teams starting anew at head coach, the Vikings, Lions, Browns, Buccaneers, Texans, Titans and Redskins were given a two-week head start on their offseason conditioning programs. That head start is coming to an end this week, so we talked with Vikings linebacker Audie Cole about the importance of being allowed to get a jump on most of the league.

“Right now, I don’t think any of us is an expert on what’s going on defensively,” Cole said. “We’re still learning what the coaches want us to do because it’s different than what we’ve done. We need to pick it up as fast as we can, and to have two [more] weeks helps.”

No position on any of the teams mentioned above better illustrates the need for a head start than the Vikings’ linebackers. The Vikings have played the same defense with essentially the same linebacker responsibilities since 2006. So that means even 31-year-old Chad Greenway has never played in any other defense than the Cover-2-oriented system that came to town with Brad Childress and then-first-year defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin eight years ago.

Until April 7, the new coaching staff and its players weren’t allowed to even talk football. If they passed in the hallways at Winter Park, they could say “hello,” “how’s it goin’,” “boy, some weather we’re having, eh?” But they couldn’t talk football, per rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement established in 2011.

“It was a little strange,” tight end Kyle Rudolph admitted this week.

The Vikings' coaches, led by new head coach Mike Zimmer, went about their business. Zimmer had a new team-meeting area with theater-like seating built in the corner of the indoor practice facility. He overhauled the strength and conditioning program, and made changes to the nutrition program.

Then, on April 7, Zimmer and his coaches were allowed to teach football, at least off the field. They could meet with players and discuss actual football. Go through the playbook. Those kinds of things. But as far as on the field, only strength and conditioning activities are allowed at this point.

The Vikings, however, will get an extra voluntary veteran minicamp, which also should help. Especially at linebacker, where the Vikings have eight players, several potential answers and only one confirmed starter in Greenway. But  even Greenway’s role is uncertain.

“We’re still learning what the plays are called and how the coaches want us to play,” Cole said. “It’s not that big a deal. I mean there’s only so many things you can do. Maybe, I don’t know, we won’t be as much of a Cover 2 team as we used to be. But we’re finding all of that out now.”

If one were to pencil in – lightly – a prospective depth chart at linebacker, it might look something like this:

MLB: Jasper Brinkley, Cole, Simoni Lawrence.

WLB: Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Terrell Manning.

SLB: Greenway, Larry Dean.

Brinkley was the starter in the middle two years ago, but was allowed to leave via free agency to Arizona. It didn’t work out for him there and now he’s back with a tentative sliver of a lead on Cole. Hodges, a second-year player now, is highly-regarded, but wasn’t able to seize the weak-side job against weak competition a year ago.

Of course, because of the new defense, there’s potentially some new position flexibility that the coaches will explore during the minicamps. Even Greenway, who has been a strong-side backer his entire career, might move around.

“I think I could play any of the three positions,” Cole said. “I think the way we’re doing it, anybody could play any of the positions. That’s a good thing to have. You can always have people to fit into the puzzle. We’ve only scratched the surface on what we’re going to do, so it’s going to take us a while to figure this out.

“But I think if you talk to any of the linebackers, they’d say we have the guys we need on the roster. We all think each one of us can play.”

That may be true, but it’s highly unlikely that the Vikings will come out of next month’s draft without at least one more linebacker in the mix. And depending on how the first round shakes out, that new face may come in as the top dog at one of the three starting positions.

A quick look at the Vikings' 2014 opponents

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: April 11, 2014 - 7:03 AM

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).

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