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.
Vikings free-agency tracker …
Updated March 14 with WR Jerome Simpson re-signing for a one-year 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.
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. 2, Starting right defensive end 3, Young, Pat-Williams-sized, true run-stuffing nose tackle 4, Cornerback
1, Left guard: The Vikings have Jeff Baca, a second-year player they took in the sixth round, and Berger in a pinch. Let's not diminish the importance of the offensive line, particularly and offense that depends on running the ball and protecting an older, less mobile QB.
Where things stand: The market isn’t particularly strong, either. Zane Beadles, Shawn Lauvao and Chris Williams were signed during the first two days. Former Viking Geoff Schwartz, a tackle/guard, also agreed to terms with the Giants. Charlie Johnson, even though he didn’t have a strong season a year ago, is looking like a better option with each passing day. Johnson said the Vikings told him to test the market first and then check back if he wants. Neither side has written off the other, but it's clear the Vikings think they can do better or get Johnson more cheaply.
2, Linebacker: Other than strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway, the Vikings really don’t know what they have at linebacker. Unfortunately, the unrestricted market is weak and/or old. The Vikings certainly have interesting prospects at middle linebacker with Cole, who played surprisingly well toward the end of last season; Mauti, a hard-nosed late-round pick a year ago; and Brinkley, who was decent against the run when he played for the Vikings before. At weak-side linebacker, they have another unproven guy in second-year pro Gerald Hodges, a fourth-round pick. In the past, at least, the Vikings didn’t use their weak-side backer a lot because they pulled him in nickel situations. Marvin Mitchell and Erin Henderson played there last year. Henderson was released and Mitchell isn’t expected back.
Where things stand: The unrestricted market doesn't look that great, which is why the team re-signed Brinkley and brought former Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain in for a visit the day before the signing period began. This position also is tougher to analyze because of the coaching change. Based on the style of defense Zimmer plays, the players already on the roster will have different position flexibility, which the coaching staff still needs to figure out. Linebacker also is likely to end up being a priority fairly high in the draft.
Other needs: Depth at defensive end/tackle, a change-of-pace running back behind Adrian Peterson, possibly depth at strong safety.
What it means: Griffen moving into Allen’s role leaves an opening for Griffen’s old role, which would be tough to fill with one guy since Griffen backed up both end positions, rushed from inside in the nickel and could play linebacker in a 3-4. … Strong safety probably is something the Vikings might explore in the draft if one is the best player available. The team probably can’t help but think of what an upgrade next to FS Harrison Smith would look like, but current SS Jamarca Sanford has made a career out of surprising people as an overachieving survivor. He recently took a $750,000 pay cut to stay with the team and fight for a position. Andrew Sendejo also shocked a lot of people by stepping his game up a notch last year.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is lashing out his support for a quarterback again. This time it’s not Matt Cassel.
Peterson tweeted out his support for unrestricted free agent Michael Vick. The Eagles reportedly aren’t interested in keeping him as a backup quarterback and Peterson thinks Vick can do more than just start here.
@MikeVick would intently [sic] make the vikings a playoff team!— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) March 6, 2014
Vick, 33, spent the last five seasons with the Eagles and failed to start an entire season in that span because of to injuries. He was replaced by Nick Foles last season and played only seven games. None of those are good signs, even for a temporary starting quarterback.
Peterson said after the season that he wants Cassel back as a starter next season. Christian Ponder patiently waits by the phone for his endorsement.
Spielman weighs in
Meanwhile, Vikings GM Rick Spielman was on ESPN radio this afternoon with Colin Cowherd, and was asked if the Vikings monitor a draft prospect's Twitter.
"We evaluate these college players coming out, we look at all their social media sites," Spielman said. "It gives you an opportunity to dig in further. ... If there are questionable things on the Twitter account, we can ask them if that’s how they want to represent themselves, or our organization going forward."
"Sometimes, they don’t think anyone’s going to see it or that it matters. ... A couple of guys tweeted 22,000 times. I mean how are you going to get time to study the playbook?"
Cowherd asked Spielman about the Vikings quarterback situation, starting with whether he felt bringing in someone like Vick would be a distraction because it creates a media circus.
"We can’t talk about Michael Vick because of tampering stuff," Spielman said. "In general, we’re always going to look at that, we went through that when Brett Favre was here … but we ended up getting to the NFC championship game. A lot of it has to do with how your coaches feel about it … and 'Can he handle it and help you win ballgames.'"
Speilman reiterated the team would like to draft a young quarterback and also sign a quarterback in free agency. And answered the first quarterback section by saying, "We’re looking defense I can tell you that. We have to improve on the defensive side of the ball. The QB scenario will work itself out. We don’t play any games next week. We’re not going to force the issue."
"We’ll be able to find a young quarterback in this draft, because there’s enough depth. But we’re also going to have to look at one in free agency as well."
The Vikings made eight selections in the 2010 NFL Draft following a 12-4 season that ended a win away from a spot in Super Bowl XLIV. Only four of those players selected were on the roster last season and all will be free agents this season.
The team has since gone 24-39-1 with more coaching changes, two, than playoff games, one.
The Vikings didn’t operate with a general manager at the time but general manager Rick Spielman was Vice President of player personnel and handled the draft, but former head coach Brad Childress had final veto power on all personnel moves. Spielman didn't have the final say as he does now.
“Different philosophy back then,” Spielman said. “It was a different structure back then. Some haven’t panned and some have, but I think what we’ve done since then is go back and assess and analyze and I know exactly what went wrong with the ones that didn’t make it and what went right with ‘em. But we’ve used that as we’ve gone forward especially over the last two draft classes. Basically that’s my total responsibility now."
Well, a lot didn’t pan out. When asked about the philosophy in the draft, Spielman repeated, “I’ll just leave it at that it was a different philosophy.”
It’s a big reason why the Vikings have struggled to remain consistent and now have an emphasis to build through the draft. Here’s a look at who they picked and some notable players they missed in each round.
The Vikings traded their 30th overall selection to the Lions for a second (34th) and seventh (214th) pick. They also swapped fourth round selections.
The Lions drafted Cal running back Jahvid Best, who retired due to his concussion history.
Noteworthy players after selection: OT Rodger Saffold to the Rams (33rd overall pick; second round)
With the second pick in the second round acquired from Detroit, the Vikings selected Virginia cornerback Chris Cook. The team needed a cornerback and Cook had the size and athleticism listed at 6-2 and 212 pounds at the time, but he turned out to be a bust.
Cook hits free agency without an interception in four seasons with the Vikings. He missed the final 10 games in 2011 due to an ongoing domestic assault arrest that was he was later found not guilty. He was cleared on gun charges that same year prior to the arrest.
On the field, Cook couldn’t stay healthy. He played 12 games last season, a career-high, but he wasn’t productive. He was ejected in Week 13 against the Bears after making contact with an official after allowing a 46-yard touchdown catch to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who previously had an 80-touchdown against Cook and set the franchise record with 249 receiving yards.
Noteworthy players after selection: S T.J. Ward to the Browns (38th overall); TE Rob Gronkowski to the Patriots (42nd overall); LB Daryl Washington to the Cardinals (47th overall)
The Vikings traded up to the 51st overall pick, swapping second round picks with the Texans and giving their third round pick, to select Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.
He served as Adrian Peterson’s backup and had his most productive season when Peterson tore his ACL in 2011. Gerhart has a career-high 109 carries for 531 yards.
Both Cook and Gerhart are free agents this offseason and it doesn’t appear that either will return. Gerhart wasn’t a bust however and will draw some interest from other teams as a possible starting running back.
Noteworthy players after selection: DE Carlos Dunlap to the Bengals (54th overall); LB Sean Lee to the Cowboys (55th overall);
The Vikings didn’t have a third round pick due to the Gerhart trade.
Noteworthy players after selection: WR Brandon LaFell to the Panthers (78th overall); WR Eric Decker to the Broncos (87th overall); LB NaVorro Bowman to the 49ers (91st overall); TE Jimmy Graham to the Saints (95th overall)
After swapping fourth round selections with the Lions, the Vikings drafted USC defensive end Everson Griffen with the 100th overall selection.
He was considered to be a first round pick but there were questions about his effort and off the field issues. Following his rookie season, Griffen was arrested twice in three days for public intoxications and driving with an invalid driver’s license.
Griffen made just one start in four seasons behind defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen. He’s so versatile that the Vikings used him at all four positions on the defensive line during his tenure.
Griffen and Gerhart were clearly the two best players the Vikings selected in the draft but both were primarily backups over the last four years. Though Griffen has expressed interest to return, the Vikings will have a difficult time bringing him back. There aren’t many good 4-3 defensive ends in the draft and free agency.
Noteworthy players after selection: CB Alterraun Verner to the Titans (104th overall); TE Aaron Hernandez to the Patriots (113th overall); TE Dennis Pitta to the Ravens (114th overall); DT Geno Atkins to the Bengals (120th overall): S Kam Chancellor to the Seahawks (133rd overall; fifth round); WR Riley Cooper to the Eagles (159th overall; fifth round)
With the 161st overall selection, the Vikings drafted Wake Forest offensive tackle Chris DeGeare. He was wavied and signed to the practice squad in 2011 and released right before the start of the 2012 season. He spent that season on the Titans’ practice squad.
DeGeare has signed a reserve/future contract with the Giants in January.
The Vikings also had a compensatory pick and selected Gophers linebacker Nathan Triplett with the 167th overall pick. He was cut in preseason and spent three seasons with four teams after the Vikings. He wasn’t signed with a team last season.
Noteworthy players after selection: DE Greg Hardy to the Panthers (175t5th overall; sixth round); RB James Starks to the Packers (193 overall; sixth round); WR Antonio Brown to the Steelers (195th overall; sixth round); WR Trindon Holliday to the Texans (197th overall; sixth round)
With the 199th overall pick, the Vikings selected UAB quarterback Joe Webb. The team got good value for Webb, who served as a wide receiver, running back, quarterback and special teams.
However, his tenure with the Vikings will be remembered for his performance in the franchise’s last playoff game. He was the starting quarterback in the 2012 NFC Wild Card matchup against the Packers due to a deep tricep bruise quarterback Christian Ponder suffered in the final regular season game against Green Bay.
Webb became the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to start a postseason game after not starting in the regular season. He went 11 of 30 for 180 yards with an interception and a fumble in the 24-10 loss.
Noteworthy players after selection: WR Marc Mariani to the Titans (222nd overall; seventh round); DE George Selvie to the Rams (226th overall; seventh round)
The Vikings selected Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler Jr. with the 214th overall pick and Rutgers linebacker Ryan D’Imperio with the 237th overall selection. Shuler Jr. was cut twice by the Vikings in 2010 and 2012. He spent last season on the Falcons practice squad.
D’Imperio switched from linebacker to fullback was cut in 2012 by the Vikings. He retired before the start of last season after signing with the Giants.
We'll take a daily look at where the Vikings' roster stands at the moment position-by-position leading up to our NFL Combine coverage next week.
On the roster: Chad Greenway, Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, Simoni Lawrence, Michael Mauti
Free agents: Desmond Bishop, Marvin Mitchell, Larry Dean (restricted), Erin Henderson (released)
The Vikings have already made two roster moves at linebacker this offseason. They released Erin Henderson and signed former Gophers linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who spent the last two seasons in the CFL.
There’s some young talent on the roster that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and his son, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, will inherit in Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges.
Cole, who will turn 25 by the start of next season, started at middle linebacker when he replaced Henderson during the season before spraining his ankle. His recorded a sack during his rep as a starter on an A-gap blitz against the Packers and finished with 13 tackles. He matched that performance with 13 tackles against the Ravens two weeks later.
The seventh round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft at worst will be a serviceable special teams player and backup linebacker given his aggressive mentality. He’ll have a shot to earn a starting position in training camp either at middle or inside linebacker.
Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were used sparingly on defense and mainly on special teams, but the Penn State linebackers will also get a shot at a larger role next season. Mauti, 24, made it through his rookie season playing in 14 games after three torn ACL injuries in a five-year span at Penn State. If his knees can hold up, the seventh round pick in last year’s draft has always had the potential as a starting inside or middle linebacker.
Hodges, 23, played in 11 games during his rookie season. He was projected as an outside linebacker last year in the draft but was hardly used at the position with Chad Greenway on the roster.
Zimmer will get a chance to work with the young linebackers before the draft in May. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could be available when the franchise is on the clock with the eighth overall selection.
Greenway started all 16 games for a fifth consecutive season, but his play regressed last season playing through two broken bones in his wrist for most of the season. Greenway, 31, was graded 34th among 35 qualifying 4-3 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus. Greenway is expected make a base salary of $6.4 million next season, which trails just running back Adrian Peterson on the roster. It might benefit the franchise to restructure his contract this offseason if it needs more cap space.
“He is as tough an hombre as there is for him to play linebacker with a broken wrist through a lot of the season,” Spielman said on Friday. “I know that is healed and healthy now. He would never make an excuse for that either.”
We'll take a daily look at where the Vikings' roster stands at the moment position-by-position leading up to our NFL Combine coverage next week.
Position: Wide receivers/Tight ends
On the roster: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Childs, Kamar Jorden, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford
Free agents: Jerome Simpson, Joe Webb
Outside of the quarterback position, Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner has some good pieces to play with on offense. We looked at running backs on Wednesday, and Turner has the power ground game in place with running back Adrian Peterson. He also has the deep passing threat with some of the wide receivers and tight ends on the roster.
The Vikings finished 23rd in pass offense last year, averaging 214.2 yards. They didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver, which was more a reflection on the inconsistency at the quarterback position. Greg Jennings led the unit with 68 receptions, 804 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson also had four receiving touchdowns to go along with three rushing and two on kickoff returns. He was eased into the game plan and proved to be just as dynamic in the final month of the season and former Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin. Patterson could be in line for a monster sophomore season with Turner as his offensive coordinator given how Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon led the league last year in receiving yards with Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer as his quarterbacks.
Jerome Simpson was second on the team with 726 receiving yards, but he will be a free agent this offseason. He started his career with the Bengals in 2008, the same year Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer joined as a defensive coordinator. There’s some familiarity there, but Simpson, 28, has signed a one-year deal in consecutive seasons now with the Vikings. He said during the season he wanted to show that was worth a multi-year contract. Simpson also pleaded guilty to a third-degree DWI and careless driving charges to a Nov. 9 arrest but avoided jail time.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he hasn’t heard from tight end John Carlson on whether he’s made a decision to return. Carlson said retirement could be an option this offseason with the amount of concussion he’s suffered during his career.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph suffered a broken foot he suffered nine weeks into the season. Rudolph, Jennings and Patterson will be a nice trio of weapons for the next Vikings’ quarterback. That doesn’t even include wide receiver Jarius Wright and tight end Chase Ford. Both had a few solid performances last year (Wright blew right by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman on a double move for his first touchdown catch last year) and mentioned by Spielman and some of the young talented players on the roster that Zimmer will inherit.
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