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.
Last week, as we sorted through the Vikings’ wide receiver depth, we told you that Michael Jenkins was locked in a fierce battle with Father Time.
Jenkins, who turned 30 in mid-June and had his 2011 season ended by a torn meniscus in his knee, wants badly to stick around with the Vikings. And the coaching staff feels he can be a veteran presence for an otherwise green receiving corps. At full strength, Jenkins could provide a reliable target for second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. He is, after all, entering his ninth NFL season and seems to have a grasp on offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's system.
But Jenkins has had several things standing in his way as he fights to make the roster. For starters, his age and the knee injury seem to have slowed him down significantly. At many points during camp, he has lacked the quickness to separate from defensive backs. And there are no indications to say he could be anything more than an ordinary receiver at best going forward.
On top of that, Jenkins had held a contract that would have had the Vikings paying him $2.5 million for the 2012 season if he was still on the roster on opening day. But to give the organization greater incentive to keep him, Jenkins agreed to have his deal restructured. And now, according to NFLPA records, his base salary for 2012 has dropped to $1 million, a pay cut that could allow him a better chance to hang around.
A year ago, the Vikings worked through similar renegotiations with receivers Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo and both ended up making the team with significantly lower salaries than they were originally due. But keep in mind, neither Berrian or Camarillo produced much in 2011 either. Together they produced exactly 16 catches for 212 yards.
So even with the lower price tag, Jenkins will still have to show a few things in the remaining three weeks of the preseason to justify a spot on the 53-man roster.
A $1 million salary may seem like a 60 percent off deal on the surface. But a deal is only worthwhile if the product is useful.
I've compiled a list of the scraps left behind in what's been quite a 24-hour run on unrestricted free-agent receivers. They're in no particular order. Pick through them. If you find a gem, forward it to Spielman, R., Winter Park. If you see a name on there that you've noticed has signed somewhere in the past 4.23 seconds, please feel free to use the comment section to call me colorful names.
Here we go:
Chiefs: Jerheme Urban
Redskins: David Anderson, Donte' Stallworth, Trent Shelton.
Vikings: Greg Camarillo, Devin Aromashodu, Bernard Berrian.
Bills: Derek Hagan, Ruvell Martin, Roscoe Parrish.
Saints: Courtney Roby
Lions: Maurice Stoval, Rashied Davis, Stefan Logan.
49ers: Ted Ginn, Braylon Edwards.
Colts: Anthony Gonzalez
Giants: Domenik Hixon, Mario Manningham, Devin Thomas
Panthers: Legedu Naanee
Cowboys: Laurent Robinson, Terrell Owens.
Eagles: Steve Smith, Johnnie Lee Higgins.
Titans: Donny Avery, Lavelle Hawkins.
Browns: Andre Caldwell
Cardinals: Early Doucet
Raiders: Chaz Schilens, T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Bengals: Jerome Simpson
Patriots: Matt Slater, Sam Aiken, Deion Branch.
Buccaneers: Michael Spurlock
Steelers: Limas Sweed, Hines Ward, Arnaz Battle, Jerricho Cotchery.
Chargers: Bryan Walters, Kelley Washington, Patrick Crayton.
Jets: Plaxico Burress, Logan Payne.
Rams: Mark Clayton
Ravens: Lee Evans
Texans: Bryant Johnson
Rams: Brandon Lloyd
Jaguars: Kassim Osgood
Broncos: Matt Willis
Bears: Roy Williams
What in the world will happen with Chris Cook?
That may be the biggest behind-the-scenes question facing the Vikings organization this week as they enjoy their midseason bye. So now comes yet another major decision for Leslie Frazier and his staff with the front office certain to weigh in.
What matters more: Talent or character? Upside on the football field or civilized conduct off of it?
This afternoon, while joining Dan Barreiro for a one-on-one interview on KFAN, Frazier said a decision of some sort on the Cook front will come Monday.
"We're going to have a resolution as to what direction we're going to go," Frazier said. "And we'll talk about it then."
Cook's next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 22. Clearly, with a resolution promised for next week, Frazier has no plans of taking a wait-and-see approach.
Just two short weeks ago, Cook was emerging as a difference-maker on defense, a second-year cornerback with impressive size and speed plus the confidence to battle some of the top receivers in the NFL.
Man, the kid seemed to have a bright future and was giving the Vikings hope that they had made a terrific choice when they drafted Cook with their top pick in 2011.
"He was playing very well for us," Frazier told Barreiro. "He was coming along to the point where he was on the verge of being our No. 1 corner. He was really making a lot of plays. And people were staying away from him. He might get one or two throws his way and that was about it. So things were going well."
Then came the morning of Oct. 22. The Eden Prairie Police took a call from one of Cook's neighbors, who had heard screaming coming from nearby. Shortly after 2 a.m. Cook was arrested, taken into custody and held without bail on charges of domestic assault.
Three days later, an official felony charge was levied. And as the details of the incident became public, with Cook accused of hitting and strangling his girlfriend, the Vikings organization was left in a disturbed state. Cook was suspended without pay. He has not practiced since. And he did not make last weekend's road trip to Carolina.
In less than a week, Cook will know a lot more about his future with the team. It will be yet another high-profile decision for Frazier, who has already faced several in his first full year as an NFL head coach. From the release of offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie in August to the benching of Donovan McNabb in Week 7 to the release of Bernard Berrian last week, Frazier has had his hands full.
McKinnie was sent on his way in part because he had put on too much weight during the lockout, a sign that he may not have been dedicated enough. Berrian's investment in making himself and the team better was also questioned. And McNabb? Well, his subpar performance on game days led to his demotion.
All of those situations were far less complicated and less troubling than Cook's transgression. So now Frazier and the Vikings staff face another potential watershed moment. On Monday, we'll learn what they've decided.
We shouldn't fault Donovan McNabb for saying "absolutely" when asked if he still deserves to be the Vikings' starting quarterback. He's a proud veteran who's had a nice career, so let him hold onto his pride and belief in himself.
However, boy of boy, how wrong he is.
On the most critical of downs for a quarterback -- third down -- it's rookie Christian Ponder who has played like the veteran and McNabb who played like the rook.
Let's examine the numbers on third down in the fourth quarter of the five games McNabb finished and the three games in which Ponder played the fourth quarter. There is no comparison.
Pass attempts: 12
Conversions: 2 (one TD).
Conversions of third-and-6 or longer: 1.
Runs for conversions: 0.
Pass attempts: 14
Conversions of third-and-6 or longer: 8.
Runs for conversions: 1.
With McNabb at quarterback in the fourth quarter, the Vikings were 4 of 15 on third down, with McNabb responsible for two of the conversions. With Ponder, they are 10 of 16 on third down, with Ponder responsible for nine of the conversions.
Also of note: Five of McNabb's 8 incompletions on third down in the fourth quarter were intended for now-former Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian.
Even without Percy Harvin (ribs) for half the game and Bernard Berrian (arrogance) for the entire game, the Vikings' wide receivers were targeted 19 times, catching eight passes for 174 yards, a 21.8-yard average and a touchdown in last week's loss to the Packers.
Michael Jenkins' 100-yard game also left the Buccaneers and Browns as the only teams in the league without a 100-yard receiver this season.
In other words, now that Christian Ponder is starting, it's apparently time to welcome the wide receivers -- as thin as they are -- back to the NFL. In one game, Ponder's yardage to receivers and average per completion were better than anything Donovan McNabb did in the five games that he played all four quarters. And Ponder's 9.2 average per attempt was second to McNabb's 9.5 in the win over the Cardinals.
How do the wide receiver numbers under Ponder compare overall to the numbers posted in the four games that Donovan McNabb played all four quarters? Glad you asked.
Ponder's passing stats to the wide receivers:
McNabb's passing stats to the wide receivers:
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