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 Vikings decision to include Darius Reynaud in last Friday's trade with the Giants left many wondering who would return punts on Thursday night in New Orleans.
Special teams coordinator Brian Murphy said Tuesday that wide receivers Bernard Berrian, Greg Camarillo and Asher Allen would be in the mix for that job. Given how uncomfortable Allen looked in the preseason in this role, one has to think Berrian and Camarillo are the true candidates to return punts.
This isn't ideal given the Vikings at this point stand to have only four wide receivers up for the game but Murphy and coach Brad Childress need to make sure whoever settles under punts can be relied upon to catch them. Berrian returned only two punts last season, but two years ago he returned seven and averaged 16.3 yards. He also had an 82-yard touchdown return at Arizona.
The issue is that Berrian had problems with both hamstrings last year and there has to be some concern about that when it comes to adding to his duties. With Sidney Rice out, the Vikings can't afford to lose Berrian. Camarillo worked on catching punts before last Thursday's preseason game against Denver but told Chip he has never returned a punt in the NFL. He did do it in college.
Camarillo has good hands, however, and the Vikings might put him back there just as they did with Bobby Wade a few years ago. That might not lead to anything dynamic but odds are he wouldn't drop the ball.
Meanwhile, Percy Harvin is going to resume his role as the Vikings kickoff returner. Harvin is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands and averaged 27.5 yards with two touchdowns on 42 returns. He missed most of training camp because of issues with migraine headaches and the potential he could take a big hit certainly exists but that could happen with Harvin playing receiver, too.
The interesting thing is that the Vikings also are considering using Harvin on punt returns at some point. When that would happen is unknown. Harvin is a fantastic football talent and looks comfortable doing almost everything. But when he worked on punt returns during training camp last season it didn't look as if it came naturally to him.
“I’m pretty good," Harvin said. "We are working on that right now. You could see me back there, you might not. But we’re definitely working on it and we have some things to accomplish.”
Asked what was most difficult about catching punts, Harvin said: “For me it’s just getting back used to it. I hadn’t done it in a while so just locating the ball and it does get pretty high. Just locating it and being comfortable with it is the main thing.”
Harvin last returned punts in his final season at Florida but that lasted only a brief time. As for potentially adding another assignment, Harvin said he wouldn't object: “I was drafted to do whatever I can to help this team win so if me needing to do punt returns gives us a better chance to win than I’m all for it."
Bobby Wade's stay in Kansas City didn't last long.
The former Vikings wide receiver, who was released just before last season and signed by the Chiefs, reportedly has agreed to a deal with the Washington Redskins.
Wade joins a team that has 10 wide receivers and agreed to terms with veteran Joey Galloway on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the NFL Network reports that former Vikings safety Darren Sharper visited with Jacksonville but left without a deal in place.
There have been a few comments on the most recent blog posts about the lack of buzz surrounding the Vikings' efforts in free agency.
The reality is the Vikings' fan base has become used to the team making a splash on the open market. Chester Taylor, Ben Leber, Ryan Longwell and Steve Hutchinson were signed in 2006. Visanthe Shiancoe, Bobby Wade and Vinny Ciurciu were added in 2007. Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams, Thomas Tapeh and, later, Jared Allen (obtained in a trade-and-sign) enabled the Vikings to make a huge splash in 2008. Last offseason, the Vikings pursuit of T.J. Houshmandzadeh made for an entertaining first weekend of free agency, despite the fact the wide receiver went to Seattle.
And this year ... nothing. Crickets.
There are two issues at work here. First, is the price of success. Second, is the fact that (and many NFL personnel folks agree) this free-agent market just isn't all that attractive. The latter might be the biggest reason all seems quiet at Winter Park as I sit across the street in the media room.
Remember, the Vikings' strategy since Rick Spielman took over as the team's vice president of player personnel has been to focus in on guys who are hitting the market for the first time in their careers. The problem is those guys aren't unrestricted free agents this year because of the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement. Instead, they are restricted. The Vikings can bid on those players but they would have to give up something in most cases to get them.
Back to point No. 1.
As one of the four teams that reached the NFC title game, the Vikings could not sign a UFA until they lost one. Well, they are now free to pursue one unrestricted free agent since they lost running back Chester Taylor to the Chicago Bears. Taylor received a four-year, $12.5 million contract Friday that includes $7 million in guarantees in the first year.
But there are still rules in place about what the Vikings can do. According to information sent out by the NFL, the first-year salary of the UFA the Vikings sign to replace Taylor cannot exceed Taylor's first-year salary and there also are limitations on the per year increases.
Not having viewed Taylor's contract it's difficult to say exactly what the Vikings can offer. One could assume at least $7 million but the question then becomes is their a player worthy of that salary on the open market right now?
INDIANAPOLIS -- Wide receiver Greg Lewis will return to the Vikings.
Lewis, who was due to become an unrestricted free agent, has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team. Lewis joined the Vikings just before the regular-season began after Bobby Wade was released. Lewis had previously been with the Eagles and Patriots.
Lewis, 30, appeared in 13 games for the Vikings and caught eight passes for 96 yards with a touchdown. He also played on special teams. The seven-year veteran made one of the Vikings' most memorable plays of the season in the third game when he made a spectacular grab on Brett Favre's last-second touchdown pass to lift the Vikings over San Francisco.
That leaves the Vikings with four pending unrestricted free agents. The list includes defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy; cornerback Benny Sapp; offensive lineman Artis Hicks; and running back Chester Taylor. The Vikings have met with the representatives for all of their free agents at the combine.
The fact wide receiver Sidney Rice caught seven passes for 72 yards on Sunday night didn't mean much to the Vikings given they lost 30-17 to Arizona. But Rice's yardage total gave him 1,036 on the season, making him the first Vikings receiver to reach 1,000 yards since Nate Burleson did it in 2004. Burleson had 1,006 yards on 68 catches that season for a Vikings team that was coached by Mike Tice.
The Vikings came close to having a 1,000-yard receiver last year when Bernard Berrian caught 48 passes for 964 yards. Rice has 63 receptions this season, the most by a Viking since tight end Jermaine Wiggins caught 69 passes in 2005.
Rice still has a ways to go before matching what Randy Moss did in 2003. That season, Moss caught 111 passes for 1,632 yards.
Since Brad Childress became Vikings coach in 2006, here are the top receivers
2006: Travis Taylor 57 receptions, 651 yards
2007: Bobby Wade, 54 receptions, 647 yards
2008: Bobby Wade 53 receptions, 645 yards; Bernard Berrian 48 receptions, 964 yards
2009: Sidney Rice 63 receptions, 1,036 yards through 12 games