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 …
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, $31.5 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.
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.
1, Veteran quarterback. 2, Starting right defensive end 3, Young, Pat-Williams-sized, true run-stuffing nose tackle
1, Cornerback: The depth chart at corner looks anemic behind Xavier Rhodes, a first-round pick a year ago and a potential star if he can stay healthy. Chris Cook won’t return, which isn’t a bad thing. Josh Robinson started for the first time last year, but didn’t prove himself capable of the job before getting hurt. He might have some value, but even if he were capable of becoming one of the team’s top three corners, the Vikings still need three strong corners to play their popular nickel packages effectively.
Where things stand: Green Bay’s deal with Sam Shields before free agency set the market, and it is a pricey neighborhood at about $10.5 million a year. Day 1 of the free-agent signing period saw two of the top corners disappear. Vontae Davis re-signed with the Colts, while Alterraun Verner, a guy the Vikings coveted, went from Tennessee to Tampa Bay.
2, 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.
3, 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. The restricted market, however, has at least one intriguing name. And that name, Bengals middle linebacker Vincent Rey, is very familiar with new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. Also, Rey was given the lowest tender possible. And since he wasn't drafted, there would be no draft pick compensation for signing him away from Cincinnati. Linebacker also is likely to end up being a priority fairly high in the draft.
Other needs: Depth at defensive end, a change-of-pace running back behind Adrian Peterson, depth at receiver, 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. … Two general rules of thumb on players who become available at this time of year: No running backs and nobody over 30. Darren Sproles is both, but if he’s healthy and can be had for the right price, he’s the exception to both rules of thumb. The Saints were still trying to trade him as of Wednesday morning, but could end up releasing him. … The Vikings are OK 1-3 at receiver with Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright. With Jerome Simpson testing the market, the Vikings are shopping at some degree for a receiver. … 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. Andrew Sendejo also shocked a lot of people by stepping his game up a notch last year.
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.”
The morning after a 48-30 win over the Eagles, we take a look at the Vikings’ snap distribution on offense and defense.
Offense: 75 snaps
QB Matt Cassel – 75 snaps (played 100% on offense)
QB Christian Ponder – DNP
Cassel finished with the fourth most passing yards (382) among quarterbacks on Sunday and the only one in the top seven to win. He went 26 of 35 with two touchdowns and an interception, finishing with a 116.6 passer rating. The Eagles defense was ranked 29th in total defense entering the game, but it was the only team in the NFL that didn’t allow over 21 points since Week 5.
That streak is now history.
RB Matt Asiata – 65 (87%)
FB Jerome Felton – 28 (37%)
RB Joe Banyard – 5 (7%)
The average wasn’t pretty (1.7), but Asiata scored his first three career touchdowns in his first career start. Asiata became the first player in a first career start to rush for three or more touchdowns since former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He remarkably received 30 carries in the game for 51 yards.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
TE Rhett Ellison – 64 (85%)
WR Greg Jennings – 50 (67%)
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 42 (56%)
WR Jerome Simpson – 36 (48%)
TE Chase Ford – 35 (47%)
WR Jarius Wright – 23 (31%)
WR Joe Webb – 17 (23%)
Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. He had 13 targets, more than double the receiver with the second most targets (Patterson had six). Cassel has made Jennings worth every dollar the Vikings paid him in the offseason.
C Joe Berger – 75 (100%)
G Charlie Johnson – 75 (100%)
C John Sullivan – 75 (100%)
T Matt Kalil – 75 (100%)
T Phil Loadholt – 75 (100%)
T J’Marcus Webb – 7 (9%)
G Joe Baca – 3 (4%)
Berger filled in at guard for Brandon Fusco, and the offensive line did a good job protecting Cassel for most of the game. A good example was Cassel’s 57 yard touchdown to Jennings. The offensive line bought him enough time to hit Jennings in stride. Cassel was still sacked three times though.
Inactives: QB Josh Freeman, RB Adrian Peterson (foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), G Brandon Fusco (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion)
The Vikings scored 48 points without Peterson and Gerhart. That says enough about Cassel’s day.
Defense: 69 snaps
DE Jared Allen – 65 (94%)
DE Brian Robison – 58 (84%)
DE Everson Griffen – 42 (61%)
DT Kevin Williams – 37 (54%)
DT Sharrif Floyd – 32 (46%)
NT Letroy Guion – 22 (32%)
NT Fred Evans – 20 (29%)
DT Chase Baker – DNP
Allen and Robison finished with two sacks each and seem to mirror each other in that category down the stretch. They combined for six of the team’s 10 quarterback hits. Williams also had two quarterback hits.
The most impressive aspect of Sunday’s game was how the defense limited Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to eight carries for 38 yards. To put that in perfective, Asiata had 22 more carries than the league’s leading rusher.
LB Chad Greenway – 69 (100%)
LB Audie Cole – 67 (97%)
LB Erin Henderson – 11 (16%)
LB Marvin Mitchell – 1 (1%)
Henderson saw an increase in snaps, particularly short yardage downs, but the Vikings remained almost exclusively in the nickel. Cole led the unit with seven tackles and a quarterback hit. Greenway had five tackles.
CB Marcus Sherels – 69 (100%)
CB Shaun Prater – 69 (100%)
FS Harrison Smith – 61 (88%)
SS Robert Blanton – 59 (86%)
SS Jamarca Sanford – 47 (68%)
FS Andrew Sendejo – 30 (43%)
CB Robert Steeples – DNP
Smith didn’t start the game but that’d be hard to tell based on the amount of snaps he received. He was rotating with Sendejo, but Smith took over at safety in the second half. He finished tied with a team-high eight tackles with Blanton.
The cornerbacks had a good day without three players although Eagles quarterback Nick Foles finished with 428 yards. Prater got his first career NFL start and an interception against his former team. Sherels finished fourth on the team with six tackles.
Inactives: CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), CB Chris Cook (knee)
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has listed running back Adrian Peterson as "questionable," meaning the guy we all assumed would miss Sunday's game against the Eagles, now has a 50-50 chance of playing.
Once again, we may find out that assuming the worst for Adrian Peterson isn't a wise thing to do.
Peterson practiced today for the first time this week. According to Frazier, Peterson planted and showed good burst off the right foot that he sprained early in the second quarter of last week's game at Baltimore.
"It was impressive when you consider the early diagnosis," Frazier said. "He's unique. Very unique. He's so different than everybody else when it comes to recovering from injuries. We've been in situations in the past where you thought he wouldn't make it and he made it. So it was always in the back of my mind the chance he would make it. He's amazing."
Frazier sounded optimistic, but was not willing to go beyond listing Peterson as questionable in part because he'll need to see how Peterson's foot responds tomorrow after going through today's workout. Frazier also indicated it could be a game-time decision on whehter to play Peterson.
Meanwhile, running back Toby Gerhart, who suffered a hamstring injury in last week's game, also returned to practice today for the first time this week. Frazier said Gerhart looked good, but was kept from testing the hamstring with the kind of cuts and burst he would typically use in a game.
Cornerback Chris Cook (knee) was a surprise addition to the injury report today. He was limited in practice and has been listed as questionable.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and right guard Brandon Fusco (knee) did not practice and were listed as doubtful. Marcus Sherels would start for Rhodes while Joe Berger would start for Fusco.
And, finally, tight end John Carlson still has not passed the NFL protocol for returning from the concussion he suffered last week. Rhett Ellison will get the start. Chase Ford also would be available.
Linebackers Larry Dean (knee) and Chad Greenway (wrist) are listed as probable.
In other news, barring an unlikely setback on Saturday, free safety Harrison Smith will be activated from injured reserve on Saturday and will have a role in Sunday's game. Smith has been on injured reserve the past eight weeks because of a turf toe injury. He returned to practice two weeks ago.
Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said quarterback Christian Ponder is the team's only injury concern after Sunday's win over the Bears. Ponder left the game with a concussion that he suffered just before halftime.
"We’ll have to see how things go with him over the next few days with the NFL protocol regarding concussions," Frazier said.
Due to Ponder's injury, Frazier didn't announce the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Ravens. Matt Cassel replaced Ponder and went 20 of 33 for 243 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"There’s no reason at this point on Monday at 12:40 [p.m.] that we have to make a decision," Frazier said. "We can talk it through and do what’s best. But Matt did a terrific job in relief yesterday afternoon leading our team to victory."
Frazier said Ponder missing practice time or meeting sessions because he hasn't passed the concussion tests could factor into the decision at quarterback. Frazier didn't rule out Josh Freeman if Ponder can't play Sunday.
Linebacker Chad Greenway left Sunday's game after aggravating a fractured wrist injury he's played with for over a month. Frazier doesn't expect Greenway to miss Sunday's game however and feels he'll be back on the field after a few days.
|Vikings (3697)||People (1)|
|AFC (89)||Bears (454)|
|Ex-Vikings (45)||Football on TV (53)|
|Lions (354)||NFC (1357)|
|NFL draft (255)||NFL post-season (28)|
|Packers (508)||Super Bowl (266)|
|Vikings coaches (83)||Vikings defense (255)|
|Vikings fans (116)||Vikings injury report (291)|
|Vikings management (31)||Vikings off the field (281)|
|Vikings offense (366)||Vikings quarterbacks (257)|
|Vikings road games (77)||Vikings rookies (36)|
|Vikings roster moves (40)||Vikings special teams (37)|
|Vikings training camp (132)||Injury report (344)|
|Off the field (137)||On the road (81)|
|Quarterbacks (325)||Rookies (77)|
|Roster moves (17)||Vikings draft (267)|
|Vikings trade talk (2)||Vikings players (805)|
|Adrian Peterson (960)||Anthony Herrera (161)|
|Antoine Winfield (409)||Ben Leber (97)|
|Bernard Berrian (213)||Bobby Wade (16)|
|Brad Childress (639)||Brett Favre (808)|
|Brian Robison (170)||Bryant McKinnie (106)|
|Cedric Griffin (194)||Chad Greenway (202)|
|Chester Taylor (79)||Chris Kluwe (118)|
|Darrell Bevell (120)||E.J. Henderson (183)|
|Heath Farwell (50)||Jared Allen (408)|
|John Sullivan (206)||Kevin Williams (225)|
|Leslie Frazier (936)||Madieu Williams (78)|
|Pat Williams (154)||Percy Harvin (679)|
|Phil Loadholt (164)||Ray Edwards (173)|
|Ryan Longwell (145)||Sage Rosenfels (102)|
|Sidney Rice (273)||Steve Hutchinson (191)|
|Tarvaris Jackson (171)||Tyrell Johnson (151)|
|Visanthe Shiancoe (216)||Brad Childress (643)|
|Darrell Bevell (121)||Leslie Frazier (945)|