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 Bears

Saints DT Tom Johnson reportedly visiting Vikings

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 19, 2014 - 7:27 PM

The Vikings reportedly are bringing in Saints free agent defensive lineman Tom Johnson for a visit and a physical on Thursday. He would help provide the depth the team was trying to fill when it brought in Chicago's Henry Melton, who has since signed with Dallas.

FoxSports 1 reported that Johnson will go through a visit and a physical. USA Today reported that if Johnson passes his physical, the Vikings already have a one-year, $845,000 deal with added incentives already in place.

To say Johnson is a journeyman is an understatement.

After going undrafted in 2005, the Colts signed him, but then cut him in training camp. He was out of football in 2005 before signing back with the Colts in May of 2006. Indianapolis assigned him to the Cologne Centurions of the now-defunct NFL Europe.

Johnson spent 2008 with two Arena League teams, the Grand Rapids Rampage and the Philadelphia Soul. He moved on to the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders in 2009 and 2010.

He has been with the Saints since 2011. In three seasons, Johnson, who turns 30 on Aug. 30, has played 55 games with no starts and has five sacks and 55 tackles.

The 6-3, 288-pounder played end in the Saints' 3-4 scheme. The Vikings need depth at the three-technique tackle spot and end. They tried to sign former Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, but he ended up signing with Dallas.

Vikings free agency tracker: What's happened and what needs to happen

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 25, 2014 - 12:57 PM

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:

  1. WHAT HAS HAPPENED:

WELCOME BACK

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.

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.

LG Charlie Johnson: Agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal on March 15.

What it means: Although he struggled last season and the Vikings were willing to lose him while they focused on higher priorities, Johnson has started 48 of 49 games since joining the Vikings in 2011, including all but one game at left guard the past two seasons. With Johnson's return, the starting line should remain intact for a third straight season. General Manager Rick Spielman said he's impressed by the progress of Jeff Baca, a sixth-round pick a year ago, and that the team will be looking to address the offensive line in the draft. But re-signing Johnson, 30, for about $2.5 million this season suggests the Vikings are willing to let Johnson handle the position while they groom a backup that could take his spot as early as 2015.

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.

DT Tom Johnson: At 6-3 and 290, the 29-year old signed a one-year contract worth $875,000 on March 20.

What it means: He's another cog in the middle of the defensive line. Settled in with the Saints the past three seasons after moving all over the world to play, but New Orlean's 3-4 didn't suit him. Will likely be at three-technique, although his experience at end could make him versatile. A bit old, but it's a low risk and Zimmer clearly wants to improve the interior line.

DL Corey Wootton: The 6-6, 270-pounder got a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, plus incentives, on March 21.

What it means: Wootton can play both tackle and end, but is likely to be more of the latter under Zimmer. He had a hip issue that hampered him in Chicago, where he played the past four years. Wootton started 15 games for the Bears last season, so he's not chopped liver. This is an intriguing signing, if he returns to full health.

OG Vlad Ducasse: The 6-5, 320 pound Ducasse visited Winter Park early in free agency, and agreed to a one-year deal Sunday.

What it means: A four-year veteran, it's possible Ducasse could be a guy who moves around the line, as he was a tackle in college. Another low-risk signing that means the Vikings won't have to draft many offensive linemen. As we wrote in December in a feature on Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, the Vikings got younger and cheaper on the defensive line during free agency.

  1. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN:

1. Veteran quarterback (Re-signed Matt Cassel)

2. Starting right defensive end (Re-signed Everson Griffen)

3. Young, true run-stuffing nose tackle (Signed Linval Joseph)

4. Cornerback (Signed Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox)

5. Left guard (Re-signed Charlie Johnson and added Vlad Ducasse)

6. Linebacker: The roster includes only unproven prospects behind Chad Greenway. Unfortunately for the Vikings, there doesn’t appear to be any good fits in free agency based on skills or age. This need is something that will be addressed in the draft. The muddied picture also will begin to clear once the new coaching staff identifies Greenway’s role and how and where intriguing youngsters Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges fit.

Other needs: Change-of-pace backup running back and more competition at strong safety. Where things stand: The running back could come as a bargain deal late in free agency or late in the draft.

Free agency tracker

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: March 11, 2014 - 9:48 PM

NFL free agency officially started at 3 p.m. CT. The Vikings have already made a few moves but could be in the hunt for a few more defensive players. Cornerback and defensive tackle are two positions to watch now they’re able to sign unrestricted free agents from other teams.

Here are the latest transactions that have hit the wire to this point, including players the Vikings were interested in and other moves around the NFC North:

*The Colts will sign Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones, according to multiple reports. The Vikings made contact with Jones’ representation during the three-day negotiating window.

*The Bears reached a five-year deal with Raiders defensive end Lamarr hunt worth $35 million, according to multiple reports. The Vikings re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen on a five-year, $42.5 million deal.

*The Bears will re-sign linebacker DJ Williams to a one-year deal, according to NFL.com.

Update (3:41 p.m.): 

*The Falcons will sign Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai, the team announced. The Vikings reportedly made contact with Soliai's representation during the three-day negotiating window. It's a five-year deal worth $33 million with $14 million guaranteed. Defensive tackles have seen more action in the first hour of free agency than cornerbacks surprisingly. 

Update (3:38 p.m.):

*Now we've got some action at cornerback. Colts have re-signed cornerback Vontae Davis, the team announced. It's a reported 4-year deal worth $39 million with $20 million guaranteed. 

As more deals are reported, you probably shouldn't feel bad anymore that the Vikings overpaid for Griffen. It's a good year to be a NFL free agent. 

Update (4:14 p.m.):

The Jaguars have traded quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick, according to multiple reports. This has been the biggest surprise so far. The 49ers already have Colin Kapernick and Gabbert will earn $2 million next year.

Maybe Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder does have some trade value after all...

Update (4:46 p.m.):

The Vikings will sign defensive tackle Linval Joseph, according to an NFL source. It's a five-year deal worth $31.5 million, according to ESPN.

Joseph, 25, has spent all four seasons with the Giants. He’s listed at 6-4, 323 pounds and will solidify the nose tackle position on the defensive line. Joseph had 59 combined tackles last season with three sacks and one forced fumble.

The Vikings starting defensive line seems to be set now with Joseph, defensive ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who will serve as the three-technique tackle in Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s scheme.

Update (6:05 p.m.):

The Vikings will re-sign offensive lineman Joe Berger to a one-year deal, according to an NFL source.

The 10-year veteran has spent the last three seasons with the Vikings primarily as a backup guard and has only made nine starts in purple. He appeared in every game last season and made two starts. The Vikings have a need at left guard and also lacked depth along the offensive line unrestricted free agents Charlie Johnson and J'Marcus Webb.

Update (9:05 p.m.)

Vikings running back Toby Gerhart will sign with the Jaguars on a three-year deal worth $10.5 million with $4.5 million guaranteed, according to multiple sources. He's the first Vikings unrestricted free agent to sign with another team so far. Gerhart wasn't expected to return back to the team with Adrian Peterson serving as the team's lead running back.

The Bucs also agreed to terms with cornerback Alterraun Verner to a four-year deal worth $26.6 million with $14 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports. The Vikings contacted Verner's representation during the three-day negotiating window. The move all but points to the inevitable release of cornerback Darrelle Revis

Reviewing the Vikings' 2010 NFL Draft

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: February 25, 2014 - 10:48 AM

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.

First 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)

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);

Third Round

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)

Fourth Round

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)

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)

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)

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.

Vikings' Cordarrelle Patterson named to All-NFL team

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: January 13, 2014 - 12:22 PM

Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was selected on the Pro Football Writers Association All-NFL and All-NFC teams as a kick returner.

He was one of 17 first-time All-NFL honorees by the PFWA. Patterson was the only player selected on either team from the Vikings.

It's been a pretty nice start to his offseason so far for the rookie. Patterson was named into the Pro Bowl as a return specialist and also earned the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month honors for December to go along with the PFWA's selection. He's one of five candidates up for Rookie of the Year (fans can vote here on the award)

Here's the complete All-NFL and All-NFC teams:

2013 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM
Offense
QB – Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
RB – Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs; LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
WR – Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns ; Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
TE – Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
C – Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
G – Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Louis Vasquez, Denver Broncos
T – Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
Defense
DE – Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams; J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
DT – Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
OLB – Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts
MLB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
CB – Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks; Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs; Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Special Teams
PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
P – Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
PR – Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs
ST – Justin Bethel, Arizona Cardinals

2013 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM
Offense
QB – Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
RB – Matt Forte, Chicago Bears; LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
WR – Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions; Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
TE – Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
C – Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
G – Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers
T – Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles; Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
Defense
DE – Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers; Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams
DT – Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
OLB – Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers; Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
MLB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
CB – Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals; Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
S – Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks; Donte Whitner, San Francisco 49ers
Special Teams
PK – Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks
P – Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
PR – Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks
ST – Justin Bethel, Arizona Cardinals

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