Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
In what is a very busy and fluid week in the NFL business world, we’ll do our best to not only keep you up to speed with all the latest Vikings transactions but to provide a summary of what it all means. Be sure to check back with this post regularly for updates.
VIKINGS’ 2013 FREE AGENCY CHECKLIST
What has happened so far …
THE LATEST MOVE: (Friday night) The Vikings have signed receiver Greg Jennings, a 29-year-old veteran who had tormented them for the previous seven seasons with the Packers. Jennings was given a five-year deal, which reportedly could be worth up to $47.5 million with $18 million guaranteed. What it means: For starters, it means quarterback Christian Ponder gets a proven receiver to be his top target, a big move for the franchise after it traded away Percy Harvin on Monday. Jennings' versatility should be a plus. He can serve as a legitimate outside threat and is also potent out of the slot. On top of that, the Vikings are already raving about the positive energy and professionalism they expect him to lend to what figures to otherwise be a very, very young receiving unit. With Jennings signed as the top gun and a very deep pool of talent awaiting at receiver in this year's draft, the Vikings may no longer need to pull the trigger on a pass catcher in the first round -- even with picks Nos. 23 and 25. Logic says a standout talent should still be available in Round 2 and perhaps the Vikings use those two first-round picks to find help at middle linebacker and cornerback. Jennings' signing and the cash it took to complete means the team's significant offseason spending is done. Any free agent additions from here on out are likely to be minimal.
What’s left to do
We can confirm ESPN’s Adam Schefter's report that the Vikings have released veteran Michael Jenkins, the first domino to fall in an offseason during which the organization is expected to overhaul its receiving corps.
Jenkins spent two seasons with the Vikings, totaling 78 catches, 915 yards and five touchdowns. He was well-liked within the locker room and often praised by receivers coach George Stewart, who nicknamed Jenkins “The Professor” due to his understanding of the offense and overall professionalism.
But after nine seasons in the league, Jenkins is little more than a complementary part. He will turn 31 years old in June. And had the Vikings kept him on their roster past March 16, they would have owed him a roster bonus of more than $2.4 million.
From a business standpoint, releasing the veteran was the only move that made sense. Jenkins had accepted a pay cut during training camp last summer that took his 2012 salary from $2.5 million down to $1 million. That move allowed him to stick on the roster for one more year. But on Monday the Vikings stopped delaying the inevitable.
Jenkins’ two seasons with the Vikings produced few highlight reel moments. Thought it should be noted that he was on the receiving end of Christian Ponder’s first completion as a starter in 2011, a 72-yard connection against the Packers. Jenkins also scored the Vikings’ final two touchdowns this past season. He hauled in a 3-yard grab from Ponder in Week 17, fueling a 37-34 win over the Packers in the regular season finale. He also had a 50-yard score from Joe Webb in the team’s playoff loss to Green Bay at Lambeau Field.
With Jenkins now released, the void at receiver becomes more pronounced.
Percy Harvin had a team-best 62 catches for 677 yards and three scores last season despite playing only nine games. But Harvin’s future with the team remains somewhat iffy as rumors have circulated for the past month that he may be traded. Furthermore, Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu are both eligible to hit free agency next week. Which leaves Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton as the only two receivers from last season who seem certain to be with the team when training camp opens in Mankato this summer.
Greg Childs, a fourth-round draft pick last year, spent all of the 2012 season on injured reserve and is still attempting a comeback after rupturing the patella tendons in both knees during training camp.
For the second straight offseason, the Vikings are looking to upgrade their receiving corps to enliven a sputtering passing attack. For perspective, the team’s top three receivers in 2012 – Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson -- combined for 128 catches, 1,400 yards and five touchdowns. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson alone had 122 grabs, 1,965 yards and five scores.
So just where might the Vikings’ turn this offseason for receiving help? They’ll have options just about everywhere. With that in mind, we’re giving you a look at 12 potential targets.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENCY
Greg Jennings – This is the most popular name suggested by fans. And at first glance, it seems perfectly logical. For the past seven seasons, the Vikings have had to deal with Jennings’ playmaking ability. He’s a proven veteran, consistently productive and, by all accounts, a solid teammate. But … (And you knew the “but” was coming right?) Jennings will turn 30 in September, has missed 11 games the past two seasons due to injury and may ultimately seek a reunion with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who was his offensive coordinator in Green Bay for five seasons. Weekend reports indicate that the Packers might consider putting the franchise tag on Jennings. But even if he were to hit free agency, he is likely to command the type of top-dollar contract the Vikings’ are aversive to delivering in free agency. Unless the price tag comes way, way down – it’s probably north of $11 million a year at present – Jennings won’t be a serious Vikings target.
Brandon Gibson – Just to get it on the record: like Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace also figure to request big pay days in March. And so the Vikings will likely instead turn their attention to that second tier of receivers. Enter Gibson, a rising 25-year-old playmaker who’s coming off a 51-catch, 691-yard, five-TD season in St. Louis. He isn’t a burner. But he runs good routes, has admirable ball skills and could be a bargain overall.
Donnie Avery – Avery’s best game of 2012 came against the Vikings. In a 23-20 Colts win in September, he delivered nine catches for 111 yards including a key 20-yard grab on Indianapolis’ game-winning drive in the final minute. Overall, Avery had 60 receptions for 781 yards with three TDs last season. He also has the one thing the Vikings currently lack – an ability to consistently get open deep. Yes, Avery has issues with bad drops at times. But he may also be available for relatively cheap.
NFL DRAFT: FIRST OR SECOND ROUND
Keenan Allen – If the Vikings want to take a receiver with the No. 23 pick and Allen is still on the board, this may be a no-brainer. Don’t be scared off by his modest 2012 stats (61 catches, 737 yards, six TDs). The Cal offense and inconsistency of quarterback Zach Maynard (Allen’s brother) played a big role in that. Allen is a proven playmaker with a good combination of quickness and body control and a knack for making the contested catch. As we mentioned the other day, the comparisons to Anquan Boldin may have validity.
Terrance Williams – In 2011, Williams contributed 957 yards and 11 touchdowns to Robert Griffin III’s Heisman Trophy campaign at Baylor. And after RG3’s exit, Williams productivity skyrocketed as he posted an NCAA-best 1,832 receiving yards last fall. Williams is a deep threat and a guy who can also be a go-to playmaker in the red zone.
Quinton Patton – A second-team All-American at Louisiana Tech, Patton averaged nine catches and 116 receiving yards per game with 13 touchdowns last season. He’s quick and he’s smooth. He’s competitive and he’s a high character kid as well. Patton may not be an impact guy as a rookie. But he has a bright future. His competitive edge stood out last month during practices at the Senior Bowl. And if you want proof of his ability to break open a game? Well, take a look at this box score from a loss to Texas A&M last October: 21 catches, 233 yards, four touchdowns.
Justin Hunter – Hunter’s 2011 season was cut short by an ACL tear. And while his comeback from that injury wasn’t quite Peterson-esque, he did post 73 catches, 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns last fall in an offense that also featured fellow draft prospect Cordarelle Patterson. Hunter can flat out run. And he has an ability to make acrobatic catches as well.
DeAndre Hopkins – Want evidence of Hopkins’ flash? Cue up highlights of Clemson’s Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU. In that contest, Hopkins had 13 catches, 191 yards and two scores, completing a breakthrough season in which he showcased his terrific hands and run-after-catch ability. Hopkins’ 4.57-second time in the 40-yard dash Sunday could push him back into the second round, where he'd be a great value pick for the Vikings.
Robert Woods – When you weight the possibility that guys like Hopkins and Woods could still be in play on the draft’s second day, you can understand why the Vikings might opt to address another big need in the first round and then take their chances with a deep receiving pool. Woods was prolific during his three-year career at Southern Cal. He was a starter since his freshman year and posted career totals of 250 catches, 2,933 yards and 32 receiving TDs. Folks in Minnesota may remember the 11-catch, 115-yard, three-TD explosion he had in the first half of the Trojans’ 19-17 win over the Golden Gophers in 2011.
MIDDLE TO LATE ROUNDS
Aaron Mellette – Yes, he played at Elon, a Football Championship Subdivision program that plays in the Southern Conference. So that smaller school stigma will exist. But as a senior Mellette had 97 catches, 1,408 yards and 18 TDs, enough to earn him invitations to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. At the former, against strong competition, he excelled all week. “Hopefully I answered some questions with that,” he said. Mellette also said he wanted “to open some eyes” with his speed in the 40-yard dash this weekend. But on Sunday, he posted a time of 4.54 seconds. Still, speed shouldn’t be the tell-all on Mellette’s ability as a receiver. Overall, his technique is solid and his confidence is there.
Josh Boyce – Five receivers posted times below 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash on Sunday. Boyce was one of them, clocking in at 4.38 seconds. He also delivered 22 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, the second best total among receivers. It’s that blend of speed and strength that could prove intriguing. Boyce has good hands, good quickness and is versatile enough to work outside or out of the slot.
It’s now been 54 days since Adrian Peterson completed one of the most remarkable running back seasons of all-time. For months, everyone around football marveled about how Peterson bounced back from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments to post 2,097 rushing yards, the second most prolific single-season output in NFL history. Peterson was rewarded for his efforts with the league MVP award. And if that wasn’t extraordinary enough, then it was learned earlier this month that Peterson played the final six games of the season with a painful sports hernia. That injury caused the Vikings to significantly cut back on his practice time. In December, for example, Peterson essentially only went through practice on Fridays. And yet in the Vikings’ five games in the season’s final month, Peterson totaled 861 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
This morning at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier shared more details on Peterson’s injury and reiterated his amazement in the running back’s ability to not only play through pain but to continue producing at such a high level. Here is an excerpt from that exchange.
A year ago at this event, you were talking about the need to throttle Adrian back as he was trying to accelerate his recovery timetable and rehab workload. But after what he showed in recovering from an ACL, is something like sports hernia surgery simply like a hangnail for him?
“When he had that injury and we were monitoring in his practices – as you guys remember, we were holding him out And then he’d practice on Friday -- and then he’d go out and play the way he did on Sundays, it was just amazing. ACL? Sports hernia? And to play the way he played? So this surgery, it’s like a piece of cake after the ACL and what he was able to accomplish. But he’s unique. He’s very unique.”
When that injury first happened, did you internally wonder if his reps would have to be cut back in games? Because that lingered for a month-and-a-half?
“We did. There were times I’d be telling [running backs coach] James Saxon on the headset, ‘Watch him on this carry. See if we have to take him out.’ And I’d talk to Adrian on those Fridays when he would get in some practice time and say, ‘What do you think?’ And he’d say, ‘Coach, I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready.’ But I couldn’t always tell if he was going to be ready. And then you’d go through warm-ups in pregame and it was like, man, it looks like he’s going to be OK. But in the back of your mind you’re just wondering can he finish. And then he’d break a long run and you’re like, ‘He’s different.’”
So the only game where it held him back was Houston?
“That was probably the game that it bothered him the worst. That game. You probably saw him grabbing (the injury) in that ballgame. That’s when I remember telling our coaches, ‘That’s it for him.’ And we pulled him in that ballgame. That game was the worst.”
Were there other games where you noticed anything else with that?
“Yeah, there were other games where I’d look and I’d see him not quite where I thought he would be and we’d talk to him and just see what he felt and then he’d go back out and he’d finish and he’d play well.”
What specifically was his discomfort?
“He just had pain when he was raising the leg up. With the sports hernia, it’s like that. When you run or sprint, that’s where you’re going to get the catch [and the pain]. But, to our amazement, his ability to block out that part of it and still perform at the level that he performed at, it’s just amazing. Because it’s not an area where you’re going to be taking shots or anything like that. It’s just a matter of your tolerance.”
And you were comfortable he couldn’t do more damage to that? I’d imagine if it was a torn MCL or something like that, the approach would have been completely different?
“Yeah, completely different. Completely different. But we were always monitoring how he was doing, where he was, giving him treatment. He’d make progress. But the Houston game was probably the one game where he was really set back and there was a push to get him ready for the next game. I don’t remember who we played the next ballgame.”
It was the Packers. Regular season finale. 199 yards.
“Yeah. So to get him ready for that ballgame, we were concerned going into that ballgame how he was going to perform. And then … Incredible.”
After the season, were you concerned or talk to him at all. Because he went and played in the Pro Bowl?
“I know. That was something he had his heart set on and felt like he could protect himself. And the coaches over there, they did a good job, too. They didn’t stress him, so it worked out good. They knew. Mike McCarthy and his staff, they knew.”
Leslie Frazier chose his words carefully Friday morning and wants it known that he plans to handle his awkward contract situation in the most professional manner possible. But there is no question the Vikings’ decision not to speak with Frazier’s agent this offseason about a potential extension left the head coach both agitated and confused.
True to character, Frazier won’t air his complaints publicly. And so when asked about the team’s odd decision to only exercise the 2014 option on his contract without initiating talks on a longer-term deal, Frazier simply shrugged.
“I’ve got to concentrate on 2013 and getting our team and our coaches ready to have a great season,” he said Friday from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “That’s what’s most important. And that’s really the only thing that’s important. So that’s where my focus will be.”
Frazier also downplayed the possibility of any tension or awkwardness that may have been created.
“I moved past it,” he said. “It is what it is and I’ve got to concentrate on getting our team ready for this season. The most important thing for me and the best thing that I can do for our team is to really focus on getting our guys ready to have a great season.”
It’s not just that Frazier led the Vikings to 10 wins and an unexpected NFC playoff berth last season, it’s that his leadership proved galvanizing throughout 2012, most evident when the Vikings closed the regular season with four straight victories to secure a wild card berth.
Just as most experts figured the Vikings to be an NFC bottom feeder heading into last season, the prevailing thought in early December was that the team was left for dead after a 23-14 loss in Green Bay. But Frazier’s squad rallied the next week with a convincing victory over a Bears team that had beaten them by 18 points just two weeks earlier. Then came dominant road wins in St. Louis and Houston and a season-closing 37-34 victory over the division champion Packers.
Frazier figured his efforts would be rewarded with a long-term contract extension. Instead, owners Zygi and Mark Wilf opted only to exercise that 2014 option, a half-hearted vote of confidence that left Frazier and agent Bob Lamonte stunned.
Frazier had believed some negotiations would take place at the very least.
“What I believe and what actually is is what you have to deal with,” he said. “You guys know the reality. And that’s what I want to deal with, the reality of the situation.”
Frazier would prefer Lamonte handle any public commentary on the situation and said he understands his duty of focusing in on his coaching responsibilities to be a true leader for his players and coaches.
“I can’t ever forget that,” Frazier said. “They derive a lot of their energy from me. So I have to make sure that I’m focused on what we’ve got to get done so we can have a great year.”
Technically, Frazier now has two years left on his deal. But with NFL head coaches rarely entering the final year of a contract without an extension, 2013 will essentially become another contract year.
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