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 have finally made an offseason move to bolster their secondary, signing cornerback Zack Bowman to a one-year deal. Bowman, 27, will be entering his fifth NFL season after spending the previous four with the Chicago Bears.
Bowman's best NFL season to date came in 2009 when he made six interceptions. He played in all 16 games and made one start for Chicago last season but was more of a role player, sharing time with Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore opposite Pro Bowler Charles Tillman.
Bowman has good size -- he's 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds -- and has a good blend of athleticism and strength. He's also adept in zone coverage. A move to Minnesota should allow him to compete for playing time immediately in a Vikings secondary that's in desperate need of added depth.
General manager Rick Spielman believes a pass defense that allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 107.6 rating in 2011 will be much improved with the returns of cornerbacks Antoine Winfield (from injury) and Chris Cook (from legal difficulties). Combined, Winfield and Cook missed 21 games last season. In their absence, Asher Allen received extensive playing time and impressed the coaching staff with his effort and development.
Add Bowman to the mix and the Vikings' cornerback stable, at full strength, should again begin to resemble a real NFL unit, unlike the grouping that ended 2011 held together by chicken wire and bubble gum. The Vikings' cornerback rotation in the 2011 finale against the Bears, remember, consisted of Allen, Cedric Griffin, Benny Sapp, Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton.
George Schwartz, a 25-year-old guard-tackle who played under Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson in Carolina, will visit the Vikings on Monday.
No, it's not a move that's likely to make Peyton Manning change his mind. But, hey, when a team whacks both starting guards like the Vikings did a week ago, it doesn't hurt to take a look at a 6-6, 331-pounder with 32 games and 19 starts under his belt.
Schwartz is likely earmarked for the veteran backup job that Joe Berger held last season. Berger played well as a backup at all three interior positions last year and almost certainly will end up as a starter at one of the guard positions. If the team drafts Matt Kalil third overall, Kalil would play left tackle, while Charlie Johnson probably would slide in to left guard. Berger would be the right guard.
And Schwartz, a seventh-round pick of the Panthers in 2008, would be provide young depth at guard and tackle. And, who knows, he could end up at right tackle if he plays well and Phil Loadholt continues to be inconsistent.
Update: Cedric Griffin has agreed to a one-year deal with the Redskins that could be worth up to $2.5 million, according to his agent. The ex-Vikings cornerback was hampered because of knee injuries the past couple of seasons.
Update II: Former Vikings special teamer Kenny Onatolu is now current Panthers special teamer Kenny Onatolu. NFL.com reported that Onatolu signed a three-year deal. It reunites Onatolu with former Vikings special teams coach and current Panthers special teams coach Brian Murphy.
Three days before the opening of free agency in the NFL, the Vikings have finalized three moves to begin their roster overhaul, releasing guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin.
Since being elevated to general manager in January, Rick Spielman has made it very clear that the beginning stages of the team’s rebuilding project will involve a move to make the roster younger. Cutting ties with Hutchinson, who’s 34 years old, and Herrera (31) will accelerate that process. It will also free the Vikings from a pair of hefty contracts that may have become anchors as the team prepares to browse the free agent market early next week.
Hutchinson, who has played 11 NFL seasons including the past six with the Vikings, was scheduled to make close to $7 million next season in the final year of his contract. Herrera was due to make close to $2.7 million in the final year of his deal.
Instead, both guards have been thanked for their services to the Vikings – that’s 14 years between them – and will now move on.
Despite losing two tough and tenacious offensive linemen, the Vikings figure to have plenty of reinforcement at the guard position. Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier are both high on the abilities of Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco. Charlie Johnson, who played left tackle in 2011, will also likely move inside to guard if the team opts to draft Southern Cal’s Matt Kalil with the No. 3 pick in next month’s draft.
Chris DeGeare is another player who could bolster depth at the position.
Griffin's release was not surprising either. He struggled mightily in coverage in 2011 and his confidence seemed to dip substantially throughout the second half of the season, leading up to his outright benching in Week 14 in Detroit. By season’s end, it seemed clear that Griffin’s days in the Twin Cities were numbered, the veteran cornerback looking for a change of scenery and an escape from a situation that seemed to grow quite toxic through last year’s struggles.
Equally significant, the Vikings’ ability to free themselves from Hutchinson’s, Herrera’s and Griffin's salaries put the team in position to potentially make a big splash in free agency, where they expect to be somewhere in the ballpark of $23-24 million under the salary cap when the new league year begins Tuesday.
In a statement released by the Vikings, Frazier said: "It was a tough decision as we move forward and prepare for the upcoming season and the future of our organization. All three individuals have meant a great deal to the Vikings organization both on and off field over the years. We wish all of them the best and thank them for their service to the Minnesota Vikings."
Rick Spielman? As Michael Corleone? Take a look and we’ll explain.
Many thanks for the enthusiastic and intelligent participation earlier this afternoon on our Vikings live chat. A full transcript of that session is now available.
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