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 Cedric Griffin

Vikings sign cornerback Zack Bowman to one-year deal

Posted by: Updated: March 26, 2012 - 10:26 AM

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.

Schwartz would add a big, young body up front; Griffin goes to Redskins

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 16, 2012 - 1:55 PM

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.

Let the moves begin: Vikings release Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, Cedric Griffin

Posted by: Updated: March 10, 2012 - 3:23 PM

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 faces big decisions with potential roster moves

Posted by: Updated: March 10, 2012 - 9:38 AM

Rick Spielman? As Michael Corleone? Take a look and we’ll explain.

 

 
As the Vikings’ new general manager, this is the line Spielman must have at the ready. Especially now, this weekend, when hard decisions must be made.
 
Free agency will open across the NFL on Tuesday at 3 p.m. To prepare for that open market frenzy, teams have already begun making significant roster moves. The Giants, for example, released veteran running back Brandon Jacobs on Friday. In Indianapolis, the Colts’ roster overhaul included the release of Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Melvin Bullitt and Gary Brackett.
 
Nothing personal. Strictly business.
 
So what should we be monitoring for Spielman and the Vikings as they make a series of important business decisions? Logic says that as Spielman moves forward with his promise to make the roster much younger, veterans with big contracts should be on alert for a call to discuss their futures. Here’s a snapshot look at the top four candidates for such calls.
 
Steve Hutchinson
Why a call may be necessary: Hutchinson is due to make close to $7 million in 2012 in the final year of his contract, a price the Vikings absolutely do not want to pay for a 34-year-old lineman with 11 NFL seasons of mileage on his odometer. So now comes the tricky part of negotiations. Just how much would Hutchinson have to restructure his contract for the Vikings to keep him around? And will he be amenable to taking a major pay cut? If not, the Vikings would have no choice but to release Hutchinson, who would then have to decide whether to find a new team or simply retire.
 
What could happen: There’s been widespread belief that the 2012 season will be Hutchinson’s last. And at 34 with six seasons under his belt in Minnesota, it’s hard to imagine he’d be all that ecstatic about starting anew someplace else for what could be nothing more than an eight-month tour of duty on the march to retirement. So now Spielman and the Vikings have to decide how low the price would have to fall for them to want Hutchinson back as a veteran leader on the interior of the o-line.
 
Cedric Griffin
Why a call may be necessary: Griffin had an awful season in 2011. He struggled mightily in coverage 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.
 
What could happen: Due to make more than $4 million in 2012 with a contract that runs through 2014 Griffin should be set free. The environment in Minnesota soured too much at the end of 2011 for a second chance in ’12 to have much realistic value. Yes, the Vikings are low on depth in their defensive backfield at present and are still awaiting a verdict in the felony domestic assault trial of cornerback Chris Cook. But even keeping Griffin around as an insurance policy doesn’t seem to make much sense.
 
Anthony Herrera
Why a call may be necessary: Like Hutchinson, Herrera doesn’t fit the profile for the youth movement Spielman wants to enact. He’s played eight seasons and has provided the Vikings’ offensive front with an admirable measure of toughness and tenacity, a big reason he’s a favorite of head coach Leslie Frazier. But Herrera is due to make $2.65 million in 2012, another expense that would be worth chopping if at all possible.
 
What could happen: If the Vikings are dead set on taking Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 3 pick in next month’s draft, that means Charlie Johnson is likely to slide inside from left tackle to one of the guard positions. The Vikings also have starting guard candidates in Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco (a Spielman favorite). Chris DeGeare is also around to provide depth. Translation: from a financial standpoint, it certainly wouldn’t be prudent to keep both Hutchinson and Herrera around with the team in rebuilding mode. It also wouldn’t be a shock if both guards were thanked for their services and shown the door.
 
Antoine Winfield
Why a call may be necessary: Winfield is another long-in-the-tooth veteran with a hefty paycheck. A call to the talented cornerback with a request to restructure his deal wouldn’t be outlandish. But it’s certainly far from necessary.
 
What could happen: Likely nothing. Winfield has been around Winter Park often during the offseason as he continues rehabilitation from the season-ending collarbone injury he suffered in Week 9 in Green Bay. Frazier sees him as a smart and energetic veteran leader for a secondary that could badly use some smarts and energy. Winfield will likely be used often in a nickel role going forward with Frazier having no designs on converting him into a safety. And his value to the secondary was proven in the 11 games he missed last season
 
It’s also worth noting that the Vikings have 18 other players whose contracts will expire when the new league year begins Tuesday. Of that group, only five were significant contributors this past season – tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, linebackers E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson, safety Husain Abdullah and receiver Devin Aromashodu.
 
Odds are that Shiancoe and E.J. Henderson will both be allowed to test the open market and will likely move on. The Vikings would love to re-sign Erin Henderson and may try hard to get something done before Tuesday. They also have a difficult decision with Abdullah, who is a low-maintenance and intelligent defensive back but has had four concussions over the past two seasons. That gives the fifth-year safety a bright red stamp as a medical risk and the Vikings will have to negotiate accordingly.
 
Aromashodu? He too will be allowed to test the open market after a 2011 season in which he caught 26 passes for 468 balls. If the Vikings decide to ultimately bring him back for 2012, it will have to be at a reasonable price. But Aromashodu will not be a top priority for Spielman in the coming days.
 
It’s not personal. Strictly business.

Chat OT: Vincent Jackson on the way? E.J. Henderson out the door? The asking price for RG3?

Posted by: Updated: February 29, 2012 - 4:06 PM

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.

Still, 80 minutes wasn’t long enough to address all the valuable questions that were asked. So we’re going into overtime now with a half-dozen of the best questions that were left in the queue when the chat ended.
Here goes …
 
Gav asks: Why do people want V-Jax so bad? He's 29, by the time we're any good he will be over the hill. Do we really want to throw money at a 29-year-old?
Vincent Jackson is a Pro Bowl-caliber weapon at a position the Vikings need to upgrade in a hurry. Beggars can’t be choosers. Here’s the deal: the Vikings averaged only 5.8 yards per passing attempt in 2011. Their three quarterbacks posted a rating of 74.6. (That’s Colt McCoy, Matt Cassell, Rex Grossman territory, by the way.) Big plays were hard to come by. And if you take away Percy Harvin’s stellar production in 2011, the Vikings’ other top four wideouts combined for 80 catches for 1,146 yards and four touchdowns. Jackson? He’s averaged 17.5 yards per catch over his seven NFL seasons. Last season, he had three games with at least 140 yards. Jackson is a legitimate vertical threat. And the Vikings are a team in need of a legitimate vertical threat. As for Jackson’s age? As receivers go, 29 isn’t nearly as scary as it is for running backs.
 
Still,there is a valid question that needs to be asked about when the Vikings feel they’ll be able to legitimately contend again. If, hypothetically speaking, Rick Spielman determined the Vikings won’t realistically be able to make a playoff run before the 2015 season, then obviously it would make no sense to break the bank for Jackson on a deal for three years or less. This is exactly the kind of math and analysis Spielman was promoted to provide. He is now the man in charge of the long-term vision, charged with molding the wish list accordingly. So the question is valid in this sense: the Vikings not only need to make sure Jackson would fit their offense, they’ll need to determine if he can be part of their long-term plans. If so, he may be the best free agent receiver on the market in two weeks.
 
Fishdawg asks: Dan: You say that the Rams will trade the No. 2 pick no matter what. I am thinking that the Rams are wanting too much. Teams may shy away if the asking price is too much and the Vikings are more reasonable.
If only one team were interested in Robert Griffin III, your shy-away theory might have some validity. But at present? In a league where stellar quarterback play means more than anything else, the RG3 hype will undoubtedly give the Rams a ridiculous amount of leverage with the No. 2 pick. Say you’re Cleveland or Washington or Miami or Kansas City or Seattle and you really want to make a run at Griffin. Well, each of those quarterback-needy teams will have to put together a trade package that’s not only fair but one that will trump all the other suitors. So you can see why St. Louis is downright giddy these days.
 
If the Rams’ asking price seems to high for a team, it’d be Russian roulette to commence trade talks with the Vikings in the hope that all of the other RG3 shoppers get scared off too. That’s not going to happen. The Rams are holding that No. 2 pick for major ransom. And the only way that changes is if the free agent quarterback market goes absolutely bonkers with many of these quarterback-starved teams investing their futures heavily in guys like Matt Flynn, Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn and Chad Henne. As you can see, there are far fewer crown jewel signal callers available then there are teams searching for a crown jewel signal caller. So this week, the biggest NFL storyline can be summarized in three words: Congratulations St. Louis.

Noah asks: Any chance you see the Vikings selecting a DT? I think it was a bigger weakness last year than most people imagined and our DEs took some pressure off them. If so what round?
Obviously, we know receiver, corner and safety will be top priorities. But the Vikings would like to see improvement at defensive tackle as well. And, as luck has it, the defensive tackle class is loaded this year. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this past weekend at the combine that he has upwards of seven defensive tackles holding first-round grades right now. Yet it’s unlikely we’ll see seven defensive tackles taken in the first 32 picks. So maybe the Vikings can steal a high-quality tackle at the top of Round 3 (perhaps a guy like UConn’s Kendall Reyes or Boise State’s Billy Winn or Southern Cal’s DaJohn Harris) or with one of their picks in Round 4, where targets might include Michigan’s Mike Martin, Texas’ Kheeston Randall or Alabama’s Josh Chapman.
 
Guest asks: If their draft stock falls and they are available in Round 3 do you see the Vikings picking up Alshon Jeffery (work ethic/weight issues), Vontaze Burfict (grandiose personality issues), or Janoris Jenkins (drugs/ethics issues) in the draft or do we keep it completely "clean" this draft?
Jenkins: absolutely not. With the Chris Cook fiasco still hanging out there, the Vikings can ill afford to go after a cornerback with so much baggage and risk attached – even if Jenkins is clearly a first-round talent. Three arrests and a dismissal from the University of Florida program last spring will be enough to repel the Vikings away.
 
Jeffery’s issues are far less serious and he came to the combine at a svelte 216 pounds, proof he can keep himself in good shape when the stakes are high for him personally. The Vikings, if they were to gamble on a guy like Jeffry, would have to decide for themselves whether they have the means to keep him motivated and on task. If they feel they can, the kid’s potential is intriguing.
 
Burfict? He may have looked impressive at the combine. But, as you mentioned, there are questions as to whether he can control his temper and fit into an NFL locker room without disruption. Other critics also wonder if he has enough instinct to be a consistent playmaker. I’d also wonder whether the Vikings would roll the dice on a linebacker in Round 3 when the draft pool has great depth at cornerback and receiver, two positions they need to address with greater urgency.
 
Drew asks: Do you think E.J. Henderson will be back at linebacker? Also, the Vikings are said to have up to 10 draft picks this year. Why is it “up to 10 picks” and not just 10 picks?
I don’t see E.J. back in 2012. He’ll turn 32 before the season starts, has nine NFL seasons and 125 regular-season games on his odometer and was hampered significantly last season by knee problems, ceding his role as the nickel linebacker to younger brother, Erin. With Jasper Brinkley returning to the mix and general manager Rick Spielman asserting his intention to make the roster younger, letting Henderson walk will be one of the tough business decisions the Vikings will likely make in the coming weeks.
 
As for the draft picks, the Vikings’ are expecting to get two additional compensatory picks, most likely in the fourth round, as a result of Atlanta signing Ray Edwards and Seattle signing Sidney Rice. But compensatory picks aren’t officially doled out and announced until late March, usually near the owners meetings, which will be held March 26-28 in West Palm Beach, Fla. Until those compensatory picks are officially announced, you’ll see that cautious verbage included.
 
To recap, the Vikings will have all of their own picks from this year’s draft, minus the sixth-rounder they sent to Washington last summer in the trade for Donovan McNabb. They have one extra sixth-round pick and an additional seventh-rounder from other trades. And they figure to get those other two compensatory picks from the Edwards and Rice transactions.
 
Tino asks: Other than Hutch, which other vets could be shown the door in the name of cap room/youth movement? Winfield?
It’s possible Antoine Winfield could be shown the door. But odds are the Vikings will bring him back with the hopes of drawing from his veteran leadership to energize their secondary. Winfield would likely assume a nickel corner role predominantly. Fellow corner Cedric Griffin is another candidate to be sent packing. Keep an eye on guard Anthony Herrera too, a feisty veteran whom coach Leslie Frazier admires for the energy he brings to the o-line. But Herrera’s price tag (a base salary in excess of $2.6 million in 2012)  and age (he’ll turn 32 in June) put him in on the short list of players who might be on the way out of Winter Park.
 

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