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.
MANKATO -- With rare morning hours to kill before a training camp practice begins, let's throw out this question:
"How many wins can the Vikings -- and their fans -- realistically expect in 2011?"
Yeah, I know. They haven't had a single practice. They have a new offense, a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, a new ... ah, you get the idea. It's impossible to predict the NFL in general and this year's Vikings team in particular. But that's never stopped anyone before, so have at it.
Linebacker Chad Greenway became one of the few players to actually answer the question when asked yesterday what a realistic expectation was for this year's team.
"I think realistically we could be .500 or better, for sure," Greenway said. "We're going to hope for 10, 12 wins. I think we have the personnel to do that."
Greenway also sounded comfortable in being the team he thinks is capable of "sneaking up on people" rather than last year's team, which entered the season as a Super Bowl favorite with all 22 starters returning.
I think the addition of McNabb gives this year's team at least a chance of being competitive. But there are a ton of questions that need answered before I'd guarantee the Vikings finish .500 or better.
Johnson, a make-or-break year: I did a lead note on safety Tyrell Johnson and how he's as disappointed in how his career has unfolded as most of your are. Johnson will be given a chance to start at free safety, where Madieu Williams was released.
Due to the restrictions of the kill-a-tree (print) edition, the best quote was chopped out. Johnson essentially said it was a make-or-break year for him.
"This is the most crucial year I've ever had playing football," Johnson said.
By Mark Craig
MANKATO -- Some highlights from reporting day while melting away in Mankato (Zulgad saying he's now down to his eighth-grade weight) ...
Coach Leslie Frazier said:
Other highlights ...
Keep checking back. Judd could be bringing more highlights later on.
There were a few reports that emerged Thursday afternoon about the Vikings having an interest in Saints free-agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
The buzz about this didn't last long as the Saints were able to retain Bushrod by agreeing to a two-year contract. However, it did seem curious the Vikings were even mentioned. Minnesota has many needs and current left tackle Bryant McKinnie's play can be inconsistent, but in the free-agent frenzy of this week offensive tackle does not seem to be an area the Vikings should be spending a lot of time on.
That is unless they are looking for some type of leverage when it comes to McKinnie and his contract situation. The Vikings and all other NFL teams are going to need to be in compliance with the $120.3 million salary cap by Aug. 4, and it's likely the Minnesota brass is going to get creative to clear as much cap space as possible.
Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings vice president of football operations, is one of the best when it comes to the cap, so it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him exploring any means necessary to get this done. The Vikings started this process Thursday by releasing safety Madieu Williams (that move is believed to have saved the Vikings about $3.5 million in 2011 cap room) and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy ($250,000).
The assumption has been -- and still should be -- that the Vikings are going to need to extend the contracts (and lessen the 2011 cap hits) of running back Adrian Peterson and linebacker Chad Greenway.
But McKinnie could be a prime candidate to have his contract re-worked, along with wide receiver Bernard Berrian. Both are clients of agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
McKinnie, who is entering his 10th NFL season, signed a seven-year, $48.5 million extension in September 2006 that included $17.25 million in new guarantees. It was a major investment and sometimes McKinnie is worth it.
McKinnie's cap number for this season is $5.4 million and he has a base salary of $4.9 million with a $500,000 roster bonus. His base salaries for the final two seasons of the contract (2012 and 2013) are $4.5 million and $4.0 million with cap numbers of $6.5 million in each year.
Could the Vikings be trying to alter those figures? Some of that may depend on what new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson think of McKinnie and have told coach Leslie Frazier and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman.
It just seems interesting that the name of a left tackle would suddenly come up if the Vikings were completely content with McKinnie at his current price.
Safety Madieu Williams was among three Vikings players released on Thursday.
Veteran defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy and wide receiver Freddie Brown also were let go. It was known for two days those moves were coming.
Williams' release might not have leaked out before Thursday -- the first day teams could make cuts -- but it does not come as a surprise. The reality was he was never the same player after suffering a severe neck injury during his first training camp with the Vikings.
Williams was due to make $5.4 million this season and had a cap number of $5.5 million. Williams came to the Vikings from Cincinnati as a free agent in 2008, agreeing to a six-year, $33 million free-agent contract with almost $13 million in guarantees.
Williams, who will turn 30 on Oct. 18, was known more for his coverage skills than his hitting when he arrived in Minnesota. There was little doubt then Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had plenty to do with Williams' being signed. Frazier, who is now the Vikings coach, had been Cincinnati's defensive coordinator during Williams' rookie season in 2004.
Williams got off to an impressive start in training camp in 2008, but hurt his neck early in camp and missed the first seven games of the season. Williams struggled last season with taking angles on plays and his tackling. As for his coverage skills, he had nine interceptions in four seasons with the Bengals but only three in three seasons with the Vikings. Part of that was because of how deep the Vikings would play their safeties, something they tried to alter last season by bringing them up a few yards.
Williams played in 14 games last season, starting 13 times, and missed the final two regular-season games after suffering a concussion against Chicago while playing at TCF Bank Stadium.
Williams and wide receiver Bernard Berrian ($6.3 million cap number) both seemed like logical candidates to be let go as the Vikings worked to get their salary cap to the $120 million limit by Aug. 4. However, Berrian remains on the roster at this point. The Vikings lost their No. 1 wide receiver, Sidney Rice, on Wednesday when he agreed to terms with Seattle.
The Vikings remained in negotiations with Packers free-agent wide receiver James Jones on Thursday afternoon.
Frazier had been asked a few times about whether Williams would be let go but gave no indication that would happen. However, with the salary cap back in play this year the move makes sense. An NFL source said the Vikings did not ask Williams to restructure his contract for the second time since he joined the Vikings.
Said Frazier at the NFL owners meetings in March: "[Williams] provides great leadership for us in the secondary. We’d like for him to get his hands on a few more balls [he had one interception in 2010 and has three in three years with the Vikings], but his leadership is probably the thing that really sticks out -- just being able to control our secondary, get guys lined up correctly, understanding the system. That’s probably the biggest asset to what we do, and until we have another guy who we think can supplant him in that role, that’s the way it’ll probably be."
The move has to be considered good news for Tyrell Johnson, a second-round pick in 2008, who played in only seven games last season but should get a chance to battle Jamarca Sanford for the free safety job. Husain Abdullah was the Vikings' strong safety last season. There remains a chance the team also could add a free agent.
Williams, who won the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2010 for his wide-ranging charitable work, had renegotiated his contract in December 2009, but his base salary was still slated to jump from $2.974 million in 2010 to $5.4 million each of the next three seasons.
While the Vikings released one of their safeties, they are keeping another. Free-agent Eric Frampton, who is a valuable contributor on special teams, has agreed to terms on a deal.
The Vikings also officially announced the signings of undrafted free agents Alexander Robinson (running back) of Iowa State and Ed Barham (tight end) of North Carolina.
By Mark Craig
On a looong and busy day of NFL/Purple news, one of the best bits of information to come out for fans was a conversation that coach Leslie Frazier had with All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson earlier in the day.
Peterson is in the last year of a contract, which is never a comfortable feeling for an elite, once-in-a-generation NFL player, especially ones with as short a shelf life as a running back. I talked to Pro Football Hall of Famer and all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith a year ago, and Emmitt said he would advise Peterson to hold out rather than begin the season without a long-term deal.
Asked if Peterson gave him any assurances that he'll report to Mankato on time Sunday with or without a long-term deal, Frazier said, "Oh yeah, we had a good conversation [Monday]. And that's not an issue, and he's looking forward to camp like all of our guys are. Everybody is going to try to be there on time."
Chances are the Vikings have Peterson targeted at or near the top of their list of priorities. Peterson's salary cap number is $12.775 million, and the team is reportedly $5.1 million over the $120.4 million salary cap.
Every team's top 51 players must be cap compliant by 3:01 p.m. CT on Aug. 4. Rick Spielman, VP of player personnel, wouldn't reveal specifics of the team's plan to address its salary cap issues. But you can bet Peterson and franchise player Chad Greenway ($10 million) are at the top.
Restructuring or releasing WR Bernard Berrian ($6.3 million) and safety Madieu Williams ($5.7 million) also are options.
"We've identified all our key guys and what point we'll be approaching those guys, and we'll just work from there," Spielman said.
Obviously, there will be lots of stuff going on this week. Right now, the Vikings and all NFL teams are calling and negotiating with undrafted rookies. They can sign those players Tuesday morning.
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