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.
So what are the odds that the Vikings will win Super Bowl XLVIII?
People who earn and protect their money against your wagers say 50-1. At least that's what the online sports book Bovada has the Vikings at as the first week of free agency winds to a close.
Those odds come in tied for 22nd in the 32-team league. They're also the longest of the four NFC North teams. The Packers are at 12-1, tied for fifth. The Bears are tied for 12th at 25-1, while the Lions are tied for 16th at 35-1.
The Broncos and 49ers are tied for first at 7-1. The Jaguars are last at 150-1.
And in Seattle, the trade for Percy Harvin moved the Seahawks from 12-1 to 10-1.
No word on how crazy one has to be to place a bet on the NFL, let alone a bet in March on who's going to win the Super Bowl in 11 months.
The question with Greg Jennings has never been about ability. Over seven NFL seasons, Jennings has caught 425 passes for 6,537 yards and 53 TDs. He’s a versatile weapon who is adept at both stretching the field from the outside or keeping defenses honest as a smooth-moving slot guy.
He is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the kind of proven and consistent playmaker that the Vikings’ receiving corps needs. Yet when free agency neared, the questions about Jennings circled.
At this point -- with Jerome Simpson and his 97 career catches as the top dog in the receiving unit – the Vikings are in no position to be picky. And that’s why, with ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting that Jennings will visit Winter Park on Thursday, the Vikings would be wise not to let him leave without a purple jersey and a rubber-stamped contract.
This visit should be a business interview, a way of unifying a vision and hammering out the finer print of the contract details. The Vikings have had since late Friday night to communicate at length with Jennings’ agent, Eugene Parker. You can bet Parker has an asking price, one that’s moved over the past several days. And you can bet Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has a thought in mind for what he’d like to ultimately pay.
But as Spielman said Tuesday afternoon about the chaos and unpredictability of free agency, “This is a very fluid business.”
Indeed it is.
At this point, so many other free agent receivers are off the board. Mike Wallace is in Miami. Wes Welker has gone to Denver. Danny Amendola has landed in New England. Donnie Avery is a Chief. Brandon Gibson, reports say, has visits scheduled with the Jets, Dolphins and Titans.
The Vikings? They’ve always vowed to be patient in free agency, to make sure they find guys who fit their system, their character profile and their budget. But to this point, the Vikings have given out six contracts this week, all of them re-signings of players that were already on the roster.
The biggest move by far so far was Monday’s trade or Percy Harvin to Seattle, followed a day later by the surprise release of Antoine Winfield.
The Vikings have lost their top playmaker in the passing game and their linchpin leader on defense. In a pass-happy league, they’ve depleted their receiving corps and their secondary.
At some point, they need a splash to replenish the talent pool in a major way. And there’s no way they should allow themselves – nor had they ever planned to – to get to April’s draft with Simpson as their top receiver.
That’s why today’s reported visit with Jennings shouldn’t be a getting-to-know-you encounter. It should be a determined effort to provide third-year quarterback Christian Ponder a real weapon. Welker’s two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos was a huge power-shift move in the AFC, taking the league’s most prolific pass catcher over the past six years and moving him from one Super Bowl contender to another. But Welker’s contract may have also been a shifting of power in Jennings’ negotiating leverage. Sure, there have been the mammoth deals for receivers – six years, $67 million for Harvin; five years $65 million for Wallace; five years, $56 million for Dwayne Bowe.
But now, wouldn’t it make sense that Jennings’ price tag slides closer to that Welker ballpark. If so, the Vikings should be quietly celebrating. And they should be doing everything they can to make sure that Jennings is their guy.
A day after trading receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle, the Vikings have made their first move toward replenishing their receiving corps. It comes by way of re-signing Jerome Simpson to a one-year deal, according to an NFL source.
Salary figures for the deal are not yet known. But the Vikings had been intent on giving Simpson a second chance to prove himself if they could see eye-to-eye on contract details.
Apparently, they have with Simpson's return assuring quarterback Christian Ponder at least some continuity with his receiving corps. After Monday's blockbuster trade, Ponder was left with only two receivers who he had completed passes to: Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton.
Now Simpson is back in the fold and looking to rediscover top form in an offense that plans to give him significant opportunity to do so.
By all accounts, the Vikings' 2012 experiment with Simpson was a disappointment. After signing the athletic receiver to a one-year deal worth approximately $2 million last April, the Vikings had high hopes that Simpson would jell quickly with Ponder and provide the deep threat and vertical speed that would keep defenses honest.
The 2012 season totals: 26 catches, 274 yards, zero touchdowns.
So why would the Vikings put their hand back on that stove after apparently being burned by the Simpson signing last year?
Because on a one-year deal, Simpson again is in a prove-it situation. It's low risk for the Vikings with a guy who already has familiarity with both Ponder and the offensive system of coordinator Bill Musgrave. Furthermore, General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier seem convinced that Simpson's 2012 struggles were greatly exacerbated by his back troubles, which for a stretch, made it difficult for Simpson to push off and reach top speed when running routes. But with Simpson's back problems no longer a concern, there's a belief he can again fulfill his potential.
That, the Vikings promise, was evidenced in Simpson's debut with the team when he contributed four catches for 50 yards in a Week 4 win in Detroit. Simpson seemed closer to top form again in December aiding the Vikings' charge into the NFC playoffs with 11 catches for 98 yards in the final three wins.
Calvin Johnson numbers they weren't. But in an offense that relies so heavily on MVP running back Adrian Peterson, that modest production was cause for celebration. It gave the Vikings at least some potency in the passing game.
That gave Spielman hope. And he noted back in January that Simpson "has the potential to really thrive if we were able to get something done with him."
The deal is now done.
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
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