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 Percy Harvin

What are the odds of the Vikings winning the Super Bowl?

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 15, 2013 - 12:12 PM

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.

Vikings may need to be decisive in Thursday's visit with Greg Jennings

Posted by: Updated: March 14, 2013 - 9:09 AM

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.

  • How much gas is truly left in the tank for a receiver who will turn 30 in September?
  • Are there any significant worries health-wise about a guy who has missed 11 games the past two seasons with knee, groin and core injuries?
  • Most importantly, what is the price tag?

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.

Spielman 'leaves door open' to Winfield returning

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 12, 2013 - 5:54 PM
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he wanted "to leave the door open" for cornerback Antoine Winfield's return.
Whether the 14-year veteran cornerback, who had rejected the hypothetical notion of having to accept a pay cut, would choose to walk back through that door is, obviously, another matter.
That's the question of the day since it now appears that Winfield wasn't even presented with a restructured deal before he was released.
Either way, Spielman said the Vikings will be OK at cornerback in 2013. The top three corners would be 2012 third-round pick Josh Robinson, A.J. Jefferson, who's a restricted free agent, and Chris Cook, a promising 2010 second-round pick but a guy who has had a hard time staying on the field.
"We feel confident the way Josh has developed, and tendering A.J. Jefferson, and having Chris Cook," Spielman said today during a news conference. "And we have a couple other guys we want to look at as well."
Then Spielman surprised reporters by saying Winfield isn't out of the team's plans entirely. Of course, it wasn't as surprising as Spielman cutting the 35-year-old corner an hour or so earlier rather than pay him the $7.25 million he had left on the final year of his contract.
"By no means do we want to shut out Antoine," Spielman said. "We hopefully want to have the door open for his return, if that’s possible."
Spielman said Winfield's release wasn't based on performance. Or his locker room presence. Winfield remains -- or remained -- one of the team's best defensive players and leaders.
"Antoine played very well last year," Spielman said. "He’s probably one of those players who defied odds for his age, what he did for our football team last year. There’s no question what Antoine does for our football team on the field and off the field as well.
"It was a very, extremely hard decision to make. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep the door open for him. We’ll just have to see."
Spielman said he spoke with Winfield today. He wouldn't discuss the details of what was said, so at this point we have no indication one way or the other whether Winfield is open to return.
Obviously, since he resisted a pay cut to stay on the team, he's not likely to accept one until he's shopped around a bit. And the guess is he'd choose a comparable contract with another team with a chance to make the playoffs rather than return to the team that cut him.
"I definitely want to keep the door open for Antoine to potentially return," Spielman said. "But we have to make all the pieces fit into the puzzle as well."
Spielman confirmed the Percy Harvin trade and the re-signing of tackle Phil Loadholt. He also said the team is still wrapping up a deal to re-sign receiver Jerome Simpson and has "four or five" things going on when it comes to trying to re-sign some of the team's other free agents.
Asked if he thinks the team will be able to compete this year, Spielman said, "We think we’re going to compete next year. There’s no doubt about that because we were a playoff team last year. And by keeping your own and continuing to build through the draft, and the success we’ve have the past couple years with the draft -- and we feel very strong about this draft class coming up -- we feel that this is an approach and a philosophy that is showing success."
 

Vikings re-sign Jerome Simpson to aid depleted receiving corps

Posted by: Updated: March 12, 2013 - 12:32 PM

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.

Instead ...

  • Simpson sat out the first three games due to a league suspension, a punishment the Vikings knew was coming when they first signed him.
  • Then, in Week 5, Simpson woke up the morning of the Tennessee game with a strange back problem that was causing sudden weakness and numbness in his lower leg. He went catchless against the Titans and then was declared inactive the following week against the Redskins.
  • After that, Simpson had a seven-game stretch in which he contributed a total of 11 catches for 26 yards, struggles that reached rock bottom during a drop-filled performance during a lopsided loss in Chicago..

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.



 

Vikings free agency tracker: What's happened, what's left to do, what it all means

Posted by: Updated: March 15, 2013 - 10:13 PM

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.

OFFENSE

  • (Friday afternoon) Former Vikings backup offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz has signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. What it means: Not much to the Vikings. They had no interest in re-signing Schwartz, who wanted a chance to start. Joe Berger was re-signed to be the veteran interior backup. He can play all three inside spots. Plus, unlike last year, the Vikings are now committed to Brandon Fusco as their starting right guard. Fusco had his ups and downs during the 2012 season, but re-established a firm grip on the starting job late in the year. Schwartz's sports hernia in training camp kept him from having a chance to unseat Fusco.
  • (Thursday afternoon) The Vikings have put the finishing touches on a deal to bring free agent quarterback Matt Cassel to town. Cassel was released by the Kansas City Chiefs earlier in the day in a move that had been a foregone conclusion for some time. The Chiefs had completed a trade for Alex Smith weeks ago and then signed free agent Chase Daniel as a back-up. What it means: To be clear, to fans hoping Cassel could win the Vikings' starting job heading into 2013, that's not in the plans. At least as they're stated anyway. Both General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier have clearly stated the team's plan for Christian Ponder to be the unchallenged starter next season. Ponder will hold that job through the offseason and training camp with the organization expecting him to take a big leap forward in his third year as a starter. But if Ponder proves inept or is injured, the team wanted to have a safer back-up plan in play and some competition in place. Joe Webb was the team's No. 2 quarterback throughout 2012. And after not attempting a pass in the regular season, he was thrust into a playoff start in Green Bay after a badly bruised triceps injury sidelined Ponder. Webb's performance in that season-ending loss was woeful and left the Vikings in a hunt for a solution. Cassel will come in as an experienced veteran. He's entering his ninth year in the league and has started 62 games over the past five seasons.
  • (Tuesday evening) Fullback Jerome Felton, as expected, has re-signed rather than test a market that wasn't very kind to him during the first four years of his career. After bouncing around Detroit, Carolina and Indianapolis with little success, Felton fell into a great situation as Adrian Peterson's lead blocker in 2012. The one-year tryout has now turned into a three-year, $7.5 million deal for the 26-year-old fullback. What it means: It means the lead blocker from Peterson's 2,097-yard season will be out front again this season. Felton made his first Pro Bowl while helping knock people aside (did someone say James Laurinaitis?) so that Peterson could run very long distances for touchdowns and the league's MVP trophy. 
  • (Tuesday afternoon) The Vikings have agreed to a multi-year contract extension with right tackle Phil Loadholt, reportedly a four-year $25 million extension. But by finding a way to secure Loadholt, the Vikings bring back a player who has been a mauler in the running game and continues to improve. What it means: All five starters from last season's offensive line are back. Continuity and stability should follow. General Manager Rick Spielman feels very strongly about Loadholt's worth to the running attack and you can bet Adrian Peterson will see the benefits. Early reports Tuesday in Chicago had the Bears making a heavy push to sign Loadholt. But the Vikings were determined not to let him get away with Spielman calling his re-signing "the top priority" in what promises to be a busy offseason.
  • (Tuesday afternoon) The Vikings have re-signed offensive lineman Joe Berger to a one-year deal. What it means: Berger provides depth on the o-line. He's intelligent. He's been around for seven NFL seasons. He has the versatility to play center and both guard positions. In fact, when called upon in 2011, he started as an injury fill-in at all three positions.
  • (Tuesday morning) According to an NFL source, the Vikings have re-signed wide receiver Jerome Simpson to a one-year deal. Terms of the contract are not yet know. What it means: Even after a highly disappointing 2012 in which he totaled only 26 catches for 274 yards without a score, Simpson is the Vikings' leading returning receiver. Yep, that's just how depleted that unit is. Still, Simpson won't have to learn Bill Musgrave's offensive system from scratch, has built-in rapport already with quarterback Christian Ponder and returns on a low-risk deal with incentive to prove that last season's flop was an unfortunate byproduct of a strange back injury that limited him for a 10-week stretch in midseason. That's what the Vikings are betting on anyway in a risk-reward scenario that makes perfect sense for both sides.
  • (Tuesday morning) A league source has confirmed that tight end John Carlson has done some minor restructuring to his contract, taking a cut in his 2013 base salary, which had been scheduled to be $2.9 million. Carlson was the Vikings' biggest free agent signee in 2012. And he was an even bigger bust than Simpson, catching only eight passes for 43 yards after securing a five-year contract worth $25 million. Like with Simpson, the Vikings weren't ready yet to cut their losses with Carlson by releasing him. So they've tweaked his contract slightly. What it means: The exact details of Carlson's restructuring have not been made available. But one source said it won't change much for the tight end in 2013, where he is still guaranteed more $1.2 million of his base salary and could still make up to $3 million when all is said and done with base salary, workout bonus and incentives. Big picture, this is not a major financial transaction whatsoever, just a reduction in the 2013 base salary that should give the Vikings just a little more salary cap wiggle room.
  • (Monday afternoon) The Vikings have traded standout receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for three draft picks: the No. 25 overall pick and also a seventh-rounder this year plus a third-round selection in 2014. What it means: The Vikings have lost their biggest playmaker from a passing attack that already ranked in the bottom two of the league in production in 2012. The needs at receiver are greater than they’ve ever been. Still, the team received a healthy amount of compensation from Seattle, making it easier to part with a mercurial playmaker whose unhappiness had created a tense and strained relationship.

DEFENSE

  • (Late Thursday) Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, a starter last season, moved on, as expected, signing with the Arizona Cardinals. He had visited the Giants a day earlier. What it means: The Vikings weren't going to keep both Erin Henderson, their starting weak-side linebacker, and Brinkley. Once the team re-signed Henderson to a two-year, $4 million deal on Tuesday, that was it for Brinkley. The Vikings are looking for a three-down playmaker to put in the middle of their defense. Whether that's a young star in the draft (Manti Te'o?) or an aging stopgap star (Brian Urlacher?) remains to be seen. Brinkley was an OK starter, but the Vikings can do better. Brinkley was miscast as the deep middle read defender in the Tampa 2 nickel when Henderson went down with a concussion early in the season. Henderson eventually reclaimed that important role in the nickel, but he's not the best fit there either. Henderson has more upside as a two-down backer on the weak side. Now, it's just a matter of finding that playmaker to plop in the middle.
  • (Tuesday night) Linebacker Erin Henderson will return to the Vikings, re-signed to a two-year deal. Henderson was the sixth player the Vikings re-signed on a busy Tuesday. The organization has yet to sign any outside free agents. What it means: Henderson was one of three Vikings linebackers who hit free agency along with Jasper Brinkley and Marvin Mitchell. Originally acquired as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Henderson has made steady growth during his time in Minnesota. Last season was certainly his best. As the starting weakside linebacker, he tallied 112 tackles according to team stats, plus 10 tackles for loss and three sacks. Henderson finished the season playing as the team's middle linebacker in nickel packages, a role Brinkley had taken over early in the season after Henderson missed two games with a concussion. Whether Henderson can flourish in that role going forward remains to be seen. The Vikings still may target a three-down middle linebacker in the draft. But the Vikings do feel very good about Henderson's potential going forward.
  • (Tuesday afternoon) In a surprise move, the Vikings have released veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, a three-time Pro Bowler and the veteran leader of the Vikings' green secondary. Winfield was due to make $7.25 million in 2013, the final year of his contract, and had expressed interest in playing out his career and finishing his 15th season before hanging it up. What it means: This seems to be a salary dump move more than anything else. The loss of Winfield's presence and knowledge will be immediately obvious on game day's and also, amongst teammates in the locker room and classroom. Winfield's brilliant resurgence in 2012 was a big part of the Vikings' run back to relevance. He contributed 110 tackles, 11 for loss, three interceptions, a fumble recovery and 13 pass deflections. Winfield suffered a hand injury in Week 16 that limited him in the final two games and the playoff loss at Green Bay. But all indications were that he would be back around in 2013 with coach Leslie Frazier making a point at season's end to deliver his endorsement of a Winfield return for a 10th season in Minnesota. "The intangibles," Frazier said, "is a big deal when you're trying to get the locker room the way you want it." Now? At present, the Vikings' cornerback depth is thin with Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton in the fold.
  • (Tuesday evening) Jamarca Sanford -- the ultimate NFL overachiever, special teams standout, capable starter, non-pouty backup if need be and team leader -- tweeted that he has re-signed with the Vikings. What it means: This was expected because, well, Sanford is the poster child for all of the intangibles that GM Rick Spielman looks for in an NFL player. Sanford can start and do well at strong safety or accept a backup role with class if asked to do that. He's one of the league's best special teams players. This is a boost for special teams, secondary depth and the morale boost that Sanford's loud, chatterbox of a mouth provides on all those long, hot days in Mankato.  
  • (Monday night) Have placed the low tender on cornerback A.J. Jefferson, the team's only restricted free agent. Also issued a tender to exclusive rights free agent Marcus Sherels, a back-up cornerback and return specialisty. What it means: The Vikings will play Jefferson $1.323 million for 2013 and have the option to match any offer that another team gives him. If the Vikings choose not to match an offer from another team, they will not receive draft compensation for losing Jefferson. Sherels, meanwhile, will be in line to make $550,000 next season and could again carve out a niche as a reliable return guy. The loss of Harvin has heightened the Vikings' needs in the kick return game.

****

What’s left to do

OFFENSE

  • Determine the future of receiver Devin Aromashodu --> Aromashodu's likely to be on the free agent market for quite some time. Perhaps, when all is said and done, the Vikings opt to bring him back at a deep discount. But Aromashodu's meager two-season totals: 37 catches, 650 yards, one score would seem to indicate the Vikings should move on. 

DEFENSE

  • Determine the future of linebacker Marvin Mitchell --> Mitchell is one of those lower-tier free agents who won't get a sniff until much later in the free agency. The Vikings may opt ultimately to bring him back. But the market will have to play itself out and settle.
  • Continue to pursue free agent options to fortify the secondary.

 

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