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 Antoine Winfield

Antoine Winfield released as opening of free agency nears

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 12, 2013 - 1:50 PM

Antoine Winfield's 15th NFL season won't come in Minnesota. 

The Vikings have released the sure-tackling cornerback and locker room leader as the 3 p.m. opening bell for free agency closes in, an NFL source has confirmed.

Winfield, who turns 36 on June 24, was the 23rd overall pick of the Bills in 1999. He played five seasons in Buffalo before joining the Vikings in 2004. He went on to become arguably the best unrestricted free agent acquisition in teams history over the next nine seasons.

Winfield was due to make $7.25 million in the final year of his current contract. Although his age didn't mesh with the team's youth movement, Winfield was expected to finish out his contract, serving as both a veteran presence and one of the team's best defensive players. 

Winfield was not willing to take a pay cut this season, which could have been a factor in today's decision.

What the Vikings do with the extra cap room -- they're roughly $20 million under the cap -- remains to be seen. They've re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson, but are still in the market for a No. 1 receiver. The Vikings aren't expected to chase after UFA receiver Mike Wallace, who is expected to get $11 million a year or more. Then again, the Vikings weren't expected to release Winfield. So hang on. This ride could get even wilder before it ends.

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.

 

Questions continue to loom about Harvin's future as a Viking

Posted by: Updated: February 10, 2013 - 6:12 PM

Last year, around this time, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier kept hearing about Percy Harvin.

First, while coaching the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and later at the 2012 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Frazier was repeatedly approached by opposing coaches, who in casual conversation just kept mentioning how much of a headache it was to defend Harvin.

The energetic slot receiver was just so slippery, so dynamic, so explosive.

The more Frazier heard from peers and foes about the stress Harvin could cause an opposing defense, the more he realized Harvin had to become an even bigger cog in the Vikings’ attack.  And so plans were tweaked, Harvin’s role was enhanced and for eight games in 2012, the explosive playmaker did a little bit of everything.

He took bubble screens and short quick-hit passes and turned them into big gains. He lined up in the backfield and displayed his demolition derby style as a running back. He lobbied for more action on special teams and continued to be one of the league’s most electrifying return men, evidenced best by his 105-yard score in Week 4 in Detroit.

At the season’s midpoint, Harvin was the Vikings star being propped up as a league MVP candidate, not Adrian Peterson. Harvin was the one who seemed more responsible for the team’s 5-3 start, amassing a league-best 60 catches and totaling 739 yards from scrimmage with five total touchdowns mixed in. (Peterson, for the record, had 914 yards from scrimmage and four TDs after eight games.)

But now? Well, now all that Percy Harvin feel-good has been snowed under by a blizzard of Percy Harvin confusion. Most significantly: the question on whether Harvin will remain a Viking in 2013 and beyond cannot be answered definitively, fueling a new wave of speculation that he may soon be traded.\

To be clear, this uncertainty and these rumors have existed for a while now, even if they are just now mushrooming and making bigger headlines nationally. But much of the outside conjecture is justified as the Vikings coaching staff and front office continues keep the details of Harvin’s saga very, very private.

Percy Harvin? On the trading block? Could it be?

Yes. Yes, it could be.

OFFERS WELCOME

When the Vikings head back to the Combine next week, you can bet they’ll cast a few Harvin-baited hooks into the waters and see if there are any nibbles. And with the 24-year-old playmaker heading into the final year of his rookie deal, now may be a practical time to pull the trigger.

After all, keeping Harvin happy in Minnesota in 2013 would likely require a lucrative long-term contract extension. And with the durability and personality question marks that are in permanent ink in Harvin’s evaluation file, the Vikings have to measure the risk-reward of investing in Harvin long-term versus dealing him for a few choice draft picks.

Are Harvin’s game-changing skills so valuable that they mitigate the ever-present worry that his moodiness may one day grow too toxic for a team looking to fuel its rise with low-maintenance, drama-free players? That’s what the Vikings must decide. And that decision is only complicated by the market value Harvin now has at a position where salaries are quickly escalating.

Publicly, neither Frazier nor General Manager Rick Spielman would benefit from openly declaring Harvin up for auction. But you can bet the Vikings will be listening to interested suitors at the combine, perhaps ready to move away from the dangerous temper wick attached to Harvin’s toughness, speed and elusiveness.

The abrupt end to Harvin’s 2012 season still registers as strange. Yes, there was the severe left ankle sprain Harvin suffered in the second half of a Week 9 loss in Seattle. And that was followed by a four-and-a-half-week stretch in which, despite a calculated combination of rest and rehabilitation, Harvin’s ankle just never improved enough for him to get back on the field. So the Vikings insist the decision to end Harvin’s season with a move to Injured Reserve on the Wednesday of Week 14 was purely protective, a decision to keep the always aggressive receiver from pursuing a return to action in a way that could endanger his long-term health.

But along with that plausible explanation comes the inevitable follow-up questions, the ones the Vikings never really did answer head-on: If the injury was the only thing being evaluated, then was it really a practical move to end Harvin’s season on Dec. 5, in the middle of a playoff push, with four regular games left? It was, after all just an ankle sprain. And wasn’t it peculiar that Harvin’s injury never required surgery and that the Vikings’ played their playoff game at Lambeau Field 62 days after the receiver sprained that ankle?

Seems only fair to wonder if Harvin might have been able to play in that contest.

And so the mystery looms, heightened even further when you think back to the awkwardness Frazier displayed on the podium at Winter Park hours before the Harvin-to-I.R. move was rubber-stamped.

Asked directly if there were issues beyond the ankle injury that were contributing to Harvin’s absence, Frazier paused and squirmed for a moment.

“You know, it’s …” Frazier said. “I know that he wants to win like we do. And I’m sure he’s going to do everything he can to do what he has to do to help our football team.

“We’ll see where it goes.”

READ BETWEEN THE LINES

Meanwhile, if you want direct and honest answers from the Vikings head coach and GM on their Harvin feelings? Sorry. That’s not going to happen. But here is what we can tell you about what Frazier and Spielman have said about Harvin since the Vikings’ season ended with a playoff loss in Green Bay last month.

First, there was Frazier’s insistence that Harvin’s odd disappearance from the team in December was no big deal and a firm declaration that the mercurial receiver “will coexist peacefully” within the organization going forward.

“He exists peacefully now,” Frazier said.

Sometime last month, Harvin finally returned to Winter Park for a mandatory exit physical. And here is how Frazier summarized his most recent conversation with Harvin.

“I told him how much I love him and want him to be a part of our team,” Frazier told KFAN’s Dan Barreiro in a Feb. 3 interview. “And all those things that he hears in questions that are asked to me about his future in Minnesota, I mean I want him to play for our team. I don’t want him to play for anyone else. And I tried to put that to rest with him. So he’s clear on how I feel. And we have great respect for one another and hope that things will be great next season.”

As for Spielman? In his season-ending gathering with local reporters, he denied that the team had concerns about Harvin’s attitude, saying flat out: “We have no issues with Percy Harvin.”

Which, of course, is exactly what a GM would say if a) he really had no issues with Harvin; or b) if he was being careful to minimize and hide any such problems so as not to scare off potential trade partners or reduce Harvin’s trade value.

You can see why the opening for conspiracy theories and speculation continues to open wide. And so, if you choose, you can be the one that reads between the lines on everything Spielman says. Like when he told KFAN’s Paul Allen in a radio interview Friday that he would love a scenario in which the Vikings went into April’s draft armed with 10 or 11 picks.

Wait … But … The Vikings only have eight selections at present. So Spielman had to have up something big in mind with that insinuation, right?

And how about the sudden silliness that sprung up Sunday when the Vikings’ 2013 season ticket poster was noted for having five standouts featured: Peterson and Jared Allen and Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield and Christian Ponder.

No Harvin? That, the conspiracy theorists will argue, also has to mean something.

So yep, this is where a complicated situation can too often become overwhelmed with gossip and innuendo.

WHAT'S NEXT?

With well-rehearsed talking points, the Vikings continue to publicly discuss Harvin by expressing everything you already knew. That Harvin is a good football player. A blue-chip player in fact. And that he’s under contract for one more season. And then when paired with Peterson, he gives the Vikings two big-play threats that makes the Vikings offense very, very dangerous.

It’s also worth noting that commitment is a two-way street. So even if the Vikings were fully intent on finding a way to make things work with Harvin long-term, the receiver himself would have to reciprocate such interest.

And given that Harvin hasn’t done an interview in nearly three months, it’s hard to know what exactly he’s thinking about all this.

Instead, the soap opera continues, Harvin’s future as a Vikings as iffy as ever,

Vikings 2013 look ahead: Secondary

Posted by: Updated: January 19, 2013 - 8:24 AM

The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the defensive backfield.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Get excited: In his rookie season, safety Harrison Smith proved to be a legitimate difference maker. He was not only able to deliver the big hits on a regular basis but also frequently contributed the big play. Smith returned two interceptions for touchdowns – a 31-yarder against Arizona in Week 7 and a 56-yarder versus Chicago seven weeks later. Both of those pick-sixes came in 21-14 Vikings victories, in games in which Christian Ponder threw for fewer than 100 yards with the defense, consequentially, needing to deliver a game-changing play. Smith also had a hand in hand breaking up two passes that would have been Calvin Johnson touchdown catches in Week 4. The Vikings beat the Lions 20-13 in that game.

And just like that you can see how an upstart and hungry team saw its win total balloon to 10 in 2012. Quite simply, players like Smith delivered clutch contributions.

No, we’re not classifying Smith as the next Ronnie Lott or Troy Polamalu. He had tackling lapses at times and still has plenty of room to continue developing. But what the Vikings loved most about Smith heading into last spring’s draft – his knack for understanding the defense and routinely being in the right spot at the right time – showed up throughout the season.

For his size, Smith also moves with notable quickness and fluidity and he quickly earned the unabashed respect of the rest of the veterans on the defense.

Keep an eye on: When Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield are at full strength and on the field together, the Vikings’ secondary has an added edge. Even at 35, Winfield showed he can still be an impact corner, extraordinary in run support and capable of steadying the secondary overall. And Cook seems to have all the physical tools to be a valuable outside starter for years to come.

But then there’s this: over the past three seasons, Cook and Winfield have both started and finished only 22 regular season games together.

Cook has missed 26 games in his first three NFL seasons with a broken arm sidelining him for six contests this past season. As much potential as he has, staying available has been a major problem to this point and something the Vikings will need to keep tabs on as Cook enters the final year of his rookie deal.

As for Winfield? Head coach Leslie Frazier has made it very clear he’d love to have Winfield back in the mix in 2013, wanting to utilize his intelligence and leadership in a young secondary for as long as possible.

Winfield is one of the most adored and respected veterans in the locker room. As safety Mistral Raymond said at season’s end, “He’s probably one of the most talented guys I’ve ever been around. He’s smart. His heart is in it. Personally I hope he’ll be here next year. I’m hoping he’ll be here as long as he wants.”

Following the playoff loss in Green Bay earlier this month, Winfield vowed to return for a 15th NFL season. Still, even with that objective, you get the sense he hasn’t fully locked in his commitment to give things one last go-‘round.

“There are some things, of course, he wants to think about this offseason,” Frazier said. “But all indications are he wants to give it another try.”

Reason for worry: It sure seemed like the Vikings’ pass defense was worlds better in 2012 than it was in 2011. And statistically, they were improved across the board. But they were still a bottom-10 defense against the pass, allowing 244.2 yards per game, only 7 yards fewer than the 2011 defense surrendered. Quarterbacks also completed 63.9 percent of their passes against the Vikings this season, throwing 28 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

And even for the progress safeties Jamarca Sanford and Raymond made, the Vikings will need greater production from both players in 2013. Otherwise, Robert Blanton may quickly climb the depth chart.

Furthermore, given Winfield’s age plus Cook’s durability/availability issues, more will also be needed from cornerbacks A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson. Don’t be surprised if General Manager Rick Spielman eyes a few secondary upgrades in the draft and free agency.

Frazier leaves door open to changes at Nos. 2-3 QB positions

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: January 8, 2013 - 2:11 PM

Once again, Leslie Frazier's support of quarterback Christian Ponder was unwavering.

"He's our starter," the Vikings head coach said today during his final press conference of the 2013 season.

As for the team's plans for No. 2 QB Joe Webb and No. 3 QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, well, the support from the top of the Purple coaching tree was polite, but far from unwavering.

"[Webb will] be a guy that will compete for the No. 2 spot again next year, barring something that we may end up doing in our personnel meetings," Frazier said. "But we'll discuss Joe's position and everyone's position in our personnel meetings and then we'll make a decision what's best."

Asked about Bethel-Thompson's status as the No. 3 QB and the possibility that a veteran could be brought in to be the the No. 2 while Webb fills the No. 3 job, Frazier said, "It's so hard to say just two days after our season. ... Our roster is going to change. All of us in this building who've been around this league as long as we have know that. It's hard today to say that Bethel's going to be No. 3 until we see how the roster unfolds."

Webb played only three snaps during the regular season and didn't attempt a pass. Bethel-Thompson was inactive for all 16 games. But they moved up the pecking order when deep bruising on the triceps and elbow of Ponder's throwing arm kept him from playing in Saturday night's 24-10 wild-card playoff loss at Green Bay.

Webb played the whole game and was, well, awful. Trailing the Packers 24-3 after three quarters, Webb had completed 7 of 20 passes for 61 yards, an interception and a 23.1 passer rating.

"Yeah, it was a tough day for Joe," Frazier said. "Tough day all the way around. Put in a tough situation having to go start a playoff game in that environment against a good football team. We still have a lot of confidence in Joe. We understand the circumstances he played in."

Meanwhile, Frazier was clear-cut in his feelings about Ponder being the team's long-term answer at quarterback.

"We're excited about his progress," Frazier said. "The way he played down the stretch, he was great. He had a lot to do with us winning those last four games the way we did. It's unfortunate he wasn't able to play that last ballgame up at Lambeau. He wanted to play. He tried everything he could to get on the field. It just wouldn't have been a wise decision to put him out there with the injury that he had. Just didn't get the flexion back in that tricep. But he did everything in his powers to get out there. His rehab, his work ethic was tremendous. So we're pleased with the progress that he's made.

"We saw glimpses of what he can bring to our football team and the way he led us down the stretch, you feel like you've got a chance to win every game when your quarterback plays the way he played. So we're excited about his development and looking forward to him getting better this offseason."

Kluwe to have surgery on left knee: Punter Chris Kluwe, who spent several weeks on the injury report with a left knee injury, will have surgery to repair the meniscus, Frazier said. Defensive end Jared Allen will have shoulder surgery after the Pro Bowl. Special teamer Tyrone McKenzie (shoulder), cornerback Antoine Winfield (hand) and quarterback Christian Ponder (right triceps, elbow) won't require surgery, while running back Adrian Peterson's abdominal injury will be evaluated after the Pro Bowl. Peterson battled the injury down the stretch and left the Houston game early with it , but only after the Vikings had full control of the game. 

Singletary, Priefer to interview with the Bears:  Frazier confirmed reports that linebackers coach and special assistant to the head coach Mike Singletary and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are among the 13 candidates who have been asked to interview for the Bears' vacant head coaching position. Singletary, who played his Hall of Fame career in Chicago, and Priefer, whose NFL coaching career began in 2002 in Jacksonville, joined the Vikings in 2011. Singletary was the 49ers' head coach from the final nine games in 2008 until the 15th game of the 2010 season.

Frazier said he would  like to keep this year's coaching staff intact for next season.

"I mentioned earlier that our coaches did a great job getting our players ready to play every week," he said. "Barring someone getting a promotion, I'm hoping all our guys are back. They did a terrific job throughout the season."

Evaluating the season: Frazier obviously was disappointed to see the season end after the first round of the playoffs. But he's also encouraged because, well, you know, all the rest of us thought they'd win six games, max.

"The foundation has really been set for our team without question," Frazier said. "Our core identity showed up. The traits that we talked about throughout the year, about being a tough, smart, disciplined football team were exemplified through this group of young men."

What about that contract extension, Leslie?: Frazier, whose contract expires after next season, is expected to receive an extension soon. Asked if he's talked to ownership about a contract extension, he said: "I haven’t had a chance to talk with them at this point. These last 48 hours in the building have been meeting with players and talking with them about the future and so on, and some other things in their lives. But eventually we will talk and not worried about it. Things will work out just fine. Not worried at all."

Asked if his agent, Bob Lamonte, has spoken with ownership, Frazier said: "Not at this point. But we will have those discussions.”

Asked if he's gotten any indication from ownership about what will happen with his contract, Frazier said, "I’ve been told a number of times from Mark and Zygi and Rick they are pleased with the job we’ve done this season a number of times. I’m very appreciative of their support throughout the year. Very appreciative.”

 

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