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.
Good news for Vikings star Jared Allen: he no longer has to worry about being swallowed up by the Madden curse.
This year, EA Sports is using a bracket format and fan voting to determine which player will be put on the cover of its "Madden '13" NFL video game. In the first round of the tournament, Allen cruised past Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, winning 58 percent of the vote in that head-to-head matchup.
But in the Sweet 16, Allen was handily beaten by New England tight end Rob Gronkowski -- 65 percent to 35 percent. Gronkowski guaranteed such a destruction, channeling his inner-Gallagher and smashing a watermelon which he said represented Allen.
Gronk, who just might have been seperated at birth from Ronnie of MTV's "Jersey Shore", now moves on to the Elite Eight of the Madden cover vote bracket where he'll next take on Detroit's Calvin Johnson.
The other three quarterfinal matchups: Aaron Rodgers vs. Ray Rice; Cam Newton vs. Larry Fitzgerald; and Patrick Willis vs. Victor Cruz.
As for Allen, this is one loss he might actually be celebrating. After all, appearing on the cover of Madden might seem like an honor. In truth, it's a trap door into misfortune. Some of the more notable victims of the Madden curse:
2001 (Madden '02 cover) - Daunte Culpepper suffered a career-altering knee injury.
2002 (Madden '03 cover) - Marshall Faulk was bothered by an ankle injury and struggled through an unproductive year.
2003 (Madden '04 cover) - Michael Vick broke his leg in the preseason.
2005 (Madden '06 cover) - Donovan McNabb suffered a sports hernia early in the season, struggled to play with it and later went on the shelf for the final seven games of the season.
2006 (Madden '07 cover) - Shaun Alexander suffered a broken foot early in the season.
2007 (Madden '08 cover) - Vince Young went down with a quadriceps injury.
2008 (Madden '09 cover) - Brett Favre led the New York Jets to an 8-3 start then faltered down the stretch, his shoulder pain contributing to the Jets' four losses in the final five games.
2009 (Madden '10 cover) - Troy Polamalu suffered a sprained MCL in the Steelers' season opener and missed 11 games.
2011 (Madden '12 cover) - Peyton Hillis was banged up all season, missed six games and rushed for 587 yards, less than half of what he totaled in 2010.
So, yeah, maybe it's best for Allen the way this has worked out. And just for the record, two NFC North superstars are still alive in the Madden bracket. For whatever that's worth.
It seemed a little odd at the time when the Vikings announced Letroy Guion's move to nose tackle and then also re-signed backup nose tackle Fred Evans.
Not anymore. Not after the NFL just lowered the first round of booms on the Saints for their involvement in a bounty program.
Head coach Sean Payton will be suspended without pay for a year beginning April 1. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the current Rams defensive coordinator who admitted to orchestrating the program, has been suspended indefinitely. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been suspended for the first six games of this season. GM Mickey Loomis is out for the first eight games. And the team was fined $500 K and docked second-round picks in 2012 and 2013.
That pretty much assures everyone that the NFL will never see another bounty program.
Meanwhile, the NFL Players Association has formally requested that the league hold off on disciplining the 22 to 27 players it cited until after the NFLPA has had a chance to complete its own investigation.
Vikings nose tackle Remi Ayodele was with the Saints when they beat the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010. That, as we all know, was the game in which linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered 10 grand to anyone who could knock Brett Favre out of the game.
Ayodele joined the Vikings before the 2011 season and was unproductive. He was a starter, but had a limited role, finishing with 15 tackles.
With Guion moving over to nose and Evans providing extra interior depth along with Christian Ballard, the Vikings seem to have prepared themselves for life without Remi.
While taking a breath in this free-agent
yawner frenzy ...
Funny how things change in a year.
A year ago, the Seahawks needed a quarterback. They signed Tarvaris Jackson, who had spent his first five NFL seasons either struggling and/or being shoved aside to make room for Brett Favre's post-Mankato arrivals.
When the Seahawks nabbed T-Jack, Seattle GM John Schneider gave an interview to Yahoo! that slammed a big old club right over former Vikings coach Brad Childress, who hooked T-Jack in 2006, but was too stubborn to throw him back when he started to stink up the boat.
"He has not been in a good situation," Schneider said at the time. "He's been jerked around. We wanted to put him in a stable situation."
Schneider also said, "He's 28 years old, and quite frankly, was ..." um, well, "... on for four years."
Schneider later apologized to the Vikings. As free agency unfolds this year, one has to think that somewhere in Northeast Ohio, Childress, the Browns new offensive coordinator, is enjoying what's going on in Seattle this spring.
One of the more fascinating non-Peyton transactions of the spring is Seattle's signing of quarterback Matt Flynn, who got a three-year deal that will pay him $13 million for each of the two NFL starts he now has on his resume.
So, yes, the team that said the Vikings jerked T-Jack around by signing Brett Favre went out and got its own former Packer -- albeit one with about 300 or so fewer starts. By the way, the Seahawks also tried to sign Manning as well, which is further evidence that teams trying to groom Tarvaris are usually going to be teams looking to replace Tarvaris.
The Seahawks say Flynn and Jackson will compete for the job. But something tells me if this were a 40-yard dash, Flynn would be starting on the 33-yard line.
A year after ripping the Vikings for jerking Jackson around, Schneider might want to thank them for helping Jackson deal with what appears to be the backup to a guy with two starts.
The concurrent news that the Vikings and Bears made in the past 50 minutes or so kind of tells you where the two teams are in their process to reach the top of the NFC North and legitimately contend for a Super Bowl title.
The Bears went into the start of the new league year with an elite QB -- finally -- in Jay Cutler and a team that needed a No. 1 receiver desperately. With all eyes focused on the Bears possibly adding Vincent Jackson via free agency, Chicago pulled a much more impressive move by virtually robbing the Dolphins of Brandon Marshall for two third-round draft picks. Marshall reunites with Cutler, whom he has a great relationship with.
Meanwhile, the Vikings re-signed backup defensive tackle Letroy Guion for three years. While that move obviously falls miles short of the Marshall trade, it's a good transaction for a team that much remain patient as it rebuilds with young players.
Guion showed a lot of promise in 2010 before taking a step back in 2011. But he's still a promising 24-year-old guy who has the skill to share snaps with a declining Kevin Williams and eventually replace Williams.
When judging free agency, it's important to keep an eye on a team's window of opportunity as much as its salary cap room. When the Vikings' window of opportunity was slim, they signed Brett Favre in 2009 and gave him a pay bump to return in 2010.
The Bears are now that team that feels its time is now. Meanwhile, Marshall's arrival in the NFC North further magnifies that the Vikings' No. 1 need is, without a doubt, cornerback.
Turns out the big winner of the Donovan McNabb-Vikings experiment is ... Sage Rosenfels.
Rosenfels, who returned to Minnesota in early December last year, a few days after the Vikings put McNabb on waivers, has now carved out a niche as a reliable veteran back-up quarterback. With free agency opening Tuesday, the Vikings took no chances in letting Rosenfels get away and have now agreed to a new contract.
Details of the new deal have yet to surface.
Still, it puts the 34-year-old Rosenfels in position to head to training camp this summer as the Vikings' No. 3 signal caller behind Christian Ponder and Joe Webb.The Vikings believe Rosenfels' presence will be a plus and he should provide leadership that will help steady Ponder and Webb.
Rosenfels has spent 11 seasons in the NFL but hasn't thrown a pass since December 2008 when with the Houston Texans.
Rosenfels' first stint with the Vikings began in 2009 when he was brought to Winter Park to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting quarterback job. But eventually Brett Favre later rode into town and altered the script dramatically. Rosenfels never played in '09 and left to join the Giants for the 2010 season.
He was with Miami early last season but was eventually waived with the Vikings swooping in to land him as their No. 3 quarterback after McNabb's exit.
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