Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
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
In other news …
Yes, yes, we know. All other Vikings news is incredibly minor today in the wake of the Percy Harvin trade, a blockbuster deal that has triggered widespread reaction. But there is other business to tend to. So, a few notables to put on the table …
-- The Vikings have put the low tender on cornerback A.J. Jefferson, the team’s only restricted free agent. With free agency officially set to open Tuesday at 3 p.m., the move puts the Vikings in position to pay Jefferson $1.323 million for 2013 while also giving the team the right to match any other offer Jefferson gets from another organization. If Jefferson is given an offer from another team that the Vikings don’t choose to match, they will not be awarded draft compensation. The 24-year-old cornerback came to the Vikings through a trade with Arizona just before the start of the regular season last summer. He wound up starting seven games, taking on a heightened role after Chris Cook broke his wrist in Week 8.
-- The Vikings have 10 unrestricted free agents due to hit the open market on Tuesday. They are right tackle Phil Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton, linebackers Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson and Marvin Mitchell, safety Jamarca Sanford, receivers Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu and offensive linemen Geoff Schwartz and Joe Berger. Here was our weekend projections on how all of those situations might play out. We’re told the Vikings have heavy interest in bringing Simpson back into the fold for a second season. And the needs at receiver just got a little more dire with the Harvin deal. Simpson has attracted interest from multiple other teams and will have a decision to make. We’re expecting Jerome Felton back as well, though it will be interesting to see if he ultimately makes a cash grab and rewards the highest bidder for his services or if, as expected, he truly values the situation he has found in Minnesota in a run-first, fullback-reliant offense that features league MVP Adrian Peterson.
If only the Internet had come around sooner. If only the popularity of blogs had exploded in the late 1980s so that by the time I got to Lincoln Jr. High in Park Ridge, Ill., in the fall of ‘89 I could have started a site called, say, “JuniorHighChatter.com.”
It would have been perfect, a hub for all the truth mixed with rumor mixed with gossip mixed with analysis that keeps people energized.
(According to a source close to the lunchroom, naturally.)
You’d click on those stories, right? Truths, half-truths, wild speculation.
Who really cares? So long as they are tied to a source and make for interesting conversation and debate, right?
Which brings us to the latest development in the wacky Percy Harvin saga. According to a story published late Thursday by Yahoo! Sports, Harvin almost walked out on the Vikings in late August. Reportedly.
He was apparently upset that New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez – a former teammate at Florida – had his contract reworked and enhanced after just two seasons in the league. According to the story, that infuriated Harvin. Reportedly to the point that he again threatened the Vikings to take better care of him or else.
So what we have now is a story that’s difficult to verify yet can’t really be disproven. After all, it’s difficult to pin down for certain whether Harvin’s threat really occurred? And if it did, was it the equivalent of an 8-year-old threatening to run away because he didn’t get ice cream after dinner? Or more was it more pronounced and legitimate than that?
Overall, what the latest batch of Harvin chatter has confirmed is that this situation needs resolution sooner than later. If only to keep the carousel of vague, anonymous-sourced reports from mushrooming further and overcrowding the NFL offseason’s hyperventilation chamber.
This isn’t to say Harvin hasn’t ever been a headache for the Vikings. He has. And we can all acknowledge that the 24-year-old receiver is often moody, has a fiery temper and occasionally lets his petulance steal the spotlight away from his tremendous football talent. There’s documented evidence of all that from his high school days in Virginia to his college career at Florida to his time with the Vikings.
But it’s also wise to process all Harvin stories at this stage of the NFL calendar with some deeper thought. Why, for example, would Harvin’s threat to leave the team seven months ago just now be surfacing – coincidentally at a point in the year where potential trade talks for the receiver might be heating up?
Might the source who relayed this information have an agenda to push, trying to manipulate the Harvin story arc in a way most beneficial to his/her cause?
If the Vikings are seeking to trade Harvin, it’s a deal they might want to complete before the free agent market opens Tuesday. So why would they leak information to the media that Harvin is an anxious malcontent who’s apparently seeking a mega-bucks contract in line with the eight-year, $132 deal that Detroit’s Calvin Johnson finalized last year?
Wouldn’t information like that significantly hurt Harvin’s trade value?
So then is it possible the source of these claims is with another team deliberately attempting to drive down that trade value?
To make things even more complicated, other conspiracy theorists suggest that maybe it is indeed the Vikings leaking the anti-Harvin sentiments, trying to scare away potential trade suitors, preferring instead to keep the receiver around for the final year of his deal. After all, the root of this drama seems to begin more with Harvin wanting out of Minnesota than with the Vikings wanting to get rid of him.
Furthermore, the timeline of Harvin’s alleged blow-up over Hernandez’s contract doesn’t make a ton of sense. Yes, he had a highly-publicized tantrum during the team’s mini-camp last June, requesting a trade. But Harvin quickly came down off that demand, reported to training camp on time a month later and wasn’t a problem at all during the team’s three-week stay in Mankato.
When Hernandez got his contract extension on Aug. 27, the Vikings were deep into the preseason preparing for their final preseason game in Houston and Harvin had worked himself into position to deliver the best stretch of his career at the start of the 2012 regular season.
Over the first eight games, he caught 60 passes for 667 yards. He scored touchdowns as a receiver, as a running back and as a kick returner. He was lauded as an MVP frontrunner and showed few signs of being a locker room stressor.
Especially with the Vikings off to a surprising 5-3 start.
But now? What’s next? Who knows?
Publicly, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has carefully stated he has “no intent” on trading Percy Harvin. Though Spielman has never gone on record to say that he won’t make such a trade.
Publicly, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has stated that he remains a big fan of Harvin and has expressed to the star receiver that he wants him back around.
Publicly, Harvin has said nothing. He hasn’t spoken to reporters since Nov. 21. That was in the locker room at Winter Park, 17 days after he had severely sprained his ankle in a Week 9 loss in Seattle. Harvin said that afternoon he was making good progress with his ankle rehabilitation and would definitely be back at practice.
He wasn’t able to make good on that vow. Not that day. And not for the team’s next six practices either.
Harvin was put on injured reserve Dec. 5. And with that, poof! He vanished from the team’s facility for the rest of the season and hasn’t been heard from since. The strange dynamic of the whole situation, of the I.R. decision, of Harvin’s separation from his teammates during an inspired late-season run has done nothing but create confusion. Harvin’s own silence exacerbates the mystery.
For now, the developments in this drama seemingly exist in a vacuum. And attempts to connect the dots have only surfaced through periodic reports that are themselves difficult to decipher or verify.
After Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o participated in his highly anticipated NFL Combine press conference Sunday, we brought you a recap of the poise and grace he showed in continuing to explain through and move on from his bizarre fake girlfriend hoax.
Saturday’s appearance in the Lucas Oil Stadium interview room marked Te’o’s first appearance in front of a media swarm since the controversy broke last month. He had previously done lengthy one-on-one interviews with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap and ABC’s Katie Couric.
Yet if the complexities of the Te’o scandal were far too intricate to fully understand after Schaap’s 2.5-hour grilling and another hour-long session with Couric – not to mention the two-day Dr. Phil special with admitted hoax perpetrator, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo – then Saturday’s 14-minute session at the combine certainly wasn’t going to provide final resolution to everything.
You can read all of what Te’o said Saturday in Indianapolis right here.
But what also should be made clear is that while the star linebacker’s participation at the combine will certainly move his story forward, there is plenty more NFL teams will be digging for and trying to learn about his controversy, his mental make-up, his maturity and, yes, his football ability before April’s draft.
On Monday, Te’o participated in athletic testing at the combine. His results:
40-yard dash: 4.82 seconds
Broad jump: 113 inches
Vertical leap: 33 inches
Three-cone drill: 7.13 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4,27 seconds
Bench press: Did not participate due to a right shoulder injury
After that, for those teams who remain interested in Te’o as a prospect, the private interviews in the weeks ahead will be vital.
As Te’o departs the combine, here’s a reminder of what many NFL folks have been saying about his situation.
Leslie Frazier, Vikings head coach
"Probably like everybody, you want to hear from him, what exactly went on. I'm looking forward to sitting down and talking with him … just to get to know him as a person, just to get a feel for would he fit on our football team. I think he's a very good football player from what our scouts have told me. I haven't had a chance to watch him on tape yet. It's a matter of can he fit our locker room, can he fit our football team and what would his role be?”
Rick Spielman, Vikings GM
“It’s not like anything else we don’t do. You gather all the information you can. I did watch Dr. Phil for the first time in my life [a few weeks back]. Which was interesting. I was like, ‘This guy makes a living?’ Maybe we should hire him to come down. We might need some of that. I did watch those interviews, with that other person [Tuiasosopo]. But all we do is gather all the information, and you go through your process to make the determination. … In the end, you’ll sit there and discuss all that. Every team will make their own determination. How do you compare what happened to him, because he’s an extremely talented football player, against a guy who may have a drug issue or may have an arrest record or may have some other off-field issue? Everybody’s going to have their difference of opinion. We’ll go through that process as well. … We know some things that have not been reported in the media. I’ll say that.”
Gil Brandt, former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys
“Teams will bring him in for visits. And I’d bet there will be upward of 15 teams wanting to get him to their facility. And what I’d want to use that time for is to have somebody who understands those kinds of things more than I do. So you’re going to want to have somebody from your psychological evaluation department who’s versed on these kinds of things take a look at it. And you want them to dig into the situation and tell you, ‘Hey, this guy is a fraud.’ Or ‘This guy is truthful.’ And as I’ve said myself, I don’t think he’s a fraud. I think he’s a truthful guy. But I’ll also tell you what, when all this first came out, I had no idea what to think. Because nothing like this has ever happened before. That’s why it’s so interesting.”
Ron Rivera, Panthers head coach
“If he can handle that distraction and still be able to perform on the football field, I really don't think it makes that much of a difference. Whatever happened is a set of circumstances that he only he really knows what it was all about. We'll talk about it. We'll find out about it. The bottom line is, is he a good person and can he play football? That's probably the most important thing that he'll have to answer. I don't think it's going to hurt his draft stock. He's coming here to improve his draft stock. I do think he's a heck of a football player and I think he's got a bright future in this league.”
Les Snead, Rams general manager
“That issue is not, ‘Life's over.’ He's 21. Life ends at maybe 80. He's got a lot of healthy years left.”
Mike Mayock, NFL Network draft expert and NBC color commentator for Notre Dame games
“You better look people in the eye. And I know you're going to be embarrassed and I know it's going to be uncomfortable. All the way up through the draft, it's not going to be a comfortable situation for this kid. But don't be embarrassed. I think he's a good kid, and I think he made a mistake, and he's naive and all that stuff. But don't back away. Look people in the eye, tell them your story, and let the tape do the talking for you. … I think there are two schools of thought. One is most of us have made mistakes at age 21, and the kid's naive, and it's embarrassing. But it shouldn't really hurt the kid because it's not like one of those major things where you say we can't have him on our team. Some other teams are going to look at him and say he lied to his father. He had a chance when he found out about what really happened, he had a chance to tell the nation, and he lied to the nation. And do you want a liar in your locker room? … At the end of the day what I think happens is that up until is that story became public, he had a plus, plus, plus intangible grade. Was he going to become Ray Lewis, a guy who could really galvanize a locker room? He had a huge intangible grade that would push his on‑the‑field grade higher. But I think he's lost all of that. At best, it's now going to be neutral. So now it’s just, hey, what kind of player you are, and where can we slot you? “
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