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.
Kicker Ryan Longwell has agreed to terms on a four-year contract to return to the Vikings after being on the free-agent market, according to NFL sources.
The veteran won't be able to sign the deal until Friday and can't practice until Aug. 4 because that's when the NFL Players Association will recertify. Longwell's new deal is worth $12 milion and includes a $3.5 million in guarantees.
Longwell, 36, joined the Vikings as a free agent in 2006 after nine seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Last season, he made 17 of 18 field goals and 30 of 31 point-after attempts. Longwell has made 113 of 129 field-goal attempts since joining the Vikings and was 26 of 28 in 2009 as the team went to the NFC title game. With kickoffs being moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line this season Longwell becomes more valuable because his touchbacks will increase.
Longwell is the first of the Vikings' free agents that the team has retained. Given that Longwell signed quickly it's clear the team put a priority on keeping him.
The Vikings also are known to be trying to keep wide receiver Sidney Rice, who has drawn strong interest from Seattle and reportedly also is on the Rams radar. On Tuesday, the Vikings came to terms on an agreement with free-agent wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, who had been with the Chicago Bears.
Starting weak-side linebacker Ben Leber is another of the of the Vikings free agents but he said in a text message this afternoon that there is nothing new to report about his situation. It's also believed that talks have not started with veteran nose tackle Pat Williams, whose chances of returning appeared to increase when Jimmy Kennedy was told he would be released on Thursday.
The Vikings began to clear salary-cap space on Tuesday, informing veteran defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy that he would be let go.
Kennedy, 31, revealed that he would be cut on his Twitter account. "Viking fans, thank you for accepting me as your own, but I'm sorry to inform you I am no longer with the team. I love you guys."
Kennedy actually can't be let go until Thurday afternoon when the waiver period will begin for the 2011 league year. Kennedy joined the Vikings late in 2008 when it looked as if defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams could be suspended for violating the NFL's anti-drug policy in what turned into the StarCaps case.
He played in 13 games, primarily as a backup in 2009, and then was signed to two-year contract before last season. Kennedy, though, appeared in only nine games in 2010 and had little impact on the defense.
The Vikings shave off a $2.5 million cap hit by letting him go. The most recent reports put the Vikings at $4.3 million over the $120 million salary cap.
The decision to jettison Kennedy leaves the Vikings thin at nose tackle, especially if 38-year-old Pat Williams is allowed to leave as a free agent. The Kennedy move could be an indication the Vikings will try to bring back Williams on a one-year deal.
“It definitely was a surprise," Kennedy said when reached on the phone. "I appreciate the opportunity that the Vikings gave me. I think it’s a fantastic organization that allowed me to be Jimmy Kennedy so you go out there and play next to great guys like Jared [Allen], Kevin [Williams] and to learn in year nine, be proud to call myself Pat Williams’ apprentice, was fantastic for me. It definitely was a shock and a surprise [to be released].
"I talked to d-line coach [Karl Dunbar] last night. He was talking positive and everything was great. The conversation today, like literally, we were stunned. I love the team, I love the Vikings. Like I said, I thank God for the opportunity [from the Vikings] to even deal with me and allow me to show my talent and I wish them the best.”
Kennedy was the 12th overall pick in the 2003 draft by the St. Louis Rams but never lived up to expectations. He also has played for Denver, Chicago and Jacksonville.
The Vikings also have informed wide receiver Freddie Brown that he will be released.
Also, as expected, the Vikings have been in talks with the agent for free-agent safety Eric Weddle, who has been with San Diego. However, the talks between David Canter and the Vikings seem to be very exploratory at this point.
Weddle's preference is to remain in San Diego but he recently listed the Vikings, Jacksonville, Dallas and Carolina as potential landing spots if he does leave.
The Vikings will have a long and busy to-do list when the lockout finally ends -- we refuse to make any predictions about when that will be -- including pursuing rookie free agents.
The team has been aggressive in going after undrafted players in previous years and with clubs able to take 90 players to training camp (because of the lockout) there will be plenty of roster spots to fill.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com has compiled a list of the top 13 available undrafted players. Here's that list and four players who might interest the Vikings. (Keep in mind, making the team will be a huge uphill battle for undrafted players given the fact coaches haven't seen their own players or draft picks in several months.)
Kendric Burney, CB, North Carolina: Brandt writes that Burney has good coverage ability and plays well against the run but doesn’t have ideal size for the position. Why a fit? The Vikings drafted Brandon Burton and Mistral Raymond but they learned last season that a team can never have enough cornerbacks. Veteran free agents Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker are expected to leave and Raymond could end up at safety.
Deandre McDaniel, SS, Clemson: Brandt writes that McDaniel had a good 2010, recording a team-best four interceptions but lacks top-notch speed and struggles in man coverage. Why a fit? The Vikings base defense is a Tampa-2, so struggling in man coverage wouldn’t be the end of the world. The Vikings have depth at safety but are looking to improve overall at the position.
Terrence Toliver, WR, LSU: Toliver is 6-foot-4, 214 pounds with 4.59 speed, but Brandt points out that Toliver “tends to be a body catcher, allowing passes to get to his body rather than his hands.” Why a fit? You can’t teach size and the Vikings only drafted one wide receiver in April. That was seventh-round pick Stephen Burton of West Texas A&M.
Ian Williams, DT, Notre Dame: A three-year starter, Brandt notes that Williams is strong and understands leverage but is just an average pass rusher. Why a fit? The Vikings took Iowa defensive tackle Christian Ballard in the fourth round, but the team will be facing some issues with nose tackle Pat Williams potentially leaving as a free agent and 3-technique Kevin Williams possibly suspended for the first four games of the season. Letroy Guion and Jimmy Kennedy would figure to be the starters if Kevin and Pat Williams aren’t around, but adding depth would not be a bad thing.
The Vikings will have a long list of free agents to deal with when the NFL lockout finally does end, but vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said team officials have "a pretty good idea" of the players they want to keep. That such decisions have been made comes as no surprise given the amount of time the Vikings have had to analyze any situation that might happen when the work stoppage is done.
"Our history has been to keep our young guys, especially trying to come out of their first contracts [as well as] get those guys," Spielman said Wednesday while playing in the team's charity golf tournament that benefits the Vikings Children's Fund at Rush Creek in Maple Grove. "I think that’s the top priority and then we’ll kind of see where everything else falls in place. That also depends a lot on what type of [salary] cap number you’re working with, if you’re working with a cap number, and the years. You don’t know anything [about what the rules will be].”
Indeed that is a major issue facing the Vikings and other NFL teams. When the salary cap was in place, players were eligible to become unrestricted free agents after four years of service. Last year, with the salary cap gone and the collective bargaining agreement entering its last year, a player had to have six years of service to become unrestricted.
It remains unclear what the requirement will be for unrestricted free agency under a new CBA, but many expect it will go back to four years.
That would mean the following list of Vikings could hit the open market during what would be a wild free agency period: Nose tackle Pat Williams (14 years of service); kicker Ryan Longwell (14); linebacker Ben Leber (nine); quarterback Patrick Ramsey (nine) cornerback Lito Sheppard (nine); wide receiver Greg Lewis (eight); cornerback Frank Walker (eight); wide receiver Hank Baskett (five); defensive end Ray Edwards (five); defensive tackle Fred Evans (five); offensive lineman Ryan Cook (five); quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (five); fullback Naufahu Tahi (five); safety Eric Frampton (four); and wide receiver Sidney Rice (four).
Linebacker Chad Greenway, a veteran of five seasons, also could join the above list but that will only happen if there is no franchise tag included as part of a new CBA. The Vikings put the franchise designation on Greenway after the 2010 season, meaning he would make about $10 million in 2011.
Going by what Spielman said about keeping younger players, the two names that jump out are Rice and Edwards. Rice had a brilliant 2009 season but he is coming off hip surgery last year and there is a chance that given the Vikings situation at receiver they might be willing to pay him more than some other teams that might be worried about the hip.
As for Edwards, that's an interesting situation. The starting left end for the Vikings has had 16.5 sacks the past two seasons in 30 starts. Edwards, though, has made it clear he does not want to return to the Vikings, going so far as to refer to himself as a "former Viking" in the press releases that have come out while he has been boxing during the lockout.
“I’ve been in this business for over 20 years and players are going to get frustrated and the business side is always going to be frustrating for them," Spielman said when asked about Edwards' situation. "We’ll just see. We don’t know if he’s restricted, unrestricted, what’s going on in that area and if we can sign him or not sign him to a long-term deal."
The Vikings held their annual playground build at Northport Elementary School in Brooklyn Center today. This is always a big event for the organization, but today had a different feel because the players were not involved because of the ongoing NFL lockout.
Vikings players technically could have participated but the organization could not contact them to give details so it wasn't surprising that players were not involved.
We had a chance to talk to Coach Leslie Frazier during the event and he touched on a number of topics:
-- Frazier said the team is still discussing whether to sign a veteran a quarterback to bridge the gap for Christian Ponder. The lockout has cost teams OTAs and minicamps, which is critical work in the development of young players, especially quarterbacks.
"It’s created more discussion amongst us," Frazier said. "We had an idea back in April what direction we wanted to go. In May we thought about some things. Now we’re into June and we’re still discussing what’s the best option for us and for our quarterbacks. What you don’t want to do is put a guy in harm’s way to the point where his confidence is affected for the future. We’ve got some different things we’ve got to talk through and figure out based on when we start football."
Frazier, however, made it clear that if the team signs a veteran quarterback, that guy has to understand the situation and his role.
"In our situation if we were to go that route to bring a veteran in, whatever time that would be, that veteran has to understand how important the chemistry of it is because eventually either Joe [Webb] or Christian is going to be our long-term answer," he said. "So it would have to be the right veteran. It goes beyond just knowing the system and playing in the National Football League because you’re trying to build the right locker room also. There are more dynamics involved than just a fact he’s a veteran quarterback."
-- Frazier joined a number of other head coaches in saying he does not support a brief filed by the NFL Coaches Association with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals several weeks ago expressing support for the players in the labor battle.
"We weren’t contacted by the coaches association," Frazier said. "We’re going to always be supportive of our management. We’ve got great management here in Minnesota. The Wilf family has been terrific to our employees. But no we were not contacted by the coaches association regarding that brief."
Frazier was asked his reaction when he heard about the brief.
"A little surprised, just wondering how that came about," he said. "And wondering why our team wasn’t contacted and just how many teams were contacted. But it really doesn’t in a lot of ways pertain to us because we had no say in it as a staff."
-- Frazier said he hopes veteran nose tackle Pat Williams returns next season. Williams, a free agent, recently said it's "50-50" whether he will return to the Vikings.
"I have great respect for Pat," he said. "I love Pat. He’s been great for my career as a defensive coordinator. You guys know what he’s like in the locker room. He’s a tremendous guy in that regard, a great leader for us. I hope that if he does decide that he definitely wants to play again that it ends up being in Minnesota. I’d love to see him retire as a Viking as opposed to somewhere else."
We'll have more from Frazier online and in the paper later. Have a great weekend.
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