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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, all that Percy Harvin speculation came to a head in a big way Monday with the Vikings pulling the trigger on a trade and sending the dynamic 24-year-old receiver to Seattle in exchange for three draft picks: a first-rounder and a seventh-rounder this year and a third-rounder in 2014.
Still, even if General Manager Rick Spielman has a master plan to push the Vikings closer toward championship contention, a roster full of players is still awaiting a full explanation on why the Harvin trade was made.
League MVP Adrian Peterson took to Twitter to vent.
“The best all around player I ever seen or you'll ever see! Goes to Seattle! I feel like I just got kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!” Peterson wrote. “I wish my boy Percy nothing but success! God bless you homie.”
Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams also took time out Monday to speak with the Star Tribune, sharing his candid thoughts on the deal.
On his initial reaction to the trade …
“I mean I wasn’t exactly celebrating when I heard about the deal. I wouldn’t say that I’m disappointed. But I mean, when you look at it on the surface, you say to yourself ‘Why in the world would we do this?’ It’s a situation where you never want to be going backwards or feel like you are. I guess we’ll see what we get in the draft or maybe even free agency. But that’s a crapshoot when you’re trying to make up for a guy as proven as Percy.”
On letting the news sink in …
“With losing a player like Percy, initially it’s always going to seem like a bad thing. But if we’re able to get somebody who’s really good in the draft, it can become a good thing. You wait and see. You have to. But that initial first look, makes you take a step back and go. ‘Man, why did we do this?’ At the same time, it’s a business and you have to understand that.”
On losing a top playmaker so late in his career …
“It’s tough. Because you look at our situation when we go 3-13 a couple years ago and 6-10 the year before that. Then we have such a good year last year and it seems like we’re in good shape. I still wish Percy could have finished the season. He could have helped us. But other things happened and we still ended up doing well when he was out. But he could have been another weapon down the stretch for us. And so you have to now look at a situation where you’re waiting to see what’s next. Like I say, it’s a crapshoot depending on what we get out of this draft. I’ll have to see what the compensation is that can help us try to make up for this.”
On the reaction amongst teammates when Harvin left the team after being placed on injured reserve in Week 14 …
“I wouldn’t say it bothered me. Because I don’t know what all what went on. And I couldn’t say for sure what the relationship was like between him and the coaching staff and management. We just don’t know what that situation was about. I don’t know what his reason was for taking off. I just know that he was gone. And that’s the way it was left. Nobody every just came out and explained it to us, like, ‘Hey, he left for A, B, C and D.’ So I don’t know what that relationship turned into. Was there something talked about? Was there a big problem? Or did he just leave? None of us really knew. I’m pretty sure it was addressed and we never got a clear answer on that. At all.”
On Harvin’s reputation as a hot-tempered problem child and whether that gets blown out of proportion …
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