Friday, March 30, 2012

The Vikings Weekly Wrap – March 30th edition

Where Kick Ass Blog discusses some of the more relevant stories that broke this week when it comes to the Vikings.

Leslie Frazier opens up
After watching Leslie Frazier coach the Vikings for 22 regular season games, I don't think Minnesota has another Bud Grant in the midst. But one thing Frazier is world-class at is saying a lot without saying much of substance.

It's boring, but I understand why he does it. He probably looks at New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan and says to himself, 'I don't want to be like that fat fuck, making verbal bets I can't cash, giving opponents billboard material, and pissing off some of my players and coaching staff.' So Frazier is friendly with the media and approachable, but he's not going to tell you much - about strategy, about personnel, about anything, really.

Which is why this Q & A with ESPN 1500's Tom Pelissero is so refreshing. Frazier is pretty candid here and Vikings fans get some good information on what the Vikings plan to do at certain positions (your 2012 starting Mike linebacker is ... Jasper Brinkley!), how they want to use mighty Joe Webb, how they see the offensive line shaping up and other stuff.

I now have a clearer picture of what Frazier's plan for the 2012 Minnesota Vikings is. Some of it even makes sense. And it's had a calming effect on me. Since the 2011 season mercifully ended, I've been puzzling till my puzzler was sore (thanks Dr. Seuss) on how Frazier was going to turn this wreck around. Not hearing any specifics on what the gameplan was for free agency made the Vikings bargain bin signings frustrating for me. But now I've got a better sense of the gameplan and certain things (like staying out of the bidding war for blue-chip free agents like Vincent Jackson and Brandon Carr) make more sense now.

Alshon Jeffery
The Vikings have been known to draft wide receivers from the University of South Carolina in the past. The results haven't always been pretty.

Troy Williamson couldn't catch. Sidney Rice couldn't stay healthy. So would the team go to the South Carolina wideout well one more time and draft Alshon Jeffery?

Apparently, a lack of blazing speed and a tendency to grow a spare tire are Jeffrey's fatal flaws. But according to Joe Fortenbaugh at The National Football Post, Jeffery is working hard to improve his draft status.

Jeffrey is tall and I've read he's got great hands. That is good. He would be a big target, and a quicker one than Kyle Rudolph, for Christian Ponder or Joe Webb to throw fades to in the red zone. But there's more to being a good NFL receiver than running a fade route and when I read scouting reports on Jeffrey saying he "struggles" to get separation off the line and projects to be a "more productive" Mike Williams, I cringe. Plus, we've got all that emotional baggage with South Carolina alums Williamson and Rice. Christopher Gates at The Daily Norseman would disagree with me, but I say stay away from Alshon Jeffrey in the first two rounds of this draft. (I'll be OK if the Vikings can select him in the 3rd or fourth round. He seems like good value there).

Brian Robison
This time last year at the old Grant's Tomb site, I expressed my displeasure with the Vikings decision to re-sign defensive end Brian Robison instead of Ray Edwards. My thoughts at the time were: Why are the Vikings letting a younger and better player walk?

Last season I found out why. As Pro Football Focus points out in this post, Robison was pretty darn good in 2011. Meanwhile, over in Atlanta, Edwards really struggled in his first year with the Falcons.

But one season doesn't mean the Vikings made the right call. Robison turns 29 next month. Edwards won't turn 28 until January 1, 2013. Can Robison get any better than he is right now roughly one year away from turning 30 – an age when the stars of most NFL players start to descend?

I like Robison. He's extremely athletic, durable and he always gives you an honest day's work. I'm glad he's a Viking. And I think we can expect similar production from him over the final two years of the three-year contract he signed last year. But there is still time for Edwards to prove the Vikings kept the wrong guy.

Mad Men, football and the inherent dangers of a contact sport
This piece isn't specifically related to the Vikings, but it's so well written and provocative that I wanted to share it with KAB readers. An interesting take on violence in football and what should be done to protect the men who choose to play it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

National Friday League: Rebuilding Blues

Rebuilding teams should never draft for immediate need.
(an expansion of a comment I made on DC's earlier post)

A 3-13 team like the Vikings that is looking to rebuild has a lot of needs. Some of those needs--defensive back, offensive line, wide receiver--are bigger than others. But there is really no position where the Vikings don't have some need.* They have the best pass rusher in the NFL at one DE--but does that mean they shouldn't draft another DE? Could they not use linebackers? Don't they need another serious DT?

But one thing a rebuilding team absolutely cannot do is draft a position for immediate need. If they draft a RB because he's a good RB, then good for them. If they draft a RB because they look at their roster and say "Holy shit, AP is recovering from an ACL injury and Toby Gerhart is a bruiser, we need a RB now!" then they are making a mistake.

Obviously they need to fill out a roster to try compete in 2012, and that means acquiring competent starters and reasonable depth at every position. But for the most part, they should not consider themselves desperate at any one position for the 2012 season. They are desperate at wide receiver, offensive line, and secondary because those units are bad, and look long-term bad, and they need to make moves to improve those units for the long-term. There is not one single free agent or draft pick that solves all those problems--thus, there's not much way to fix all those needs immediately. Those are long-term problems, long-term needs, and they require numerous solutions. If the Vikings select Matt Kalil, it is not because they need a left tackle for 2012: it is because they need to set their offensive line up to compete for a decade.

The Vikings were rebuilding going into 2011, and if it turns out they made a mistake drafting Christian Ponder (we'll see), it will be because they drafted out of immediate need: they had no clear QB for the season, no clear way to get a QB for the season, and they were desperate to get a young QB prospect for the future (paradoxically, they felt in immediate need of fixing the long-term QB problem).

So my hope is that as the Vikings prepare for a 2012 draft where they have a bunch of picks, that Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier give very little attention to immediate roster needs, and devote their attention to drafting the proverbial "best player available." They will be better in the immediate and long-term future if they do so.

*OK, as of now they don't need a QB, because they should roll into 2012 ready to test out the Ponder/Webb Experience for another season. And they are probably good at TE for a season, with Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson (a third or fourth TE can come from anywhere). There is no other position where the Vikings shouldn't just draft the best player available, and in later rounds they should probably draft the best player available even if he is a QB or TE.

Did you know: the Vikings have THREE linebacker coaches?
On many plays, the Vikings will have more linebacker coaches on the sideline than they have linebackers on the field. According to the Viking website's current list of coaches, they've got Jeff Imamura, "Defensive Assistant-Linebackers," Fred Pagac, "Linebackers," and Mike Singletary*, "Special Assistant to Head Coach/LBs coach." They could assign a coach for MLB, coach for weakside OLB, and coach for strongside OLB.

No wonder they're not worried about who actually plays linebacker: they've got plenty of people to coach them up!

*Last summer I saw Mike Singletary browsing in Barnes & Noble. These are the things you need to know.

Pierre Garcon!?!?
Evidently, the Vikings were trying to pursue Pierre Garcon, but Washington was willing to pay massive money so the Vikes missed out (PFT, Pioneer Press).

The Vikings got lucky: Pierre Garcon just may have made the Vikes wistful for Bernard Berrian.

In 2009 and 2010, playing with one of the best and most accurate quarterbacks ever to play, Garcon caught 52% and 56% of the passes thrown his way (Football Outsiders). You've seen Peyton Manning play. You've seen Peyton Manning's numbers. You saw how the Colts' offense worked under Manning. Do you think a good WR should be catching 56% or fewer of the passes thrown his way in such a situation? And though his overall numbers even with lousy quarterbacking were better in 2011, his catching problem was still there: you try find his name on this ranking (and see his catch rate back down to 52%).

I'm glad the Vikings did not end up with Garcon, and I'm mildly concerned the Vikes were targeting him at all. I've had my fill of speedy and seemingly talented wide receivers who have trouble doing that very thing a wide receiver is supposed to do, namely catch the ball.

Mark this as my prediction for another "#2 or #3 WR on a good offense signs on to be a #1 WR on a bad offense and becomes an infamous bust" signing.

Zack Bowman
The Vikings began their process of replacing the entire 2011 secondary by signing Zack Bowman (Star Tribune). I don't know if Zack Bowman is good, but I know in 2011 Zack Bowman was playing cornerback in the NFL for some team other than the Vikings, so I can only assume this is an upgrade.

Basketball Box
Kevin Love had a franchise single-game record 51 points last week, his 26.3 ppg puts him in good shape to set the team's single-season scoring average record, and he already has one rebounding title (his 15.1 per game last season is a franchise record as well). He's also only the second player in franchise history with two All-Star selections.

How soon do we consider Kevin Love the second best player in Timberwolves franchise history? Is he already the second best player in franchise history?

Love's last four games: 51-14, 30-21, 28-11, 40-19. More on Love's tear at Pro Basketball Talk.

Fantasy Box: the Ghost Players
My fantasy basketball team, featuring the likes of Parks and Recreation actor Roy Hibbert, has earned a #1 seed and a first round bye. But my players don't know it! When Paul Pierce goes for 36-10, should I feel nothing? Was it all an apparition? I've got Zombie Players like Kevin Love out there ripping it up just for laughs?

Kick Ass Links
There are a lot of websites I check daily to keep up with news and culture. But as I no longer get AMC, I am not watching the fifth season of Mad Men right now, even though everybody else seems to be. So while the fifth season is getting its run, I am avoiding a lot of those websites where I might learn things I don't want to know yet. I've discovered I'll mostly be fine if I avoid the web on Mondays, but I'll be wary every day. But I still want to bring you kick ass links.

How much do the Final Four teams spend on their basketball programs? (The New Yorker).

Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love (Yahoo!). The ladies are going to love you, T-Bone.

"Vanilla Ice and Kevin Garnett Visit Timberwolves on Friday" (City Pages). It's going to be a scene, man.

Left-handers have to stick together: it's the only way we can cope with all the ink on our hands. Lefty QBs, hurrah! (New York Times).

The Vikings have 7 of the first 138 picks in the draft (Pioneer Press). Which is good for a rebuilding team, and is also good because you'll be less bored during the draft. I don't get bored during the draft: I keep busy commenting on the clothing and hair choices of the drafted players and their girlfriends.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pat Shurmur can suck it (and other Viking draft news)

With the Vikings activity during free agency featuring only cheap thrills, I am salivating for the NFL draft to arrive.

So here are a couple of stories I read yesterday that are draft related. The first has to do with Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur saying that the club isn't looking to draft a quarterback with its first round pick - currently #4 overall, one slot behind the Vikes.

If Shurmur isn't blowing smoke here (and he probably is because pre-draft talk by NFL coaches and GMs is all about subterfuge), this has implications for the Vikings, who might be looking to trade out of the #3 slot and acquire extra draft picks.

As I've written before, Minnesota's best opportunity to do so comes if either Cleveland or Miami covets Texas A & M QB Ryan Tannehill. However, if the Browns think incumbent Colt McCoy is the real McCoy (sorry, couldn't help myself), the Vikings could be hooped. None of the other teams picking ahead of the Dolphins – Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Jacksonville – are looking for QBs. So why would Miami trade with the Vikings if the Browns and these other clubs aren't going to select Tannehill?

And I can see why Shurmur would be OK with McCoy as his starter in 2012. The former Texas Longhorn had no receivers to throw to and no running backs to hand off to in 2011. He's also never worked with an offensive genius like this guy.

The case for selecting a running back
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier have both said the team has a lot of holes to fill as it tries to rise from the ashes of a 3-13 season. Offensive line, wide receiver, cornerback, linebacker, safety – they are all positions where Minnesota obviously need an injection of talent. But what about running back?

Viking Update's John Holler argues that Adrian Peterson's uncertain future and Toby Gerhart's less than game-breaking running style could force the Vikings to select a speedy, home run threat during next month's draft.

I don't think that would be the greatest idea. Gerhart showed last year he can do the job and you can find effective running backs among undrafted players (although the Vikes haven't been able to do it).

But the theory has merit. We don't know when Peterson will be ready to play and how he will perform once he does. And behind Gerhart is even more uncertainty. The Vikings only have Caleb King and Jordan Todman under contract.

So here is the National Football Post's list of 46 draft eligible running backs (click on the RB tag at the top). Get familiar with these names. One of them may be in the Vikings training camp come July.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Vikings gain extra draft picks, look to mine mid-round gold again

We know the Vikings got two compensatory fourth-round draft picks Monday. That's good news for a team that needs all the draft picks it can get to rebuild a roster that's gone 9-23 the past two seasons.

But what's even better news is that the Vikings have drafted well in the fourth round of late. As ESPN 1500 writer Tom Pelissero tweeted on Monday.

Vikings 4th-round picks since 2006: Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Christian Ballard. You can get players there.

True dat, Tommy boy, and the Vikings success goes back a bit further than 2006. Some other fourth-round picks of yore:

2004 – Mewelde Moore (RB): Shifty scatback could be nearing the end of the road. But he has a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers to show for it.

2003 – Onterrio Smith (RB): The SOD had a drug problem. Still, he was productive when he played.

2002 – Brian Williams (CB): Always a solid starter. Had 19 interceptions during a nine-year career.

2000 – Tyrone Carter (S): Never starter quality, but provided excellent depth at safety, was an asset on special teams and remained gainfully employed in the NFL until he was 34. Not many players can say that.

Of course, the Vikings also picked Ciatrick Fason, Nat Dorsey, Shawn Worthen and Antonio Wilson in the fourth round during the 2000-2005 time period, so it hasn't all been roses for the club in this round.

But more often than not, Minnesota has been able to find productive players in the fourth round of the NFL draft when many other teams haven't been able to. And as general manager Rick Spielman tries to build the Vikings into a contender from the wreckage of a 3-13 season in 2011, he must unearth a few more hidden gems in the fourth round.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Vikings Weekly Wrap – March 25th Edition

Where Kick Ass Blog discusses some of the more relevant stories that broke this week when it comes to the Vikings.

Pro Football Focus thinks highly of Geoff Schwartz. John Carlson, not so much
Pro Football Focus is a good football site and it has been tracking the free agent signings in the NFL with gusto. So what does PFF think of the Vikings more high profile signings? You can check it out here.

Essentially PFF loves the Schwartz signing, can't understand why the Vikes only signed weakside linebacker Erin Henderson to a one-year deal, and think Rick Spielman got a dud when he signed tight end John Carlson.

That's PFF's opinion. My opinion is Carlson is a guy who caught 50-plus passes his first two years in the league, then saw his production dip in year three when his quarterbacks were a broken down Matt Hasselback and Charlie Whitehurst – who cannot play. Last year, of course, he was hurt all season.

He can't block, but the Vikings don't expect him to. If he can produce anything in the neighborhood of his statistics from year two (51 catches, 574 yards, seven TDS), Minnesota will be pleased. (In his five seasons with the Vikings, Visanthe Shiancoe only caught over 50 passes once – in 2009.)

As for Erin Henderson, he had a good year in 2011, but you couldn't say he was a guy who flashed consistently and made game-changing plays. If he keeps progressing the Vikings will approach him about an extension during the 2012 season. If not, they let him test the market again in 2013 rather than locking up a guy with one decent year under his belt for big money. The Vikings front office has made an acceptable gamble in this case.

The Schwartz signing seems like a good one. There is nothing wrong with bargain hunting. But the Vikings free agency strategy so far has not addressed wide receiver, cornerback or the middle linebacker positions. And that makes a fan worry a bit.

... but maybe it's not Rick Spielman's fault
Most Viking fans are less than pleased with Spielman player procurement efforts this offseason. But The National Football Post's Jack Bechta points out that GMs sometimes have their hands tied during free agency.

Bechta's piece is a bit self-serving – of course he thinks every team should spend liberally during free agency – he's an agent. But he does provide food for thought. The Vikings free agency philosophy this year falls under option #3 in Bechta's article (get younger, stay out of the initial phase of free agency, and maybe pick up a few players at the minimum to fill some holes. Build through the draft.)

So has Vikings owner Zygi Wilf told Spielman he won't be spending big bucks on free agents this year? During his time as the Vikings owner, Wilf has usually been willing to spend money on players the team wanted. However, with an uncertain stadium situation and perhaps the thought of selling the team in play, maybe Wilf is no longer willing to fork over big bucks to put the best product on the field for Viking fans.

Obviously, I'm not part of the team's inner circle of decision-makers, but it's hard to believe Wilf has locked up the vaults entirely. The team did sign Carlson to a sizeable contract. I really believe this minimalist free agency strategy is part of Spielman's master plan to rebuild the Vikings, for better or worse.

Does The National Football Post know something we don't?

At the NFP, Wes Bunting issues his latest mock draft and in this piece by Matt Bowen, the former NFL safety writes positively about LSU cornerback Morris Caliborne. Both guys think the Vikings should take Claiborne instead of USC left tackle Matt Kalil in April's draft.

Hmmm. I've read that Cover Two clubs like Minnesota don't need standout corners to excel because they play so much zone and so drafting corners early in the draft isn't necesary. Maybe that's the conventional wisdom, but it's odd wisdom nonetheless. The Cover Two scheme became popular because Tony Dungy used it with great success in Tampa Bay. And who was one of the key players in Tampa Bay that made that defense go during those glory days? Ronde Barber – a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro.

The lesson here? Even the Cover Two benefits from having great talent in the secondary. The question the Vikings face: is an elite left tackle more important than an elite cornerback? And is Claiborne an "elite" cornerback?

I've watched the Vikings defensive backfield play subpar football for much of the Cover Two's five year run in Minnesota. I've seen the results of using less than elite guys in the secondary. But I think you've got to go for a player who will protect your most important asset (Christian Ponder) over a corner in this case. Picking either Kalil or Claiborne wouldn't be wrong for the Vikings considering they have a desperate need for both. But I think picking Claiborne would be less right in this case.

Tell us how you feel, John Sullivan
Last season Vikings center John Sullivan emerged as the offensive line's best player. Now, after speaking out against the New Orleans Saints bounty program, he's emerging into a team leader.

I like the cut of Sullivan's gib. Here is a guy who is taking a strong stand on a high profile issue and he's not afraid of the consequences (think a few opposing defensive players won't want to take some cheap shots at his knees in 2012?)

This bounty business makes me wonder about that extremely low hit Washington's DeJon Gomes delivered on Adrian Peterson last December. Was Gomes looking to take Peterson out in that game? Things happen fast in an NFL game. But when you lead with your helmet around the knee area, as Gomes did on that hit, bad things often happen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

National Friday League: Your Source for Irrational Love for Sage Rosenfels

Crazy Things I Think About the Vikings: Sage Rosenfels Edition
Welcome to a new National Friday League feature: the Crazy Things I Think About the Vikings. I think a lot of Crazy Things. Sometimes I think if I keep re-reading The Great Gatsby, eventually the old sport himself will come out of it alright (though how that is even possible in that book I can hardly imagine), and that since he lives through his own book, he gets to spend the century roaming through American Literature saving people, and he'd even show up on Willy Loman's doorstep (but what the hell could he do for Willy), and these are the Crazy Things I think about.

The Crazy Thing I Think About the Vikings is that while Joe Webb is madly exciting, and Christian Ponder has the best chance of being the franchise QB for the decade, the Vikes would actually be better immediately with Sage Rosenfels starting. He's got good pocket awareness (3.3% career sack rate), he's accurate (62.5% completion), and he's experienced (he's been kicking around the league for over a decade). With Rosenfels, the Vikes would likely be running a more efficient offense and also a more error-free offense.

That said, of course it would be madness to move Rosenfels past Webb or Ponder on the depth chart: the Vikings are clearly in a spot to build for long-term winning rather than short-term winning*, and that is much, much more likely to happen with Ponder or Webb, and in fact benching Ponder for a for a 34 year old veteran sets the long-term winning project back.

Of course the Vikings need to start Ponder to develop him and find out whether or not they should be drafting Matt Barkley or some damn QB for 2013, and if not Ponder they have to turn to man myth legend Joe Webb. And of course there's a non-ridiculous chance that Ponder develops quickly and plays better in 2012 than Sage Rosenfels ever has or will, and it is important for the Vikings to play him and get that chance to find out. I'm just saying if the only goal was to win as many games as possible in 2012 with no concern for anything else, then I'd guess Rosenfels would be the guy to do it.

And this leads me to another Crazy Thing I Think About the Vikings involving Sage Rosenfels: I think the franchise would be in a better place right now if Rosenfels had become the starter going into 2009. I think with Rosenfels that Viking team still would have won 10 games or so that year. And Rosenfels might have secured the job going into 2010 as a competent**, even good starter, and he certainly would have played better than Favre in 2010. And then the Vikes might have drafted differently in 2010 with the goal of still building some all-around needs rather feeling like a near Super Bowl team and drafting to fill in depth, and the Vikings almost certainly don't trade that 3rd round pick for a month's worth of Randy Moss's services, and maybe the freak chance things like Cedric Griffin and Sidney Rice getting injured in the 2009 playoffs and changing the trajectory of their careers and the prospects for the Vikings in 2010 and 2011...well, I'm just saying I'd be interested to see an alternate universe where Brett Favre didn't come back and Brad Childress gave Rosenfels the starting job over Tarvaris Jackson. I just want to see how it would play out, since I had spent months talking myself into Rosenfels and from this rambling you can tell I haven't quite gotten past that yet. 2009 was memorably joyous and memorably heart-breaking and meant a lot to me, but ultimately we're following our team going into its 52nd season and it still hasn't won a Super Bowl, and the Vikings are in a bad place.

And also one time I had a literal dream where I had magically been transported a few years into the future, and the first thing I asked people when I got there was whether the Vikings had won a Super Bowl yet, and was told yes and I about lost my shit with happiness, and then found out Sage Rosenfels was the starting QB for that Super Bowl team.

This has been Crazy Things I Think About the Vikings.***

*which is not to say the Vikes should cede the 2012 season or anything: unexpected things happen in the league, and any professional team needs to go into each season planning to compete. It is just to say that the priority isn't to sacrifice long-term prospects to try eke out as many 2012 wins as possible.
**or in an alternate reality of this alternate reality, Rosenfels and Jackson both struggle and the Vikings go in the direction of finding a young long-term QB solution earlier and differently, and then it is all very different, and given that the Vikes still haven't won a Super Bowl and are now in a bad place seeming quite far from a Super Bowl, that's not a bad thing either. Sometimes I think how the Vikes were lucky to get Fran Tarkenton or Cris Carter or Randy Moss, but then I remember they haven't won a Super Bowl, and think if they hadn't gotten those HOF-caliber stars, they would have followed up and built entirely differently, and if they did that who knows? I mean, if you could go back and randomly start Viking history over again, and make some fundamental change at the beginning that means the whole history goes in a different direction, would you?
***All of this is stupid and insensible, I know, but a) when the subtitle is "Crazy Things I Think" I'm obviously not working on rational argument supported with evidence and b) if I didn't get back into blogging to share my senseless and irrational thoughts, I might as well go back into my withdrawal.

We will be seeing a lot of Peyton Manning
The Vikings usually play NFC games shown on Fox, a lot of their games start on noon on Sundays, and given their sorry state right now they probably don't have a lot of national slot games, so they'll be playing at noon on Sundays a lot. And that means in Minnesota we usually get the CBS late game, which is an AFC game, and given it is the late game, it is frequently an AFC West game. And given he's Peyton Manning and he's on a new team, I figure that CBS late game is going to feature a hell of a lot of the Denver Broncos. Combine that with the night games Denver is going to get, and we might just see most of the Broncos' games next season.

The Vikings need linebackers that can play in coverage
DC has been writing a lot about the Vikings' currently weak linebacking unit, and he's right: it is currently a shaky group and obviously needs improvement before September (I'll add that I don't even think Chad Greenway is very good: he is a serviceable linebacker, a guy that does his job pretty mistake free, but he doesn't make many game-changing plays. He does what you expect a starting linebacker to be able to do, but does he do much more? He is certainly no defensive cornerstone).

But the NFL is a passing league, and the Viking secondary is so bad, that the main thing you'll notice about the Viking LBs is that they get beat by TEs and RBs in the passing game. Looking through the Viking box scores from last season, you'll see TEs and RBs compiling a lot of catches and a lot of yards. The Vikings have enough trouble as it is covering opposing WRs, but opponents could generally rely on their TEs and RBs beating linebackers in coverage as well.

As the Vikings are fixing their roster with cheap, little-known players (I don't object), I hope they are finding players that might have overlooked skills. Maybe there are linebackers on their roster who haven't established themselves as all-around players, but have the quickness, speed, agility, and awareness to play competently in coverage.

We have to hope so anyway, because there are a bunch of LBs on the roster now that you've never seen play or never heard of.

On the Saints Punishment
Unless we are willing to concede that pro football is blood sport, that we derive our pleasure from watching human beings cause short-term and long-term injury to themselves and to others, that this harm is in fact the source of our pleasure, not a side effect of what pleasures us, that we do not care about the human beings on the football field, but merely want to see them harmed for our entertainment, then there must be serious consequences when a coach organizes a system to pay players to deliberately try and injure other players.

Perhaps even if we are not willing to concede this, something of the blood sport underlies our enjoyment, that we know players are hurting each other and playing hurt and we admire them for that. And perhaps a bounty system disturbs because it turns subtext into text, that it makes what is implicit explicit, that it underlines it and requires us to see what we sort of know but don't want to acknowledge. Maybe in the most basic tackle and the most basic block, there is some necessary urge to cause harm. Maybe.

But if we're neither willing to concede that fandom is bloodlust, nor that we just want to keep our bloodlust secret, then we must accept, encourage, and applaud the NFL's attempt to make the game safer and to punish those that deliberately attempt to make the game unsafe. We have to see the NFL do what it can to study, prevent, and minimize the impact of concussions, and to make rules that try as much as possible to keep a violent game relatively safe.

And in that case, serious punishment for those with authority who instigated or allowed the Saints' bounty system is entirely justified.

Links
Bill Barnwell, who looks with more concrete attention to real specifics than most commentators, talks about Peyton Manning in Denver (Grantland).

Will Leitsch on Warrior fans booing their owner: "It's one of those wonderful spontaneous fan moments when management of a franchise believes their fan base stands rapt and worshipful at their every word ... and then discovers the exact opposite in the most vivid way possible" (New York).

How the public affected the Saints' suspensions (The Fifth Down).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Yes! The Vikings lock up Geoff Schwartz (and lose Remi Ayodele)

Geoff Schwartz says he's "excited to be a Minnesota Viking." But how excited are the Vikings to have Schwartz?

Excited enough to sign him to a one-year deal. But this is the latest example that other NFL teams (Bucs, Washington, St. Louis) are willing to splurge and buy tailor-made suits, while the Vikings are content to shop at second-hand clothing stores.

On a more serious note, Schwartz was good enough to start for Carolina and he's big (6'6, 330 pounds), young (25) and can play both tackle and guard. ESPN North blogger Kevin Seifert gazes into his crystal ball and lays out what the Vikings offensive line could look like in 2012.

I don't know, the Vikings offensive line was so bad last year, just about anybody would be an upgrade. Schwartz seems like he could be a big help.

Remi Ayodele

I've got no interest in pontificating about the New Orleans Saints bounty stuff today or Ayodele's role in it. But I do think it was a bit small-time how the Vikings cut Ayodele hours after Roger "The Hammer" Goodell announced the punishment he was handing out to the Saints.

I won't miss Ayodele. Hell, I barely noticed him last season. But the Vikings had to know they had no use for him weeks ago, and once they signed defensive tackles Letroy Guion and Fred Evans, they could have let Ayodele go then.

Instead they allowed him hang around until the Saints got punished for running the bounty program – something the Vikings knew was coming. This seems to me like a calculated release. Vikings fans will be too busy nodding their heads in approval over the punishment Goodell meted out to the Saints to question how Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and the coaching staff could have made such a mistake evaluating Ayodele's talents in the first place.

You can follow us on Twitter, too, @KickassblogVike

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rick Spielman shows his aqua green biases during first two weeks of free agency

When Brad Childress was running the show in Minnesota, he had a habit of snapping up every available ex-Philadelphia Eagle he could lay his hands on.

If there was a player available with ties to Philly – Mike McMahon, Billy McMullen, Artis Hicks, Todd Pinkston, Koy Detmer, Thomas Tapeh, Greg Lewis – Childress brought them in, almost always with poor results.

I dredge up the memory of Chilly today only because I've noticed a similar trend exhibited by Vikings general manager Rick Spielman during this free agency period.

Before Spielman was hired by the Vikings in 2006, he spent four seasons with the Miami Dolphins from 2000-2004. He worked for three years as the team's player personnel czar and then one ill-fated year as Miami's general manager (he was fired at the end of 2004). It's a career arc that is almost identical to how his employment has evolved in Minnesota.

And since coming to Minnesota, he's shown an affinity for signing ex-Dolphins. That's never been truer than during the first two weeks of the 2012 NFL free aqency period.

Spielman resigned quarterback Sage Rosenfels - who played for Miami from 2002-2005 – two weeks ago. Last week he resigned backup defensive tackle Fred Evans (drafted by the Fins in '06), which was a surprise because Evans has been just a guy since arriving in Minnesota in 2007. Two days later former Dolphins fullback/running back Lex Hilliard (Miami draft class of '08) was brought aboard the Vikings ship.

Today we learned the Vikings hosted wide receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. – the Dolphins first round draft pick in 2007.

None of these players figure to be anything more than role players for the Vikings in 2012. But the skeptic in me has had my spidey sense tingled by the aqua green and orange-tinted glasses Spielman has been wearing when it comes to player acquisitions so far.

Spielman had no role in drafting any of these players, nor in selecting ex-Dolphins and current Viking free agents Devin Aromashodu (Miami draft class of '06) and Lorenzo Booker (Miami draft class of '07). But he still seems to like players with Miami ties, just as Childress liked those ex-Eagles.

The attraction is hard to figure. Miami has gone 51-75 since 2004 and has made the playoffs only once during this period. Is this a franchise the Vikings should be adding players from? It wouldn't be my first choice.

(By the way, if the Vikings do sign Ginn Jr. at a reasonable price, I think it's a good move. He won't be much of a factor as a receiver. He will be a factor as a punt and kickoff returner. In fact, he'd be the best return specialist the team has had since David Palmer. This is not an insignificant thing. A great punt and kickoff returner can help teams win games, shifting field position by consistently breaking off long returns and even scoring a touchdown or three. Yes, Percy Harvin is a fine kickoff returner, just as good or better than Ginn Jr. But the Vikings don't need Harvin taking unnecessary hits in that role if there's comparable option out there. Ginn Jr. is that option. And while Marcus Sherels produced some nice punt returns last year, he also struggled with knowing when to call fair catches and when to not field punts and just let them bounce into the end zone. There's no doubt Ginn Jr. would be a more dangerous player in this role. So if the Vikings can get one of the top kickoff and punt returners in the NFL signed, that's a win for this team.)

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Monday, March 19, 2012

The Vikings draft day dream is still alive (actually it's my draft day dream)

Well, free agency has been a dud so far for the Vikings with the team resigning guys they shouldn't, failing to resign guys (so far) they should, and giving contracts to other guys I've never heard of.

So the real excitement – where Vikings fans can get enthused about this team's future – lies in April's draft. Minnesota has the #3 overall draft pick.

I've been drifting back and forth between hoping the Vikings keep it simple and just draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at number #3, or trading out of the spot, grabbing extra draft picks and gambling Kalil will still be there when they pick later on in the draft.

Trading out of the number #3 spot would be a gamble – if the Vikings truly covet Kalil. They'd also need a trading partner to do that. The Miami Dolphins, who signed David Garrard today, could be that partner.

Miami needs a long-term solution at quarterback (Garrard isn't it) and they could be very interested in Texas A & M QB Ryan Tannehill.

Now Miami holds the eighth overall pick. So the question is: if the Vikings were to swap draft slots with the Dolphins, could they still grab Kalil?

If you look at the needs of the team's picking before the #8 slot, it's possible.

#4) Cleveland: The Browns have franchise left tackle Joe Thomas in the fold and no running backs or wide receivers to speak of, so drafting Kalil isn't an obvious need unless they want to move him to right tackle. They might also be looking for a quarterback, which means they might want to swap picks with the Vikes if they're worried Miami would swing a trade instead and draft Tannehill ahead of them.

#5) Tampa Bay: The Bucs would be the real threat to draft Kalil if Minnesota were to trade out of the #3 slot. The Bucs starting left tackle is Donald Penn and he made the Pro Bowl in 2010, but I've read lots of negative reviews of his play. Kalil would be hard to pass up considering the Bucs filled some other pressing needs by signing wide receiver Vincent Jackson, cornerback Eric Wright and guard Carl Nicks. However, the Bucs could use help at running back as well and Alabama's Trent Richardson should be there at #5. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne would be tempting at this spot as well.

#6) St. Louis: The Rams have high draft picks Roger Saffold (left tackle) and Jason Smith (right tackle) already playing on the O-line and probably wouldn't select another offensive tackle. They do need to provide quarterback Sam Bradford with someone to throw to, which is why Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon would make sense at this spot.

#7) Jacksonville:
The Jaguars have former first rounder Eugene Monroe at left tackle and former second round pick Eben Britton coming back from injury to take over at right tackle. Kalil would be an odd choice for them. Besides, the Jags could use help at defensive end (UNC's Quinton Coples could entice), wide receiver and cornerback.

Anyway, trading down to the #8 draft slot would be extremely risky for the Vikings, especially if Tampa Bay takes a shine to Kalil. There's also no guarantee some other team that likes Kalil wouldn't trade up and leapfrog ahead of the Vikes to nab him after Minnesota made the deal.

But looking at the needs of Miami and Cleveland (both clubs could use a franchise QB), and the needs of the other teams drafting from #4 to #7, the option of trading down should still be in play for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.

I'd be interested to hear what Viking fans think the club could/should do here.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

What is Rick Spielman's plan regarding the Vikings linebackers, exactly?

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has asked Vikings fans to be patient as their favorite team – with numerous roster holes to address – has mostly sat out its first opportunity to address those holes.

Wide receivers and defensive backs, two of the Vikings most pressing needs, have been signing with other teams rapidly during the first week of NFL free agency. All the good talent at those positions is pretty much gone now.

However, one position where there are still some good players to be had is linebacker. That happens to be another position of need for the Vikings. But so far, no activity from the Vikings.

Pro Football Focus noted last week that linebackers are getting shafted so far in free agency. And the Vikings starter at weakside linebacker last year, Erin Henderson, took to Twitter last week to gripe about the Vikings lack of interest (so far) in resigning him.

I presume Spielman has a plan here. Unfortunately it's not readily apparent to me. The Vikings linebacking corps right now consists of Chad Greenway, a very good player coming off a bad year, Jasper Brinkley, who missed all of last season with a hip surgery, Tyrone McKenzie (five career tackles in three NFL seasons) Larry Dean – who looks like a career special teamer in the mold of Heath Farwell, and the recently signed ex-CFLer Solomon Elimimian.

The depth chart isn't going to stay that way. But my question is who is Spielman going to pick up to fill out the other spots? Are the Vikings planning to draft three of four linebackers in April's draft?

What I do know is Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne are young, available and would be upgrades over what the Vikings currently have on the roster when it comes to linebackers.

Mr. Spielman, it's your move. How about making one?

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Friday, March 16, 2012

The Vikings Weekly Wrap – March 16 edition

Where Kick Ass Blog discusses some of the more relevant stories that broke this week when it comes to the Vikings.

Free Agency – Week One

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 4-12 and lost their last 10 games in 2011. The Washington Redskins went 5-11 and were one of only three teams the Minnesota Vikings beat last season.

So these clubs are clearly just as sad sack as the Vikings, yet the Bucs and the 'Skins have taken very different approaches to free agency than the Vikes have. And Minnesota's approach has been to sit out the bidding wars on the big name free agents and wait for bargains – if there are any left.

We've been told the Vikings are wise to employ this strategy in 2012. They need to get younger and there's no point in spending big bucks on a player or two who won't put them over the top and could cause salary cap ramifications in a year or two. But obviously Tampa Bay and Washington have their own views on how to build a team.

John Carlson

Pacifist Viking has already given you his opinion on the signing of tight end John Carlson. For now, I rate it as just "OK".

After Carlson signed with the Vikes, I posted on Twitter that a Carlson and Kyle Rudolph tight end tandem could be a poor man's version of New England's Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Hernandez and Gronkowski caught a combined 169 passes last season. If Carlson and Rudolph catch 80-100 in 2012, this will have been a good, underrated signing by Minnesota GM Rick Speilman.

Chris Cook

What was the best development for the Vikings during the first week of free agency? A Minneapolis jury found cornerback Chris Cook not guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

Now the Vikings are going to give Cook another chance. That's good for a terrible Vikings secondary because for a guy with more arrests (two) than interceptions (zero) in his two NFL seasons, Cook's got a chance to be a very good corner.

My lasting memory of Cook's abbreviated 2011 season was a diving pass breakup late in the fourth quarter that stopped a sure TD catch by Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Cook critics will point out he gave up a 32-yard touchdown catch to Johnson earlier in the game that kick-started the Lions comeback from 20 points down. But Cook lost (barely) a jump ball to a guy named Megatron on that play. There's no shame in that. Johnson did that to plenty of corners in 2011.

So Cook's pass breakup is what I remember. Besides the departed Cedric Griffin's gorgeous diving interception in the season finale against the Bears, I didn't see a Vikes DB make a better play on a pass all season long (and that's sad, folks).

Cook's return has a dramatic effect on the Vikings cornerback depth. Stick him at one corner, Antoine Winfield at the other and draft – as expected – a corner early (it doesn't look like they're doing much to address the position in free agency), and that pushes Asher Allen out of a starting role and into a dime back situation. And it pushes Marcus Sherels out of the dime role and back to solely returning punts and kickoffs.

It's not a Pro Bowl secondary. However, with Cook back, he makes it a much better group than what the Vikings ran out there much of last year.

Draft Trade

Sports Illustrated's Peter King (via the Daily Norseman) speculated on Twitter this week that the Vikings might still find some team willing to offer them mucho draft picks to trade out of the #3 over draft slot.

This seems wishful thinking, especially with the Miami Dolphins – the trading partner King cited in his tweet – hoping to sign Green Bay free agent quarterback Matt Flynn on the weekend.

That's okay. I want the Vikings to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil. But some days I also want them to trade out of #3 and get extra draft picks. I'm conflicted, I guess. This is the kind of crackling analysis you come here for.

Randy Moss is a 49er

I didn't think this decision was a great one by Ol' 84. But if Peyton Manning joins the team, that changes things.

Moss said all the right things in his introductory press conference this week after catching on with San Francisco. But he always says the right things when he lands with a new team, and it always ends badly.

I want Moss to do well, I really do. I still cheer for him. If the 49ers can convince Manning to sign with them, Moss has a fighter's chance to be able to prove to everyone that he's not done at 35.

Stadium Stuff

I have lost any remaining faith I had in Minnesota state politicians to move on a Vikings stadium funding bill.

I would like this to be over, please.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

National Friday League: Coming and Going

Steve Hutchinson
Steve Hutchinson came to the Vikings as the premiere free agent of the Brad Childress era. Acquiring him via the famous "poison pill," Hutchinson was the centerpiece signing of Childress' plan to build the Vikings from the lines first. And during Hutchinson's time with the team, there were some spectacular rushing accomplishments. In 2007, the Vikings rushed for a team record 2,634 yards rushing, which featured an incredible 5.3 yards per rush and included Adrian Peterson's single-game record of 295 rushing yards. In 2008, Hutchinson was a feature blocker for the Vikings' first ever rushing champion, as Adrian Peterson rushed for a team record 1,760 yards. Hutchinson deserves a lot of credit for these accomplishments: he was a major reason the Vikings had their best ever rushing attack during those seasons. Over his six seasons with the team, Hutchinson was a Pro Bowler four times.

But during Hutchinson's time with the Vikes, the offensive line was always better at run blocking than pass blocking, and by the end of his tenure the run blocking was falling off as well (I thought Adrian Peterson did a spectacular job grinding for everything he could in '11, and he certainly had to). The Vikes are rebuilding and Hutchinson is not the productive player he was: it is the right time for him to go.

Joe Webb > Tim Tebow (or, I hesitate to even write about this because by statistical measure Tebow is so obviously terrible)
I don't think Joe Webb should be #1 on the Viking depth chart, but I also think it is worth observing how much objectively better Webb is than Tim Tebow. In their two years in the league, Webb has been the more accurate passer by far (57.9% to 47.3%), and if Tebow's saving grace is his running and mobility, Webb is still better (6.9 yards per rush v. 5.4, 6.7% sack rate v. 9.9%). All this really means is that if you think Tim Tebow can develop into a starting NFL quarterback that you can build around and win with, I can't see any reason you shouldn't think the same of Webb.

The Vikes are slow in Free Agency
At Grantland, Bill Barnwell suggested the Vikings take the 2012 free agent period slowly. I think he makes a convincing argument. The top roster question the Vikings need an answer to is whether Christian Ponder is worth building around for the long-term. There's not an answer now--there likely will be by this time next year. This year the Vikes need to make low-key moves to improve glaring weak spots and build up depth on a shaky roster. Next year, there is a better idea all around where the franchise is or isn't going, and the Vikes know which big money players and big money positions can make the biggest difference for the team.

There isn't one non-QB free agent that would transform the Vikings instantly (a deep threat WR might do it, but FA wide receivers do fail with new teams, often in a major way, and so it isn't a guarantee, and there needs to be long-term rebuilding at the position, not big money for one player). Big name signings give us joy and pleasure in March, but they aren't what's called for to turn this team around.

Basketball Box
Ricky Rubio has been a delight and he will be missed, badly. I really thought the Wolves could not only make the playoffs, but make a little run once they got there. I feel fairly confident that an ACL injury won't damage Rubio's game long-term, but a little bit of joy has left the NBA without him.

Links
This may make you like Robert Parish (Pro Basketball Talk).

I love equivocating statements. At the Pioneer Press: "Charley Walters: Minnesota Vikings still could trade away No. 3 Draft Pick." Of course they could. They could also use it. They could also decide to pass on the pick. They could also figure out if some other team still has rights to Herschel Walker, then trade all their 2012 draft picks for those rights. They "could" do just about anything allowed under league rules and the laws of physics. Some of the things they could do are more likely than others--like either trading the #3 pick, or using the #3 pick. If I had to guess, I'd settle on one of those two things happening. But certainly, there is no question that they "could" trade it. In other news, tomorrow morning it could be sunny. It also could be cloudy. As the Star Tribune wrote last week, "Hartman: Vikings might cut ties with veterans." Sid sure stuck his neck out there making a statement. One probably could go with "will likely" or "almost certainly" if you can't be sure enough to just say "will," but "might" has a certain equivocating beauty to it. When I finish a jog, I might get a drink of water. It makes a whole hell of a lot of sense.

At The New York Times, David Brooks discusses why we don't really get to choose our favorite teams (and at Esquire Charles Pierce, who appears to derive great pleasure in unceasingly mocking David Brooks, has his fun).

I haven't tired of believing in Sage Rosenfels (Access Vikings).

I finally tired of believing in Randy Moss (Pro Football Talk).

In 2007, Cracked.com (essential reading, people. Essential) mock drafted the best film basketball players.

Superstar athletes often make their franchises very rich; at Yahoo!, Mike Ozanian argues Peyton Manning increased the value of the Colts by $233 million (and this argument doesn't even try to take into account the amount of money, through ticket and merchandise sales, Manning brought the franchise over that time) (via PFT).

According to Football Outsiders, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin look very very good.

Weekend
Have a good one, suckers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

John Carlson

Upgrading Pass Catchers
There wasn't a great chance to improve the WR position via free agency this year: the good WRs mostly stayed with their teams, or were older than the rebuilding Vikings would want, or wouldn't want to come to Minnesota anyway, or were overpriced. The Vikes are in dire need of a deep threat, but who could or should they have signed so far?

But there are other ways to upgrade pass catchers, and signing TE John Carlson is one way to do that.

In 2011 Christian Ponder showed at least one thing to be excited about: mobility. The Vikes can run some successful bootlegs with RBs, TEs, or glorified pass catching RB Percy Harvin* in the flat. The more options the Vikes have for the sorts of plays where the QB is rolling out and looking to receivers in the short and medium range, the better.

Kyle Rudolph showed some ability to go downfield and also to leap up and grab a ball in coverage. John Carlson can hardly be thought to be replacing him: the Vikes are and will likely be weak at WR, so multi-TE sets are likely.

It is a good signing, a small part of building a well-rounded roster.

*I stand by this. If your best wide receiver BY FAR catches 87 passes, he should manage more than 967 yards receiving. In his three seasons he's averaged 12.0 yards per reception for a team that needed somebody to get downfield and make plays (context: Visanthe Shiancoe has a career 11.0 average). Harvin is an excellent pass-catching RB, able to get open close to the line of scrimmage and superb at running after the catch. The Vikes seem to know how to utilize his skills (he did, after all, have 87 catches and 52 runs last season). He's a versatile player that does good things for an offense. But he's not a downfield receiving threat: if he were, the Vikes wouldn't be as desperate for a WR upgrade as they are.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Yes! The Vikings lock up Letroy Guion

What? You're not excited about locking up defensive tackle Letroy Guion for the next three years?

It's been a quiet, and for some Viking fans, a disappointing first day of free agency. I warned you the club might not be very aggressive when the NFL's free agency madness began on Tuesday. But the Vikes inaction, and other team's action, caught some fans by surprise it appears.

Let's take a free agent head count after Day #1:

* Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan – gone.

* Vincent Jackson – gone.

* Cortland Finnegan – gone.

* Carlos Rogers – gone.

So what is general manager Rick Spielman doing?

Well, I don't like to make excuses for the guy, but here are some realities Spielman and the Vikings are facing.

Coming off a 3-13 season, and a big rebuilding project ahead of them, the franchise is not a desirable location for big name free agents. Because of that, the Vikings would have to spend big to land a player like Jackson or Finnegan. That could have salary cap ramifications down the line.

I think what it is happening here is Spielman is balancing trying to improve the team while also not breaking the bank on guys who, by themselves, won't turn the Vikings into playoff and Super Bowl contenders.

If you're the 2009 Minnesota Vikings, you give Vincent Jackson $20 or $25 million guaranteed because he could push you over the top. The 2012 Vikings need much more than Vincent Jackson. So they let some other team overspend to get him. In this case, it happens to be Tampa Bay.

But what about the Guion signing? I think it's a defensible move. He won't turn 25 until June and towards the end of 2010, I really thought he was playing well and on the verge of being a breakout player. His play during the 2011 preseason confirmed my belief. I was getting excited. The Vikes had found a diamond in the rough. Then Guion went out and did squat for 16 regular season games.

Can a guy who did squat for an entire season improve enough to become a factor in 2012? I think it's possible in Guion's case. Perhaps the Vikings haven't figured out how to properly use him. Anyway, they could have done worse. Did I mention he won't turn 25 until June?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vikings Free Agency 2012: A Brief Primer

This just in - the Minnesota Vikings need to get better.

Which is why many Viking fans are expecting (hoping?) that the club will be active when the NFL's own version of March Madness arrives tomorrow.

I'm starting to wonder how active the Vikings will be. General manager Rick Spielman may have been prepping us for a free agent strategy that could be short on "big name" signings and signings in general.

That is probably for the best. In today's NFL, where most teams have got a handle on how to manage their money, free agents are only free agents because their previous employer let them be free agents. There is a lot of trash and quick fixes available, but not many players who fit what Spielman is looking for - young, productive players with upside. Still, if Spielman can hit on one or two quality signings, it will improve the Vikings immeasurably in 2012 and beyond. Free agency is full of potholes, yet it can help.

Andy Benoit at the Fifth Down Blog has been doing a bang-up job breaking down the available free agents. So if you're looking for some insight into how all the players stack up, read his posts on wide recievers; running backs; linebackers; defensive lineman; offensive lineman; defensive back and quarterback.

So what positions and players are the Vikings likely to target come Tuesday? Here are my uninformed guesses.

Wide Receiver

With DeSean Jackson and Stevie Johnson off the market, San Diego's Vincent Jackson will be popular - and pricey - to sign. Watch out for the team he visits first (the Bears are said to be interested). If it's the Vikings, they are in the driver's seat to get him. If it's somebody else, Jackson will be playing elsewhere in 2012 because if a team really wants a free agent, it doesn't let him make any other visits.

But as Tom Pelissero writes, the Vikings will likely be targeting "B" level free agents anyway.

I hadn't really paid much attention to Pierre Garcon, which shows how much I know about football, but he's a guy I expect Spielman will go after hard. Mario Manningham figures to be another target. And maybe Early Doucet.

Defensive Back

Yes, Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are the jewels of this group. But they will be priced accordingly. Watch out for Saints corner Tracy Porter. He's a playmaker who is a bit under the radar and he's only 26. He fits the kind of free agent Spielman has said he is looking for.

The safety position is also a concern for the Vikings. So Laron Landry could tempt them (the Vikes were rumored to be interested in drafting him back in '07). The Colts just cut strong safety Melvin Bullitt. He's only 27 and played under Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams. He's also only played six games the past two seasons because of injuries. Bullitt's an injury risk, but he would come cheap and, if healthy, would be an upgrade over what the Vikes have been running out at safety the past two seasons.

Linebacker

Mention the Vikings most pressing needs and wide receiver, defensive back and offensive line are all front of mind. However, linebacker, and middle linebacker in particular, is an overlooked position of need.

E.J. Henderson is not coming back. So do you trust Jasper Brinkley and his surgically repaired hip to man the Mike linebacker role ably? Me neither.

The Lions Stephen Tulloch, Seattle's David Hawthorne and even the Falcons Curtis Lofton are guys that make sense for the Vikings if management isn't comfortable handing the job to Brinkley. For the record, Andy Benoit thinks Henderson has two or three good years left in him.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Vikings Weekly Wrap

Where Kick Ass Blog discusses some of the more relevant stories that broke this week when it comes to the Vikings.

Washington Strikes (and how that affects the Vikings draft plans)

The St. Louis Rams have done it. They have officially destroyed my dream of the Vikings trading out of the number #3 draft slot, acquiring extra picks and still getting USC left tackle Matt Kalil.

I guess there is still a chance the Vikings could pull it off, but it's looking less likely, and I've probably written enough about this "Vikes trade down and get Kalil" issue. I am now done with it (maybe). Lucky you.

Again with Randy Moss

There are some reports out there that Ole' 84 had a pretty good workout with the New Orleans Saints this week and is headed to San Francisco for another one.

Despite often acting like a dick, my man-crush on Moss has never waned.

Another stint in Minnesota was out of the question. A team beginning a huge rebuilding job, with a second-year head coach and a shaky quarterback situation, is not the place for Moss.

But where adding him has the best chance to work is a place like New Orleans. Think of it: an established coach who won't put up with any of Randy's bullshit; an elite quarterback who can get him the ball; a team that will contend for the playoffs and a Super Bowl; and an offence with multiple receiving options besides Moss. If I was Moss, I'd be paying the Saints to sign me. The club is his best option to rehabilitate his reputation and buff up his Hall of Fame credentials, as well as set himself up for another lucrative payday in 2013.

Wait for it ....

Vikings fans are waiting anxiously for free agency to start on March 13 so we can begin to see how, exactly, this sorry team is going to rebuild.

But as Andy Benoit writes, one team's releasee isn't always another team's treasure.

The line that stands out to me in Benoit's piece is when he writes:
"The teams that bank heavily on improving through free agency are the ones that fail."

The Vikings cannot be one of those teams. There is no quick fix to what ails this team. It needs to add talent at almost every position. So I see no reason for general manager Rick Spielman to throw money at several "big name" free agents. I'll be happy if the team doesn't make a big splash Tuesday and instead addresses a need with one big signing (Vincent Jackson or Brandon Carr - but not both - seems reasonable), plus a couple of mid-level pickups of guys with potential upside (like Early Doucet or Martellus Bennett). That would be a good start to the rebuilding effort.

Hutchinson, Herrera and Griffin

The expected happened on Saturday as the Vikings released Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera and Cedric Griffin. Will they be missed? Probably not.

Hutchinson and Herrera were two-fifths of the worst offensive line in football and Griffin managed to get benched for a time while playing on one of the worst secondaries in NFL history. These units can't sink much lower than they already have, and if both units continue to suck in 2012, I'd rather they suck using young guys with the potential to improve rather than with old guys who are only going to get worse.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

National Friday League: Ted and Me

How my Viking fandom got all psychologically tied up with How I Met Your Mother and that's not good for anybody.
If the 2009 Viking season was a story, while experiencing it that story felt like a narrative of redemption. The long-suffering franchise would finally break through and win a championship. The polarizing quarterback would cement his legacy with a final title run. We would remember the season forever as the joy of our fan lives.

But the narrative broke down.

The team that always comes up heartbreakingly short came up heartbreakingly short. The quarterback whose widely known tragic flaw was interceptions threw an interception. And Viking fans went once more into a dark, cold, lonely winter.

The fact that the story I thought I was watching (no, living) broke down made me desire the predictability of real narrative, especially those narratives I already knew so well. If I put in a DVD of Seinfeld, I will watch episodes I have already seen many times. I will know the rhythms (they are now in my soul), the specific jokes, the ultimate conclusion of the episode’s storyline. I will be comforted in this experience, knowing that nothing will be ripped away from me at the last moment. My expectations would never be disappointed.

Which brings us to How I Met Your Mother.

The premise of the show is that Ted in the future is telling the story to his children of how he met their mother, the story playing out with the single life adventures of Ted in the present day. The show makes creative comic use of this conceit, featuring distorted memories, censored details, hijinks with chronology, and self-reference of the long, long story Ted is telling. But you know where it ends: Ted is going to meet his kid’s mother. You know this not just because a sitcom about a hopeless romantic searching for love pushes toward this conclusion: you know this because Future Ted establishes that this is the conclusion. The very premise of the show dictates it, assures you that it is coming. Oh, it will make you wait: it will stretch things out and often jerk you around, but you know eventually it will fulfill you.

I may never see the Minnesota Vikings win a Super Bowl, but I WILL see Ted meet his kids’ mother.

In that January of despair, I turned to sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother. And somehow, through some unconscious will on my part perhaps, it got all mangled up in my mind. Ted’s quest to meet his kids’ mother was the Vikings' quest to win a Super Bowl, which was my quest to see the Vikings win that Super Bowl. They were the very same thing. This meant something like a confirmation that desire can be fulfilled: Ted WILL meet his kids’ mother! Sure, there is a long, long wait for this distant and currently unknown hope for the future, but it will happen! Waiting for this event while watching a current episode weekly is just like waiting for another event while watching a current game weekly!

But it also meant bringing the anxious desperate hopes I bring to every Viking game to my weekly watching of How I Met Your Mother. Whenever an episode ends with no progress at all toward that meeting, I grimace in frustration. When Ted gets caught up in a long relationship that we know won’t end in marriage, that the show eventually confirms won’t end in marriage (a whole season of Zoey!), I grow impatient just as I grow impatient late in a football season when the Vikes are already eliminated from the playoffs. Just end it already! This is all futile—let’s move on to the part where we’re making meaningful progress toward what really matters, the reason we’re all here. What's happening here is pointlessness.

(Have I been to a How I Met Your Mother wiki page? That’s none of your business. If I have been, would I find that the How I Met Your Mother wiki page provided very little information that I didn’t already know and regularly mull over? Well, how would you know if I did? I am not deranged or anything, people. I just love the Vikings and love Ted. I suppose you'll tell me the fact that I linked to such a wiki says I've been there. Well, nuts to you).

The thing is, How I Met Your Mother is a funny show. In some ways it is a conventional sitcom, but in many ways it is wildly clever with its narrative form, and the humor is often sharp and witty. But sometimes I forget that, in my desire to see the event that ultimately signals the end of a show that entertains me regularly. And when Ted is relegated to a subplot, I am indignant. You’re giving him a subplot so Barney can grow as a person or Lily and Marshall (who by the way, as the show has established on several occasions is a die-hard Viking fan: there have been a couple of episodes where it was central to the story) can learn some lesson about marriage or Robin can look off sadly? This isn’t why I’m here! Move Ted toward the mother! Give me progress! I may never see the Vikings win the Super Bowl: but I have THIS! Another subplot for Ted? Why?

And so here I am. Some nights I go for walks and think if only there weren't 12 men in the huddle, if only Gary Anderson, if only, if only...Some nights I go for walks and think Ted has just missed meeting his kids' mother, the show pushing us there, finally, finally...and people, here's the problem: I can't always tell the difference between these nights.

None of this seems particularly reasonable or healthy.

What the Vikings should do in FA
If I were running the Vikings (and I am aware I am not), my priority would be to sign as many competent defensive backs as possible. They should target any defensive backs they can get for good budget value, and sign as many of them as they can. One of the essential rules of professional football: you can never, ever have enough quality defensive backs. The Vikings need such a complete overhaul of the defensive secondary that they cannot possibly fulfill it entirely through one draft (even if they ignored their other needs, which are great). They need starters and backups. They should consider their roster currently empty of defensive backs, and assume they need to fill out every secondary position and all depth. And then no matter how many defensive backs they sign, they still won’t have enough, and they’ll have to draft some too. In a division featuring Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler, the Vikings are often going to struggle to defend the pass. If they can sign several competent NFL defensive backs, they can at least having a fighting chance to compete in those games.

Signing budget WRs gets you the likes of Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. Signing budget offensive linemen might get you some functional starters, but probably doesn’t give you a major upgrade over current talent. Those positions need to be addressed through the draft, or through a willingness to spend big on a free agent. But the Vikes can improve over their current secondary and fill out a roster area in desperate need of depth by targeting all the safeties and cornerbacks they think can be competent.

Here’s a list and ranking of FA cornerbacks (CBS). Obviously signing a player like Cortland Finnegan or Brent Grimes (or Grimey, as he liked to be called) would be great. But if the Vikings do sign one of those guys, they should smile, and then continue to try sign a bunch more DBs.

And it is true that at different points during the 2012 season, you will hate each Viking defensive back. They will occasionally get beat: that’s part of the NFL game today. And that’s fine: they’ll still be necessary for the Vikes to compete. The Vikes can’t sign a whole secondary of superstars, but they need to sign a whole secondary of players who won’t regularly blow coverages.

My wish
I wish the Vikings could sell sheets of imagination paper to fans. These pieces of paper would tell fans they could pretend they own the team, even though they will have no part in decision making and will never be allowed to make a profit. As it is, the Vikings (and all but one team that is granted an exception which seems unfair and seems to grant this team special privileges) are not allowed to do this. If the Vikings were allowed to sell these sheets of paper to us so that we could imagine we own the team, the profits from those sheets of paper could go some small way toward building the Vikings a new stadium.

And there’s nothing wrong with those imagination papers. Anybody can imagine anything they like: George Bailey gave Mary the moon, after all, and as Frida says in The Lacuna, any man has the right to make a kite of his pants and fly it.

Basketball Notes
Look at this. Look at it closely now. This is entirely real. It's really there. Do not take this moment for granted.

We should all thank the lovable show Parks and Recreation for this and this. And if I told you I have a Li'l Sebastian t-shirt, and also have Leslie Knope's book about Pawnee, you'd think I'm cool, right? Right?

Links
Christian Ponder jumps into ice cold water. You sort of enjoy seeing crazy people do this sort of thing; I’m not sure you enjoy seeing your favorite team’s quarterback doing it (Vikings.com).

"The Second-Class Status of Pre-Super Bowl History" (The Fifth Down).

Weekend



Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why Peyton Manning could affect the Minnesota Vikings rebuilding effort

First, let's get this immediately out of the way - despite what the headline indicates, I am not advocating the Vikings try to sign Peyton Manning - although I bet Pacifist Viking would be delighted.

But since the Colts have released the living legend, Manning could still have an impact on the Vikings future even though he will never play a down for them.

Despite ESPN Kevin Seifert's assertion that Manning's release will only affect Matt Flynn, if Manning were to sign with the Cleveland Browns or the Miami Dolphins, that eliminates just about any chance that the Vikings will be able to trade out of the #3 draft slot, move down and acquire extra picks to hasten its massive rebuilding effort.

Now it seems clear to me St. Louis will trade its #2 overall pick to the highest bidder and that team will select quarterback Robert Griffin III.

However, even if that happens, it doesn't mean the Vikings would be SOL in trading out of #3 slot, because another quarterback needy club could fall in love with Texas A & M QB Ryan Tannehill and make a deal with the Vikes. At least there is a possibility of that happening.

But if Manning signs with either of those teams, the odds of the Vikings swinging a trade for its first round pick go from maybe 20-30 per cent to five to 10 per cent. (I guess Seattle could try to swing a deal, but do the Vikings want to go from drafting third to 12th - where the Seahawks currently sit?)

Chris Cook update

If you're interested in Viking cornerback Chris Cook's assault trial, here is a story detailing today's proceedings. Cook might get off with no jail time in this, but he's not going to come out looking very good and I wonder if the Vikings will be willing to stick with a guy who will be considered by some - even if he is found innocent - a vicious abuser of women.

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