Access Vikings

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.


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Peterson meeting starts with hugs, lasts four hours

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated March 4th at 8:43pm 295090061

Vikings General Manger Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer met with running back Adrian Peterson at his Houston home a little after noon today.

You’ve probably watched the video by now. Peterson shook Spielman’s hand and pulled him in for a quick hug and then did the same with Zimmer before welcoming them into his home to chat.

The meeting, believed to be Spielman and Zimmer’s first face-to-face sit-down with Peterson since he was suspended by the NFL in November, lasted four hours.

While Vikings officials and sources close to Peterson have not yet revealed what exactly was said during that meeting, Peterson said in a statement that he thought the conversation went well.

“I appreciate Rick and Coach Zimmer coming down to see me today,” Peterson said in the statement. “We had a great dialogue and they were able to understand where I was coming from and concerns my family and I still have. We respect each other and hopefully the situation can pan out so that everyone involved is content.”

Vikings trade backup QB Cassel to the Bills

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated March 4th at 2:51pm 295021461

The Vikings have agreed to trade backup quarterback Matt Cassel to the Buffalo Bills.

This time a year ago, the Vikings re-signed Cassel to a two-year contract so the veteran could be the “bridge” to their quarterback of the future. That quarterback ended up being Teddy Bridgewater, who had a promising rookie season after replacing Cassel, who fractured his foot, in Week 3.

Cassel, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve, would have been one of the league’s highest-paid backup quarterbacks in 2015. Now he will get a chance to start for the Bills, who in the past two days agreed to trade for a star running back in LeSean McCoy and a veteran QB in Cassel.

According to the Bills’ website, the Bills will send two undisclosed draft picks to the Vikings in exchange for Cassel and an undisclosed pick. The trade can’t become official until the start of the league year, so Tuesday at 3 p.m. CDT.

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reported that Minnesota will receive a 2015 fifth-round pick and a 2016 seventh-round pick from Buffalo. The Vikings will send Cassel and a 2015 sixth-rounder to the Bills.

By trading Cassel, the Vikings will free up $4.75 million in salary cap space. As it stands now, the team will enter free agency with about $25 million in cap space.

General Manager Rick Spielman had positive things to say about Cassel when he was asked about the quarterback at the NFL scouting combine two weeks ago, but he was non-committal about his status for 2015.

“Matt’s done a great job,” Spielman said. “He came in and won some games when he had to play and he’s a great locker room guy and Matt adds a lot of value to us.”

Cassel appeared in 12 games, nine of them starts, over two seasons with the Vikings. He threw 14 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions while compiling a 4-5 record as a starter.

He edged out Bridgewater to start the 2014 opener after a solid training camp and preseason. Bridgewater likely would have replaced him eventually, but Cassel’s injury opened the door.

Now with Bridgewater locked in as the starter, Cassel was expendable. The Vikings will now presumably look for a veteran backup in free agency and possibly draft a developmental passer.

Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, along with former Vikings Tarvaris Jackson, Shaun Hill and Christian Ponder, are among the QBs scheduled to hit free agency.

Vikings don't expect to get any compensatory picks

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated March 4th at 11:34am 295015061

I know there are more prominent matters of concern as it pertains to the Vikings beat right now. You know, like where Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman ate breakfast at MSP this morning before flying down to Texas to meet with a certain disgruntled Pro Bowl running back.

But as we wait for new developments in #PetersonWatch, I figured I’d throw up a quick block post on what Spielman had to say about compensatory picks when we talked to him the other day.

Simply put, the GM doesn’t expect the Vikings to get any compensatory picks again this year when the recipients of the 32 comp picks are announced at the owners meetings next month.

My colleague Mark Craig wrote an informative piece on comp picks last year. One tidbit from that: In two decades, the Vikings have only received 16 of them and haven’t gotten one since 2012.

But why none this year? Yes, the Vikings lost a few notable unrestricted free agents last offseason, the biggest being defensive end Jared Allen. But they signed some, too, led by nose tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. The NFL doesn’t make its formula public, but it is based on more than just the salaries handed out, including playing time and postseason honors.

So basically all those signings will likely cancel out and the Vikings will get no extra picks.

Still, despite not getting many compensatory picks in recent years, Spielman said the Vikings keep the secret formula in mind when deciding whom to sign in the offseason. For example, players who were cut by their previous teams don’t count towards the formula.

“There’s a pretty good group of guys that are going to get cut or have been cut already,” Spielman said. “So if you can potentially fill some needs with guys getting released, that doesn’t affect potential compensatory picks the following year. You weigh [unrestricted free agents] but we also put in all the guys that are potential street free agents, and if we can go that route, we may look at that route because it could potentially help you with compensatory picks.”

I wouldn’t get your hopes up for 2016 comp picks, though.

The Vikings don’t have any higher-profile players hitting the free-agent market because they locked up guys like tight end Kyle Rudolph and right guard Brandon Fusco before the season. Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and backup defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who each played less than half of the defensive snaps last season, are probably their most notable free agents.

Anyway, time to get back to refreshing Twitter in case Spielman and Zimmer stop to grab lunch.

Zimmer to meet with Peterson in Texas

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated March 4th at 7:34pm 294938991

Now that the Vikings can officially meet with Adrian Peterson, they intend to do just that.

A source confirmed Peterson will meet with Vikings officials Wednesday in Houston.   USA Today reported Vikings coach Mike Zimmer will fly to Texas for the meeting; it also said general manager Rick Spielman was likely to fly with Zimmer.

Spielman said Monday the Vikings have spoken to Peterson by phone and that they would continue to have an “open dialogue” with their star running back while he is on the commissioner’s exempt list.

Peterson won a recent court victory when his NFL suspension, set to run until at least April 15, was sent back to the league by Judge David Doty, who ruled an NFL arbitrator’s upholding of the suspension was flawed.  The league then put Peterson on the exempt list, meaning all Vikings officials could talk with him. The NFL appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, but that hearing isn’t likely for months.

“We are able to have communication now with Adrian,” Spielman said Monday. “We’ll keep all those communications internal. I don’t want to give you guys a blow-by-blow [account] every day. I think it’s been very clearly stated that we want to have Adrian Peterson back. There’s no question about the talent. He’s a unique talent and he’s under contract with us next year.”

Spielman was asked about Peterson’s comment two weeks ago about feeling “uneasy” about potentially returning to the Vikings and whether there is a “rift” between the player and the team.

“I’m not going to get into anything on that front,” said Spielman, who later added, “I can tell you that we’re going to have and we have open communication with him and we’ll just leave all those discussions between us and Adrian.”

Peterson’s contract runs through 2017.  He is scheduled to make $12.75 million this season.

Lower-tier alternatives to top-dollar free agents

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated March 3rd at 2:06pm 294861931

General Manager Rick Spielman probably rained on the parade of Vikings fans who are hoping for a splash this offseason when he said yesterday that he expects the team to be patient in free agency.

“Once free agency starts we’ll probably lay in the weeds a little bit and see what happens,” he said.

Now, it’s understandable to be a little suspicious of general managers like Spielman this time a year. And after all, Spielman did leave himself a little wiggle room by saying the Vikings could open up the checkbook if “something unique pops up,” as they felt was the case with Greg Jennings in 2013.

But the Vikings are trying to build the foundation of a championship team through the NFL draft, as evidenced by the seven players they took in the first round the past three years. And while they are hoping for a return to the playoffs in 2015, I am sure that Spielman and the Vikings are aware that they aren’t one or two marquee players away from seriously competing for the Lombardi Trophy.

They also realize that overpaying for unknowns in free agency will make it trickier to keep core players like Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Teddy Bridgewater when their rookie deals are up.

“Not only are you planning for this year, but you also have to look into the future,” Spielman said.

So while the Vikings may surprise by pouncing on a top-dollar free agent next week, it seems more likely they target lower-tier guys, like they did last year with Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn.

In the spirit of that, let’s take a look at some of the top free agents that Vikings fans are clamoring for on Twitter and cheaper options who probably fit more in line with what the Vikings want to do.

Top-dollar free agent: Mike Iupati, G, 49ers

Lower-tier alternative: Clint Boling, G, Bengals

Someone is going to pay Iupati, a former first-round pick and a three-time Pro Bowler for the 49ers, a ton of money. But paying big bucks for a guard is tricky business (with a generational talent like Steve Hutchinson being an obvious exception). Instead, the Vikings could pursue Boling if they are looking for a physical guard who can help them get their power running game going again in 2015.

Top-dollar free agent: Byron Maxwell, CB, Seahawks

Lower-tier alternative: Davon House, CB, Packers

There was a lot of buzz about Maxwell at the NFL scouting combine. The Ringo Starr of the Legion of Boom, Maxwell is expected to have plenty of suitors and he could score a salary of more than $8 million per season. House, who was drafted a couple of rounds before Maxwell in 2011, was a part-time starter for the Packers, but he is young, he can run and he has some size, too.

Top-dollar free agent: Devin McCourty, S, Patriots

Lower-tier alternative: Ron Parker, S, Chiefs

Many NFL insiders thought it would be a formality that the Patriots would slap their franchise tag on McCourty. There is still a chance that he could return to the Patriots, but either way, he is getting paid. A cheaper gamble worth taking might be Parker, who like McCourty was a cornerback before being converted to safety. He doesn’t have the production of McCourty, but he has some potential.

Top-dollar free agent: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos

Lower-tier alternative: Kenny Britt, WR, Rams

Yes, the Broncos used the franchise tag on Thomas, but it’s the non-exclusive tag, meaning another team can sign him away if they are willing to cough up a pair of first-round picks, too. This ain’t fantasy football, so chances are that’s not happening. While Britt is nowhere near as explosive as Thomas, he is also 6-foot-3 with a similar build and would also bring value inside the red zone.

Top-dollar free agent: Rey Maualuga, MLB, Bengals

Lower-tier alternative: Jasper Brinkley, MLB, Vikings

I understand why I get asked about Maualuga all the time. He’s a name player who has ties to Mike Zimmer with the Bengals. With all due respect to Maualuga, he is a solid run defender but is nothing special. There don’t appear to be many, if any, quality do-it-all middle linebackers in free agency. So if you’re settling for a two-down thumper there, why not just keep Brinkley around on the cheap?

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