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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Vikings mailbag: Free-agent linebackers, potential cuts left and, fine, one Brandon Marshall question

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated March 6th at 6:10am 295219141

It’s been a few weeks since I last did a mailbag, and with the official start of free agency a few days away, today seemed like a great day to reach out to my friends on Twitter for some questions.

Of course, not long after I asked for some, our friends at the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bears were shopping wide receiver Brandon Marshall. So that led to roughly 4,000 variations of “Is Brandon Marshall going to be a Viking?” This attempt at getting an answer was easily my favorite.

So since Marshall is #trending on social media, I’ll start with a quick take on him before digging into some more pertinent questions as the Vikings prepare for free agency to open Tuesday.

While Brandon Marshall is still a productive player at age 30, particularly when playing the Vikings, I don’t think it would make much sense for the Vikings to try to acquire him through a trade. For starters, they aren’t a player away from contending, so giving up draft picks and paying Marshall the big bucks due on his contract would be too costly for this rebuilding team. That’s just my opinion. Maybe the Vikings will think differently. Plus, Marshall has a history of wearing out his welcome wherever he plays. With head coach Mike Zimmer trying to change the culture inside Winter Park, bringing in a potentially disruptive player in Marshall could present more challenges.

We’ve already seen the Vikings part ways with two veterans. Guard Charlie Johnson was due to make $2.5 million, but his release had more to do with his performance than the money. The trade of quarterback Matt Cassel to the Bills freed up another $4.75 million, plus the Vikings scored some draft assets. The two players left to keep an eye on are outside linebacker Chad Greenway and wide receiver Greg Jennings. GM Rick Spielman said Monday that the Vikings want Greenway to finish his career with the Vikings, but there is no way he returns at his current salary. I would like to think that if the Vikings choose to cut Greenway, they would do it this weekend so he gets a chance to get the best deal possible. He has earned that kind of treatment with his play on the field and his class and generosity off of it. As for Jennings, I would be a little surprised if he was flat-out released. But his $11 million cap hit does not match his production, so it would make sense for the Vikings to approach him at some point about bringing his salary in line with his play.

Last time I checked in about Johnson, I was told that he was prepared to test the open market and see if he could get the multi-year contract, salary and role he covets, though he doesn’t necessarily need to start. This is how business is typically done with lower-tier free agents such as Johnson, middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and reserve guard Joe Berger. The Vikings have talked to their agents about coming back, but they might not be able to find middle ground until the frenzied first few days of free agency go down and the marquee free agents sign and set the market. For what it’s worth, I still think Johnson coming back to Minnesota makes the most sense for both parties. The journeyman defensive tackle had a career year under Zimmer in 2014 and the Vikings could really use another season of that kind of production from Johnson as a sub-package interior pass rusher.

Zimmer is on the record as saying that he doesn’t think this is a particularly good class of free-agent middle linebackers (he said the same thing about the draft, too). Now Zimmer doesn’t think it’s absolutely necessary to find a middle linebacker who can play all three downs, but it certainly is his preference. One name to remember is Rey Maualuga, who was a solid but unspectacular player for Zimmer in Cincinnati. Maualuga started at middle linebacker for the Bengals and was at times an every-down defender for Zimmer. He’s not great in coverage by any stretch, but he would be an upgrade over Jasper Brinkley in that area. At what cost, though? If the Vikings are just looking for a two-down thumper, it might make more sense to bring back Brinkley to be a part-time player. Another name to remember is Mason Foster, who flashed three-down potential for the Buccaneers before Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier brought the Tampa Two defense back to Tampa Bay in 2014.

UPDATE: Not long after I posted this mailbag, the Bengals announced that they have re-signed Maualuga to a three-year deal. So disregard everything I just wrote about him.

I wrote at length about the offseason plan at running back a couple of weeks ago, so I kindly ask you to click this link and give it a read. But to give you the Cliff’s Notes version, the Vikings don’t plan on spending for a free-agent running back. Instead, they will look to find another running back in the draft. The question is, will that player ending up spelling Adrian Peterson or replacing him?

It’s fun to think ahead to the draft, and I’m certainly guilty of it, too. But we won’t get a good idea of which direction the Vikings might go with their first-round pick until after the first few weeks of free agency. I agree that right now the offensive line, wide receiver and cornerback are probably the team’s biggest needs. But if the Vikings make a splash with a free-agent signing like, say, Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati, suddenly the line will become a lower priority. All that said, the Vikings pick 11th overall. When you’re drafting that high, you should probably take a best-player-available approach unless you have two similarly-graded players and one of them plays a need position.

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.

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