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.
The Vikings have officially released veteran offensive guard Charlie Johnson.
The 30-year-old spent the past four seasons with the Vikings, starting 61 of 64 games. In 2014, he struggled at left guard before missing two games late in the season with an ankle injury. Johnson returned for the season finale, and it will likely end up being his final game in a Vikings uniform.
Johnson signed a two-year deal with the Vikings last offseason to stay with the team. By releasing Johnson, the team cleared $2.5 million in cap space without any dead money staying on the cap.
Johnson is now a free agent and can sign with any team.
Johnson’s release was not a surprise. The Vikings are expected to prioritize improving the offensive line this offseason after that group disappointed last season. With the other four starters from the 2014 season opener expected to return, the team could add a veteran guard in free agency, select one in April’s NFL draft or both.
Veteran backups Joe Berger and Vlad Ducasse are scheduled to join Johnson in unrestricted free agency on March 10. Backup tackle Mike Harris is a restricted free agent.
It was about time for head coach Mike Zimmer to wrap up his official NFL scouting combine press conference last Thursday. All of the pressing questions, like the ones about Adrian Peterson and the team’s plans for free agency, had already been asked when a reporter slipped in a question about defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who thrived under Zimmer when healthy enough to play.
“Sharrif, I thought he had a good year,” Zimmer said. “He improved quite a bit. Losing weight at the beginning of the season helped him quite a bit. He changed his diet. And he’s a very conscientious hard-working kid who has a chance to be a very good three technique.”
That wasn’t all Zimmer had to say about Floyd, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
In his second NFL season, Floyd made 42 tackles, recorded 4.5 sacks and had 30 total quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, which was tied with Tom Johnson for the team lead among defensive tackles. PFF, by the way, graded him as one of the league’s best at his position.
Injuries were an issue, though, as Floyd missed two games and got knocked out of a couple others. As a result, he only played 52.5 percent of the defensive snaps in 2014.
Floyd’s level of durability was on Zimmer’s mind as he wrapped up his answer to that question.
“He’s got to continue to stay healthy,” Zimmer continued. “That will be a big thing for him. He’s got to understand that the NFL is a big man’s game. You have to go out and play all the time. But he’s a young developing player and I think he’ll get that figured out too.’’
I’ll let you read between the lines on that one.
Brandon Bostick, the tight end whom the Vikings claimed off waivers last week, has shared an interesting first-person piece for MMQB.com about his emotions and experiences in the aftermath of that botched attempt at recovering an onside kick late in last month’s NFC title game.
After Bostick’s special-teams miscue, the Seahawks went on to defeat his now-former team, the Packers, in overtime. He immediately became a scapegoat and is still trying to cope with the loss.
“There have been a few deaths in my family, and when I was in high school, a favorite uncle passed away. When he died, I didn’t cry because it didn’t feel real. The night of the NFC championship game kind of felt like that,” Bostick told MMQB.
“I knew it was a big deal. I knew it was a key mistake that cost us a trip to the Super Bowl. But, with all due respect, I think the media kind of took it and ran with it. I became the singular scapegoat. Social media didn’t help, either. I don’t know how many death threats I received, but there have been a lot. I still haven’t read most of the messages that people sent me, but I want to so I can deal with the consequences and use it as motivation. But it is physically impossible for me to read every troll’s comment; the volume is simply too much. So their comments sit there, untouched, maybe forever.”
Interestingly, former Browns running back Earnest Byner, who lost “The Fumble” in 1987 that cost the Browns the AFC title, called up Bostick in the days after the game and offered to give him guidance. Bostick said he and Byner have since talked once or twice a week.
I don’t want to steal all of Bostick’s thunder, so read the whole piece for yourself right here.
The NFL scouting combine is now a few days behind us, which means the draftniks have had sufficient time to update their mock drafts to reflect what was learned in Indy.
It is still more than two months until the actual draft, and future events — none bigger than free agency — will shape how the first round of the draft actually plays out.
But if the draft were to take place today, it seems as if there is no consensus about which position the Vikings will target first. Sure, a number of the mock drafts I pulled up still had them taking a wide receiver, a popular pick the last time I did this roundup. But now we are starting to see some new names linked to the Vikings in these premature projections.
One in particular keeps popping up. That would be Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, who helped himself by running one of the fastest forty times down in Indy. The Vikings could use another quality cornerback, especially in this division, so the connection does sound logical.
Anyway, check out which prospects are being mocked to the Vikings in these notable mock drafts:
Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. “After White’s performance at the combine the Vikings will be lucky if he is still on the board when they pick,” Kirwan wrote. “White is big, fast and productive and is a perfect fit in Norv Turner’s offense. Teddy Bridgewater could have AP behind him and White and Patterson out wide which puts this team on the map.”
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville. “Reunited and it feels so good for DeVante Parker and his college quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The two Louisville Cardinals need each other — Teddy needs a legitimate No. 1 receiver and Parker will step into an NFL offense begging for his ability in the red zone,” Miller wrote. “With freakish size, game speed and the ability to post up in the end zone, Parker has the skill set needed to open up the Minnesota offense with speedsters like Jarius Wright and the big-play potential of Cordarrelle Patterson.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: Waynes. “I think this pick could come down to Waynes and Louisville receiver DeVante Parker, who was Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target at Louisville and is a top-10 player on our board,” McShay wrote. “But Minnesota really needs help at corner, so I’ll go with Waynes. He really helped himself at the combine by running a 4.31 40-yard dash, which eliminated any concerns about his speed after showing a little bit of tightness on tape. He is a technically sound cover corner with good instincts and football character. Plus, he plays hard and isn’t afraid to show up in run support.”
Peter King, MMQB: Waynes. “Even if the Adrian Peterson thing blows up and the Vikings lose him and they love Melvin Gordon … Mike Zimmer likes his front’s ability to pressure the quarterback,” King wrote. “Now he wants a corner to play with Xavier Rhodes as his two long-term cover guys in a division with very good quarterbacking.”
Eric Galko, Optimum Scouting: Parker. “Norv Turner recently said that Charles Johnson is the Vikings’ best receiver. That’s basically code for, ‘We need to upgrade at receiver,’” Galko wrote. “Parker is in the mix for the top receiver in the class, and his relationship with Teddy Bridgewater gives him the nod over the other options here [including White].”
Peter Schrager, Fox Sports: Waynes. “Waynes could go earlier, depending on team needs in the top 10. He is a 6-foot, 186-pound corner who starred in a man-to-man defense at Michigan State. He worked on an island against some of the best in the country,” Schrager wrote. “He does it all and runs a 4.32 40-yard dash. Mike Zimmer is a defensive backs coach at heart and there are never enough corners in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler.”
Eric Edholm, Yahoo Sports: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa. “The guard-tackle versatility would allow Scherff to start inside as a rookie and kick out to tackle eventually if the Vikings don’t re-sign Matt Kalil after 2015 or decide to part ways with Phil Loadholt,” Edholm wrote. “Scherff is already an established run blocker who fits what the Vikings want to do offensively.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. “Cooper would be a steal for the Vikings and their young franchise quarterback,” Jeremiah wrote.
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. “Passing up Teddy Bridgewater’s former Louisville teammate, receiver DeVante Parker, probably won’t be a popular move in many places,” Banks wrote. “But solidifying the offensive line and protecting the young quarterback is paramount, and Peat addresses one of the team’s weakest links.”
Matt Brown, Sports on Earth: Waynes. How often does the extremely obvious mock draft pick actually happen? Understandably, DeVante Parker has long been pegged to the Vikings, who need another outside receiver. Who better to pair with Teddy Bridgewater than his top college target?” Brown wrote. “But the wide receiver depth in this draft is strong; the Vikings may instead opt to take the top cornerback on the board. Waynes further established himself in that position after running a blistering 4.32 in the 40.”
A week from Saturday, NFL teams and agents for players who will become unrestricted free agents are allowed to begin negotiating. But they can’t sign off on a deal until 3 p.m. CT on March 10, three days later.
This, of course, causes concern among those of us who need official NFL-approved COUNTDOWN CLOCKS!! to get through our year. While we figure out whether to set ours to March 7 or 3:00.00 on March 10, we’ll toss out over the next two days one person’s list of three do’s and three don’ts for free agency. (And, yes, there are always going to be exceptions to every do or don’t.)
There should be more don’ts than do’s in free agency (see: 2014 Free Agency “Winner” Tampa Bay), so we’ll start with the don’ts today and finish with the do’s on Thursday:
Free agency DON’T No. 1: NO ONE OVER 28.
Don’t fall in love with the past. Players are either getting better or getting old. The league’s great personnel men have no rear view mirrors and a keen sense for Father Time’s tipping point.
Generally, 30 is the frowned-upon age in free agency. The frown here is directed at anyone not coming off his rookie contract. Twenty-seven tends to be the perfect intersection for necessary youth, experience, hunger, upside and reliable durability.
Free agency DON’T No. 2: NO RUNNING BACKS.
I’m not devaluing the position. I think it remains an important position in a league that’s not only pass-happy, but pass-rusher-happy. If nothing else, someone has to keep the pass rushers honest and the extra DBs from flooding the field and staring down the QB.
However, I just think, as a general rule of thumb (Note: General rules of thumb don’t apply to a certain 2012 league MVP), there are too many other avenues to acquire younger running backs who can make an immediate and acceptable impact, and are less likely to break down during a long season.
It’s an unfortunate “don’t” for a guy such as Demarco Murray, but that’s just how it is. His great season in 2014 included too many touches for it to work in his favor in 2015. At least not from this vantage point.
As I said earlier, there are exceptions. Peterson would be a classic exception to the first two “don’ts.” In a risk/reward scenario, I’d push the chips toward Peterson’s talent and determination.
Darren Sproles was another good exception a year ago. He was a running back turning 30, but he also was still very much the toughest and most unique matchup at running back in the league.
Free agency DON’T No. 3: NO KNUCKLEHEADS OR INJURED PLAYERS.
Building a roster is difficult enough without having to count on knuckleheads not to be knuckleheads for seven months. Just ask the Browns.
Last fall, the Vikings needed a no-name receiver — Charles Johnson — to come out of nowhere to help them fill out a pro-caliber receiving corps. We all bundled up the fault for this and dumped it at the feet of Cordarrelle Patterson, who was slow to understand the mental commitment needed to succeed at this level.
What we all should have done was take a big chunk of that finger-pointing and direct it toward Jerome Simpson, a classic knucklehead who couldn’t graduate from Knucklehead U.
Simpson seemed like a good dude, but he came to the Vikings via free agency with a proven track record as a knucklehead. He even had the jail time and the impending NFL suspension to prove it.
He messed up again. Got another suspension. Messed up while on that suspension and was tossed aside quietly while the team dealt with the Peterson fiasco last season.
When the roster was put together, Simpson was counted on to help out. But, predictably, he did what knuckleheads tend to do: he wasted a precious roster spot and left his team scrambling to fill a hole that’s not easy to fill during the season.
|Fla Gulf Coast||81|
|San Jose St||76||FINAL|
|San Diego State||76|