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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NFL combine recap: Vikings takeaways, winners, losers

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated February 24th at 2:25pm 293888431

The NFL scouting combine is over, and the GMs, coaches, scouts, agents and pesky reporters have vacated Lucas Oil Field, the fancy hotels and expensive steakhouses where their business is done.

So what did we learn? Who helped themselves? Who hurt themselves?

Here is a quick wrap-up of the week in Indianapolis, with a Vikings slant:

FIVE VIKINGS TAKEAWAYS:

1. The relationship between the Vikings and Adrian Peterson is rockier than they had been making it seem. The team embarked on a media campaign to voice its support for the suspended running back and GM Rick Spielman said Wednesday that he expected Peterson to be back. A day later, Peterson pumped the breaks in an interview with ESPN, saying that he feels “uneasy” about a return. And then there was that reported dust-up between Peterson’s agent and a key Vikings exec. While I’m sure Peterson means what he said about feeling betrayed by the team’s decision to get him placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, this conflict will probably come down to money. Both sides will dig in their heels and it’s too soon to say how this saga will end up playing out.

2. There is a 99 percent chance that the Vikings are going to take a running back in this draft. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday that the team won’t have much interest in free-agent backs, so Peterson being suspended until April 15 won’t really impact their offseason plan at the position. Spielman likes the top-end talent and depth of this running back class, and while I don’t think he will like Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley enough to use the 11th overall pick on one of them, I do think the Vikings will come away with a running back they like. Yes, even if Peterson does return.

3. The Vikings are doing their due diligence on some of the top linebackers. We shouldn’t obsess too much over who the Vikings did and didn’t speak with at the combine. After all, they get 60 formal interviews there and had informal talks with other prospects. But still, it was noteworthy that they chatted with a number of linebackers who could go in the first round. That list included Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, two of the top middle linebackers in Miami’s Denzel Perryman and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney, and a pair of edge rushers in Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Florida’s Dante Fowler. Which prospects they bring in for workouts will be more significant, but it seems the Vikings are open to drafting a linebacker early for a second straight year.

4. If the Vikings were hoping Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White would drop to them at No. 11, they left Indianapolis disappointed. Both of those wide receivers likely solidified themselves as top-10 selections with strong workouts. Cooper ran well and, as expected, looked good in receiver drills. White showed off 4.35 speed and athleticism to go with his 6-foot-3 frame, and now draft analysts are saying he has more upside than Cooper, the more polished player right now. If the Vikings want one of those guys, Trader Rick will probably have to do his thing again.

5. The Vikings probably aren’t going to go crazy in free agency. Zimmer admitted as much last week, saying the team isn’t likely to sign a top-tier free agent and stating his preference to sign lower-level free-agents and coach them up as best as he can. Organizationally, that makes sense, not just because few, if any, teams that “win the offseason” ended up winning the Super Bowl. Remember how the Vikings have gotten praise for drafting Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Teddy Bridgewater and four other young guys in the first round the past three years? Well, those guys aren’t going to be young for much longer, meaning they will be up for contract extensions soon. The Vikings, who prefer to give big bucks to their own players, will be conscious of that as they enter free agency.

FIVE WINNERS (IN NO ORDER):

1. Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback did his thing in throwing drills and reportedly fared well in team interviews, too. He is the clear favorite to go first overall to the Buccaneers.

2. Top-12 teams that don’t need a quarterback. With Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota both answering the bell in Indy, they will go early, pushing two talented non-passers down in the draft.

3. Trae Waynes. The Michigan State cornerback might have locked himself in as the top corner in this class with a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash. Could he be of interest to the Vikings at No. 11 overall?

4. Cooper and White. See above. Louisville’s DeVante Parker did well, too. They’re all top-20 picks.

5. Edge rushers. Prospects such as Fowler, Beasley, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree and UCLA’s Owa Odighizuwa had strong workouts. This looks like a good year for teams in need of an impact rusher.

FIVE LOSERS (IN NO ORDER):

1. Running backs. While this is a deep class, their times, outside of a few exceptions, weren’t exactly eye-popping. But will that prompt teams to maybe check out some tape again? Maybe. Maybe not.

2. Tight ends. Maxx Williams fared OK with a 4.77 in the 40-yard dash, but beyond him, this looks to be an underwhelming tight end class, which actually makes Williams a winner. He seems likely to go in the top 30 picks at this point, and he could even sneak up into the teens with a strong pro day.

3. Devin Funchess and Shaq Thompson. These two guys entered the combine as two of the most versatile players in the draft. But they might have left as prospects without a position. Funchess, the Michigan wide receiver, ran like a tight end. And Thompson did not run as well as hoped.

4. My offseason diet. I had been doing so well, but scouts left town disappointed with my physique.

5. The Vikings and Adrian Peterson. With Peterson sounding off on the Vikings and his agent and a team exec getting into a public spat, this week was not a good one for either side as the extent of their frayed relationship became public. This does not mean this relationship cannot be repaired. But as my colleague Mark Craig wrote a couple hours ago, it is going to take some compromise.

A three-step guide to surviving the Adrian Peterson saga

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated February 24th at 12:08pm 293863561

A guide to surviving the Adrian Peterson saga that might be helpful for fans, media, front office personnel, emotional agents and a certain former NFL MVP …

Step 1: Breathe.

Decisions,  conclusions and reactions are so much better when made with a calm brain, not a hyper heart. It’s why Teddy Bridgewater seems to have a future and Christian Ponder does not.

Just when everyone appeared to be thinking that Peterson will definitely be returning to the Vikings, Peterson told ESPN.com that he was “uneasy” about returning to the Vikings. Then CBSSports.com reported that Peterson’s agent got into a spat with Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings’ lead contract negotiator and salary cap wizard, and concluded said spat by saying Peterson will never play for the Vikings again.

That reported statement seems to be all that was needed for everybody to now assume that Peterson will definitely never, ever return to the Vikings.

I’d caution people against assuming that a decision of this magnitude became final in the heat of an argument at the scouting combine. I’ve been through enough of these kinds of things to know that there is always an out for the team and the agent when a definitive statement like this is made or, in this case, reportedly made: BLAME THE MEDIA.

If the two sides patch things up, the media will be blamed for blowing things out of proportion. Unfortunately, that’s become an all-too easy sell.

So don’t get stuck on statements or reported statements during a situation as fluid as this one. How many times have we seen one side say one thing and then the opposite happens.

I remember the Vikings telling us that reports of Randy Moss being traded in 2004 were ludicrous. I also seem to remember that they told us that about a month before they traded Randy Moss.

2, Pay the man

If the Vikings want Peterson, they should just pay him what his contract states. Give him his $12 million. Take the $15 million cap hit. If Jared Allen was worth $17 million at the end of his contract, Peterson is worth at least $15 million.

If the Vikings didn’t want to pay Peterson that much, they should have released him last year. Why pay the down payment and then not move into the house?

And let’s all stop trying to shoehorn Peterson into the box where all the other 30-year-old running backs reside. The last time we jammed him in a box built for the typical human being, he ran for 2,097 yards the year after his left leg essentially fell off at the knee.

He’s not normal. Yes, he’d be the highest paid running back in the league. Well, why shouldn’t he be? He’s the best running back in the league and he’d be running “angry,” as Vikings GM Rick Spielman has said.

Yeah, the running back position has been de-valued. But greatness hasn’t been. Peterson came into the league in 2007. There have been eight MVPs awarded since then. Only one time did a quarterback not win the award. That was in 2012 when Peterson won it. When healthy, he’s as valuable as any non-QB in the league and more valuable than a lot of the QBs.

Pay the man.

3, Stay humble, Adrian

When Peterson says he’s “uneasy” about returning to the Vikings, he should try to view the situation from the other side as well. The Vikings were uneasy with him last year. Heck, even his staunchest supporters were uneasy with what he did. Even the people who believe in corporal punishment as a way to raise children were uneasy with Peterson going too far with his 4-year-old son.

To say it was uneasy all the way around would be an understatement. The Vikings had every right to sit down as an organization and talk this thing through before taking a public stance. And if you’ve ever been in a meeting at work, you know there are differing views before the ultimate direction is chosen.

And, frankly, in the team’s defense, it tried to bring him back a week after his indictment, but all heck broke loose. If you think the NFL didn’t play a major role in putting Peterson on the commissioner’s exempt list, you’re wrong.

The bottom line all these months later should be:

1, The Vikings want Peterson back, so pay him. 2, Fans, sponsors, governors and critics of what  Peterson did should stand down because the man admitted his mistake and has now paid dearly for it. And, finally, 3, Peterson should stay humble, be thankful that he’ll get the second chance he deserves and, most of all, remember that he is responsible for all of this, including his own unease.

Report: Vikings exec, Peterson exec had verbal spat

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated February 23rd at 6:34pm 293719001

CBS Sports is reporting that Ben Dogra, the agent for suspended and disgruntled Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, and Rob Brzezinski, Vikings vice president of football operations, got into a “heated verbal altercation” about Peterson at the scouting combine and had to be separated.

According to the CBS report, Dogra also “made it clear that Peterson would never play there again.”

If the report has merit, it would be the latest twist in the Peterson saga, which has quickly turned ugly. The Vikings have praised Peterson in the media in recent weeks, saying they would like him to play for the team this season. But on Thursday, Peterson told ESPN he is uneasy about a return.

NFL teams routinely use the scouting combine to touch base with agents about their players, whether they are soon-to-be free agents, players with tricky contract situations or just players they want to check in on. While the Vikings are allowed only limited communication with Peterson through their legal team while he is suspended, they are allowed to speak with his agent. Brzezinski is the team’s lead contract negotiator.

The report did not say what specifically led to Brzezinski’s blow-up with Dogra.

The Vikings are declining comment.

The Vikings were checking out running backs at the combine over the weekend in the event that they will be without Peterson’s services going forward. He is eligible to be reinstated on April 15.

If Peterson isn’t reinstated until then, more than a month after the start of free agency, most of the NFL’s free-agent money will have been spent, giving more leverage to the Vikings if they do request that he take a pay cut to reduce his restrictive $12.75 million base salary and $15.4 million cap hit for 2015.

Given his age, contract and recent legal woes, Peterson might not have much trade value if he is requesting one, though it is expected that teams would show interest were he to become available.

Off the Board: Reacting to a first-round run on receivers

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated February 23rd at 11:24am 293679441

Some see mock drafts as pure entertainment. Others see them as completely pointless. But while even some of the best draft analysts are throwing darts when it comes to projecting how the first round of the NFL draft will play out, these mock drafts can serve a purpose, even to NFL teams.

In the days leading up to the draft, after their draft boards have pretty much been set in stone, most teams, including the Vikings, do their own mock draft exercises to make sure they are prepared for the twists and turns of the draft, especially the first round, which is the best show on television.

So in the spirt of that, between now and April’s draft we will participate in an exercise I’ve dubbed “Off the Board,” in which we theorize about how the Vikings might proceed with their 11th overall pick based on the draft-night drama that unfolds in front of them. I’ll come up with a new scenario every couple of weeks. Remember, this is more about the draft process than the actual picks.

For the debut installment of “Off the Board,” let’s explore the scenario of what might happen if each of the top three wide receivers go in the top 10 picks, a very real possibility after Kevin White and Amari Cooper blew up the combine and DeVante Parker did nothing to drop his stock with a solid showing himself. Barring an unexpected off-the-field incident or a fluke injury before draft, I think it’s safe to say that White and Cooper will be long gone by the 11th pick, and Parker could, too.

I’m not saying the Vikings definitely want to get Teddy Bridgewater a receiver, but it’s a definite need. So what might they do if the top three guys are all gone? Let’s start mocking and take a guess.

1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Winston came off as a little cocky during his Q&A with media on Friday, but I personally had no problem with that. His interviews with teams were infinitely more important due to his off-the-field issues, and Winston reportedly made favorable impressions there. As for his on-field performance, Winston opted to throw and did not disappoint.

2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Mariota also gets points for throwing at the combine instead of waiting until his pro day. He, too, was sharp and also showed off his speed in testing. I could see the Titans taking a front-seven defender as they continue to switch to a 3-4, but in the end, I think they will end up taking whichever quarterback the Buccaneers don’t pick or auction this pick off.

3. Jaguars: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. The Jaguars have some good young wide-outs in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marquise Lee, but none of them profile as a true No. 1. White, who ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, would give strong-armed quarterback Blake Bortles a big-play threat.

4. Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. Welp, there goes another wide receiver. Cooper fared well in the 40-yard dash, but his performance in receiver drills impressed more. A smooth route-runner, Cooper has been compared to Reggie Wayne. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr would like this pick.

5. Redskins: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. Fowler backed up his explosive game tape with a nice week in Indy. The Redskins will need another edge defender if/when they let Brian Orakpo walk.

6. Jets: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska. Gregory is a tweener type being projected to go in the top 10 or so picks. Maybe the Jets prefer a different edge defender, but we’ll drop Gregory here.

7. Bears: Leonard Williams, DE, USC. This big end could very well end up being the first defender selected. The Bears, who are switching to a 3-4 defense under John Fox, could get a perfect fit.

8. Falcons: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri. I can see new Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a defensive guy, drafting an impact defender with his first pick, like Mike Zimmer did with Anthony Barr a year ago.

9. Giants: Erik Armstead, DE, Oregon. A tricky projection. The Giants may select another offensive lineman here. But they often target defensive linemen early, and Jason Pierre-Paul is a free agent.

10. Rams: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville. There goes the third receiver. They claim they’re keeping Sam Bradford, so let’s give him another target. Somewhere Teddy Bridgewater frowns.

11. Vikings: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa. In this scenario, the top-tier receivers are gone, and taking, say, Dorial Green-Beckham, might be a reach. It might also be too early to select a cornerback or an outside linebacker like Shaq Thompson, so a trade-down might be an option. But if the Vikings stay put in this scenario, they would be able to get their hands on their favorite offensive lineman. I don’t know right now if that’s Scherff or someone else. But his ability to play either guard or tackle should appeal to the Vikings, who need reinforcements at both positions after the line struggled in 2014.

OK, your turn. Leave a comment to tell me who you would want the Vikings to pick in this scenario.

Vikings sign CFL LB Brian Peters

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated February 23rd at 10:12am 293677371

The Vikings signed linebacker Brian Peters from the Canadian Football League on Monday. Peters spent the last two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, leading the team with 78 tackles last year. The 26-year-old also had three sacks, two interceptions and one defensive touchdown.

Peters is listed at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds and played safety while at Northwestern. He’s the 11th linebacker on the Vikings roster, though Jasper Brinkley and Dom DeCicco are slated to become free agents in March. It’s a position that head coach Mike Zimmer said is thin in the draft and free agency.

Peters is the second player the Vikings have signed from the CFL this offseason. The team signed cornerback Jalil Carter to a reserve/future deal on Jan. 15. The Vikings also added defensive end Leon Mackey from the Arena Football League last month on a reserve/future deal.

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