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.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has made multiple first round picks over the last three drafts, wheeling and dealing his way to a second – even third – selection near the end of the first round. With that, the organization will have some decisions to make on whether it wants to exercise fifth-year options for seven players in the next three offseasons.
We’ll table the discussions regarding wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the next two offseasons, though your heads are already spinning on who should receive a fifth-year option from this group.
This year, it starts with the 2012 class with first round left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith entering their fourth, and currently final, year of their rookie contracts. The window to exercise the fifth-year option or extend first round picks from the 2012 class opened on Dec. 29 and closes on May 3.
The top ten picks have their salaries decided by the average of the top ten highest salaries for players at the same position during the previous year, which would be the same amount as transition tags. Kalil, picked fourth overall in 2012, would have his salary determined in this manner.
The average salary of the third through 25th highest salaries at the same position determines how much picks 11-32 will receive in their fifth-year options. Smith, picked 29th overall, would fall under this category.
“That’ll be interesting, because now we’re getting into these next three years; We have seven of them that we’re going to have situations that we’re going to have to deal with,” Spielman said. “This year, it’ll be Kalil and Harrison Smith. If you exercise those options, you definitely have them under contract for that fifth year. We just have to talk through internally, and we’ve already had some initial discussions on some teams you look at, they exercise that option, but then they try to work out a long-term extension for those guys.”
Smith would be a no-brainer to exercise and possibly even incorporate the option into a long-term extension during the offseason. He’s a top five player at his position and will be one of the key pieces for this Vikings defense under head coach Mike Zimmer.
Kalil showed improvement at the end of the season, but the Vikings will be tasked with the decision of whether they want to retain Kalil’s rights for what will likely be a hefty price. The transition tag last year for offensive linemen was $10.039 million. Kalil will have the second highest cap hit among Vikings offensive linemen next season at $6.29 million with a $3.08 million base salary.
The Vikings can exercise the fifth-year option to Kalil, but it wouldn’t be guaranteed until the first day of the 2016 league year. The only exception would be if Kalil suffers a serious injury next season, which is possible for an offensive lineman in a season when right guard Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt were placed on injured reserve, the fifth-year option would be fully guaranteed. It’s noteworthy that Kalil had minor knee surgery last offseason that led to his slow start.
What’s clear is the Vikings will exercise a fifth-year option for the first time after declining to offer one last year to quarterback Christian Ponder, who will become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The 2011 draft class was the first to go through the process when the NFL implemented the fifth-year option in the most recent collective bargaining agreement. It’s still a fairly new process but one the Vikings will likely be faced with every offseason considering Spielman’s draft tendencies.
The Vikings signed versatile cornerback Jalil Carter to a reserve/future contract.
Carter spent the past three seasons with Toronto of the Canadian Football League. He is 6-2 and 205 pounds, and played college football at Akron, where he was a safety and receiver. He signed with St. Louis as an undrafted free agent in 2011.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman repeated coach Mike Zimmer’s earlier comments that the Vikings would like for suspended running back Adrian Peterson to return to the team in 2015, but stopped short of saying that will happen once Peterson is eligible to be reinstated on April 15.
“I don’t know if there’s a team in the NFL that wouldn’t want Adrian Peterson on the football team,” Spielman told a small group of reporters at Winter Park this morning. “If you can name me one. And I don’t want to speak for other teams. I’m being a little sarcastic with that. But I know he’s a pretty good football player.”
Peterson played only the season opener in 2014 after serving part of the season on the commissioner’s exempt list and then being suspended once he pleaded to a misdemeanor charge in relation to the injuries he caused while using a switch to discipline his 4-year-old son. Spielman defended Peterson’s character while acknowledging that he made a mistake.
“I think people tend to forget that when Adrian did make a mistake, he admitted he made a mistake,” Spielman said. “He went through the process in the court system. He’s currently suspended by the NFL right now, but he’s done a lot of positive things in this community as well.
“I’ve known Adrian his whole career and what type of person Adrian is. But I also know that we have to follow everything that’s put in place for us. Is there a resolution? Not right now. All I know is where we stand today. Does that change? I’m sure it’s going to change. Until those things change and get resolved, right now, we have Adrian Peterson, who is under contract for next year, who is currently suspended by the NFL. That’s pretty much all I can go into right now.”
Spielman deflected a point-blank question on whether the Vikings can afford Peterson’s current salary cap figure of $15.4 million.
“I’m not going to get into anything from a business-related standpoint with not only his, but any player’s contract,” Spielman said. “That’s stuff that we’ve always handled internally. I will always keep the business side of players contract internal.”
Taking the cap numbers and off-the-field issues out of play, it’s obvious where Spielman stands on Peterson, the player.
“Zim has expressed his opinion on Adrian,” said Spielman, referring to Zimmer’s earlier comments about wanting Peterson to return. “And there’s no doubt or no question on what Adrian Peterson has done for this organization on the field and what he is as a football player.”
Peterson will turn 30 this year. Normally, that’s ancient for most running backs. Spielman said Peterson isn’t a normal running back, so it’s probably a good idea not to assume things about AP. After all, it was assumed he wouldn’t be the same after having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Then he came back and ran for 2,097 yards and won MVP honors.
“The only thing I would say about Adrian is Adrian is maybe one of the most unique players I’ve ever been around,” Spielman said. “Everybody talked about how he’s not going to be the same after his ACL. And that was his best year, coming back from that.
“Knowing Adrian, I know that he is going to want to come back and play. He’s going to play at a very high level when he comes back. I’m anticipating that, just knowing what he’s done in the past.”
Under rules of Peterson’s suspension, the team has not been allowed to have contact with him. That makes it even more difficult for the Vikings when it comes to figuring out how this all will end.
“All I know is where we are today,” Spielman said. “I’m not going to get into all the hypothetical discussions we have internally.
“I’ll just stick by with what I said. I know that Adrian is a good person, just being around him. I know he’s done a lot of good in this community. What he did – he just came out and said he made a mistake. As Zim had stated earlier, he has to get all that in order and then we’ll proceed from there.”
A Vikings player finally received a postseason honor, and it’s none other than quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The Pro Football Writers of America named Bridgewater to its All-Rookie team on Tuesday. Bridgewater finished with 2,919 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with an 85.2 quarterback rating in 13 games (12 starts).
He won the award over Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who started the entire season and had 3,270 yards, 21 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 76.6 quarterback rating.
The Vikings struck out on the PFWA All-NFL and All-NFC teams announced on Monday. They also didn’t have a representative on the AP All-Pro team or the Pro Bowl.
Bridgewater is also up for Rookie of the Year (You can vote here on the award) with Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill, Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was named PFWA’s Rookie of the Year.
Here’s the complete PFWA All-Rookie Team:
QB – Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
RB – Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals; Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams
WR – Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TE – Jace Amaro, New York Jets
C – Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
G – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns; Zach Martin, Dallas Cowboys
T – Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans; Ja’Wuan James, Miami Dolphins
DL – Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams; Timmy Jernigan, Baltimore Ravens; Kony Ealy, Carolina Panthers; Justin Ellis, Oakland Raiders
LB – Chris Borland, San Francisco 49ers; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders; C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens
CB – Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; E.J. Gaines, St. Louis Rams
S – Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers
PK – Cody Parkey, Philadelphia Eagles
P – Pat O’Donnell, Chicago Bears
KR – Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
PR – De’Anthony Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs
ST – Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles
Well, at least the regular season predictions – 146-90-1 straight up and 125-111-1 – went fairly well.
And the start of last week’s wild-card round went as expected when the Panthers won. But after that, well …
Last week’s final record: 1-3 straight up and 2-2 versus the spread.
The Lions pick was a reach that was understood at the time it was made. Picking the Bengals was a lesson in the value of paying closer attention to key injuries (Note: When all the playmakers are injured, pick the other team, especially if the other team is at home). And the Steelers losing at home was a surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise considering Joe Flacco now has an NFL-record seven road playoff wins. Really. Joe Flacco. Look it up.
Here are four more swings at the NFL Divisional playoff games this weekend. All four home teams are favored even though we all know there’s no way all four home teams do what they’re supposed to do over two days in the NFL:
Ravens plus-7 at Patriots: Patriots by 3
Why?: New England has its best defense in years. Tom Brady is, well, Tom Brady. And the Patriots have spent a week being told they’re 1-2 against Joe Flacco in the postseason the past five years.
Panthers plus-11 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 14
Why?: The Panthers have won five straight while holding those five losers to an average of 11.8 points per game. But the Seahawks are 24-2 at home with Russell Wilson at quarterback. And they joined the 1976 Steelers as the only team in NFL history to win its final six regular-season games while holding those six teams to fewer than 40 total points (39).
Cowboys plus-5 ½ at Packers: Packers by 7
Why?: Aaron Rodgers is the closest thing to a mistake-free quarterback the NFL has ever seen. Eddie Lacy provides balance and a power running game. And the defense helped the Packers outscore opponents 93-7 in the first quarter of the last seven games at Lambeau Field. Tony Romo has had a great season as well, but he’s a mistake waiting to happen.
Colts plus-7 at Broncos: Broncos by 3
Why?: The Colts lack the balance offensively to beat a much-improved Denver defense on the road. We say this while whistling past the proverbial graveyard that feels like this could be another one-and-done home outing for Peyton Manning, whose passing rhythm fell out of whack late in the year.
THE WILD-CARD ROUND
Record: 1-3. Versus spread: 2-2.
Final Regular-season Record: Last week/overall: 12-4/146-90-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 9-6-1/125-111-1.
|New England||2/1/15 5:30 PM|
|Stephen F Austin||82||FINAL|
|Sam Houston St||80||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||84|
|Central Conn St||51||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||52|
|(12) Texas A&M||61||FINAL|
|(1) South Carolina||79|
|Mount St Marys||44|
|East Tenn St||72||FINAL|
|(18) Miss State||59||FINAL|