July 24, 2017

Looking back at the train wreck that was the 2016 Minnesota Vikings post-bye season

Filed under: Football — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan reminds us all that up to the bye week, last year’s version of the Minnesota Vikings looked like a potential Super Bowl contender, until the wheels all came off at once:

As of Oct. 23, they had beaten three teams that would make the NFL playoffs, and another that had won the conference championship the year before. They had won twice on the road and had opened U.S. Bank Stadium with a thrilling victory over They Who Shall Not Be Named.

Only a missed 23-yard field goal had kept them from advancing in the playoffs the previous season. They had the look of a budding power.

Then they collapsed, losing eight of their last 11 games, playing like invertebrates in a home loss to the Colts in December and eliciting predictable responses from fans who believe that early-season success is more tease than prelude.

So are the 2017 Vikings charged with banishing all memories of 2016, or with reviving the feeling the team had in mid-October? Was 5-0 a mirage?

For all of the latent pessimism surrounding the franchise, the makeup of the current roster and the nature of the NFL indicates that the 2016 team simply was destroyed by injuries. Even without a healthy offensive line, star running back and starting quarterback, the Vikings were in position to make the playoffs. Two excruciating losses to Detroit made the difference between 10-6 and 8-8.

The Vikings built a quality roster that was waylaid by an offensive line that couldn’t create a running game or give Sam Bradford enough time to look downfield.

The defense, tasked with carrying the team, wore down over the final 11 weeks. A competent offense would have prevented that from happening.


Zimmer’s first team went 7-9, and his second finished 11-5. With decent luck and health, there is little reason to doubt that this team should win 10 or 11 games and return to the playoffs.

With no worse than an NFL-average distribution of injuries, the Vikings roster is certainly capable of a 10-6 season and a wild card berth. Now that Adrian Peterson has moved on, the team no longer has to cripple game plans to ensure that AP got his touches, and the running backs are all starting-quality players even if no one of them is a drop-in replacement for Peterson (who was, beyond question, one of the greatest running threats in NFL history, but a liability in blocking and barely acceptable catching passes). Latavius Murray, Dalvin Cook, and Jerick McKinnon will be a better-balanced offensive threat as a group than Peterson was by himself … that can only help the team in the long run.

June 30, 2017

“No one is bending over backwards to be fair to McEnroe here, and — well, he is John McEnroe”

Filed under: Media, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the tempest-in-a-teapot over John McEnroe’s rating of Serena Williams’ tennis skills:

McEnroe is in a familiar, mostly consequence-free sort of trouble for an interview he gave to National Public Radio that aired this past Sunday. McEnroe is flogging a book, and NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro read a quote from it, asking him why he had described Serena Williams as “the best female player” ever. Maybe, Garcia-Navarro suggested, Serena is just “the best player in the world.” “Why say female player?”

McEnroe immediately answered that if Williams played tennis on the men’s tour “she’d be, like, (number) 700 in the world.” He added that “That doesn’t mean I don’t think Serena is an incredible player: I do.” He specified that “700” was not an exact guess — “perhaps it’d be a little higher, perhaps it’d be a little lower.” And he noted that Williams’s supreme mental rigour would enable unexpected victories over male pros.


It so happens that when Serena was 16 and participating in the 1998 Australian Open, she and her sister Venus boasted that they could probably beat the 200th-best men’s player in the world. A German named Karsten Braasch, once number 38 in the men’s ranking, but by then a bit dissipated, stood 203rd at that moment. He got word of the Williams challenge. Indulging in his trademark habit of smoking cigarettes during breaks in play, Braasch beat Serena 6-1 and Venus 6-2.

The sisters revised their claim to superiority over men outside the top 350 before deciding not to speak of the match again, nor to repeat it with a different male opponent. Braasch was quoted as saying “500 and above: no chance.”

It might be objected that Serena was “only” 16 at the time, assuming anyone had dared to mention Karsten Braasch at all this week, but female tennis players seem to experience pretty much the earliest chronological peak of playing ability outside gymnastics or thoroughbred horseracing. Being 35 years old, as Serena is now, doesn’t help anybody win in a sport involving strength and speed. McEnroe has clear justification for his belief that Serena would not be one of the 500 best players in a world of wide-open, all-genders tennis.

Megan McArdle agrees it takes nothing at all away from Serena Williams to say she’s not the best tennis player in the world:

“Best” is a relative value of course, not an absolute; Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the best in its field, 65 million years ago, but when conditions changed, poor T. rex went from industry leader to the ash heap of history. When we say that someone or something is “the best,” we always have to acknowledge that this judgment is highly dependent on the criteria we’re using to define excellence.

This is approximately the argument many of McEnroe’s critics seem to be making. Unable to refute his core point — that Serena Williams could not be a world champion if she were regularly competing against men — instead they’re asking why he would make that the standard for judging whether she’s the world’s best tennis player.

This leaves me just as confused as McEnroe was when the NPR interviewer asked him essentially the same question. Tennis, after all, is a court, a moderate amount of equipment, and some highly detailed rules for determining who wins. The best tennis player is the person who can most regularly defeat the other players under those rules. Unless some sort of terrible plague wipes out hundreds of top men’s tennis players, that person will never be Serena Williams.


We should all applaud Serena Williams for becoming the world’s best female tennis player. That’s a stunning achievement — a testament to her physical gifts and how hard she has worked to develop as a player. Williams has earned her titles, her money and her fame, and she deserves to bask in all of it. It is a compliment, and a true statement, to call her the best female tennis player. We won’t add anything to her achievement by subtracting “female” and turning the true accolade into false flattery.

May 27, 2017

QotD: When international sport replaced war between the Great Powers

Filed under: History, Quotations, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I do not know if there was a meeting, in about 1961, of a subcommittee of the Bilderberg Commission (itself a characteristic consequence of the Great Change) at which it was resolved that, what with Great Wars needing now to be things of the past, some harmless outlet now had to be found for all those nationalistic passions which until so very recently it had been necessary for Great Powers to keep permanently inflamed (in case they found themselves having a Great War), but which they now needed to extinguish (in case these passions started a Great War). Discuss. Having created nationalism, what were the Great Powers now going to do with it? One big answer: sport. Don’t have the hoi polloi wave their national flags and have big urban demonstrations and nationalistic ecstasies and lamentations in their newspapers and internet sites and city squares because of war. Let them indulge in these things because of sport.

As I say, maybe there was such a meeting and maybe there has never been such a meeting. But, if such a meeting had occurred, events would probably have unfolded, in sport, much as they actually have. What did definitely happen, I assert, is that the end of Great Wars, and the coming of the Great Peace, has left a war-shaped gap, so to speak, in all the cultures of the Great Powers. And one of the many things that has flowed into this gap, like molten metal into a mould, has been professional sport.

The “professional” bit is important. The former manager of the Liverpool football team Bill Shankly once famously said something like: “A lot of people say that football is a matter of life and death, but it’s a lot more important than that.” And one of the ways in which it is “more important than that” is that the most successful sportsmen, successful footballers especially, are now paid such huge sums of money, a lot more now even than in Shankly’s time.

Professional sport means more, especially to spectators, than mere sport does. If a game is “only a game”, then people simply don’t watch it in large numbers. They may participate in large numbers, but when it comes just to watching, too little is at stake, in an “only a game” game. But if what potential spectators are offered as entertainment is the public struggle to become one of the absolute best at whatever it is, and as an intrinsic part of that the struggle to be either averagely well-off or worse (because of having placed your bets on sport and lost), or super-rich, depending on how things play out during the next hour or two, then millions will pay to attend. And that sets a positive feedback loop in motion, of more money being paid by spectators (including television spectators) and hence even more money being paid to the contestants, and hence even more being at stake when the contestants have their contests. And whereas the careers of earlier generations of sportsmen, then very poorly paid indeed compared to their successors, were often interrupted and frequently terminated by Great Wars, now, there is no such upheaval on anyone’s horizon, either to wreck sporting careers or to put sport into anything resembling “perspective”, in other words to make it not seem like a matter of life and death.

So, is sport in any sense a matter of life and death, or even, as Shankly said, only partly in jest, more than that? For many years I was puzzled by the constant use of the adjective “gladiatorial”, with all its ancient Roman associations of fighting literally to the death, to describe modern sporting contests. But recently, the experience of giving a talk about the sort of stuff in this posting made me realise that this is not an unreasonable way to describe something like this Anglo-Australian set-to that will be starting in about half and hour, as I first write this.

Nor is it coincidence that the original version of gladiatorial sport emerged into prominence during that earlier Great Peace, the Pax Romana. That too was a Great Peace that happened at a time when smaller wars continued, these smaller wars or the threat of them being the means by which Rome’s Great Peace was continuously contrived.

Brian Micklethwait, “From the Great Peace … to the ordeal of Adam Lyth at the Oval cricket ground”, Samizdata, 2015-08-20.

May 25, 2017

Teddy Bridgewater returns to Vikings OTAs, sparking more questions

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

To the surprise and delight of many Vikings fans, the team posted a short video to their social media accounts on Tuesday afternoon, showing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater taking part in some passing drills at the Vikings’ first organized team activity session at Winter Park:

For the record, count me among the delighted, as I’ve been a Bridgewater fan since he was drafted by the team at the end of the first round in 2014. I don’t dislike Sam Bradford, and I’m grateful the team was able to trade for him, but I hope Bridgewater fully recovers from his injury and is able to return to the starting role at some point (preferably sooner rather than later).

1500ESPN’s Judd Zulgad wonders what we’re expected to take away from the clip:

What type of message are the Vikings attempting to convey?

That’s impossible to tell because the video is only accompanied with dramatic music. There also are three photos of Bridgewater going through practice that were posted on the Vikings’ web site and a brief recap provides no quotes from Bridgewater or anyone else involved with the organization.

The Vikings’ will go through another OTA workout on Wednesday, although unlike with Tuesday’s session, the media will be allowed in for this one. Zimmer, who is taking time off and returned to his Kentucky home after undergoing an eighth surgery on his eye last week, will not be present.

This means offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will be in charge of answering the many Bridgewater-related questions that are sure to be asked.

There’s no guarantee there will be any answers provided considering the Vikings’ football operations department and their social media folks have very different agendas. The former wants to win football games and likes to keep information in-house, while the latter is after web hits.

There’s no doubt those hits were numerous on Tuesday. As for how much we should read into what this video means about Bridgewater’s recovery? That is likely to remain a mystery, at least to those outside of Winter Park.

At Wednesday’s second OTA practice, general manager Rick Spielman discussed Bridgewater’s progress:

Spielman said it was “very encouraging” to see Bridgewater, who has been throwing to receivers here for at least a few weeks, take the next step by tossing passes at an official organized practice, though he stressed that Bridgewater is still not technically practicing with the team. “Part of the rehab process you saw yesterday was that he is able to drop back and throw the ball,” Spielman said. “He is not cleared for practice, so I want to make that perfectly clear. But he’s working extremely hard in his rehab and we’ll continue to monitor his progress.”

Spielman, as he has done all offseason, declined to share whether the 24-year-old is ahead of schedule in his recovery, only saying, “He’s very limited in what he’s able to do at this point, but it’s progress.” He would not say if Bridgewater might be cleared by the start of training camp, which kicks off a couple of months from now.

Later in the day, it was announced that Bridgewater has been given medical clearance to move on to his next phase of rehabilitation:

May 12, 2017

Pride of Detroit! Delete your account now!

Filed under: Football, Humour — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Detroit Lions fan site Pride of Detroit wondered if it was possible to enrage the fans of all four NFC North teams with one simple post. They had to come up with something instantly offensive, but uniform … there we go: change the uniform colours … naw, too much work. How about just change the logo colours? That’d rile up the rubes in no time! They more than accomplished their nefarious end:

April 30, 2017

Minnesota Vikings 2017 draft – third day

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

After no activity on the first day of the draft, the Vikings war room did a lot of things on the second day, including two trades to move up in both the second and third rounds (drafting running back Dalvin Cook and centre Pat Elflein), and then two trades to move down in the later rounds. At the end of Friday’s trading session, these were the seven draft picks the Vikings had in hand:

  • Fourth round, No. 109 (from San Francisco)
  • Fourth round, No. 120
  • Fourth round, No. 132 (from Kansas City). Traded to Philadelphia for pick 139 in the fourth, and a seventh round pick (215th overall). The 139th pick was then traded to Kansas City for two picks in the fifth round (170th and 180th overall).
  • Sixth round, No. 199
  • Seventh round, No. 219 (from San Francisco)
  • Seventh round, No. 232
  • Seventh round, No. 245 (from Kansas City)


April 29, 2017

Minnesota Vikings 2017 draft – second day

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

With no pick in the first round on Thursday, Minnesota fans didn’t get too excited about the draft’s first day, although lots of comment was directed at Chicago (swapping a bunch of picks to move up to second overall and selecting their quarterback of the future in Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina). On Friday, the Vikings started the evening with three picks in hand (the 16th in the second round, and the 16th and 22nd in the third).

I admit I was surprised at the Vikings’ first pick: running back Dalvin Cook, Florida State (obtained by trading with Cincinnati, swapping 2nd round picks and giving up one of their two fourth round picks).

From the fan sites, I had the distinct impression that Cook’s character and medical issues would make him an undraftable prospect for Minnesota. Clearly the team successfully disguised their interest in Cook (the two Oklahoma running backs were each strongly rumoured to be the Vikings’ target at that position). The Vikings provide this overview of Cook:

Florida State has had a slew of talented running backs over the past 30 years, but Cook was the first to break the 1,000-yard barrier in his first season with the team. The next two seasons have only gotten better, ranking in the top 10 by breaking 1,600 yards (1,691 in 2015 ranked sixth in the FBS, 1,765 in 2016 ranked fifth), scoring 19 times as a rusher, and earning first-team All-ACC accolades each year. The speedy and shifty back was also named 2016 first-team All-American by the Associated Press and Walter Camp Foundation, among others. NFL teams will be interested in his medical checks, though, because of the hamstring issues he had throughout the 2015 season and the three shoulder surgeries he’s had since high school. Cook tore his rotator cuff in high school, then tore the front part of his labrum in 2014, and the back part of the labrum in 2016. He’s also had run-ins with the law, starting in high school (robbery in 2009, charges dropped; firing and possessing a weapon on school property in 2010, charges drooped) and then again in 2015, where he was charged with misdemeanor battery outside a bar (found not guilty).

That’s quite a medical record … and rap sheet! While I’m certain that the team has taken every precaution, this seems on the surface to be an uncharacteristic risk for Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer. Nobody appears to question Cook’s on-field skills — it’s his off-field life choices that raise the questions.

In the third round, I’m pleased to report that my mock draft at least did get this pick right: Pat Elflein, Centre, THE [dramatic pause] Ohio State University. (This was another trade-up situation, swapping picks with the New York Jets to move up nine spots and throwing in the Vikings’ fifth-round pick, 128th overall).

The Vikings’ overview of Elflein:

Elflein (pronounced ELF-line) naturally wanted to be a Buckeye after growing up in Pickerington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. The all-state pick (and four-year wrestler) was certainly coveted by Ohio State, as well. He didn’t get on the field much in his first two years (redshirted in 2012, reserve with one start in 2013), but then met his promise starting as a sophomore. Elflein earned the first of his three first-team All-Big Ten seasons that year, starting three times at left guard and 12 on the right side. In 2015, he received second-team Associated Press All-American status while dominating at right guard in every game. The team needed him to move to center as a senior, and his play resulted in first-team All-American recognition from various media outlets.

Rather than exercising their second pick in the third round, the Vikings traded the 22nd pick (86th overall) to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for KC’s third (104th overall), fourth (132nd overall), and seventh round (245th overall) picks. Then, just because it hadn’t already been confusing enough to track the Vikings’ picks, they traded the 104th pick acquired from KC to San Francisco in exchange for pick 109 and 219. If you’re following along at home, this means the Vikings’ day three picks are (pending even further wheeling and dealing on the part of “Trader” Rick Spielman):

  • Fourth round, No. 109 (from San Francisco)
  • Fourth round, No. 120
  • Fourth round, No. 132 (from Kansas City)
  • Sixth round, No. 199
  • Seventh round, No. 219 (from San Francisco)
  • Seventh round, No. 232
  • Seventh round, No. 245 (from Kansas City)

April 28, 2017

The 2017 NFL draft

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As I say every year around this time, because I don’t follow college football, it’s difficult for me to get particularly excited about this or that draft prospect for my favourite team. I see some names pop up in mock drafts by the various fan sites, and I certainly read the enthusiastic paeans to the skills of this running back or that offensive tackle. This year, there’s been a hugely popular online draft simulator at http://fanspeak.com/ontheclock/, which offers a basic (free) version that anyone can use and a premium simulation that also allows trades.

It’s actually so easy to use that I figured it was worth displaying my draft ignorance to the world in my very first mock draft:


April 27, 2017

Report that the Vikings will not pick up Teddy Bridgewater’s fifth-year option

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chris Tomasson says it’s unlikely that the Vikings will pick up the fifth-year option on Teddy Bridgewater’s rookie deal, potentially ending his Vikings tenure at the end of the 2017 season:

The Vikings are unlikely to pick up quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s fifth-year option for 2018, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean 2017 would be his final season with the team.

ESPN first reported Wednesday that the Vikings are not expected to invoke the $12.198 million option by Tuesday’s deadline. Bridgewater suffered a serious knee injury last August that has put his 2017 season is in jeopardy.

“The injury guarantee makes it tough to do,” a source told ESPN.

If Minnesota declines the option, Bridgewater still could end up under contract for 2018. OvertheCap.com and NFL Media reported that if Bridgewater is on the physically unable to perform list throughout 2017, he would remain on the books for 2018 at his same base salary of $1.354 million.

The sides could reach a deal at some point in which Bridgewater’s 2018 contract figure is somewhere between $1.354 million and $12.198 million.

Bridgewater has been with the Vikings since offseason workouts began April 17 at Winter Park. “He’s been in here working as hard as anyone, fighting his way back,” said general manager Rick Spielman.

Declining Bridgewater’s option would indicate that Minnesota regards Sam Bradford most likely its quarterback of the future. If so, Bradford, who will make $18 million in the final year of his deal in 2017, could be in line for an extension before the season starts.

Bradford said Tuesday he doesn’t know of any contract talks between his agent and the Vikings. Spielman said he won’t comment on any player contracts.

For the record, while I like and appreciate Sam Bradford, I’m a fully paid-up member of the Bridgewater Underground, and I really hope that Teddy will fully recover and be able to resume his career sooner rather than later. Head coach Mike Zimmer was quoted as saying “I want Teddy, I don’t want him going somewhere else.” Well spoken, coach!

At the Daily Norseman, Christopher Gates explains that there’s still a chance that Teddy’s option would be picked up … but in 2018, not this year:

Basically, when a contract is “tolled,” it rolls over into the next season. This means that, if Bridgewater spends the entire 2017 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list … and he’d almost undoubtedly start Training Camp there, at the very least … then Teddy Bridgewater would still have one year on his contract with the Vikings when we reach the start of the 2018 league year. The Vikings would then have another chance to decide whether they wanted to pick up his fifth-year option (which would actually then be a sixth-year option) at the price of around $12 million.

Perhaps this is the plan with Bridgewater, then … to have him inactive for the entire 2017 season so that the team can make a decision on him vs. Sam Bradford at the start of the 2018 league year. There’s no point in rushing him back before he’s ready, and if another year off for #5 will ensure the best chance for him to come back and lead the Vikings’ offense, then I absolutely wouldn’t be against that sort of thing at all.

But this new information from Ian Rapoport does help to put today’s earlier news in a bit of a different perspective.

April 26, 2017

Former Viking Adrian Peterson to sign with New Orleans Saints

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Former league MVP to sign (a much smaller) deal with the New Orleans Saints for the 2017 season. Minnesota declined his option for this year partly because it carried an $18 million pricetag — significantly more than any other running back in the league. Chris Tomasson reports for the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Adrian Peterson finally has a new team.

The running back, who became a free agent March 9 after 10 seasons with the Vikings, told ESPN on Tuesday morning he will sign with the New Orleans Saints.

Peterson won’t have to wait long to run into his old team. The Saints open the season on Monday Night Football at Minnesota.

NFL Media reported on Monday that Peterson was close to deal with New Orleans. Peterson on Tuesday morning confirmed that, and gave ESPN contract details.

Peterson said his deal will be for one year with an option for a second year. He said he will make $3.5 million in guaranteed money in 2017, with $2.5 million being a signing bonus and $1 million guaranteed base salary. He said his 2018 option would include $3.5 million in non-guaranteed salary, with $2.4 million of it possible in roster bonsuses.

“I am excited to be joining the New Orleans Saints,” Peterson told ESPN. “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. Most importantly, I chose this team because it just felt right within my spirit. Additionally, my wife and family added their confirmation with the same feelings.

The NFL’s marketing department quickly fired up their copy of Photoshop to show AP in his new colours:

April 17, 2017

Comparing bad draft years … perhaps 2005 wasn’t the worst Vikings draft class

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

As I don’t follow college football, much of the lead-up to the NFL draft is just noise to me … mock drafts are fun, but debating the relative value of players from this or that university and how that will or will not translate to the pro league … I usually fall behind reading posts from my usual Vikings bloggers until the draft is imminent. In this case, Christopher Gates posted an interesting retrospective on bad Viking draft classes more than a week ago, and I just got around to reading it now:

For as long as I’ve been writing for this little corner of the internet, I’ve maintained that the Minnesota Vikings’ worst draft class of all time came in the 2005 NFL Draft. From the purple completely blowing it on not one, but two first round picks (wide receiver Troy Williamson and defensive end Erasmus James) and the rest of the class not really amounting to much, that class was pretty dismal.

(And before we get too far into the proceedings, I don’t want to hear about how the Vikings “passed” on Aaron Rodgers in 2005. They had a 27-year old starting quarterback (Daunte Culpepper) that was coming off of a season that saw him throw for over 4,700 yards and 39 touchdowns, and saw him come in second in the NFL MVP voting to a guy that set the single-season record for touchdown passes. The Vikings would have been certifiably bonkers to take a quarterback in the first round that year, and anyone that says otherwise is probably pretty ignorant of history and how the draft actually works.)

But, thanks to another article from behind the great E$PN paywall, I may have to adjust my line of thinking on the worst Vikings’ draft class of all time.

I’ve also long thought that the 2005 draft class was one of the worst-ever for an NFL team, but ESPN makes a good case that the Vikings’ 1989 draft class was even worse:

How bad was the Vikings’ draft class? Here’s ESPN’s description of it:

    The Vikings traded their first-round pick to the Steelers for linebacker Mike Merriweather on the eve of the draft, making linebacker David Braxton (second round) their first pick. Braxton joined tight end Darryl Ingram (fourth round) as the only two of the team’s nine draft picks to play a game with Minnesota — and neither lasted long there. The lone bright spot in the Vikings’ draft was running back Brad Baxter (11th round), who went on to score 35 career touchdowns … for the Jets.

For the record, here’s the entire Vikings’ draft class of 1989, which you can find (along with every other Vikings’ draft selection) in our Complete Minnesota Vikings Draft Pick Database.

Round 2, #52 overall – David Braxton, LB, Wake Forest
Round 3, #80 overall – John Hunter, OT, Brigham Young
Round 4, #108 overall – Darryl Ingram, TE, California
Round 6, #163 overall – Jeff Mickel, OT, Eastern Washington
Round 7, #191 overall – Benji Roland, DT, Auburn
Round 8, #219 overall – Alex Stewart, DE, Fullerton State
Round 11, #303 overall – Brad Baxter, RB, Alabama State
Round 12, #331 overall – Shawn Woodson, LB, James Madison
Round 12, #335 overall – Everett Ross, WR, Ohio State

Most of those players never played a down for the Vikings, and the team only got 20 game appearances from the entire class (and 16 of those were from Darryl Ingram, who played in every game in his rookie year). That was an atrocious draft class.

April 4, 2017

QotD: The last 30 years of Vikings football

Filed under: Football, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Watching the Vikings the past three decades has been like chronicling an ’80s hair band. It’s been all fun and games except for the times the lead singer got busted and the drummer spontaneously combusted.

For a franchise that has been frequently competitive, the Vikings have rarely experienced what felt like sustainable success.

They were once owned by a Gang of 10 that feuded with the general manager, who was replaced by a non-football executive who wore coach’s shorts and a stopwatch.

Their next owner lived in San Antonio, and, once he realized he couldn’t win big or get a stadium built, stripped the team to make it attractive to new buyers.

Red McCombs sold to Zygi Wilf, whose jagged learning curve led to the hiring of Fran “I know New Mexico Football” Foley and Brad Childress.

Jerry Burns was an elderly coach who would have retired even if he had won a Super Bowl. He gave way to Dennis Green, who collected enemies the way a coffee shop message board collects business cards. Green gave way to Mike Tice, who had never been a coordinator at any level before he became a head coach, and eventually Childress, who saved time by burning bridges before he bothered to build them.

Childress gave way to Leslie Frazier, who served as the asbestos quilt that ownership threw over their constant brushfires, then tossed aside once the flames went out.

The Vikings’ best teams since the mid-’80s have been one-offs: The 1987 team that backed into the playoffs, then won two games with Wade Wilson at quarterback. The 1998 team that resurrected Randall Cunningham. The 2000 team that relied on Daunte Culpepper to outscore a shoddy defense. The 2009 team that hired Brett Favre as a temp. The 2012 team that made the playoffs in Christian Ponder’s lone showing of competence.

The past 30 years of Vikings football have felt like annual acts of desperation. That might be changing.

Jim Souhan, “Vikings finally have the makings for long-term success”, Star Tribune, 2015-09-13.

March 29, 2017

Teddy Bridgewater’s recovery appears to be ahead of expectations

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The darkest moment of the 2016 Vikings season was the severe knee injury sustained by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater just before the start of the regular season. While initial reports were confused, it appeared that the injury was potentially life-threatening and that Teddy might never play again. Yesterday, Teddy posted a short video to his Instagram account:

At the Daily Norseman, Christopher Gates reacts:

Obviously, he doesn’t look quite the same at this point, but again … he’s seven months removed from his leg almost falling off, so it’s still pretty impressive. We’ve seen Bridgewater doing agility drills in videos previously, but this is the first time we’ve seen him doing what Mike Zimmer might refer to as “football-related activities.”

We know that Bridgewater has a long way to go (and, if he’s attempting to get back for 2017, a short time to get there). But after what he meant to the team in his first two seasons and how many Vikings fans immediately took to him since he was drafted, it’s hard not to be happy as heck to see this.

Hopefully we’ll have more … and continuing positive … updates on Teddy Bridgewater’s progress.

The Star Tribune reported that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman made a surprising comment on Teddy’s recovery (unrelated to yesterday’s video):

How is Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s recovery from a devastating knee injury coming along? This might be a clue: GM Rick Spielman is making a surprising link between Bridgewater’s recovery work and that of former Viking Adrian Peterson during his now legendary comeback. Spielman, at the NFL owners’ meetings, said he watched quarterback Bridgewater last week and was impressed with what he saw. “I know he’s been working extremely hard. As far as a timeline, I know he was in last week and continuing to rehab with our medical staff and [head athletic trainer] Eric Sugarman,” Spielman said. “I can tell you there is no one I’ve seen other than Adrian [Peterson] when he came back from his ACL that has worked as hard as Teddy is working. And this is more significant than just an ACL. “But Teddy is incredible with the attitude and work ethic that he’s put in to get back on the field as quickly as we can.”

Update, 30 March: The infamous Bridgewater Underground is apparently active again!

And when the ‘he’ll never play again’ propaganda reached our shores, more left, and soon we were down to a scant few.

But cracks began to show in The Bradford Army. Small at first, but they grew larger, and more obvious. Obvious to the point they could no longer be ignored if you knew what you were looking for. It took us awhile to realize we weren’t dead, but hope soon returned to us in the form of Instagram and Snap Chat, and hope is a powerful aphrodisiac. Soon, people began returning, and our movement began to rebuild. Slowly at first, but you could feel momentum returning to our cause.

We’ve sent out some cryptic messages, and with each one, more partisans flock back to us. Our numbers grow by the day, and one thing seems clear — we’re coming home. And when we do, we will be ready to reclaim our throne. But we also know that with that, there are dark clouds on the horizon, darker than any dastardly coup.

Which is why these days, my thoughts consume me and sleep escapes me. With each second, the hour draws near, and with each hour, one thing feels more and more certain.

War looms, like Mordor once loomed over Middle Earth. A storm gathers, and it feels like a storm that can’t be avoided. The Bridgewater Underground wants peace, but the Bradford Army is entrenched, ready to defend their leader to the last.

But make no mistake, we are returning home. Home to what is rightfully ours. Maybe not today, maybe not next month, but we will return. We desire a peaceful transition, and we hope no Internet message board blood will be shed. But if there is to be war, then let there be war. It will be uglier than the Ponder-Webb Quarterback Message Board Wars of aught 12 and aught 13, but we are steeled in our resolve.

We are the Bridgewater Underground, and we are coming home.

March 17, 2017

Vikings free agency 2017 so far…

Filed under: Football — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

After a pair of big name/big $$$ signings on the first few days of the 2017 free agency period, things got very quiet in Minnesota, leading fans on Twitter to get quite restive. Tempers didn’t improve as free agents moved on from the Vikings to join other NFL teams. Then, inevitably, the Vikings started to sign more free agents, splitting the Twitterati into multiple fractured groups of well-wishers and nay-sayers.

Here, in rough chronological order, are the arrivals, departures, and retentions as reported in the Twin Cities media and on various Vikings fan sites:

  • Retained – OL Zac Kerin (1 year extension). Kerin was an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA), so he had the choice of signing the tender or not playing this year. [Story]
  • Retained – OL Jeremiah Sirles (1 year extension). Sirles was also an ERFA who signed his tender.
  • Departed – LT Matt Kalil (to Carolina). Kalil needed a fresh start, so the attraction of playing on the same offensive line as his older brother Ryan was sufficient inducement for him to sign a big-money deal ($55.5 million over five years, with $25 million guaranteed) with the Panthers. [Story]
  • Departed – P Jeff Locke (to Indianapolis). Although Locke had his best year as a punter in 2016, he did not repay the investment the Vikings made by drafting him. He signed with the Colts for $3.45 million over two years. [Story]
  • Departed – TE Rhett Ellison (to NY Giants). Ellison was the Vikings’ best blocking tight end, but the Giants were able to offer significantly more money ($18 million over four years, with an $8 million guarantee). Ellison’s father, perhaps envying the media attention being lavished on Adrian Peterson’s father, tried to raise a stink about a toxic management/coaching environment in Minnesota. Sorry to lose Rhett, who was almost Kleinsasser-ish in his blocking abilities, but no regrets that we’ve probably heard the last from the senior Ellison. [Story]
  • Arrived – LT Riley Reiff (from Detroit). With Kalil definitely gone, the Vikings had to find someone to man the blind side for Sam Bradford (and hopefully at a later date, Teddy Bridgewater), and that man will be Reiff. Fans may have salivated at the hopes of signing a perennial All-Pro left tackle, but the Vikings really just need something closer to league average, competent play at this position. If Reiff can provide that, the Vikings are a significantly better team in 2017. In exchange for that hoped-for OL improvement, the Vikings are giving him $58.75 million over five years, with $26.3 million guaranteed. [Story]
  • Departed – WR Charles Johnson (to Carolina). The Vikings chose not to tender Johnson, which meant he became an unrestricted free agent (a second-round tender, as the team offered fellow wide receiver Adam Thielen would have guaranteed about half a million less than the $2.2 million/year the Panthers were willing to give him). [Story]
  • Departed – CB Captain Munnerlyn (to Carolina). Many had hoped that the Vikings would retain Munnerlyn (especially after watching his theoretical replacement get exposed in a few games), but Minnesota’s offer could not compete with the Panthers, so the Captain returns to the team that drafted him in 2009. The deal was reported to be a four-year, $21 million contract including a signing bonus of $6 million and $10.5 million guaranteed. [Story]
  • Arrived – RT Mike Remmers (from Carolina). After trying a one-year rental on former Bengal Andre Smith (and getting only a couple of games’ worth of sub-par play), Minnesota needed to upgrade the right tackle position and picked up one-time Viking Mike Remmers from the Panthers. Remmers will earn up to $30 million over five years, with $10.5 million guaranteed. [Story]
  • Departed – LB Audie Cole (to Jacksonville). Cole achieved pre-season superstar status with Vikings fans for back-to-back interceptions returned for touchdowns in a game against Buffalo. Unfortunately, he didn’t get as many opportunities during regular season games, and did not manage to become a regular starter. Still, it’s a very rare thing for a seventh-round draft pick to even make a pro roster, so Cole has done better for himself than most late-round picks ever manage. [Story]
  • Departed – WR Cordarrelle Patterson (to Oakland). Despite lobbying on social media for a return to Minnesota, Patterson eventually signed a deal with the Raiders. He had a rocky career in Minnesota, but started and ended on a high (we can just ignore the other two years). As a kick return specialist, he was the best in the business, but league rules to make kickoffs safer also blunted the impact he could have on a game from that position. As a wide receiver, he really only started to show his abilities last season but might have been more effective used as an occasional running back. [Story]
  • Arrived – DE Datone Jones (from Green Bay). Minnesota has completed their collection of UCLA linebackers, signing former outside linebacker Jones to join his college teammates Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Jones will compete for a job on the defensive line rather than at linebacker. [Story]
  • Departed – RT Andre Smith (to Cincinnati). Smith was a phantom figure on the Vikings’ offensive line, playing (badly) for only a few games before going onto the injured reserve list. He now mysteriously returns to the Bengals … and there’s not many who will miss him. [Story]
  • Retained – CB Terence Newman (1 year deal for $3.25 million). Coming back for one more year at age 39, Newman may be asked to fill in for the departed Captain Munnerlyn at the nickel or even to move to safety, depending on the development of Mackensie Alexander. [Story]
  • Retained – WR Adam Thielen (3 year extension for $17 million that could escalate to $27 million). Thielen absolutely earned his contract, having started as an undrafted free agent, joining the practice squad, then the regular roster as a special teams player, then gradually earning playing time at wide receiver. His breakout year in 2016 made it imperative for the Vikings to retain his services. [Story]
  • Arrived – RB Latavius Murray (from Oakland). After toying with former Packer Eddie Lacy, the Vikings signed Murray for a three year deal at a reported $5 million per year (which can void after one year). Hopefully this ends any more speculation about Adrian Peterson returning to Minnesota, although Murray said he will not be requesting jersey number 28 out of respect. [Story]

This leaves, as far as I can tell, the following free agents as yet unsigned with the Vikings or other teams in the league:

  • QB Shaun Hill
  • RB Adrian Peterson
  • FB Zach Line
  • LT Jake Long
  • RB Matt Asiata
  • DE Justin Trattou
  • RG Brandon Fusco
  • RG Mike Harris

March 11, 2017

Free Agency 2017 – the second day

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Yesterday’s feeding frenzy couldn’t last, so today’s news was less frenzied and a bit more sensible. The Vikings again only signed one player: former Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Mike Remmers (who started his career as an undrafted free agent with the Vikings in 2013). While details of Riley Reiff’s deal from Thursday are still not public [Updated, see bottom of the post], it was announced that Remmers signed a five-year contract for $30 million with $10.5 million guaranteed. Given how offensive line salaries have rocketed so far this year in free agency, $6 million per year seems almost reasonable. Adding Remmers at right tackle means former Riley Reiff is probably locked in at left tackle, so the (pre-draft) offensive line-up is likely:

    LT-Riley Reiff
    LG-Alex Boone
    C-Joe Berger
    RG-Jeremiah Sirles
    RT-Mike Remmers

That’s not going to strike fear in the hearts of defensive co-ordinators, but it’s almost certainly a significant upgrade from last year’s 29th-ranked unit. Let’s be generous and say that could be a mid-teens-level unit. With no other changes to the team, that would probably be the difference between an 8-8 season and a 10-6 season. I, for one, would take that.

If you’re a fan of Pro Football Focus rankings, here’s the comparison courtesy of The Daily Norseman:

Although Remmers and Reiff aren’t the big names that some fans wanted, they are substantial upgrades to what was one of the worst offensive lines in franchise history. But how much of an upgrade? Well, let’s use Pro Football Focus as a baseline … mainly because I can’t find a metric that has the same comparative numbers.

In 2016, PFF graded out Remmers/Reiff and the Vikings tackles like so:

TJ Clemmings 28.3
Matt Kalil 36.9
Andre Smith 39.1
Jake Long 63.9

Riley Reiff 67.5
Mike Remmers 66.1

If you want to make the valid argument that 2016 was an anomaly because of all the injuries, okay. And hey, it’s a legitimate point. So let’s go back to 2015, when the two Vikings tackles, Kalil and Clemmings, were relatively healthy and played all year:

Matt Kalil 68.4
TJ Clemmings 39.7

Riley Reiff 77.5
Mike Remmers 72.1

So the Vikings have gotten some much needed help on the o-line, and at face value, both guys look to be decent to substantial upgrades over what Minnesota had the last couple of years.

Other Viking free agents in the news included WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson who visited Washington on Friday and was off to talk to the Raiders this weekend. For the record, I’d like to see Patterson stay with the Vikings, but I don’t think the team is planning to get into a bidding war for his services. The Vikings chose not to pick up his 2017 option for $7.9 million (which would have been insane), which made him a free agent this time around, but I could see him signing a deal in Minnesota or somewhere else for a lot more than the $1.009 million he made in 2016.

Charles Johnson is no longer a Viking, having signed a deal with the Carolina Panthers (gee, that team’s name pops up a lot) for $2.2 million … which is a bit of a reach based on his performance in 2016. Johnson had some nice on-field chemistry with Teddy Bridgewater, but couldn’t reproduce that with Sam Bradford under centre.

Disappointingly, the Panthers also announced that they’ve reached an agreement with former Viking cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. I’d hoped that Munnerlyn would be retained, as the player the team drafted to replace him (Mackensie Alexander) did not impress in limited action during the 2016 season. This may improve the chances that the team re-signs Terence Newman (in spite of both his age and his “freelancing” in the Green Bay game at the end of last season).

If free agency ended right now, you’d have to agree that the Vikings have at the very least addressed the biggest weaknesses on the team from 2016. In my uninformed opinion, they still need more depth at guard, tight end, and wide receiver, plus competition on special teams at kicker, punter, and kick returner. That’s not a terrible position to be in coming up to a draft where the team doesn’t have a first round pick, to be honest.

Update, March 11: The details on Reiff’s contract: “a five-year deal with a max value of $58.75 million, per a league source. The contract includes $26.3 million guaranteed, including his 2017 base salary of $6.2 million and his 2018 base salary of $9.1 million.” (Source: Star Tribune)

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