April 12, 2014

Under-the-table money in college sports

Filed under: Football, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

As I’ve said before, I don’t follow US college football — which is why the pre-draft churn of names and teams in NFL coverage moves me very little — so my knowledge of how the NCAA organizes and manages team sports is pretty low. I do know that a lot of university student athletes are given scholarships with many nasty strings attached which force them into emphasizing the sport over their education. The scholarships are tied to team performance, so that what should be a great opportunity for a kid to earn a degree that otherwise would be out-of-reach effectively turns into four years of indentured servitude, followed by non-graduation. The students are also forbidden to earn money from activities related to their sport (signing autographs for a fee or selling an old game jersey can get you thrown out of school). Gregg Easterbrook regularly points out that some “powerhouse” football schools have terrible graduation rates for their students: the players are used up and discarded and nobody cares that they leave college no better off — and in many cases much worse-off — than when they started.

That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated with the drive to introduce unions at the college level: even if the students don’t end up with a salary, they should at least be able to count on their scholarship to keep them attending class regardless of the whims of their coaches.

However, if the allegations in this story are true, the situation is even murkier than I’d been lead to believe:

The Bag Man excuses himself to make a call outside, on his “other phone,” to arrange delivery of $500 in cash to a visiting recruit. The player is rated No. 1 at his position nationally and on his way into town. We’re sitting in a popular restaurant near campus almost a week before National Signing Day, talking about how to arrange cash payments for amateur athletes.

“Nah, there’s no way we’re landing him, but you still have to do it,” he says. “It looks good. It’s good for down the road. Same reason my wife reads Yelp. These kids talk to each other. It’s a waste of money, but they’re doing the same thing to our guys right now in [rival school's town]. Cost of business.”

Technically, this conversation never happened, because I won’t reveal this man’s name or the player’s, or even the town I visited. Accordingly, all the other conversations I had with different bag men representing different SEC programs over a two-month span surrounding National Signing Day didn’t happen either.

Even when I asked for and received proof — in this case a phone call I watched him make to a number I independently verified, then a meeting in which I witnessed cash handed to an active SEC football player — it’s just cash changing hands. When things are done correctly, there’s no proof more substantial than one man’s word over another. That allows for plausible deniability, which is good enough for the coaches, administrators, conference officials, and network executives. And the man I officially didn’t speak with was emphatic that no one really understands how often and how well it almost always works.


This is the arrangement in high-stakes college football, though of course not every player is paid for. Providing cash and benefits to players is not a scandal or a scheme, merely a function. And when you start listening to the stories, you understand the function can never be stopped.

“Last week I got a call. We’ve got this JUCO transfer that had just got here. And he’s country poor. The [graduate assistant] calls me and tells me he’s watching the AFC Championship Game alone in the lobby of the Union because he doesn’t have a TV. Says he never owned one. Now, you can buy a Walmart TV for $50. What kid in college doesn’t have a TV? So I don’t give him any money. I just go dig out in my garage and find one of those old Vizios from five years back and leave it for him at the desk. I don’t view what I do as a crime, and I don’t give a shit if someone else does, honestly.”

“If we could take a vote for these kids to make a real salary every season, I would vote for it. $40,000 or something. Goes back to mama, buys them a car, lets them go live like normal people after they work their asses off for us. But let’s be honest, that ain’t gonna stop all this. If everyone gets $40,000, someone would still be trying to give ‘em 40 extra on the side.”

This is how you become a college football bag man.

April 5, 2014

“They, and they alone, will decide who the Racists are”

Filed under: Football, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:53

Ace on racism and the unofficial deciders on who is a racist and who is not:

Karl Lueger was the mayor of Vienna at the turn of the century, whose populist politics were often riven with anti-semtism — so much so that he was cited as an inspiration by none other than Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.

However, there’s a debate about how anti-semitic he actually was, and how much of an anti-semite he pretended to be for the sake of political positioning.

Lueger is famous for an answer he once gave on this issue. He was asked how he squared that fact that many of his policies were anti-semitic, while he counted many Jews among his close friends.

I decide who is a Jew,” he said, apparently creating his own definition of Judaism.

This flexible opinion on “who is a Jew” permitted him to both debase himself (and Vienna) with populist politics of hatred while simultaneously carving out a space for himself to consort with the Hated Other, as he might choose.

Similarly, today, White “liberals” have decided to sell out liberalism to the leftist, totalitarian goons of the Progressive Speech Police. They’ll join the Progressives’ hate campaigns against free speech and free thought — but only when those campaigns are directed towards non-liberals.

Playing to the Progressive mobs just like Luegar played to the Vienna ones, White Liberals reserve themselves the power to both traffic in hateful intolerance, and except themselves and their friends from the claims they otherwise inflict on others.

They, and they alone, will decide who the Racists are.

In the case of the campaign to get Dan Snyder to rename the Washington Redskins (because it’s an offensive, racist epithet), Ace points out that some racist terms are more equal than others:

Obviously no one names a sports club after something they think is substandard, or shoddy, or weak, or useless. People always object to the Redskins name by using the same example — “Well, what would you say if someone named his baseball team the New York N*****s, huh?”

But that’s stupid. No one does that. No one would do that. Because “N****r” is inherently a demeaning term, and a hateful one, and no one — no one — names their sports clubs after things they hate.

They name them after things they respect, or wish to emulate, or wish to associate themselves with. Thus the large number of teams named after great cats, and bears, and stallions, and even the gee-whiz technology of the 50s (jets, rockets).

And as for clubs named after types of people, all those people have a positive association; in football, especially, a martial-themed sport if there ever was one, those positive associations all have to do with virility and deadliness in battle:





Fighting Irish.


You do not see “The San Francisco Coolie Laborers” in the lists of any sports teams, nor the “Boston Drunken Irish Wife-Batterers.” All team names are tributes to the group in the nickname.

Some team names implicitly specify a race/ethnicity — Vikings, Fighting Irish. There is no commotion over this — people understand that when someone names a team the “Vikings,” they mean it a positive way. They are speaking of the fury of the Northmen — and not, for example, their propensity to rape and reduce much of Europe to a constant Twilight in which civilization could never advance too far before being pillaged and raped into rubble.

Nor does anyone seriously think “the Fighting Irish” is really about the Irish’s well-known tendency to over-indulge in alcohol and then get their Irish up. (Oh, what a giveaway.) And that one really does actually step right on up to the line of being a slur against the Irish — but we understand the intent behind it is playful, and positive. (Mostly.)

In fact, White Liberals currently on their jihad against the name “Redskins” make an exception for other teams with Indian nicknames — Braves, Chiefs, Indians, all okay. Not racist, the White Liberals have decided, although it’s unclear how they’ve come to this conclusion.

All three names, after all, do reference a specific race — Native Americans — just as surely as “Redskins” does, and for the exact same reasons.

But White Liberals know the difference. White Liberals can tell you who the Racists are.

Chris Kluwe’s suggestions for more constructive NFLPA texts-to-players

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

When they’re not on the playing field or otherwise engaged in preparing for the games, NFL and other high-profile sports players lead normal-ish lives. Most of them manage to blend in to the local community, but some achieve notoriety for their off-the-field antics. Chris Kluwe is still a member of the NFLPA (the union for NFL players), so he gets their occasional communications to the membership like this text message:

Mindful of the opportunity to help out some of those players whose off-the-field activities might get them into trouble, he has a few suggestions:

March 27, 2014

Jared Allen signs with Chicago, Vikings fanbase in denial

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:19

We all knew that Jared Allen’s time as a Viking had come to a close, as he was at the end of a massive contract and the team had already designated Everson Griffen to take his spot on the defensive line (and given him a big contract). He’d been rumoured to have offers or outlines of offers from several teams and we all expected to see him playing for Seattle or Denver this year. Seattle was the obvious choice for Allen, and not just because of the unwritten NFL rule that says all former Vikings must sign with Seattle, so yesterday’s announcement took everyone by surprise. Arif Hasan, who is making a strong case to take Tom Pelissero’s place as the top writer in Vikings coverage, was uncharacteristically dour:

Someone named Jared Allen signed with the Chicago Bears today to a four-year deal, worth $32,000,000. The structure of the deal is of course important with a player at Allen’s age (31), and it can be voided to a three-year, $24,000,000 deal. $15,500,000 is fully guaranteed — which comes from a base salary guaranteed fully in the first two years and a roster bonus he will receive next March.

On a per-year basis, this is a lower deal than the one he “missed out on” with the Denver Broncos when they offered him and DeMarcus Ware identical, $30,000,000 deals over three years, but it is similar amount of guaranteed money.

This of course means that Allen will play against the Vikings twice a year, an interesting set of circumstances that sees him paired up against his practice sparring partner, Matt Kalil.

This could also imply that Allen’s desire to play was balanced against his desire to go to a contender, as he had choice offers from the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys as well, the first of whom could give him a much better shot at a ring, but less playing time. The Cowboys, short on cap space, were likely in a much more difficult spot in terms of the type of contract they could offer him and the flexibility they had to give him a good deal.

Jared Allen #69 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on before the game against the Detroit Lions on December 29, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

March 24, 2014

Is there a “magic formula” for drafting a winning NFL quarterback?

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Short answer … no. But CCNorseman at the Daily Norseman has come up with an evaluation system that looks promising, especially as the Vikings are once again hoping to draft their QBOTF in this year’s crapshoot draft:

First, I created a list of quarterbacks to research to determine what traits they might have had in common coming out of college, both good and bad. I attempted to answer the following question: Were there certain traits that all successful quarterbacks possessed coming out of the draft, and were there any negative traits that can generally be dismissed as not being that important? As it turns out, the answer is yes to both questions.

In compiling a list of quarterbacks to study, I decided to take a look at all of the most successful quarterbacks that have entered the league within the last 15 years, regardless of the round in which they were drafted (or if they were drafted at all). I think most fans can agree that we need a quarterback that can lead the Vikings to the playoffs, and ultimately to the Super Bowl. And most quarterbacks that can achieve consistent playoff appearances or consistent efficiency metrics tend to have the best chance of winning a Super Bowl. So in order to be qualified as “successful” for this study, a quarterback must have either won a Super Bowl, have appeared in at least 10 playoff games, or be ranked in the top 32 of career “adjusted net yards per attempt” (ANY/A) statistic compared to the entire history of the NFL (ANY/A is the statistic that most closely correlates to winning and losing for quarterbacks).


In any case, from there I scoured the internet for pre-draft scouting reports of all 26 quarterbacks, and unfortunately I drew blanks on 6 of them that were drafted prior to the year 2000 (Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, David Garrard and Matt Hasselbeck). So for the remaining 20 quarterbacks that I could actually find pre-draft scouting reports online, I tracked which attributes were listed as “positive traits” and which attributes were listed as “negative traits” in the various reports. After boiling down the data I began to see which traits occurred most frequently and there were seven attributes that stood out as being the most common as they applied to more than half of the 20 quarterbacks on the list. So, here is a list of the seven most common “positive traits” that successful NFL quarterbacks on the list above possessed coming out of college:

  1. Good Pocket Awareness and mobile around the pocket with an ability to “step up” in the pocket (15 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)
  2. Smart and made good decisions with the football showing patience (14 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)
  3. Good Arm Strength or “Prototypical NFL Arm Strength” (13 of 19 QBs possessed this trait)
  4. Good Attitude, leader and fierce competitor (13 of 19 QBs possessed this trait)
  5. Has good vision, can see the field and read defenses (11 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)
  6. Good accuracy (11 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)
  7. Can throw on the run (11 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)

Some other positive traits that appeared for several of the Quarterbacks on the list (but less than half) were: good size/stature, good ability to scramble and avoid the rush, quick release, good touch passes and good ball placement and timing. But again, those traits were not common for the majority of the quarterbacks on the list with each one being common for only 8 or 9 quarterbacks, total. So in short if we can find a quarterback in the draft that exhibits most (if not all) of the seven traits above, then they will have a lot in common with the 20 most successful quarterbacks drafted over the past 15 years when they were college prospects. And therefore, they should have much better odds of panning out as a draft selection just as these prospects did before them.

He then uses these identified traits to look at current draft prospects and the results are rather different than most mock drafts portray:

In any case where does all of this leave us in regards to the quarterback prospects in the 2014 draft? Which ones are most likely to succeed? Well, in looking at the top 10 QBs from the latest cumulative draft rankings, they all possessed some of the traits above, but none of them possessed all seven (and of the 20 most successful, none of them possessed all 7 coming out of college either). In order to determine with traits were more important, I assigned a point system to each one relative to their frequency in the scouting reports. Below is the point scale.

QB Traits Point Scale
Trait #1, Good Pocket Awareness: 7 points
Trait #2, Good decision making: 6 Points
Trait #3, Good arm strength: 5 Points
Trait #4, Leader and good attitude: 5 Points
Trait #5, Can read defenses: 4 Points
Trait #6, Good accuracy: 4 Points
Trait #7, Can throw on the run: 4 Points
Total: 35 Points Possible

If a quarterback had one of the traits listed above as a positive, they earned that many points. However, if it was listed as a negative part of their game, then I subtracted that many points from their total. If one of these traits simply wasn’t listed as a positive or a negative, then it didn’t count for or against them. Listed below are the seven quarterbacks that scored double digit points based on this rating metric.

It won’t surprise anyone that Christian Ponder’s score using this scale comes out as a magnificent -2 (yes, that’s a negative number). If this scoring system was in use at Winter Park in the coming draft, the Vikings would end up drafting Derek Carr, Fresno State (score 28 out of 35) or Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois (who scores 27 out of 35).

March 23, 2014

Joe Webb signs with the Carolina Panthers

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:20

Sad to see him go, but happy he’s at least getting a chance to play quarterback for another team. He was never going to be a franchise quarterback, but it’s difficult to say he ever really got a fair chance with the Vikings. As Ted Glover puts it, “The Joe Webb Era Is Dead. Long Live The Joe Webb Era”:

The semi-legend, who became part super hero, part mythological woodland creature, and part mediocre quarterback and receiver, has a vocal minority of support as strong as any fringe roster guy in NFL history. Earlier this evening he was signed by the Carolina Panthers as a backup to Cam Newton. The Panthers find themselves in need of quarterback depth now that Cam Newton will miss most, if not all of the off-season, due to ankle surgery. According to NFL.com, the Panthers ‘love his skill set’, and like the idea of having another athletic quarterback in the mix behind Newton.

Wait, I could swear I’ve heard a coaching staff rave about his skill set before. I know I have. I JUST KNOW IT.

Of course, Carolina also released WR Steve Smith, and they suddenly find themselves in need of wide receiving depth, too. And with Captain Munnerlyn now on the Vikings, maybe the Panthers need a guy who can return punts, or kicks.

Joe’s done that before, too.

The Vikings installed what they called the “Blazer” package to showcase Webb’s wildcat skills, but it was a remarkably limited package that only seemed to work the first time … because it was totally predictable after you saw it run once: there were no significant variations or options. That’s not Webb’s fault, that’s the fault of the previous offensive co-ordinator and his lack of creativity (or unwillingness to trust Webb with more responsibility, perhaps).

MINNEAPOLIS – NOVEMBER 7: Joe Webb #14 of the Minnesota Vikings runs a route during an NFL game against the Washington Redskins at Mall of America Field, on November 7, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

Update: Arif Hasan says goodbye to Joe:

Reasons to cheer for him: Joe Webb is a fantastic person with a great attitude. I’ve never heard Webb complain about getting jerked around or being put in a poor position to succeed, despite ample oppurtunity to and didn’t just do what his coaches asked of him — he embraced it enthusiastically. It’s also difficult to forget his more amazing moments, like against Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago. In some ways, it’s always easy to cheer for a player that gave you so many electrifying moments. He was very probably misused and certainly hurt for not being able to develop as a player with one position. Perhaps sitting behind an offense built for a running quarterback in Carolina will help him better use his exciting skill set.

Reasons to cheer against him: He hasn’t been very good. In all honesty, the great moments he had weren’t sustainable or reasons you could count on him for the future, and he produced one of the worst quarterback playoff performances of all time. Despite a career completion rate lower than 50% and yards per attempt lower than even Christian Ponder’s, he somehow found himself in quarterback controversies a bit too often. Maybe not his fault, but definitely something that inspires some resentment.

Verdict: For. Unless you really, really dislike Carolina, it’s hard not to cheer Joe Webb on. If Cam Newton gets injured and Webb leads the Panthers to the playoffs (or better), that will give us confirmation that the old coaching staff was terrible, and it feels good to be right. For all of his faults, he was probably misused in Minnesota. That isn’t to say he was a good football player, but when he was on the field, the ways he was used were suboptimal. Last thing: it’s kind of cool that Spiderman and Superman are paired together.

March 21, 2014

Vikings continue to add depth to defensive line

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:16

It’s been an unusually busy free agency period for the Minnesota Vikings, as they announced another signing yesterday: former Chicago defensive lineman Corey Wooton. This is the fourth addition to the DL, joining fellow newcomers Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson, and Kheeston Randall. Wooton’s first career sack was the hit that ended Brett Favre’s career on the icy turf of TCF Bank Stadium in 2010 (co-incidentally, the same venue the Vikings will be calling home for the next two years). It’s a one-year $1.5 million deal for Wooton, and he’ll likely be backing up Everson Griffen and Brian Robison at defensive end (but he has taken snaps at defensive tackle in Chicago).

Before the latest signing, Arif Hasan drew up the likely depth chart:

Vikings Depth Chart 3-20-14 (Arif)

All the new signings leave the Vikings with a reported $12 million for further free agency signings and their 2014 draft class.

March 15, 2014

How the Vikings free agency moves change their draft plans

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

The Minnesota Vikings have been active in the free agency market — uncharacteristically so, according to some fans — and have addressed some of the most glaring needs through re-signing key free agents of their own and picking up other teams’ free agents as well. Before free agency started, the team ranked almost last in every meaningful defensive metric (points given up, yards given up, etc.), and defensive collapses at the end of several games almost literally made the difference between going to the playoffs in 2012 and finishing in the cellar in 2013. A rational drafting policy would have been to use the draft to plug many of the leaks, but instead the team has used free agency to patch most of them so that — with one big exception — they’re free to take the best available player in the draft.

Unfortunately, the big exception is the quarterback position. Matt Cassel has come back, giving the Vikings stability at QB, but he’s not the long-term answer. He can start (and win), but he’s only under contract for 2014 and 2015. He can, however, act as a mentor for a younger player if the Vikings can find the right draft prospect to groom. That’s more black art than science, as the number of accomplished college quarterbacks who sink without a trace in the NFL clearly demonstrates. Cassel gives the Vikings the luxury of not having to start a rookie, but they need to be lucky on their selection (in the way they weren’t with Christian Ponder).

At the Daily Norseman, K.J. Segall looks at how the Vikings free agent signings will impact their draft strategy:

So what does all of this mean for the upcoming draft? While Spielman’s reputation in free agency was that of a ‘wait and see’ approach, conversely he’s been seen — particularly in the past two drafts — as an extremely aggressive wheeler-and-dealer, netting five first round picks (Kalil, Smith, Floyd, Rhodes, and Patterson) in just two years. But just because that’s been his reputation doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s exactly how he will always approach the draft. To his great credit the aggressive moves for five first round picks have also netted five very solid starters (or, in Floyd’s case, future starters), with nary a bust amongst them. This indicates that he is aggressive only when he and his scout team have identified a target that the team needs, and further indicates that their ability to pick these targets is quite good. Which, of course, further means that he won’t be aggressive unless such a target is available.

In a draft such as the upcoming one, seen as deep at several important positions and with the Vikings having the number 8 overall pick, there is a strong possibility that Spielman will want to swap down and garner more selections. He’s said as much — of course, if you believe Spielman right now, well, then I have a bridge for sale that I’d LOVE to discuss with you.


While any attempts to read into Spielman’s intended draft strategy beforehand are inevitably going to be half-correct at best (nobody saw a trade down with the Browns in 2012 coming), perhaps we can begin to clarify some likely paths he’s going to take via his actions in free agency.

As it stands right now, you can cross basically any D-line position off our list of needs. That’s not to say we couldn’t use — and won’t pursue — a little more depth, but it’s not very high up there anymore. Furthermore you can bump CB down a bit — it’s still a need, mind you, but not as big as it was before when we basically needed two more starting caliber players as well as depth. The aforementioned QB situation is still glaring, as is LB and OG. (I would list needs starting with those three, in that order.) I don’t see safety being a concern, as Sanford is likely safe for another year — not to mention decent depth like Sendejo in that department. (Sanford… the safety… is safe. See what I did there? Please tell me you saw what I did there.)

He discusses at some length the potential trade-up from the number 8 pick, including the option of trading future draft picks, but if there’s any team in the NFL less likely to go big on a trade like that it’s the team that got the short end of the stick in the infamous Herschel Walker trade (read ‘em and weep, or laugh like a manaic if you’re a Cowboys fan).

March 14, 2014

Vikings replenish their cornerback pool

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:39

It was so common to read about the 2013 version of the Minnesota Vikings secondary described in terms of “awful”, “dysfunctional”, “disaster area”, and “dumpster fire”. Even with some good new players over the last couple of drafts, their impact was negated by the poor play of others. Harrison Smith missed the last half of the season due to injury, and Xavier Rhodes only got to see the field regularly late in the season. This situation had to be addressed either in free agency or through the draft. The team has addressed most of their defensive line weaknesses (re-signing DE Everson Griffin and DT Fred Evans and bringing in DT Linval Joseph), so the big needs were for competent-or-better cornerbacks.

The team has lacked a good slot corner since parting ways with the great Antoine Winfield, but hope that they’ve now got someone to fill that role:

CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 15: Captain Munnerlyn #41 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown against the New York Jets during play at Bank of America Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers won 30-20. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings have signed former Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to a three-year deal, with details pending per Ian Rapaport.


Munnerlyn resolves arguably the biggest weakness from the 2013 Minnesota Vikings defense, which is pass coverage from the slot position.

Josh Robinson had the majority of the slot coverage duty for Minnesota and did a frankly abysmal job, competing with Robert McClain of the Falcons for some of the worst slot coverage in the NFL. No single cornerback gave up more receptions per snap in coverage or yards per snap in coverage, marking Josh Robinson with the singular distinction of being the worst statistical slot cornerback in the league.

To be fair, Robinson had never played slot in his college or pro career until last year, and he and the team would be far better served if he can move back to the outside.

Captain Munnerlyn is coming off of the best year of his career, and has had consistently fine play at the spot, although no one would mistake him for Leon Hall or Chris Harris, Jr. — perhaps the two best slot cornerbacks in the NFL today. Notably, Leon Hall played for the Cincinnati Bengals under Mike Zimmer, and perhaps Zimmer can turn Munnerlyn from good into great with some coaching.

The deal is relatively cheap, although a little more expensive than I like given that Corey Graham, a very good slot corner who played for the Ravens just signed with the Bills for an average salary one million dollars lower. Nevertheless, it is a team-friendly way to turn one of the biggest weaknesses on their defense into a relative non-issue.

Captain Munnerlyn’s Pro Football Focus grade was 11th of all corners last year, and he gave up league average statisics in yards per target, yards per snap in coverage and receptions allowed per snap in coverage. More importantly, he grew into his role after several seasons of relatively average play. A lot of that grade was due to his ability to stop the run, but it is more important to note that it was an outlier year for Munnerlyn. In coverage grades alone, Munnerlyn had struggled to beat the league average until this year (but was never significantly below average, maintaining consistency in reliable coverage).

But Munnerlyn wasn’t the only cornerback to join the team yesterday:

[Derek] Cox has five years of NFL experience and most recently spent last season in San Diego, playing all 16 games with them. He was a third round selection of the Jaguars in 2009 and was there for his first four NFL seasons. He has 13 career interceptions and appears to be healthy again after some injuries caused him to slump for a couple of seasons.

March 12, 2014

Gerhart moves on and Joseph moves in

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:29

I was off being a pallbearer in Toronto when the NFL’s free agency period started, so I didn’t get caught up on the early moves until much later in the day. As far as the Vikings were concerned, the two biggest moves were backup running back Toby Gerhart signing a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars and former Giant defensive tackle Linval Joseph signing a five-year, $31.5 million deal with the Vikings:

Linval Joseph is 25 years old, and will turn 26 years old midway through the season. He doesn’t have extraordinary statistics that you would more likely see come from an undertackle like Henry Melton or Kevin Williams, but he does plug the run extremely well. He has had 9.0 sacks in the previous three years, which is more than what fellow 1-tech and previous Vikings Pat Williams was able to do in any three-year stretch with the Vikings.

Linval Joseph is unique, in that at 328-pounds, he could have played 3-technique coming out of college. He has a good first step and is both strong and quick with a good understanding of leverage, though was weak at consistently lowering his pads coming out of East Carolina.

He is supposed to be good for a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme because of his ability to anchor, length (with astonishing 34.5″ arms) and quickness, although the Giants have almost exclusively used him in a one-gap role.

If Joseph is as good as hoped for, it will make a huge difference to the Vikings’ defensive line, which has never regained the form it had with “Fat Pat” at the nose. The signing may make it less likely that Kevin Williams returns to the Purple, as many were assuming he could slide over to nose tackle (having had a huge game in that spot last season, when both Letroy Guion and Fred Evans were injured). Williams had said he wasn’t interested in playing the nose, and is an unrestricted free agent.

Also looking for the right contract (as in “pay me”), former Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen is still unsigned. He’d been rumoured to be looking at a deal with Denver, but the Broncos may be more interested in DeMarcus Ware, who is also a free agent this season. The Bears and the Seahawks are also said to be talking with Allen’s agent. Allen hinted that he’d retire rather than play as a situational pass rusher, but Andrew Krammer thinks that’s bluff: “Why I won’t believe Jared Allen would retire: that all-time sack total means too much to him. That list in his locker said so.” Allen kept a regularly updated list in his locker showing where he ranked in the all-time totals.

March 10, 2014

Vikings re-sign Everson Griffen, bring back Jasper Brinkley

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:35

The Minnesota Vikings were busy in free agency yesterday, with the big news being a deal with defensive end Everson Griffen:

This is obviously enormously good news for Everson Griffen, and I think it should be said good news for the Minnesota Vikings. Despite the fact that the contract might be large, the Vikings may have gotten away with a lot in signing Griffen to a relatively long-term deal, with a high guaranteed salary and an average of $8.5 million.

With this signing, a few dominoes fall, as well. This makes it massively unlikely that the Vikings pursue or sign Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, and also resolves some of the issues with the 2014 NFL draft, pushing defensive end further down the needs chart.

The bigger story is what this means for Griffen, both on and off the field.


In the past two seasons, Everson Griffen ranks 17th of the 50 4-3 defensive ends who have rushed the passer at least 350 times at the DE position (as opposed to LB or DT) in Pro Football Focus’ Pass Rusher Productivity metric, which not only adds sacks, but weighs hits and hurries, too. In just pressures per snap, he also ranks 17th, which implies that his production so far has been sustainable.

That means that his numbers on a per-snap basis beat out Jared Allen, Cliff Avril, Michael Johnson and Rob Ninkovich and are extremely similar to Lamarr Houston. Brian Robison ranks 14th in both metrics. If they only ranked rushers who have had 750 pass-rushing snaps, Griffen would rank 13th in both categories while Robison would rank 11th (out of 27).

After an excellent 2012 where Griffen notched 8 sacks, 2013 saw his numbers go down a bit, in part due to natural regression (his eight sacks were unsustainably high, given that he only rushed the passer 400 times and had fewer hurries than you’d expect) but also because opponents were getting rid of the ball a little quicker (his total pressures increased, but his hits and sacks went down). His Pass Rusher Productivity increased despite fewer sacks.

Remember, disruption is production.

They also brought back middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley after a year in Arizona:

The Vikes, likely for cap reasons as much as anything, let the former starter Brinkley walk before the 2013 season. The linebacker landed in Arizona but didn’t do enough to convince the Cardinals to bring him back.

Now with the Vikings seeking linebacker depth, Minnesota has elected to go with the known quantity.

What we know about Jasper Brinkley: He’s decent against the run and can play downhill. In coverage he is brutal.

As a middle linebacker ranging around and making plays? I’m not feeling it. We’ll see what Zimmer’s plan is for Brinkley, but my feeling here is that this was a depth signing and more moves will be coming at linebacker, possibly in the draft.

Brinkley is a backup, and that’s all he is.

Update: Earlier today, the Vikings also re-signed linebacker Larry Dean (who’s valued for his special teams contributions).

March 9, 2014

“Legal tampering period” kicks off, and more on the Matt Cassel signing

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:53

We’re in that odd block of time between Saturday and Tuesday, where NFL teams are allowed to negotiate with free agent players (or players’ agents), but no deals can be announced until Tuesday. This gives every beat writer in every football town free range to go wild with speculation and sharing rumours about which glamourous free agents are in negotiations with their local team or being stalked by some other team. Given how much of the normal NFL year is given over to passing along rumours, this must be one of the peaks of ungrounded speculation (the other being the draft itself).

The Vikings are said to be trying to sign former Bengal defensive end Michael Johnson and former Titan defensive back Alterraun Verner, but we won’t know who’s signing with any team until Tuesday.

On slightly more solid ground, Jim Souhan says that the Matt Cassel deal was the right move for both the Vikings and for Cassel himself:

Matt Cassel’s return to the Vikings sets up so many juicy possibilities.

The team is now one signing away from putting the band back together. If they can just re-sign Josh Freeman, they’ll have Cassel, Freeman and Ponder all under contract, negating the chance of any of their competitors stealing the magic formula of the 2013 Minnesota Vikings, or what Vikings receivers called, “Hunger Games: Catching Nothing.”


OK, that’s not fair. The Cassel signing is rational. He played pretty well last year, and handled himself like a pro even when forced to watch Ponder throw at the feet of receivers and Freeman throw at the feet of concessionaires.

What’s most important about the Cassel signing is that it allows the Vikings to maneuver. With Cassel capable of starting or relieving, the Vikings can cut Ponder if they want. They can spend a high draft pick on their latest quarterback of the future and know they won’t have to rush him into action.

And here’s a thought that might infuriate Vikings fans desperate to draft and develop their own Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers: The Vikings have done pretty well signing veteran quarterbacks. Their Plan Bs have worked out better than a lot of teams’ Plan As.

March 8, 2014

Vikings re-sign quarterback Matt Cassel

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:54

Taking some pressure off the Vikings’ requirements in the upcoming draft, yesterday they re-signed Matt Cassel to a two-year, $10 million deal. Cassel had voided the optional second year of his original contract to test the free agency waters. Clearly the right decision for him, as he’ll be making a fair bit more than the $3.7 called for in that contract. ESPN‘s Ben Goessling has more:

Now, the Vikings at least have their much-discussed bridge to the future, whatever that is. If they don’t get a quarterback in the first round of the draft, they can at least take one in a later round and let him compete for the job with Cassel, knowing they can probably survive if he’s not ready to play right away. And if they choose to look toward a 2015 quarterback class that could include Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, they could have Cassel’s hand at the helm for 2014.

Let’s be clear about what Cassel is, and is not. He is the most reliable quarterback on the Vikings’ roster at the moment, after turning in more solid performances than bad ones in a goofy year at quarterback in Minnesota. He is not the kind of QB the Vikings will build around, and his two-year deal reflects that. He’s had two good full seasons as a starting quarterback — in 2008 for the Patriots and 2010 for the Chiefs — and has been mediocre in the full-time role otherwise. But the Vikings were never asking Cassel to be a long-term solution at the position. They were simply hoping he could drive them from here to their next quarterback without banging the car up too badly. He should be able to do that, and now, the Vikings don’t have to head into the rest of the spring staring at a gaping hole at the NFL’s most important position.

MINNEAPOLIS – DECEMBER 15: Matt Cassel #16 of the Minnesota Vikings warms up prior to an NFL game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mall of America Field, on December 15, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

March 6, 2014

Mike Zimmer hosts Twin Cities media for lunch and film session

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:44

I continue to be impressed with the approach taken by new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Today he sat down with several Minneapolis/St. Paul sports writers to look at film and discuss the Vikings’ plans as they enter the free agency period. USA Today‘s Tom Pelissero was there and posted a summary:

New Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says he’d like quarterback Matt Cassel to re-sign with the team, but Zimmer knows it’s not his decision.

“I would love to Matt Cassel back, if Matt Cassel wants to be back,” Zimmer said Thursday. “I don’t know if that will happen, won’t happen. But we’re going to find a quarterback somewhere, and if it’s not Matt Cassel, then we’ll find someone else.

“I want guys that want to be here. I want guys that want to be part of the franchise, be part of the organization, be part of the team, and if Matt wants to come back, then I’m sure we’ll get it worked out.”

Cassel, 31, voided the second year of his contract last month and can become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. The window for teams to talk to the agents for prospective UFAs begins Saturday.

“I think everyone wants to explore,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a bunch of pretty girls looking at him right now. So, he wants to explore and see what’s best for him.

Zimmer also announced the following dates:

  • April 28 Veteran minicamp report date
  • April 29-May 1 Veteran minicamp
  • May 15 Rookie minicamp report date
  • May 16-18 Rookie minicamp
  • May 28-30 Organized Team Activities (OTAs)
  • June 3-5 Second week of OTAs
  • June 9-12 Third week of OTAs
  • June 17-19 Mandatory minicamp

In other team news, yesterday the Vikings released tight end John Carlson, whose big money contract didn’t translate into the kind of on-the-field impact both sides had hoped for. Earlier today, the team also released defensive tackle Letroy Guion and wide receiver Greg Childs. Childs had been drafted at the same time as WR Jarius Wright, but suffered a serious injury to both knees and never played a down for the team.

Update: Cornerback Chris Cook — who many view as being on his way out of Minnesota due to performance issues — tweeted that he’d talked over his future with Zimmer. In an aside today, Zimmer said “My impression is that he shouldn’t be tweeting our conversation.” Most players would have heard that shot across the bow and shut up. That apparently isn’t Cook’s style:

March 3, 2014

QotD: The triad of distinctively Canadian sports

Filed under: Cancon, Football, Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:54

We have a triad of distinctively Canadian sports: Canadian football, hockey and curling. Football, from its origins to the present, has remained a collegiate game, a game of the ruling class. College kids invented gridiron football; McGill undergrads taught Americans what a “touchdown” was. Today, football is, notoriously, the shortest path to becoming a partner in a law firm, with golf a close second. Peter Lougheed and Rob Ford were football players, rich kids who, in different ways, leveraged the social connectivity of the game.

Hockey is the most popular sport in the triad because it is the game of the Canadian middle class, a game that requires a family to have something of a surplus and, ideally, to live near a town of some size. The typical sponsor for a minor hockey team has always been some kind of small business — a plumber, a restaurant, a trucking company. There are still plenty of kids in families too broke to afford hockey. In Canada, it is the first way one might learn that one is poor.

This is where curling fits in: It is a farmer’s game, a peasant tradition. There are still many villages in the West that cannot afford hockey rinks, but that faithfully lay down two curling sheets in a long, narrow shack every fall. In those towns, an agriculture society’s community investment in two sets of stones will serve all for decades. Where hockey requires every child to have skates and pads and sticks, the traditional equipment for curling amounts to two ordinary household brooms for every four players.

Colby Cosh, “Curling will never be ruined”, Maclean’s, 2014-03-02

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