Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lions stink, but at least they have a real franchise quarterback

Minnesota Vikings fans are used to looking down their noses at the Detroit Lions, long the doormats of the NFC North, but today Vikings fans have reason to look up at the lowly Lions with envious, longing eyes. Today the Lions gave quarterback Matthew Stafford a new five-year, $135 million contract with $60 million of that money guaranteed at signing. That is the kind of contract you give to a genuine franchise quarterback, one you believe is capable of leading you on multiple Super Bowl runs. When was the last time the Vikings had a quarterback who was worthy of that kind of faith translated into guaranteed dollars? It's been a long time. Though the Vikings have been a more successful franchise than the Lions over the last fifteen-or-so years, and currently have arguably the better overall roster, the quarterback situation is the one thing Detroit has gotten right while watching Minnesota consistently stumble. Detroit has a quarterback they believe can help them win a lot of games over the next five years, and the Vikings have what?

The truth is, Minnesota's quarterback situation has been an Irwin Allen-sized disaster ever since Daunte Culpepper blew out his knee and elected to rehab it in a Miami strip mall rather than partake of the professional training facilities and expert help offered by the team back in Minnesota. While the hated Packers have had a great run of success with Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers offering consistent excellence at the QB position, Minnesota has gone through a seemingly endless succession of retreads, reclamation projects and players who were over-drafted by a desperate /clueless front office. While over the last few years Matthew Stafford has ascended to genuine franchise QB status in Detroit, Minnesota has watched every QB plan of theirs end up in disaster. The one time since the Culpepper years when Vikings fans were almost unreservedly optimistic about a new young quarterback, that QB Teddy Bridgewater ended up dislocating his knee in preseason practice so severely that amputation was briefly a possibility, reinforcing the notion that the franchise truly is cursed and especially when it comes to quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the fricking lowly Detroit Lions at least know they have Matthew Stafford. 

Will the Vikings ever find their Matthew Stafford? A few people might believe they have their Stafford on the roster in the form of Sam Bradford, and thanks to the crazy QB market (which just got crazier thanks to Stafford's deal), there's a chance Minnesota might end up paying Bradford franchise- QB-level money. But it's very debatable that Bradford actually is a franchise QB, and he certainly is not as good as Matthew Stafford. Teddy Bridgewater if he ever gets healthy and returns to the field could be a solid quarterback, maybe better than Bradford (certainly he's more mobile than Bradford or was before he almost broke his leg in half), but it's very debatable whether Bridgewater ever could/will be as good as Stafford. Other quarterbacks the Vikings have tried in recent years include the first-round pick Christian Ponder, a player who never ascended to anything remotely resembling franchise QB status, plus a parade of stiffs and stopgaps with only the 2009 incarnation of Brett Favre providing real relief from the endless mediocrity at the position. Matthew Stafford has his detractors, and certainly many will rip the Lions for signing him to such a lucrative new contract, but the fact is that compared to what the Vikings have paraded out there at QB since Culpepper's knee exploded, Stafford looks like heaven made flesh. 

No, Stafford is not a perfect quarterback, but then who is? Perfection is not what the Vikings need/expect. What they need is to draft a young quarterback with strong skills who develops over the years into someone who can lead the team not just on the odd playoff push here-and-there but help them put together a consistent run of success over the course of many years. True, Stafford's time in Detroit has not led to a ton of playoff appearances but there aren't many people blaming Stafford for the team's mediocrity during his tenure. It's not Stafford's fault Detroit hasn't developed into a real contender during his time there; other roster issues and problems with coaching staff consistency have been more to blame than the QB. Stafford has been good for Detroit, and compared to what Minnesota has, he looks like Jesus Christ in a football helmet. If you're a Vikings fan, don't be ashamed for being jealous of the Lions in at least one way. It's understandable that you would envy them their real honest-to-goodness franchise QB. Maybe some day, Vikings fans. Maybe some day...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Vikings fans want Teddy Bridgewater, will get Mitch Leidner

The big news in Vikings land over the last few days was a "report" saying Teddy Bridgewater, a year removed from a catastrophic injury to his knee, was very close to being cleared to return to practice. Teddy-fan optimism shot through the roof at this rumor (which as yet has not been confirmed by any credible source), and was given a further boost when Warren Moon chimed in to say he knows a guy who knows a guy who thinks Bridgewater is getting close to returning. Teddy Bridgewater back in uniform on the practice field? It seems closer than ever, at least according to the guy who knows the guy Warren Moon knows. Meanwhile, the Vikings added to their quarterback depth by signing another player Minnesota sports fans are very familiar with.

The arrival of Leidner in Vikings purple was not exactly greeted with fireworks and celebrations. Let's just say Minnesota sports fans did not rise up as a mass and embrace Leidner when he was the quarterback of the Minnesota Golden Gophers for a few years. Though Leidner is an impressive athletic specimen as a quarterback, he does not possess one of the great QB skill-sets of all-time. His arm-strength is sub-par, which wouldn't be such a huge issue if he had any accuracy, but he doesn't have that either. He's the kind of QB you see touted as a "dual-threat" but in truth he only threatens defenses when he runs, making him one skill short of a true dual-threat.

Why would the Vikings sign Leidner? It's not a difficult equation to figure out. Despite the hatred fans have heaped on Leidner, he's still a Minnesota guy with at least a small local fanbase. Rick Spielman is clearly hoping some of that fanbase will turn out to fill up a few seats at US Bank Stadium during the fourth preseason game. Why not? You don't have to pay Leidner any more than you would have had to pay Darnell Sankey, the guy you cut. The chances of Leidner sticking beyond the final preseason game are slim-to-none and the Vikings know that and Vikings fans should know that too. So, look out for Mitch Leidner in the fourth and final preseason game. But don't look out for Teddy Bridgewater on the practice field any time soon.

What exactly is going on with Teddy Bridgewater? It's anyone's guess. We've seen plenty of reports that he's working out without his knee brace. People keep saying how good he looks. Occasionally Teddy himself sends out a cryptic tweet suggesting he's getting a bit frustrated with being kept out of practice. All indications are that the Vikings will continue playing it safe with Bridgewater, bringing him along very slowly, knowing they have Sam Bradford and Case Keenum on the roster. Will Bridgewater start the season on PUP? How will Bridgewater's camp respond if Bridgewater is healthy but isn't allowed to practice? Will the union step in? Has Teddy Bridgewater played his last game for the Vikings?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Blair Walsh is a sad little pipsqueak who should be ignored

Last night's Minnesota-Seattle game gave former Vikings and current Seahawks kicker Blair Walsh a shot at "revenge" on the team that cut him. After banging his first fifty-yard-plus kick off the crossbar for a miss, Walsh booted a pair of fifty-plus-yarders long and true through the uprights, and after one of his made kicks he was seen pointing in a taunting fashion in the general direction of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. After the game, Zimmer declined to comment on Walsh's antics. When Walsh was asked about the taunting allegations leveled against him, the kicker claimed some of his former Vikings teammates had taunted him earlier and he was just giving it back to them (via PFT).

 “I simply was just responding to getting taunted,” Walsh said, via “I didn’t say anything. When you’ve got guys who were your teammates for five years yelling at you when you’re trying to kick, it’s just odd. And I hope they were in jest. And I hope they didn’t mean it because I didn’t mean anything with mine, but it was definitely not out of nowhere.”

If it's true that Vikings players were taunting Walsh, then their behavior was bush league and I hope Mike Zimmer addresses the matter. Professional comportment at all times, guys! Honestly, why even give Blair Walsh the time of day? It's understandable that some players would still bear ill-will toward Walsh after the way he shit on everyone's dreams by missing that chip-shot field goal in the freezing cold two years ago in the playoffs against Seattle, but why dwell on it? Why give Walsh the satisfaction of thinking he still matters? The only thing Vikings players should give Blair Walsh is the cold shoulder. The brush-off. Forget he ever existed. Treat him like just another kicker with a big leg and zero mental toughness.

The team held onto Blair Walsh too long, mostly one suspects because Rick Spielman didn't want to man up and admit he wasted a draft pick, but ultimately they did the right thing by cutting the inconsistent head-case of a kicker. Now he's Seattle's inconsistent head-case of a kicker. Good for him for kicking a pair of long field goals in a preaseason game with zero pressure, but zero-pressure kicks of course were never the issue with Walsh. No one questions his ability to boot it long and true when nothing is on the line. When the stakes are raised, that's when Walsh gets erratic. His infamous chip-shot miss against Seattle on the frozen field of TCF Bank Stadium two years ago was a hard left-hand pull, a brutal brutal miss that still echoes in the minds of Vikings fans victimized by years of soul-maiming playoff meltdowns. Walsh wide-left is in the Vikings Hall of Infamy alongside Drew Pearson pushing off, Gary Anderson wide-left, 41-doughnut, Favre across the body and 12 men on the field. These phrases are branded on Vikings fans' psyches forever and Blair Walsh is a fixture in Vikings fans' nightmares forever.

It's funny that Walsh would get fired-up over a couple kicks in a preseason game, becoming frisky enough over them to throw some taunts back in the faces of the few bush league Vikings players giving him grief from the bench. If ever there was a time when all involved should have staked out the high ground far above such nonsense, that was it. Neither side looked for Denny Green's high road and that's a shame. Elevating preseason action to the level where it matters even one iota psychologically is not a good sign for either side. Clearly, the Walsh bullshit matters too much to a few Vikings players and clearly it still matters a lot to Walsh. Okay, it's understandable that Walsh would harbor a grudge against the Vikings and might experience a small sense of internal satisfaction over kicking a pair of long field goals with his old team watching from the bench, but context matters too. At the end of the day it's a preseason game and how much does it really count? Walsh feeling a little extra glow of pride inside after booting a pair through would be perfectly justified but showing outward signs of that pride and even letting that pride swell to the point of taunting the Vikings bench just feels like a case of letting the moment get too big. And letting the moment get too big...well, that's kind of Blair Walsh's issue isn't it?

In a way, Walsh's behavior - even if it was prompted by a few dumb Vikings meatheads giving him verbal grief - is more proof that he's got a psychological glass chin. I have a feeling Blair Walsh is going to let Seahawks fans down in a big way. Hopefully it will happen in the playoffs against the Vikings. THAT would be true revenge. Only fragile pipsqueak schmos make a big deal out of anything that happens in the preseason. Fuck preseason.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cordarrelle Patterson is still Cordarrelle Patterson

His rocky Vikings tenure having come to an end in somewhat whimpering fashion, Cordarrelle Patterson is now trying to hit the reset button on his career in Oakland. And by all accounts things aren't going so well. Signed by the Raiders primarily for his return skills, Patterson is currently in camp trying to show his coaches that he deserves to be in the wide receiver mix as well. But if Patterson's showing on Wednesday is any indication, he shouldn't count on getting too many reps at receiver. Tweets from the scene give an account of what happened when Patterson got a case of the drops and started hearing it from Raiders fans.

Dropping passes. Getting openly frustrated. Showing a lack of class in his interactions. Sounds like nothing much has changed for Patterson. He's still the same limited receiver he was in Minnesota (and big whining wet diaper). Not a playmaker. Not a dependable player. A bit of a baby. He can still get you something as a return man and occasional gadget weapon, but the ship sailed a long time ago on the notion of Patterson being a genuine offensive cog. He simply doesn't have the route-running discipline, the hands, the grasp of nuances like body positioning. He gets jammed too easily at the line. Patterson is no longer the green rookie the Vikings drafted out of Tennessee in the first round after trading away a bunch of picks to move up and get him. He's 26 now and going into his fifth year. He is what he is. He'll get you a few big returns, he'll break off a couple huge gimmick plays, but outside of that he's a non-entity. Right now he's fighting for the #4 receiver spot in Oakland and frankly I don't know what else the Raiders have at receiver, so maybe he will even win the job. But he won't put up numbers during the season, he won't be a reliable target for Derek Carr. Eventually Derek Carr will stop looking for Patterson. He'll figure out that Patterson won't be there for him. He'll look for other receivers. Raiders fans who accept now what Patterson is - a return weapon - might even end up satisfied with his signing. But any Black Holers looking for Patterson to pop as a big-time weapon in their offense are going to be very disappointed. Sounds like a few fans are already fed up with Patterson's drops. Patterson would do well to keep his mouth shut and not snipe at Raiders fans. Those people are fucking nuts and a lot of them are armed.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Stupid douchebag Matt Kalil takes shot at Vikings coaches

Matt Kalil was drafted #4 overall by Minnesota in 2012 and would go on to play 66 regular season games at left tackle for the Vikings, mostly at a mediocre level. Though Kalil showed flashes of above-averageness in his rookie season, his Vikings tenure would largely be marked by the sort of almost-adequacy that starts off inspiring frustration but ultimately leads to mere shrugging resignation. A not-bad run blocker, Kalil never did develop into the stalwart pass protector the team envisioned him becoming when they spent the #4 overall pick to get him. Though Kalil was typically unspectacular in 2015, the Vikings brought him back in 2016 for $11 million, having previously picked up his fifth-year option. Kalil, who over the course of his career had at least been durable, suffered a hip injury and played just two games in 2016. With the Vikings retooling their offensive line, free agent Kalil shambled off to Carolina in 2017 to join his brother Ryan. Few Vikings fans were sad to see Kalil go. As Vikings draft busts go, Kalil was hardly the biggest or most painful or franchise-hurting. Even as a bust, he was decidedly middle-of-the-road.

Kalil is now in Carolina and appears to be enjoying the coaching he is receiving there, as reported in the above tweet. Contained within Kalil's praise for the Carolina coaching staff is a less-than-subtle shot at the coaches he worked under in Minnesota, first Jeff Davidson and later Tony Sparano. That Kalil never realized the potential the Vikings thought he possessed when they spent a high first-rounder on his dopey ass is certainly not all the fault of the coaches tasked with molding and shaping the player. Certainly, Kalil's failure to live up to expectations is at least partially on him and his stupid fat moon-face. But if you watched Kalil in Minnesota, and more importantly observed his off-field behavior, you will not be the least bit surprised to see him taking a childish shot at his former coaches. Kalil was nothing if not a big, snot-encrusted, whimpering titty-baby in Minnesota. We all remember the time he got mad at a fan for heckling him outside a game and slapped the hat off the fan's head. Trumpian show of maturity Matt!

Matt Kalil was not total garbage in Minnesota, he was just hopelessly not-quite-up-to-snuff. At times he was a turnstile and there were moments in 2014 and 2015 when you were sure he would get Teddy Bridgewater killed. At other times he was almost not-terrible. On average, he was almost good enough. Needless to say, sort of okay most of the time (but sometimes brutally bad) is not what you want out of a #4 overall pick. Had Kalil been drafted in the third round and turned out to be the player he turned out to be, you'd call it not a bad pick. You would think of him the same way we think of Phil Loadholt now. That he was expected to be a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle and never really got into that vicinity makes his time in Minnesota look like more-or-less of a bummer. The fact that he's now sort of calling out his former Vikings coaches, strongly implying that he needed more pushing in Minnesota, is kind of a sad statement. But it doesn't seem the least bit out-of-character for Matt Kalil, a giant marshmallow-looking bag of shit with a dumb smugly grinning face that fairly cries out to be smashed in with a bag of bricks. I wish Matt Kalil had just gotten out of Minnesota and allowed me to forget about his numbingly run-of-the-mill existence but he had to go and say mealy-mouthed trash-talking stuff about the coaches who tried and failed to extract a level of performance from him that would have allowed us to feel good about where he was drafted. The funny part is Kalil suggesting his real problem was that he did not receive ENOUGH coaching in Minnesota. As if any amount of beating could have mended the pace of that particular dull ass. I wish stupid douchebag Matt Kalil would just shut up and be a Carolina Panther already, and stop vaguely referring to his wholly unremarkable time in Minnesota. I wish he would let us forget he was ever a thing.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Did I sense a rumbling of discontent from Teddy Bridgewater?

All may not be entirely well as regards the Vikings' relationship with Teddy Bridgewater. Under the seemingly placid surface of things there may be rumblings of discontent. I am certainly not the first to put two-and-two together when it comes to Bridgewater's intriguing tweets of a couple nights ago after news broke that Miami QB Ryan Tannehill had suffered an injury and was potentially looking at missing a lot of time. Given Bridgewater's Florida connections, and connections via Louisville to Miami receiver DeVante Parker, it took four seconds for folks to begin speculating on a possible trade of Bridgewater to the Dolphins. Then things seemingly went a step beyond mere idle trade speculation thanks to a few Bridgewater tweets. KFAN first jumped on the story in a post with the totally non-hysterial title "The Internet is bracing itself for a Bridgewater to Miami Trade..." laying out the timeline of events:

 - Tannehill gets injured late in the morning on Thursday
 - Late last night former Vikings cornerback and Miami native Demarcus VanDyke put out a tweet calling for Teddy to be traded to the Dolphins...and Teddy "liked" the tweet on Twitter. The tweet has since been "unliked" but there are screenshots to prove it.
 - Within the same hour Bridgewater puts out a barrage of tweets highlighted in the image below. 

Jackals in the Twin Cities media began frothing at the mouth over the possibility of an honest-to-goodness Teddy Bridgewater controversy in Minnesota. Radio people turned it into an instant talker.

Even Mike Florio of PFT got in on the act, drawing the amusing ire of his pal Paul Allen.
First off, there is no way in hell the Miami Dolphins are going to trade anything to the Vikings to acquire Teddy Bridgewater knowing that Bridgewater is likely not yet ready to play. The Dolphins, if they even think they need a quarterback, will want someone who can step in right away. They will not want someone who is coming off his own catastrophic knee injury. So even if Bridgewater is pining to get out of Minnesota and play with Parker in Miami, it's not going to happen any time in the near future.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get down to what the real story is here. Even if a trade is not realistically possible, the fact is Teddy Bridgewater did like that tweet about getting traded, did unlike the tweet somewhat suspiciously and did follow it up with a three-tweet run about sensing God about to perform a miracle in his life. Hard as I may try to ignore the implications of this Twitter activity, chalking it all up to coincidence, I can't quite bring myself to do so. There may not be smoke there, but there's definitely a burning smell. It is not unreasonable at all to surmise based on Bridgewater's tweets that Bridgewater is not happy with the way the Vikings are handling his situation. Publicly Bridgewater is saying all the right things, because that's the kind of classy guy he is, but who knows what his true feelings are. It could very well be that Bridgewater believes he's ready to play now and is cheesed off that Minnesota has him sitting on PUP while Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Taylor Heinicke get all the reps.

The thing is, looking at it in purely strategic terms, the right play for Rick Spielman is to do exactly what he's doing. Having Bradford around means he doesn't have to risk putting Bridgewater out there a second too early. He can hold Bridgewater back as an insurance policy in case Bradford gets hurt. He can also try to stash Bridgewater on PUP during the season, forcing Bridgewater's contract to toll, essentially adding an extra year to the QB's deal (after the team wisely elected not to pick up his fifth-year option). Some have argued the union would rush to Bridgewater's defense in the event Minnesota tried any such shenanigans with him and his contract, and maybe they would, but one assumes if that were a real possibility Rick Spielman would already be well-aware of it. We'll find out what happens when the season starts. For now, Bridgewater is sitting, and there is genuine evidence that he's not entirely happy with having to sit.

This would be much less of a story - or potential story, if you so far refuse to believe it rises to the level of an actual story - if Bridgewater did not have such a reputation for being a nice guy. It truly is hard to imagine a more amiable, likable, non-controversial figure than Teddy Bridgewater. And let's be honest - from the point-of-view of the media, Bridgewater's niceness makes him just a little bit bland. If the media had their way, they'd rather cover an ass like Jay Cutler. The media love QB-related headlines. Even before Bridgewater's minor tweet outburst, some were trying to foment a QB controversy in Minnesota by pointing out how healthy Bridgewater always looks in the team's video releases of him. Controversy sells, so it's no shock media people in the Twin Cities and elsewhere are now trying to make one around Bridgewater, who otherwise seems totally controversy-proof. The hell of it is, Bridgewater is the one responsible for fanning this particular smoldering pile of charcoal. If he was trying to send a message to the Vikings with his tweets, mission accomplished. Personally I think it's a positive sign that Bridgewater possesses a little ass potential underneath his nice-guy exterior. I don't trust anyone who seems totally nice.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Dalvin Cook is well on his way to making Vikings fans forget Whats-his-name

At the risk of endorsing what may in fact be nothing but standard camp hype, I have to say I'm very excited about reports concerning Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook. How good has Cook been in Mankato? So good even the national media are taking notice (via

Walkthrough lineups had Cook, Minnesota's second-round pick out of Florida State, commanding all but a few looks as the team's starting back, and that trend continued later, when he was regularly positioned behind Bradford in full pads. In between a playful pat on his own back, Jerick McKinnon acknowledged everybody has "seen what (Cook) can do" with the ball on his hands.
But all the good talk about the rookie isn't even as impressive as Cook himself. The first-year back passes the eye test with flying colors. Every ounce of his listed 5-foot-11, 213-pound frame is rock solid, and he moves like someone a whole lot lighter. There's a lot to be proven yet, of course, but Cook at least gives the impression that Minnesota isn't even fretting Latavius Murray's absence.

Needless to say, Cook is an unbelievably important piece of the puzzle for the Vikings as they try this year to mount a more well-rounded and explosive offense. Sure, Jerick McKinnon can be a contributor too, and maybe Latavius Murray if he ever gets healthy - and certainly the offensive line is a big part of this story too (which makes Riley Reiff's ongoing physical issues that much more concerning) - but Cook is the player to really get excited about. By all accounts, Cook has the physical tools to be an explosive offensive weapon both as a runner and receiver. And apparently Cook is good at pass protection too. Wow, a running back who can catch the ball and block? Who doesn't have to come off the field in third down situations? Who actually has the versatile skill set to become a genuine weapon in a modern-day NFL offense with spread looks and shotgun and all those fancy things other teams have been doing for years while the Vikings plodded along as one of the last proponents of "old school" offense? Whose limitations don't back the offensive playcaller into a situation where he's forced to be more predictable? Amazing.

Thanks to Dalvin Cook, the term "old school ground-and-pound offense" may soon become a distant memory in Minnesota. And it's about fucking time. Welcome to 2017, Minnesota Vikings offense. Welcome to the Dalvin Cook Era.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Laquon Treadwell proved he can scrap, now he must prove he can play

A good old training camp scuffle broke out yesterday between second-year WR Laquon Treadwell and fourth-year DB Antone Exum. It was actually pretty entertaining as these things go. Video of the incident can be seen below. Treadwell beats Exum for a catch in the end zone during a drill, then some trash-talking I guess breaks out, then Exum goes after Treadwell. Initially Adam Thielen tries to get between the two, but Exum won't be denied. The two men are going at it on the ground by the time it's over, surrounded by a huddle of teammates. Thankfully no one gets injured.
Afterwards Exum insisted there's no bad blood between him and his friend Treadwell (via

 “I just think it’s something that happens in training camp. There are guys that are going to compete. He’s one of them,” Exum said of Treadwell. “We’re friends, so it’s not like we have any beef towards each other or anything like that. I want the best for him, he wants the best for me and we just get out there and try to make each other better. The physicality part happens sometimes.”

The positive takeaway from all this? Treadwell actually beat a DB to make a catch in the end zone. True it was in a training camp drill and the guy he beat is barely hanging on to a roster spot, but still, progress!

Apologies for the sarcasm concerning Laquon Treadwell, but sarcasm just occurs naturally when one discusses the former first-round pick. It's hard to not be skeptical about Treadwell after his awful rookie season which saw him catch just one pass all year. Excuses flung out on behalf of Treadwell include the classics: he was hurt all year; he was still learning; the offensive upheaval hampered his development. Maybe those things are even partially true. Perhaps Laquon Treadwell was behind the 8-ball last year for a bunch of reasons and is now ready to take a huge leap and prove himself worthy of the first-round pick Rick Spielman spent on him and his supposed talents. I'm waiting to see the evidence.

After yesterday's scrum, I know Laquon Treadwell can scrap, but now I need to see some proof that he can play. In an actual regular season NFL game against NFL defensive backs. I'm pulling for Treadwell to prove me and all the other doubters wrong. If Treadwell can get it together and contribute, the Vikings' offense immediately becomes more dangerous. With Diggs, Thielen, a productive Treadwell, Michael Floyd eventually giving you something, Rudolph and Dalvin Cook and Sam Bradford as the trigger man...there are pieces in place. Let's hope Treadwell does some special things this season and shakes off the "potential bust" label. It's not great that the most exciting thing I've seen him do on a field as a Viking is get in a fight with Antone Exum. You don't want that to be your whole highlight reel.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Vikings secondary could be special, but kids need to step up

Xavier Rhodes is going to be a Minnesota Viking for a very long time. Yesterday's contract extension, for five years at up to $78 million, makes Rhodes one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. The Vikings have been busy of late locking up their defensive stars, recently giving DE Everson Griffen a new five-year contract worth $58 million. Last offseason the Vikings signed star safety Harrison Smith to a 5-year deal worth $51 million. The size of Rhodes' contract relative to those of Griffen and Smith points up how prized cornerbacks have become in the pass-happy NFL. Rhodes is one of those rare corners who combines shutdown coverage skills with sound run-support ability, making him the total package. The versatile Smith had a bit of a down year in 2016, but he has the talent to be one of the top safeties in the league if he pulls it all together. With Smith and Rhodes both arguably top-5 in the league at their positions, Mike Zimmer has two key pieces in place as he tries to build a dominating secondary. But what about the other pieces? That's where things become a little bit troublesome but also potentially exciting.

On paper, the Vikings should have the parts necessary to put together one of the top secondaries in the NFL. But for the secondary to realize all that on-paper potential, a few of the Vikings' younger, more unproven players will have to step up big time. The Vikings last year filled out their defensive backfield with Andrew Sendejo at the other safety spot alongside Smith, veteran Terence Newman at the other cornerback spot opposite Rhodes and veteran Captain Munnerlyn in the all-important nickle corner position. This year, Minnesota tentatively has Sendejo at safety again, third-year player Trae Waynes at outside corner and Newman locking down the slot after Munnerlyn's departure via free agency. It's possible Newman could play outside as well and kick inside in nickel situations with Waynes then playing outside. Both Sendejo and Newman could be pushed for playing time by younger players. The top challenger for Sendejo's safety job should hypothetically be Jayron Kearse, the physically gifted but very raw safety the Vikings drafted in 2016 out of Clemson. Newman's main competition at slot corner should be 2016 draft pick Mackensie Alexander, also out of Clemson.

After a very strong 2016, the 38-year-old Newman is someone Mike Zimmer believes he can rely on (notwithstanding the odd communication issue), but ideally I'm sure Zimmer would love for Alexander to push Newman in camp and perhaps even squeeze out the old man. Ideally, I'm sure Zimmer would love for Trae Waynes to show that he was worth the #11 overall pick in 2015, or if that's too much at least become reliable enough that he can stay on the field the majority of the time. The inconsistent Andrew Sendejo ideally is someone Zimmer would love to relegate to the bench in favor of Jayron Kearse, a player who has the physical tools to be a good player. It's asking a lot for all three of the Vikings' young potential secondary contributors to come on strong this training camp and make believers of Mike Zimmer. Or is it asking a lot? Certainly, Waynes is someone it's not unreasonable to expect greater things from given where he was drafted. Last year Waynes only got spot action, but he did show improvement over his rookie campaign. Mackensie Alexander was pressed into service at times last year and did not distinguish himself, but he's also someone who bears the burden of expectations after being taken in the second round. Kearse only cost the Vikings a seventh-round pick and was seen as a project player, so perhaps there are not big expectations on him, but still given his length and range he could potentially be an upgrade over Sendejo.

The Vikings should field a solid secondary this season no matter what happens. Two of the five main spots are being filled by arguably elite players, Newman is still performing at a top level and Sendejo is a serviceable safety. But let's dream big and imagine the Vikings taking the next step to become one of the best secondaries in the league. Can they do that with Newman playing a big role at his advanced age, the underwhelming Sendejo still holding down the other safety spot and Waynes still not earning the full faith of his coaching staff? To my mind, for the Vikings to take the next step as a secondary, the young players in that secondary need to take the next step as individuals. Mackensie Alexander needs to learn the slot corner position and become someone Zimmer can trust to hold down that spot, rather than relying on the aging Newman to chase slot corners all over the field. Jayron Kearse needs to sharpen up his technique, learn to use his physical tools and most importantly stay motivated, and become a player Zimmer can deploy both in single-high coverage and near the line of scrimmage in order to maximize scheme flexibility. Of all the Vikings' young players, perhaps the most pressure is on Trae Waynes, who was taken high in the first round and has not lived up to his potential yet. Waynes seemingly has the talent to be at least a good cornerback, and with Rhodes able to shadow the other teams' best receivers, Waynes seemingly should not often be placed in positions where his deficiencies in coverage really burn the team. A Rhodes/Waynes/Smith/Kearse/Alexander secondary could be special. The more-veteran iteration of that secondary, with Waynes still sharing time at outside corner with Newman, would only be good and might actually take a step down if Newman begins showing his age and Sendejo is exposed.

It will be fascinating to watch as camp proceeds to see whether the Vikings' young, promising secondary players begin popping. Because the potential is there for the Vikes' secondary to become very good if not great. But for that potential to be realized, Waynes, Alexander and Kearse have to show that they are worthy of expanded roles. It's great that Minnesota has a pair of elite secondary players on their roster, and a wily veteran in Newman who everyone loves, but for me that's just not enough. I want a truly elite Vikings secondary. Is that asking too much? We'll see.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

After John Sullivan debacle, no one should believe Vikings on Riley Reiff

New Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff suffered some kind of injury on the first day of training camp and has not been seen on the practice field since. This has Vikings fans understandably nervous, in light of last year's rash of offensive line injuries. "Oh no here we go again," is the general sentiment being expressed by fans. The team naturally is downplaying the severity of the injury while releasing the usual statements about how they have total faith in the backup, in this case Rashod Hill. It's all pretty standard stuff from the team and no one should believe for a single second that even one syllable of it is remotely accurate. Most likely, the Vikings are lying to hide the severity of Riley Reiff's injury. And you know what? I don't even blame them for doing it. Teams lie all the time, and they lie for good reasons. But a lie with a sound motivation behind it is still a lie.

Sure, it's perfectly possible that Riley Reiff is okay and everyone is being a little too "the earth is falling" about his condition. Again, such doom-and-gloom is perfectly understandable given the battering fans' psyches took last season with all the injuries and then the collapse after 5-0. Viking fans know how this routine works. There's optimism going into the season, and optimism is almost always rewarded with miserable failure. So maybe Riley Reiff is really fine...but probably he's actually hurt and the team is hiding the severity of his injury for tactical reasons and because they don't want to put a damper on the optimism of training camp. It's the last year in Mankato and they don't want to ruin it with some Debbie Downer stuff about how Riley Reiff, the left tackle they signed for $58 million this offseason, is probably going miss significant time. So until the time comes when they have to make a call on Reiff's status one way or another, they're going to keep saying he's fine. Mike Zimmer, Mr. Tell It Like It Is, is going to keep saying it's not severe...just like he did with John Sullivan, who ended up needing two back surgeries after repeatedly being declared fine.

As fans will remember, it was two years ago that Sullivan went down with a training camp injury that ended up wiping out his entire season. The Vikings in that instance publicly downplayed the severity of the injury, insisting Sullivan was just suffering from back spasms and would "be fine." But week after week Sullivan was held out of practice, until just before the start of the season he was placed on IR-to-return. Even then the Vikings remained optimistic, at least in their public statements, about Sullivan's ability to return. Until Sullivan underwent back surgery and it became clear to everyone that the Pro Bowl-caliber center would not be returning (pretty bad back spasms!). Fortunately for the Vikings, Sullivan's fill-in Joe Berger played exceptionally well in his stead, so well that the following season after Sullivan was healthy again Berger flat out beat him in camp, leading to Sullivan's ultimate release.

Whether the Sullivan situation was a case of the Vikings convincing themselves the player would be okay and being blind-sided by the severity of his injury, or (as is more likely) it was a case of the team knowing the injury was bad and flat-out lying about it, makes no difference. The point is the same either way: Never believe anything the team says about any injured player, ever. Teams will try to finesse a player back to health, hoping that surgery isn't necessary, until the surgery becomes absolutely necessary. And when a player is really injured but for tactical reasons they don't want anyone to know, they will look you right in the eye and tell a falsehood. Regardless of the motivations, the end result is that false information is fed to fans all the time about injuries and no one should ever believe a single word that is said by coaches, front office folks or team-connected reporters. When will I believe Riley Reiff is really okay? When I see him lining up at left tackle for the season opener against the Saints.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jarius Wright is an idiot if he thinks he's not on the bubble

Vikings WR Jarius Wright, who finds himself sitting precariously on the bubble as training camp begins, told reporters yesterday that anyone who thinks he won't make the 53-man roster is an "idiot." (Via St. Paul Pioneer-Press)
“I’m tired of hearing about ‘Will Jarius Wright make the 53-man roster?’ ‘’ Wright said on the first full-squad day of training camp at Minnesota State Mankato. “So it’s just getting old now. I’ve been the same player since I got here (in 2012). I continue to make plays, and if you think I’m a slouch, then you don’t watch football, and so that makes you an idiot.’’
I guess I'm an idiot because I think Jarius Wright will probably get cut. Well, I'm not 100% sure he'll get cut so maybe I'm half an idiot. I do think it's entirely reasonable to have Wright listed on the bubble as training camp cranks up. What did Wright do last year to demonstrate he should be considered a lock for the 53? Does Wright even know his stats? He only got into 8 games last year, was only targeted 14 times by Sam Bradford and wound up with 11 catches for 67 yards and one touchdown. Not exactly robust numbers. To some, it's a bit of a mystery why Wright seemed to be relegated to non-factor status in the Vikings' offense last year but I don't think it's any kind of a mystery at all. Wright just isn't that good. Problem for Wright is he's a tweener. Has the size of a slot receiver but lacks the niftiness in traffic that makes for a truly good slot man. Has the speed of a deep threat but lacks the size/wing-span. Is not the sort of physical player you can use as a possession receiver. Quite simply, Wright doesn't have a role. That became obvious last year and there's no reason to think it will change this year. 

Even if you're a big Jarius Wright booster - I'm not sure why anyone would be that at this point, but it takes all kinds - you have to admit it doesn't look good for him. The Vikings have lots of receivers fighting for spots in camp after loading up at the position in the draft and free agency. There is nothing idiotic about looking at the situation and deeming Jarius Wright to be in some trouble. Jarius Wright has to know this himself unless he is the true idiot. Or maybe he's just delusional about his abilities. Maybe he's just gone full Bernard Berrian on us. When Berrian became a non-factor in the Vikings' offense, he took zero blame, and claimed he was open on every play. He acted totally perplexed about why he wasn't getting the ball despite being open. Jarius Wright is starting to sound as silly and arrogant as Bernard Berrian. And Berrian at least had some accomplishments on his resume before he began behaving like that. Wright has barely done anything. The truth of Jarius Wright is that he's a spare part player battling for one of the last roster spots, and he could easily be beaten out by any one of a number of receivers on the roster. If he doesn't realize that, and thinks he can just coast his way to a place on the 53 while sniping at the fans, then he'll be gone quick and it won't be much of a loss.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Leslie Frazier deserves a shout out for helping turn Everson Griffen around

Everson Griffen is getting a four-year extension worth a reported $34 million in guarantees (full details of the contract when disclosed will help us decide whether this is a good or bad deal for the Vikings). Whether or not you think Griffen is worth that kind of money, the fact is the Vikings see him as a core player, a solid veteran leader and someone who can help them pursue a Super Bowl title. Once upon a time, the odds seemed to be hugely against Griffen ever becoming the kind of player who would one day be thought of as a key piece to a championship-caliber defense. Once upon a time it seemed Griffen was headed straight for the shitpile.

Long before Griffen made headlines for his sacks or his contract signings (or his charitable work, or for being a team ambassador) he made very different headlines (via Shutdown Corner):

Minnesota Vikings rookie defensive end Everson Griffen had a very bad weekend. 
On Friday night, Griffen was arrested for being drunk in public, and then was released on Saturday morning, as reported by TMZ. Then, on Monday afternoon, he was arrested again after police pulled him over and found him with an invalid drivers license, and Griffen tried to flee on foot. That's when crotch-grabbing and Tasers came in to play. 
From the L.A. Times
Griffen then told [police] "he did not want to go back to jail" and sprinted away from the officers, who caught up with him after a short distance. 
When one of the officers tried to subdue Griffen, he allegedly grabbed the officer in the groin area, the source said. Moments later, officers used a Taser to subdue him, the source said. 
For those of you keeping track at home, that's an arrest, a release, another arrest, an attempt to flee, an alleged crotch assault on a police officer, and then, the coup de grâce, the Taser.

I really hope Griffen had a great time between Friday and Monday. 
Griffen, after being drafted in the fourth round, played in 11 games for the Vikings last year, though he never started. He recorded 11 tackles and no sacks in his limited time, and police say he showed the speed of a man who could be chased down by a cop after only a short distance. 

Those kinds of headlines led to people like Mike Florio writing very unflattering things like this (via PFT):

Somehow, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has made more news this week than he did in all 17 weeks of a lackluster rookie season, combined. 
Two arrests and a scuttled Super Bowl party later, there’s one last item worth mentioning. 
Though Griffen generally has blamed the decision on the NFL, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier tells Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he had a role cancellation of Griffen’s planned Super Bowl party. 
Asked if Frazier told Griffen not to have the party, Frazier said via text, “[S]omething like that.” 
Griffen told Fowler via text that it was “too big a risk” to have the party and that “I’m a football player.” 
Others around the league weren’t impressed by the move.  Said one league source via text, “This Griffen guy is a complete idiot. . . .  He turned a lot of people off in [pre-draft] interviews.   Will be out of NFL soon.” 
If that happens, at least he’ll be able to have Super Bowl parties.

Once a target of PFT snark, Griffen has evolved as a person and a player to become not only one of the NFL's better edge rushers but a genuinely respected veteran and a positive locker room presence and a solid representative of the Vikings brand overall. As you may have noted from the PFT piece quoted above, former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier played a big role in helping Griffen turn himself around by acting as a stabilizing, discipline-imposing force in his life. Griffen came to the Vikings with "character concerns" and early on it seemed those concerns were very warranted. After Griffen was arrested twice in three days in an incident that was splashed all over TMZ and other similar outlets, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he was going to wash out of the league and end up as another sad example of a talented player who lacked the maturity and self-discipline necessary to succeed in the grueling world of the NFL. But, thanks in large part to Frazier's intervention, Griffen put the brakes on his descent and turned himself around and started on the path back uphill to where he is today. And now he is one of the most solid Vikings, not just on the field but off. So solid that the team had no hesitation about giving him $34 million more in guaranteed money.

Leslie Frazier gets a lot of (warranted) hate from Vikings fans for the way things went down during his brief tenure as head coach but his legacy is not all negative. At least he left behind an improved, matured Everson Griffen. If Frazier was good at anything, it was playing father figure to guys like Griffen. Not all players benefitted from his camp counselor guidance (Chris Cook learned zilch, it seems) but a few who were willing to listen did get something positive out of their surrogate-dad-time with Frazier. His Tampa-2 defense may have been a ridiculously shreddable, antiquated joke and his roster management approach may have been at best eccentric - and don't even get me started with his droning, dull, cliche-ridden media engagement attempts - but Frazier was obviously great with players one-on-one. Partially thanks to Frazier, we get to read things like this about Everson Griffen instead of this. Frazier sucked hard as a head coach but at least his time with the Vikings resulted in something positive.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Anti-Bradford Bridgewater fans should declare themselves now

A weird thing is happening this year with Vikings fandom: a lot of supposed fans are rooting, mostly in secret, for the Vikes to fail. What kind of shit fan wants his team to play badly? This isn't one of those years where the Vikings are expected to be bad, so a case can be made that they should tank for a better draft pick. This year the team actually has a chance to be good and make the playoffs. So why are there fucktard fans pulling a Trump-voter move and rooting for things to happen that go against their own interests? What could make fans behave in such a butt-stupid way?

It's all about that guy Teddy Bridgewater. The Return of Teddy. The Great Teddy Narrative. It's simple: Only if the team fails early will Bridgewater get a chance to play. So there are Bridgewater fans, amazing as this seems, who want the Vikings to stumble out of the gate so Sam Bradford is yanked and Teddy Bridgewater, when he comes off the PUP list after game six (cause he's definitely going on the PUP list to start the season, union be damned), gets to save the day. Never mind that, if Bradford plays poorly early in the season, it greatly reduces the team's chances at making the playoffs. If the Vikings are cold early and Bridgewater comes in and heats them up, that just makes the whole Bridgewater To The Rescue scenario that much sweeter for these dimwitted shitbags!

I for one don't want such fans walking around out there thinking they can get away with this bullshit, so here's what I'm calling for: There should be a national registry for Viking fans who plan to root for Sam Bradford to fail. These virulently stupid Bridgewater Super-Boosters/Bradford Haters should have to declare themselves, using real names as well as online handles, so we can keep track of them. If you're a fan who wants the team to do poorly so the certain player you like gets a chance to play and make you feel smart for rooting for them, you are committing the sports fan version of treason and you deserve to be branded with a Scarlet Letter (I'd send you to Gitmo but alas I do not have that much power).

The team matters more than the individual players, always always always. That's the number one rule! Yes Teddy Bridgewater is a very likable young man, yes it's sad what happened to him and it would be great for him to make a comeback...and yes there are lots of stats, advanced and otherwise, that show he's a better quarterback than Sam Bradford (quote them ad nauseum on Twitter, droning repeaters of analytics you only half-understand). Guess what? None of that changes the fact that the smart play for the Vikings is to go into the season with Bradford as the starter and Bridgewater on PUP. Sorry if that puts a damper on your Teddy Lovefest plans. Perhaps you could console yourselves by not worrying about how the Teddy thing plays out - since all that shit is in God and Rick Spielman's hands now anyway - and just root hard for the team you say you love, even with dopey Sam Bradford at quarterback?

The suck part of this whole thing is Bridgewater being dragged into the middle of it. Teddy deserves better than to be associated with a cabal of stupid-asses who don't get what being a fan is all about! Smart fans, whatever you do, don't let the behavior of this small minority of slobbering morons sour you on Teddy Bridgewater. I hope Bridgewater has a great life. It sucks what happened to him. But when it comes to the team I only want what's best for the team and I don't see how Sam Bradford stinking the place up early serves the interests of the team. Help me out here!

If you're one of these treasonous ninnies who secretly will be hoping for Sam Bradford to throw picks, take sacks and generally look horrible this season so your guy Loveable Teddy gets a chance to "prove the doubters wrong" (so many doubters!), declare yourself now. Say in so many words "I want Sam Bradford to fail so my convoluted and totally unrealistic day-dream Bridgewater scenario can happen." Say "I want the Vikings to lose games even though I have the nerve to call myself a Vikings fan." Say "I hope Sam Bradford gets broken in half because Teddy Teddy Teddy." Ignorance such as yours should not be allowed to hide in the shadows. It should have to face up to the cold light of public scrutiny. Most importantly, you should not be allowed to come slinking back like the rats you are when/if the Vikings make a playoff run with Bradford at the helm and Bridgewater sitting on the bench. You should be scorned, ridiculed, stigmatized. Blocked on Twitter, for sure.