Thursday, May 7, 2015

Monthly Archives: March 2014

 Last week Darren Sproles was “all the rage” when Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that multiple teams had expressed an interest in the ultra-explosive multi-purpose running back. Originally expected to be released by the Saints, Sproles was instead traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fifth round pick.

 Norv Turner and Sproles had success together in San Diego for four seasons, so naturally the Minnesota Vikings were among the teams linked to the speculation and trade rumors.

 The Vikings obviously weren’t interested enough to offer their fifth round pick for Sproles…  and so, with the departure of Toby Gerhart to Jacksonville via free agency, Adrian Peterson could be looking at a heavy work load as it stands. 

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Edit—Because of a logical oversight, there’s an update to these numbers at the bottom of the calculation discussion that expands the space the Vikings have.

Reading into a series of mundane team moves can easily lead to some hyperbolic speculation; any team may simply be taking advantage of the time they have and the situation they’re in to take care of some house cleaning. But that won’t stop me or you from trying to read the tea leaves that the Minnesota Vikings have left behind with a series of small but interesting moves.

As an update, the Vikings have signed nose tackle Linval Joseph (a great move), cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (a good move), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (a likely unimpactful move) and cornerback Derek Cox (a… move) while having re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen, quarterback Matt Cassel, cornerback Marcus Sherels, interior offensive lineman Joe Berger, running back Matt Asiata, defensive tackle Fred Evans, special teams player/linebacker Larry Dean, guard Charlie Johnson and receiver Jerome Simpson.

The Vikings could be on their way for even more.

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Prior to free agency I narrowed down five guys I thought might make some sense for the Vikings to target.  Two of them received reported interest from Minnesota and one of them actually ended up signing, so I’m feeling all full of glee about that, and want to give it another shot.

The second wave of free agency is still in progress with a number of higher end players still hanging out there (especially in the aging pass rusher department), but let’s get a jump start on looking for some bargains in the basement.  Here are five that I’d consider:

5.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Age 31

Let me start out by saying that I assume the Vikings will go into camp with four quarterbacks, which means they still need to add two.  While I don’t feel as comfortable saying this with certainty, I do think there is a good chance the Vikings part ways with Christian Ponder before training camp, and that would leave them needing to add yet another quarterback.

The Titans released quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick this week at the age of 31.  Fitzpatrick started nine games for the Titans last season, with Jake Locker missing time due to injury, and fared pretty well.  He threw for 14 touchdowns on a 62% completion percentage, ran the ball pretty well which included three more scores, and misfired on 12 interceptions.

Like Matt Cassel, the Vikings wouldn’t be getting a franchise quarterback by signing Fitzpatrick, but they would be getting a dependable and experienced veteran that is sure to be relatively inexpensive.  If the Vikings are really going to draft their franchise quarterback this May, then I’d rather have Cassel and Fitzpatrick ushering him into the NFL than an eager-to-move-on Christian Ponder.

The name Jasper Brinkley causes some Vikings fans to shudder as they recall his final season with the Vikings two years ago.  He started 15 games that season, after missing a season to injury, and the results were not overly inspiring.  After his four years with the Vikings, Brinkley signed as a free agent with Arizona last offseason.

Arizona then drafted rookie linebacker Kevin Minter.  Brinkley started three games before the rookie took over and Brinkley was released in February.

At 28 years old, Brinkley doesn’t seem like the type of guy that is suddenly going to get any faster or develop impressive coverage skills (both weaknesses of his), but I will admit that I have never been as down on his performances as many fans and analysts have been.  He is a downhill player that can deliver the big hit, but it is mistake to think he can cover a tight end like Vernon Davis on a deep seam route.  He has his limitations, but he also has his value.

In landing back in Minnesota, Brinkley has land in perhaps the best possible position available to him in the NFL, as the Vikings currently have a wide open vacancy at middle linebacker.  Audie Cole and Michael Mauti are expected to compete with Brinkley in training camp for the starting honors, but another free agent signing or significant draft selection could certainly see them all fighting to remain employed as backups.

Brinkley should be entering the 2014 season fully healthy (I don’t believe he was in 2012), seems to be liked well enough by his former teammates, and he’s already back to his ways of making headlines for all the right reasons off the field.  Even newly signed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said the presence of Brinkley during his visit to Minnesota helped recruit him to join the Vikings, as they were roommates in college.

His contract is very low risk and, since he was released by Arizona, will not count against the Vikings in the compensatory pick formula.  Brinkley’s contract included only $25,000 in guarantees, according to Spotrac, and carries a total cap hit of only $830,000.

In the end Brinkley’s return is a low-risk and probably low-reward one for Rick Spielman.  He is never going to become a consistent game-changer and dominant force, but I do believe he can help a run defense that struggled greatly in 2013, if he is called up to do so.  If he doesn’t have a future with Mike Zimmer and the Vikings, however, they can simply part ways with him and move on… again.

Adam’s Grade:  B

 

 

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While the full numbers haven’t been released yet, it’s good news that the Minnesota Vikings have re-signed wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who almost exclusively play the split end role for them.

Simpson is cheap starting-quality talent and good depth to be had on a team suddenly brimming with receiver talent. Simpson had been pursued by other teams, but having him with the Vikings allow them to take advantage of the chemistry he’s built with the rest of the team as they learn the new offense.

I’ve advocated signing Simpson before, so there’s not much to add—

Jerome Simpson was the Minnesota Vikings’ leading receiver until the 14th game of the season, where Greg Jennings overtook him. Simpson, previous of the Cincinnati Bengals, has been on the same team as head coach Mike Zimmer, but they worked on opposite sides of the ball.

If the Vikings re-sign Simpson to the same price as before ($2.1 million in cap space, or $1.35 base salary, $250k in LBTE incentives and $500k in guaranteed signing bonus) it should be a good deal for both parties. Simpson isn’t a stellar receiver, but he’s a legitimate starting talent that can be phased into extremely good depth should Cordarrelle Patterson or Jarius Wright take over.

Just like with Jamarca Sanford or Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings fans shouldn’t let previous poor performances blind them to good performances last year (or in Sanford and Loadholt’s case, the last two years), especially as Simpson suffered a back injury throughout most of the year. He’s not a super star, but he was never sold (or paid) as one. Not everyone on a team needs to be special for a team to have an excellent offense, and Simpson can be great value, especially as a rotational player.

This doesn’t preclude the Vikings from grabbing a receiver in an obscenely rich draft, one of the few positions that not only has depth, but strong talent at the top (other positions, notably QB, have a lot of depth but not a lot at the top). He can have 60 yards a game in him, which is nearly 1000-yards in a full season, should Simpson avoid suspension.

The second-best receiver on NFL teams averaged below that, with 54 yards a game and Simpson will likely be asked to be the third or fourth option for most games, behind Patterson, Jennings and Rudolph (third options have averaged just over 40 yards a game, most of them tight ends).

Having a flatter distribution of receiving talent on the field (avoiding a huge drop between #2 and #3 or #3 and #4) can be hugely important not just for depth and continuity in case of injury, but because progressions need to be designed to increase success rate for quarterbacks; should the pre-snap read tell the quarterback to read one half of the field, and the first option is covered, that usually means throwing to the #3 or #4 option because the other half of the field had the second-best receiver.

Listing third receivers on teams makes it even easier to see the comparison. He may not be as good as Tony Gonzalez or James Jones, but he’s far better than players like Marlon Brown, Rueben Randle and Heath Miller—offenses that may have struggled last year, but clearly have franchise quarterbacks.

Good move by the Vikings.

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