One year ago Minnesota Vikings players were still unpacking their bags and preparing for morning walkthroughs at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato. In 2017, however, Mike Zimmer ordered his young and inexperienced troops to report three days early.
“Last year, a lot of the rookies didn’t play as much as they had in the past,” Zimmer told Chad Graff of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. “I just figured, let’s give these guys every opportunity we possibly can to get them up to speed a little quicker. We want to get them back in here, get them back doing the techniques that we’ve been working on in the spring. Kind of refresh another three days of practice with the terminology. Then when the vets get here, they’ve heard it four or five times now as opposed to just two or three.”
As a result, fans have had the luxury of enjoying an extra three days of Vikings football — and what a three days it has been. While Dalvin Cook, Pat Elflein and the rest of Minnesota’s star-studded rookie class were finding their footing, general manager Rick Spielman has been busy solidifying the future of the organization.
Everson Griffen captured headlines with a massive contract extension, but his new deal wasn’t the only pertinent information disclosed this week. So, before Sam Bradford, Harrison Smith and the rest of the Vikings veteran take the field this afternoon, let’s first catch up on the developments of the past three days.
FOREVER & EVERSON
Everson Griffen has been a model of consistency since assuming a starting role in 2014. Griffen, a former fourth-round selection out of Southern California, recorded 17.5 sacks in four seasons as a rotational pass-rusher behind Jared Allen before signing a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension in 2014. Minnesota’s decision to pony-up big money to an essentially unproven edge-rusher, but Griffen has responded with 30.5 sacks, superb run defense and back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl.
Initially reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Griffen will finish his career as a Viking playing under a lucrative four-year, $58 million extension carrying $34 million guarantees — 58.6 percent of his total contract.
“This means I’m a Viking for life,” the soon-to-be 30-year-old defensive end said during a special press conference held on Wednesday afternoon in Mankato.
Minnesota may have shelled out a significant chunk of change to keep its premier edge-rusher in tow for the long haul, but Spielman and Vice President of Football Operations — and resident salary-cap guru — Rob Brzezinski seemingly have no intention of slowing down the tedious process of keeping their blue chip players with the organization while simultaneously satisfying their financial desires.
“I’ll just say we’re working on extensions on a few guys,” Spielman said on Wednesday, according to 1500 ESPN’s Matthew Coller.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who enjoyed a breakout 2016 campaign, would appear to be the next candidate for a contract extension, as he is currently set to play out this upcoming season under the fifth-year option clause from his initial rookie deal. The following trio of recently-signed cornerback contracts will likely set the parameters of what has seemingly become an inevitable extension for Rhodes:
- Josh Norman (WAS): 5-Year, $75 million; $50 million guaranteed — 67 percent (2016)
- Janoris Jenkins (NYG): 5-Year, $62.5 million; $28.8 million guaranteed — 46 percent (2016)
- Darius Slay (DET): 4-Year, $48.15 million; $23.1 million guaranteed — 48 percent (2016)
Rhodes has garnered the majority of Minnesota’s contract extension headlines, but rumors surfaced on Wednesday that stud nose tackle Linval Joseph may also be in line for a (much-deserved) pay-day. Interior defensive line contracts are rather difficult to project due to schematic differences across the NFL, but the following three recently-signed deals may represent the framework of a potential Joseph extension:
- Brandon Williams (BAL): 5-Year, $52.5 million; $33.75 million guaranteed — 64 percent (2017)
- Damon “Snacks” Harrison (NYG): 5-Year, $46.5 million; $24 million guaranteed — 51 percent (2016)
- Johnathan Hankins (IND): 3-Year, $27 million; $14.5 million guaranteed — 54 percent (2017)
All salary-cap figures courtesy of Spotrac
TEDDY IN TIMEOUT
Let’s just admit it — the Teddy Bridgewater rehabilitation hype train has gotten just a tad out of control.
A necessary, and expected, pitstop on the Physically Unable to Perform list should slow the craziness down some, however. Minnesota officially declared the former 2014 first-round pick as “physically unable to perform” on Wednesday.
That said, however, the Vikings did keep the dream alive — Bridgewater will remain on the team’s active list.
Mike Zimmer alluded to the idea of bringing in extra defensive back depth early in the week, and on Wednesday, the team made this vocalized interest official — Minnesota signed former Missouri Western State standout Sam Brown to its 90-man roster; offensive tackle Arturo Uzdavinis, who was added to the roster just two days prior, was waived to accommodate the former Baltimore Ravens cornerback.
Brown — who had been working out with Baltimore this offseason — is about as much of unknown as a professional football player can possibly be. He went undrafted out of Division II MWSU in 2016, but coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees saw enough potential in the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Brown to carry him on their practice squad toward the end of the 2016 campaign.
His college statistics need be taken with a grain of salt, but the combination of six interceptions and five tackles for loss in 22 career starts warrants a closer look. It is currently unclear yet whether Brown will challenge for up-for-grabs slot cornerback role or compete for a backup job on the outside.
First and foremost: I’d like to formally apologize for the above pun.
Secondly, the Vikings, as a collective franchise, might be cursed — but you already knew that to be a very distinct possibility. Minnesota lost then-second-year quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a freak foot injury around this time last year, and, according to Chris Tomasson of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, there will be a sequel compliments of seventh-round edge-rusher Ifeadi Odenigbo.
“The gate closed on me, and it had some chipped metal and it went right into my heel, so that was my Achilles’ heel,” said the former Northwestern sack specialist. “It was a freak accident. When I was going (through the gate), it just nicked my heel and blood was gushing everywhere. It was a big, deep cut. There was too much skin ripped off for me to have stitches. It was pretty gross. … It was like a fishing rod went into my skin and you yanked the skin out.’’
What a time to be alive.
- Latavius Murray, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, opened camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Undrafted rookie Shaan Washington, a linebacker out of Texas A&M, joins Murray and, of course, Bridgewater on the team’s initial PUP list. However, the trio will remain on the active listing.
- Sharrif Floyd, as expected, will begin the year on Minnesota’s Non-Football Injury list, as he continues to rehab a nerve injury suffered during a surgical procedure to repair a torn meniscus this past September. Both Zimmer and Floyd remain optimistic regarding his potential to play this season.
- Antone Exum has opened training camp logging snaps at slot cornerback, a rather significant change from the deep safety role he has played — when healthy — during his young career. Exum, widely considered to be a roster bubble player, faces stiff competition in 2016 second-round pick Mackensie Alexander, 2014 seventh-round pick Jabari Price and (potentially) ageless veteran Terence Newman.
- Chunky Clements, an undrafted rookie defensive tackle from the University of Illinois who worked out with the Vikings leading up to the draft, was signed to the offseason 90-man roster this past Friday. Former Montana defensive end Caleb Kidder was subsequently released.
- Pat Elflein had his first “Welcome to the League” moment. According to Zone Coverage’s Luke Inman, the Ohio State rookie fired a shotgun snap clear over backup quarterback Case Keenum’s head on Monday.
- Cornerback Tre Roberson, who made a strong case to make the Vikings 53-man roster out of camp in 2016, has reportedly been impressive early. He is competing for a backup outside coverage role behind Rhodes, Terence Newman and Trae Waynes.
- Heinicke has been a human flamethrower thus far, according to various sources with knowledge of his greatness.