Friday, July 3, 2015

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The Minnesota Vikings have decided to once again carry linebacker Jasper Brinkley on their roster, a linebacker they drafted in 2009. The one-year contract (no numbers are out yet) seems to signal a prove-it deal, and might represent Brinkley’s last shot in the NFL.

In his rookie year, he saw limited duty as a reserve, then as a starter after E.J. Henderson went down. He had a pretty good game against Carolina in that time, but was largely absent from the field. In 2010, he only played in 18 snaps, and he missed all of 2011 with a hip injury. After returning from injured reserve, hopes were high for Brinkley as Vikings fans hoped he could replace E.J. Henderson, who had a poor 2011 due to swelling in his repaired femur and was not re-signed for the 2012 season.

Unfortunately, Brinkley lived up to his scouting report as a linebacker poor in coverage and graded out to have some of the worst coverage in the NFL among inside linebackers, while his performance as a run defender was merely adequate. After that one year as a starter, the Vikings moved on, and Brinkley signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an ILB while Daryl Washington served out a four-game suspension and Kevin Minter developed as a rookie.

Brinkley was relegated to depth when Washington returned and cut recently by Arizona. Brinkley always had a reputation as a run-stuffing linebacker without much  ability in the passing game, and he retained that reputation throughout his early play in Arizona. While he did far better there in his 200 snaps than he ever did in Arizona, Todd Bowles demanded more from his linebackers, especially at a position of strength.

The Vikings bringing Brinkley in just means that they’ll have more depth at a position of weakness as they approach camp; there’s little chance, that Brinkley will be the starter in 2014, unless Zimmer determines that Brinkley wins the camp battles.

Should Brinkley play in 2014 like he did in 2013, he would actually be very good depth as a two-down linebacker, but not much more than that. If his true talent is closer to his 2012 film, then there’s little reason he should stay on the roster throughout training camp. Either way, don’t expect the Vikings to use this as the answer at middle linebacker.

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The Minnesota Vikings have inked their current defensive end Everson Griffen to a new, “huge,” 5-year deal according to Ian Rapaport.


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.

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On the cusp of the “legal tampering period,” Ian Rapaport reports that the Minnesota Vikings have re-signed veteran quarterback Matt Cassel.

Earlier today, the Vikings also announced that they resigned cornerback and punt returner Marcus Sherels.

Cassel may have been an extremely up-and-down quarterback this last year, but this re-signing is probably a good thing. It may mean that the Vikings wouldn’t go after potentially more tantalizing targets like Michael Vick or Josh McCown, but with those two at the top of the free agency market for quarterbacks, it wasn’t a good group to begin with.

Between Cassel and Ponder, Cassel showed significantly higher highs, but also on occasion lower lows, with his game-by-game performance:

Cassel and Ponder's game-by-game performance, according to various metrics
Cassel and Ponder’s game-by-game performance, according to various metrics

While Ponder was more consistent, he was consistently bad, while Cassel’s volatility produced above-average games. Even from a film-perspective, the difference between Cassel against Philadelphia, one of the single-most compelling performances for any quarterback this year, and his game against Seattle or Carolina, both depressing.

Cassel did a better job using the tools available to him on a more frequent basis and is still honestly one of the better backup quarterbacks in a league sorely lacking in quarterback options.

The roster needs to have a number of quarterbacks. They won’t all be young or have massive upside. Cassel can fill the role of a backup quarterback just fine, and could potentially help groom the next young Vikings quarterback, which is all he will be asked to do.

As for Sherels, he’s a player whose talent has gone from questionable to hopeful. His short period as a slot cornerback this year was promising (although he did have major miscues) and it looks like he could continue to be solid depth as a nickel corner while remaining one of the better punt returners in the league.

 

Update: Matt Cassel’s deal was two years for $10 million, which improves his option base salary of $3.75 million to an average salary of $5 million. Presumably, there is also more guaranteed money.

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It has become a truism in quarterback evaluation that any scouting report that starts with the word “winner” is usually a death knell for a quarterback prospect, and it signals that their tangible qualities aren’t front and center.

In a sense, it allows us to substitute analysis for mystique, without regard for whether or not that ephemeral quality of “winning” can translate to the next level. In fact, it can’t even translate throughout NFL careers, much less across different levels of football. Winning in the first four seasons has virtually no relationship to winning in the next four.

The NFL is littered with the careers of quarterbacks who had “it” in college, but didn’t have the skills in the NFL—Tim Couch, Matt Leinart, Chris Leak, Vince Young and notably, Tim Tebow. Josh Heupel went undrafted. Greg McElroy and Kevin Dorsey were picked in the 7th round.

So when evaluators point to “winning,” they’re using a crutch that indicates—whether or not it’s on purpose—that there is no demonstrable reason or sustainable expectation of talent that will allow someone to succeed in the NFL. It means they couldn’t isolate why a prospect will be successful, but simply that he has been.

Even knowing all of that, it should catch your eye that everyone I talked to called Brock Jensen, quarterback of the North Dakota State Bison and prospective 2014 NFL rookie, a “winner.”

How could they not? He, along with his teammates and coaching staff, have won three consecutive national championships in Division I-AA (or more commonly, the Football Championship Subdivision), going 43-2 in that three-year span. In this case, it wasn’t so much that Jensen didn’t have demonstrable talent that was easy to break down, it was that his importance to the program and his immense aptitude for the game jump right off the page.

Every year that Rick Spielman has been with the Vikings has produced at least one ambitious and exciting move.  Sometimes they have been in the form of player trades (Jared Allen and Percy Harvin), free agent signings (Brett Favre), or Draft Day moving and shaking (Matt Kalil and Cordarrelle Patterson).  Even during the seemingly ho-hum offseasons he has produced at least one splash move that gets the fanbase to collectively giggle with glee.

Today’s cuts, as outlined earlier by Arif, are reportedly going to leave the Vikings with a whopping $41 million in cap space.  Meanwhile, Spielman is still armed with a full compliment of draft picks.

Right now, most Vikings fans seem to think they have Spielman pegged, that he will predictably spend conservatively in free agency and explore all options to move around throughout Draft Weekend.  They think he’ll bargain hunt, perhaps throw his new coach a bone by signing Michael Johnson, and then lean on Norv Turner to pick which quarterback prospect to target in May.

I don’t think it’ll be that predictable.

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