Friday, December 15, 2017

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The NFL is a machine that runs during the fall and the winter, and spends the spring and summer months refueling.

Now that the offseason has arrived for some teams like the Vikings, the process of refueling the fan base with optimism has begun, and nearly everyone has volunteered for the pit crew.  The owners, the general managers, the coaches, the players, and even the media all jump at the chance to renew hope in their organization and convince fans that the price of a ticket will be well worth it… next year.

Take Fran Tarkenton for example.  He is apparently now the Pioneer Press’s slightly less delusional (but slightly more outspoken) answer to Sid Hartman.  He recently published an article titled “Vikings have hope, thanks to leadership and talent.”

In the article, Tarkenton goes through a laundry list of things we have to be thankful for as Vikings fans.  Some of the items he listed are factual, some are opinion, and some are just downright goofy like this gem:  “Adrian Peterson will be back.”  That instills about as much hope into my purple heart as saying, “Adrian Peterson is not dead.”

Tarkenton does bring up some good points, including the fact that five of this year’s playoff teams had 10 or more losses last season, so teams can reverse course in a hurry.  One of the teams on that list, of course, are the Lions and he neglects to remind us exactly how many years it took for them to turn things around.  You know how long it has been since they have won a playoff game on the road?  Look it up, you will be amazed.

The Texans, another team on that list, will play their first playoff game since they came into existence one whole decade ago.

My point isn’t that cheerleaders, the kind with pompoms and the kind with pens, don’t have a valuable place in sports.  My point is that many of the ones with pens mistakenly think it is helping matters by getting our hopes up and raising our expectations for the next season.

The truth, of course, is that it is very, very, very hard to win in the NFL and the Vikings appear to be a long ways away from filling all the needs on their roster to do it on a consistent basis.  Rick Spielman could “hit” on all eight of his Draft picks in April, and I still wouldn’t be convinced the Vikings would be good enough to win the NFC North.

After a 3-13 season, it would appear the Vikings have nowhere to go but up, but appearances can be deceiving and I would recommend to any of my readers that they keep their hopes in check.

After one week, a few responsibilities have changed in Winter Park along with a few job titles, which is not enough to get me to believe this team is ready to make a playoff appearance next year.

Whether you believe it was prompted by genuine concern or self-serving interests, it is hard to deny that the NFL has raised awareness about the detrimental impact that chronic concussions can have on the life of current and former football players.

The reaction to all these findings over the last few years has varied from player to player, but as it stands now, the Vikings have two players that are weighing their futures as NFL players because of the concussions they have sustained.

Leslie Frazier recently indicated that guard Steve Hutchinson has had a hard time shaking the effects of a concussion suffered on December 18th against New Orleans.  That concussion caused Hutchinson to finish the season on the injured reserve for his second consecutive season.

“I’m hoping that things will get better soon for him with the concussions for sure,” Leslie Frazier said last week. “That’s something that I’m sure he and his family will discuss, what his future is and how much longer he wants to play professional football.”

Hutchinson has been privately telling teammates that his plan was to play out his current contract, which will expire after next season, and then retire.  Hutchinson’s contract will pay him $7 million in 2012, has a no-trade clause, and at age 34 one can’t help but wonder if the Vikings wouldn’t view an early retirement as a positive thing for the regressing veteran.

Leslie Frazier sounds as though he is happy to have Hutchinson, who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and two children, return for another year.

“He’s still a guy who can play and be a positive addition to your football team,” Frazier said. “He’s got some decisions that he’ll have to make after the season is over.”

As of yesterday, however, any decisions regarding the team’s commitment to Hutchinson is out of Frazier’s hands and placed squarely in the lap of newly appointed G.M. Rick Spielman.

Unlike Hutchinson, safety Husain Abdullah is set to become an unrestricted free agent at age 26, but his concussion issues have him contemplating whether or not he even should continue to play in the NFL.

“I definitely want to play,” Abdullah recently said. “I’ve been playing (football) since I was 8-years old. To have it taken away from me when I can still play that would really hurt. … But if the doctor comes and tells me something I don’t want to hear, then definitely I’ve got to start putting the family first.”

“As of right now, since I feel good, it’s not overly concerning,” he said, “but at the same time you look at all the former players and what they’re going through now and you’re starting to see a lot more stuff pop up about concussions.”

“Even in other sports. I’ve been watching hockey as well, seeing their stuff. I’ll just try to find out more information about it and see how it is for me. I know a lot of people have (concussions) and some people it affects greatly, some people it doesn’t. I’ll just try to figure out how it’s affecting me and then move forward.”

The 2008 undrafted safety out of Washington State has gradually climbed his way to the top of the Vikings depth chart, but his concussions landed him on the injured reserve and halted contract talks that had been taking place between him and the Vikings.

Abdullah may have to decide if he is still going to play professional football, but he has made it clear that if he is playing he wants to be a Viking.

“Of course,” he said. “They gave me a shot when nobody else did, so I’m definitely a Vikings fan and I’d like to be a Viking as long as they’ll have me.”

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It will be a while before any sort of schedule is released for the 2012 season, but we do know which teams the Vikings will face in 2012.

Division: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
NFC 4th Place: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Division: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts
NFC 4th Place: Washington Redskins

Since two NFC North teams made the playoffs, the Vikings will have six games against playoff teams in 2012.

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The Vikings got a jump start on re-signing their pending free agents when center John Sullivan was extended last month.

Who are the other Vikings whose contracts have expired this season?  Here is the list:

  • Husain Abdullah
  • Xavier Adibi
  • Devin Aromashodu
  • Lorenzo Booker
  • Patrick Brown
  • Greg Camarillo
  • Fred Evans
  • Letroy Guion
  • EJ Henderson
  • Erin Henderson
  • Tyrell Johnson
  • Matt Katula
  • Jim Kleinsasser (retired)
  • Kenny Onatolu
  • Jarrad Page
  • Sage Rosenfels
  • Benny Sapp
  • Visanthe Shiancoe

A little while back, I highlighted five players that are due to possibly become free agents and would be solid additions to the Vikings offense.  Today, I want to do the same thing for defensive players.

Of course, some or all of these guys may never make it to the open market, but the speculation makes for good fun and gives us something to talk about while we wait for the free agency period to actually roll around.  As always, let me know what you think, who I missed, who I shouldn’t have included, or whatever else is on your mind.

1. Michael Griffin, S, Titans

The Vikings have the potential to get better at cornerback simply by putting legal matters behind them (Chris Cook) and by getting healthier (Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, Asher Allen).  I’m not willing to say cornerback isn’t a need for this team, but I am willing to say that safety is the bigger need.  Michael Griffin has been so consistent for the Titans in his five NFL seasons that it seems highly unlikely that they let him leave without a fight.  He has never missed a game and is entering his prime at age 26.  The Vikings could put a guy like Griffin to good use, without a doubt.

2. Stephen Tulloch, MLB, Lions

I wanted the Vikings to sign E.J. Henderson’s replacement a year early when Tulloch became a free agent last offseason.  So, it stands to reason that I would like to see them sign him this offseason, after helping to lead Detroit’s defensive resurgence and also with Henderson likely becoming a free agent.  In 16 regular season games with the Lions, Tulloch played very well on his way to 111 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, and five defended passes.  At age 27, he could be a true block to rebuild the Vikings defense around.

3. Brandon Carr, CB, Chiefs

If the Vikings want to get younger, then the 25 year old Carr has to be an appealing free agent to target.  Carr has started every game of his four year career and at 6’ and 207 pounds is a prototypical cornerback in the NFL.  Carr is quickly developing into one of the best cover corners in the NFL.  He had four interceptions this season, a career high, and has a knack for scooping up loose footballs.  Carr isn’t going to be the flashiest name in free agency, but he could certainly become exactly what the Vikings were hoping they would get out of Cedric Griffin when they extended his contract.

4. LaRon Landry, S, Redskins

LaRon Landry has played like the best safety in football at multiple points, during multiple seasons, but over the last two seasons that production has been overshadowed by injury.  Like any great safety, Landry’s body has taken a toll, and he has missed 15 games over the last two seasons.  That fact may be what convinces Washington to let him test the market, and the Vikings have to feel desperate enough at the safety position to risk over-paying an injury risk with hopes of finally getting some big plays and big hits.  Landry is a complete safety, when healthy, plenty capable of covering a receiver or tight end, rushing the passer, or delivering a blow to a running back.

5. Jason Jones, DT, Titans

Between Michael Griffin, Jason Jones and Cortland Finnegan the Titans are bound to let some good players leave in free agency.  Like Brandon Carr, Jones is only 25 years old, so the fact that he is entering his prime has to appeal to teams like the Vikings looking to rebuild quickly.  Jones has had a solid career that really took off when the Titans allowed Albert Haynesworth to leave town.  In four seasons Jones has 112 tackles, 15.5 sacks, 15 batted down passes, and seven forced fumbles.  The Vikings could use some help at the defensive tackle position as they slipped in run defense this year, and they went entire games with hardly any interior pass rush at all.

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