Saturday, January 31, 2015
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brian robison

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Photo provided courtesy of Vikings.com

Don’t you love the NFL offseason?  If you thought the wait for the NFL draft was bad, we’re currently experiencing the worst part of the year for football fans. For those finding ways to supplement your withdraws with another type of football, I’m jealous. For myself, in hopes of filling the void, I’ve watched and re-watched the practice highlights looking for something to stand out.  I’ve also done a great deal of thinking around the current depth chart, trying to predict where the 2014 Vikings will make their greatest strides.

When looking at a defense full of holes in 2013, it isn’t difficult to identify the area in need of the largest improvement. Second to only the Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings ranked 31st in total passing defense in 2013, surrendering an average of 287 yards through the air per game. To throw salt on the wound, the Vikings allowed 37 passing TDs and a completion percentage of 64.7%, a completion percentage so high that only 6 quarterbacks averaged a higher number for the 2013 season.

The Vikings secondary wasn’t just the weakest spot on the field, it made an opposing quarterback look like a pro bowler week in and week out.

The defensive collapses were frustrating to watch. Each week, fans watched in agony as the defense gave up more 3rd & long completions, some of which cost the Vikings wins and ultimately cost Head Coach Leslie Frazier and staff their jobs. There is no quick fix for a defensive unit as broken as the Vikings secondary. Was it the scheme or the personnel? Let’s take a closer look at how General Manager Rick Spielman has addressed the troubled secondary entering the 2014 season.

The Vikings are currently negotiating a contract extension with defensive end Everson Griffen and recently completed a four-year contract extension with defensive end Brian Robison.

What about All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen?

There are currently no contract talks between the team and Allen’s camp.

It is apparent here that Minnesota is attempting to lock two of its younger pass rushers. Robison, 30, received a four-year deal worth a reported $22.4 million. Griffen, 25,  recently rejected a contract offer by the team, but that is likely just a part of the contract negotiation process.

Allen, 31, isn’t much older than Robison, but would likely seek a contract much more lucrative to Robison’s $5.6 million per year average. Allen is currently earning $14.3 million for the 2013-14 season.

The door is not completely shut on Allen returning, but the writing is on the wall.

Josh Freeman stole most of the headlines regarding the Vikings this week, but Wednesday brought a flurry of activity from Winter Park, and here are your resulting roster updates:

McLeod Bethel-Thompson:  Many Minnesota fans hoped to see “MBT” sneak onto the practice squad after he was the casualty cut following the Freeman signing.  Not only would retaining him have allowed the Vikings to continue developing him, but it could have provided them greater flexibility and leverage in potential trade scenarios involving either Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel.  Instead, the San Francisco Forty-Niners claimed him off waivers.  MBT started his career with the Niners, but has yet to see any regular season playing time with any of the teams he has signed with since 2011.

Brian Robison:  One of my favorite Vikings is defensive end Brian Robison, mainly because of his unheralded consistency on the left side, so I was elated to hear that the Vikings signed him to a four year contract extension.  The deal is reportedly worth $28.3 million, with $13.1 million in guarantees and a $5 million signing bonus.  Robison has been one of the best 4-3 left ends in the NFL, particularly in the pass rushing department, so it is no surprise that the contract incentives are tied directly to sack numbers.  Robison, the class act that he is, joked with reporters that the quality of bass fishing in Minnesota was a major factor in his decision to re-up.  Defensive ends Jared Allen and Everson Griffen are also in contract years.

Justin Trattou:  The Vikings also made a waiver claim on Wednesday and they were awarded defensive end Justin Trattou who was recently released by the New York Giants.  Trattou was undrafted out of Florida in 2011 and has bounced around the Giants practice squad and active roster over the last couple of years.  He has very limited playing time and is mostly an unknown at this point.  Still, the Vikings front office thought highly enough of his potential that they jettisoned defensive end George Johnson to make room for him.

The Vikings return all 4 defensive ends from the 2012 squad. The top of the depth chart is loaded with talent but Rick Spielman still signed guys that could steal that final roster spot away from D’Aundre Reed. Reed was a 7th round pick by the Vikings in 2011 but has yet to earn a single tackle in 2 regular seasons with the team. As a matter-of-fact he has collected only 1 solo tackles in the preseason games. The writing might be on the wall for D’Aundre because the Vikings signed free agent Lawrence Jackson from Detroit in the off season. Jackson was a 1st round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2008 NFL draft. Jackson started 51 games at USC… Phillip Rivers is the only other NCAA player to accomplish that statistic. The 6 year pro is listed at 6’4’ 271 pounds and has played in 69 NFL games. Jackson has 19.5 sacks and 141 total tackles in his career. Yea, I would say that’s and upgrade.

The Vikings also signed undrafted rookie free agent Marquis Jackson from Portland State. Last season Marquis had 36 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Prior to Portland State, he racked up 14 sacks and 36 TFL in 2 seasons with Texas Southern. Marquis has terrific movement skills and explodes at the point of attack. At one time he was highly rated player that just didn’t play with consistent urgency in 2012. USC had interest in Marquis, but academic problems stop him from becoming a Trojan.

At the bottom of the defensive end depth chart is undrafted free agents Collins Ukwu and George Johnson. The good news is the Vikings will not need to play Jared Allen, Brian Robison or Everson Griffen much in preseason so those 2 might see some playing time. The bad news is Ukwu and Johnson are long shots with the Vikings.

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[Note from Brett: We’re happy to have Mr. Lemke back for another bold prediction for the 2013 season. In prediction #10, Branden submitted that Harrison Smith will be a pro bowl safety this year. In #9, he predicted that the Vikings will hold six receivers on the final roster including Joe Webb and Greg Childs. This time, see how Branden thinks Everson Griffen will fair in 2013.]

Perhaps one of the most underrated players on our defense, and maybe even the entire NFL, is defensive end Everson Griffen. His production as a career backup to Brian Robison has been stellar. 2012 was his best year, racking up 26 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and who could forget his interception returned for a touchdown against the St Louis Rams? Despite his backup status, I expect to see Everson Griffen push Brian Robison for even more playing time in the rotation, and ultimately, I think Griffen is our guy long term at the left defensive end spot.

Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison, and Everson Griffen are all entering the last year of their contracts. I love all these players, but realistically, the Vikings can’t afford to keep all of them. Griffen is by far the youngest of the group, and if he can put up numbers like he did last year, I think there’s no question the Vikings will pick him over Robison when all is said and done. I think we’ll see Griffen’s playing time increase heavily over the course of the 2013 season, and I am predicting he’ll finish with 35 tackles, 8-10 sacks, and a few forced fumbles. I don’t know what the Vikings thoughts are on keeping Kevin Williams or Jared Allen, given the cost of keeping both of those players may be out of the Vikings financial reach by the end of the season. In a perfect world, all four would be re-signed, but sadly we may be losing some fan favorites in 2014.

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