Wednesday, July 27, 2016

chad greenway

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Poll of the Week

Vikings Veterans Have Something to Prove
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The Minnesota Vikings are a relatively young team, buoyed by first and second-year players at multiple positions on both sides of the ball. From Teddy Bridgewater to Eric Kendricks, the roster is stacked with up-and-coming contributors who should remain in purple and gold for years to come. Minnesota’s success hinges on their long-term future with the team, but they’re not the only cogs in the winning machine.

Veterans like Adrian Peterson, Terence Newman, and Phil Loadholt are just as, if not more important to the Vikings’ short-term outlook than the team’s young stars. Chad Greenway, set to play his last season with the Vikings in 2016, recently commented on Mike Zimmer’s unbiased, win-first approach coaching.

“He’s just in your face, and you always know where you stand – good or bad,” Greenway said, per Lindsey Young. “Whether you’re 32 years old or 22 years old, he’s going to have you playing your best football every week. He’s going to continue to get you better no matter where you’re at in your career.”

To Zimmer, age is nothing but a number. Newman led the team with three interceptions last season, Peterson won his third rushing title, and Joe Berger was arguably Minnesota’s best offensive lineman. Father Time hasn’t caught up to many of the Vikings’ veterans yet, and they’ll look to stay ahead of the curve in 2016.

Which veteran — any player over 30 years old — is most important to Minnesota’s winning chances this season?

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Vikings LB Emmanuel Lamur
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer covets versatility, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, the Vikings have swiss army knives like Rhett Ellison and Jerick McKinnon, but it’s on defense where that malleability really shines.

There’s Anthony Barr, former UCLA defensive end, who entered the league two years ago and quickly became one of the NFL’s best outside linebackers. There’s Danielle Hunter, a raw prospect out of LSU who transformed himself into a forceful edge rusher last season. Oh, and don’t forget about Harrison Smith, a hybrid strong/free safety who truly does it all for Zimmer’s defense.

Players at every level can switch positions, move inside or out,  and even stand up or put a hand in the ground; the possibilities are endless in a Zimmer system. Think back to Sharrif Floyd sliding to nose tackle last season, or Brian Robison moving inside on third-and-long situations. Zimmer’s players are expected to adapt to the changing landscape of the NFL, where teams are throwing the football more than ever and consistently lining up with three to five receivers.

With such a desire for scheme flexibility, the signing of former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Emmanuel Lamur in free agency makes perfect sense. Though Lamur’s started just 15 games since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2012, he has the varied experience and athleticism that Zimmer loves. When training camp begins in July, he’ll have a chance to start opposite Barr as the Vikings’ weak side linebacker, potentially adding another dimension to Minnesota’s already excellent unit.

Will Spielman break his first-round tendencies?

Spielman trading up
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, more often called “Trader Rick” this time of the year, is a genius at the negotiating table. When it comes to the NFL Draft and accumulating picks, no one does it better.

Between 2012 and 2014, Spielman selected a league-recorded seven players, and between 2011 and 2014, he successfully executed 15 trades involving 39 picks and the exchange of five veterans, per Mark Craig.

The general manager famously fleeced the Cleveland Browns in 2012, swapping the third overall pick for the fourth overall pick and three additional selections that year. The result? Minnesota ended up with current left tackle Matt Kalil and the Browns landed one of the draft’s biggest running back busts in Trent Richardson. And in 2013, the Vikings drafted three players in the first round, even after giving up four selections to acquire Cordarrelle Patterson.

Rick Spielman’s NFL Draft Tendencies, by Ryan Boser 

Some may argue that trade was a flop, but Patterson’s had his moments in Minnesota and will get one more chance to prove himself in 2016. Even with that massive transaction, Spielman has been conservative, especially over the last two drafts. In 2014, he selected Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater in the first round, and the following year, came away with just one selection in Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes.

Spielman doesn’t always stick to the script, though. According to Vikings Journal, Sharrif Floyd was only one of seven first round draft picks taken in Minnesota’s original slot. It’s clear that Spielman will move down and trade his way out of picks, but he rarely trades up. When Spielman does move up, it’s almost always to get back into the first round, as he did in 2012, 2013, and most recently in 2014 with Bridgewater.

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Chad Greenway's Last Hurrah
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Jared Allen ended his illustrious career by riding off into the sunset. Hussain Abdullah, a former Minnesota Vikings safety, announced his retirement via Instagram, citing his “personal health” for the sudden departure. Players hang their cleats up for different reasons, whether it’s injuries, a lack of motivation, or a feeling of peace after enjoying the game of football for so many years.

Given that the average career lasts just 3.3 years, it’s amazing that so many players, like Adrian Peterson and Terence Newman, continue to play into their 30s. Retirement after so many seasons is expected, and often, necessary; when a player doesn’t have “it,” it’s time to move on. That’s the name of the game — or business — that is the NFL.

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Rick Spielman building a homegrown contender
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The Denver Broncos tore through the 2014 free agency class like a man who’d just won the Mega Millions jackpot. Anxious for a championship and fearful of Peyton Manning‘s sudden demise, general manager John Elway lured as many big names to Denver as possible, evoking a “win now” mentality in the Broncos locker room.

Certainly not the first team or the last to “hire” mercenaries, the Broncos spent exorbitant amounts of money in 2014 to make their roster the deepest, most talented in the league. That offseason, Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward arrived in Denver, bringing the skills and pedigree the Broncos lacked to take that final step to the Super Bowl.

Elway’s spending frenzy finally paid off, as Peyton Manning and the über-talented Broncos won Super Bowl 50 together this year, earning the greatest “return on investment” that the NFL has to offer. But 2015 is over, and the 2016 season looms in the near future. That championship team is missing key pieces, as the rest of the league has done to the Broncos what they did to them in 2014. Gone are names like Peyton Manning and Owen Daniels. In their place? Career-disappointment Mark Sanchez and yet-to-be-named NFL draft picks.

“Winning” free agency is a double-edged sword, one that worked well for the Broncos, but suddenly spells uncertainty in Denver. Every team attacks the open market differently, which brings us to the Minnesota Vikings, who continue to take a prudent, if sometimes cautious approach in the process.

No, there are no Super Bowl banners in Minnesota, and other outside signings — Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace — failed to make an impact in recent years, but Rick Spielman is quietly building the Vikings into a homegrown contender. Free agents are staying in town, under-the-radar names are finally choosing Minnesota as a new home, and other recent acquisitions — Linval Joseph, Captain Munnerlyn — are contributing in tangible ways every Sunday.

These Vikings may not have names that “jump” off the screen or stand out in the newspaper,  but they’re winning games as a cohesive, well-coached, and tight-knit roster. Consistent coaching, a thoughtful spending strategy, and youth means Minnesota may soon end up on the same national stage as the Broncos — the Super Bowl.

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