Sunday, February 1, 2015
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jerome felton

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

[Note:  This segment is a part of a position-by-position look at what the Minnesota Vikings might be inclined to do during the 2015 free agency period.  This is the third article, focusing on the fullbacks.  In case you missed it, feel free to check out the quarterback preview here and the running backs are here.]

If there was any real potential for drama at the fullback position this offseason, it was pretty much erased when Jerome Felton made it clear that he would be opting out of his contract. By doing so, he will sign with a team that almost certainly will keep him on the final roster, something that could be in question with the Vikings despite his status as a Pro Bowl caliber player.

The Vikings will gain about $2.5 million in cap space with Felton choosing to leave and have Zach Line waiting in the wings to pick up the slack.  Tight end Rhett Ellison is also equipped to take some fullback snaps if needed.

Yesterday I referenced a report that the Vikings had roster exemptions for Jerome Felton (suspended) and Christian Ballard (left team) which allowed them to only cut 13 players.  I also wondered why the didn’t get an exemption for the suspension of DeMarcus Love.

Viking Update was kind enough to respond to a message I sent them requesting a clarification of their report, and they turned around and got the answer directly from the NFL, according to their response.

As of right now, and Monday when the Vikings made their cuts, the Vikings have two roster exemptions.  One is for Ballard and the other is for wide out Greg Childs who has been placed on the PUP list and won’t be eligible for action until week seven.

The Vikings will indeed get two exemptions for the Felton and Love suspensions, but the suspensions will not go into effect until Saturday, thus there are no exemptions until Saturday.

Essentially, this means that the Vikings get to keep four bubble players around until/unless these guys are able to report for duty.  At the time of their return the Vikings will have to choose between having them back and cutting someone else, or simply letting them go.  In Felton’s case the answer is simple, as he will be brought back, but the other three each present unique situations and the Vikings could simply choose to release them in favor of guys already on the roster.

Remember how Jerome Felton’s DUI charges from last offseason just seemed to disappear?

Well, they’re back.

Felton eventually pleaded guilty to careless driving, a reduced charge, but that was his second offense which lands him in hotter water with the NFL.  Today, it was announced that Felton will be suspended for the first three games of the regular season.

Felton’s recent surgery meant he was sitting for the remainder of the preseason already, so now we know we won’t get Adrian Peterson’s lead blocker back until week four. 

The good news for Felton is that he already cashed in on last year’s Pro Bowl season by signing a three-year deal this offseason which will pay him $2.5 million in guarantees this year.  The good news for the Vikings is that this suspension is not the result of a new incident involving Felton.

If Felton’s suspension (and DeMarcus Love’s for that matter), come with roster exemptions then the Vikings will be able to store some “bubble” players on the active roster for an extended look until their veterans return.  In Love’s case, he may not return at all.

While it is unclear if Rhett Ellison will take over as the starting fullback, it certainly doesn’t hurt Zach Line’s chances of being on the opening day roster.  Line has two receiving touchdowns this preseason and has impressed overall.

For an offense that desperately needs a kick start, however, the news that Peterson’s trusted lead will miss three games is not welcomed.

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Jerome Felton underwent an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday, according to numerous sources, but the recovery time is typically quick and he is expected to return to action in time for the Vikings regular season opener.

The combination of Felton’s absence, and Adrian Peterson’s extremely limited (if any) live-action reps, brings the battles for backup halfback and fullback spots to the forefront. With two starters mostly sidelined, it opens the door for others to get more reps and give the Vikings more reasons to keep them around in September, or allows the team to build a case that supports their release.

A guy like Zach Line, who scampered for a 61 yard touchdown last week after catching a Matt Cassel pass, seems in line for extra work during these three remaining preseason games.  If he can continue to make big contributions, and shows that he can be a versatile blocker and special teams player, the Vikings may have a very tough time trying to sneak him onto the practice squad.

In short, I’m looking forward to getting an extended look at the guys who play behind two Pro Bowl starters.  Who knows, if enough of the step up and have big-time showings, then maybe we start to hear a little more chatter about the possibility of Toby Gerhart being on the trading block.

We started off our preview series by discussing the depth chart at quarterback.  I neglected to discuss Christian Ponder’s ability to run the football, one that cannot be underestimated by opposing defenses, but when talking about the Vikings offense it isn’t going to be Ponder’s legs that steal the show.

Adrian Peterson returned from major knee surgery to make 2012 the best season of his Hall of Fame career.  He started every game for the first time in his six NFL seasons.  He averaged a ridiculous six yards per carry, despite a consistent extra man or two being brought into the box to stop him, and ended the season just nine yards shy of the all time rushing record.  His 2,097 rushing yards were more than enough to lead the NFL, but so were his 76 broken tackles and 1,438 yards accumulated after contact.  He also scored 12 touchdowns one the ground and had a whopping five runs of over 60 yards.

Peterson’s dedication and work ethic are surely a huge part of his big comeback season, and it is easy to forget about the man who paved the way for him, but Pro bowl fullback Jerome Felton deserves a lot of credit for all of that success, as well.  The Vikings were wise to re-sign Felton this offseason and make sure their duo stays intact for at least one more season, as Felton proved to be a major upgrade ahead of Peterson and also blocked cleanly in pass protection, and he never committed a single penalty.

With Peterson and Felton both having robust contracts relative to their positions, and stated goals to increase their roles within the offense, there is no doubt that they will retain their seats atop the depth chart.  The primary backup to Peterson is still expected to be Toby Gerhart, who ran the ball only 50 times for 169 yards and a touchdown last season, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see his role continue to diminish as he plays out his rookie contract.

Gerhart’s true value lies in his ability to step in and be a workhouse in the event that Peterson goes down with an injury.  He has shown the ability to do this in the past and, despite being benched for a case of fumblitis against the Niners, the lack of any big signings or draft selections at the running back position suggests that the Vikings staff feels comfortable with him as the primary backup.  Besides, he is a very serviceable option when it comes to stepping in on third down for pass protection and as a decent hands guy to run the checkdown routes.  Gerhart caught 20 balls for 155 yards in 2012, and nine of those catches converted into first downs.

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