Thursday, November 26, 2015

jerome simpson

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It seems like just yesterday, even though it was quite some time ago, that 1500 ESPN provided an escape for Minneapolis sports writers that were likely feeling the pinch that came with being a part of a dying newspaper industry.  At that time, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was riddled with annoying “innovations” such as premium content that you had to pay for and more pop-up ads than anyone cared to sit through.  These writers, such as long-time veteran of the beat Judd Zulgad, opted to jump ship and embrace the web and radio based content 1500 provided.

Now, one of 1500‘s best assets is doing the exact opposite, as Tom Pelissero is leaving the Vikings beat for a job with USA Today.

According to The Daily Norseman, Pelissero made the news official on Twitter, where Pelissero admitted that he will starting his new job next month.  Pelissero has since revealed on Twitter that he won’t have to leave his Minnesota home to take this job, but he will now be covering the NFL as a whole, instead of focusing solely on the Vikings beat.

While the news might make Jerome Simpson smile, as there will be one less douchebag hovering around his locker, I think I speak for Vikings enthusiasts everywhere when I say Pelissero’s absence will leave a huge void.  From his keen film analysis, to his unmatched wealth of sources, to his ability to obtain and analyze contract details like nobody else, us bloggers and fans will now have to work a lot harder to get the information we crave on a daily basis.

Pelissero has always treated yours truly very well and I wish him the best of luck in this new chapter of his career, but am also very hopeful that 1500 ESPN chooses wisely in trying to replace him.

We have already established with pretty good detail that Rick Spielman’s decision to release veteran cornerback, and locker room leader, Antoine Winfield was not a popular one when it came to the fan base.

As it turns out, according to NFL Network‘s Ian Rappaport, the move did not sit well with some “Vikings people” within Winter Park either.

One person told Rappaport that “It’s a move backwards” and he says some “aren’t thrilled” with Spielman’s decision.

I feel like I’ve already beat this topic to death, but I would still like to note that as of Thursday afternoon right tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith remain unsigned, which is significant because the decision to break their budget for Phil Loadholt was cited as a reason for Winfield’s abrupt departure.  In fact, other decent offensive tackles are currently available such as Jake Long and Eric Winston, not to mention the many options available in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Rick Spielman has a reputation in Minnesota for letting the market establish itself before making hasty, big-money decisions so it was surprising to see him cave to Loadholt’s demands even if the player was threatening to join the division rival Chicago Bears.

However, recent events are making me wonder if Spielman isn’t overvaluing the players he has had a hand in bringing to Minnesota.  The most recent evidence of this is that the Vikings quickly snatched receiver Jerome Simpson to a one year deal worth $2.1 million.  Not only is that a raise from his 2012 salary of $2 million, but Spielman gave Simpson a $500,000 signing bonus, and a $250,000 workout bonus, according to 1500 ESPN.  The Vikings are betting on Simpson staying healthy (he did pass his physical) and producing far more significantly than he did last season.

Simpson’s pay day comes despite the fact that he never produced more than 50 receiving yards in any game last season and has caught the same amount of touchdown passes from Christian Ponder as I have:  zero.

It is not a huge surprise that fans aren’t a fan of Rick Spielman’s approach to free agency, as he is usually going to shy away from the splashy instant gratification moves that fans love to see, but his decision to cut Winfield is putting everything else he does under a microscope and doing the math to see just why exactly his plan had to involve that questionable decision.

And, according to Rappaport’s report, some within Winter Park are looking pretty closely themselves.

I am sure that Rick Spielman would like to orchestrate an offseason that sees the 31st ranked passing game take great strides forwards.  That is easier said than done, especially when your offseason begins with losing two of your top receivers.

One guy they did retain, however, is Jerome Simpson.  Simpson joined the Vikings on a one year deal last season, after his three game suspension was officially announced by the NFL, with high hopes that he could help ignite some sort of vertical game.  His season was plagued by injury and turned out to be quite disappointing, having never scored a touchdown or even gaining more than 50 yards in any game.

Still, the Vikings apparently see some of that potential there, and are hoping he stays healthy enough to be a legitimate threat in 2013.  They extended him to a one year deal, and the financials aren’t yet known yet, but I am willing to bet that it is equal to, or less than, the $2 million deal he signed last year.

Simpson’s signing was basically a zero risk move that gives the Vikings some flexibility.  He could be better in 2013, having seemed to start developing a chemistry with Christian Ponder towards the end of the year, and will get another chance to stay healthy and put together a full season.

If Spielman manages to fill out the depth chart with high quality playmakers then Simpson, who presents little special teams value, could still be expendable when it comes time to make final cuts.

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It took about a whole two, maybe three, hours before the disappointment from getting our butts handed to us via the Green Bay Packers vanished and the excitement for the offseason completely consumed me. Free agents? The draft?! Possible trades? Veterans leaving? New talent?

I love it.

Don’t get me wrong, I was as bummed about the loss as the next hardcore Vikings fan (well, maybe not as much as this guy…) but the postseason letdown didn’t feel as bad this time. Maybe it was because deep down I knew once it was announced Christian Ponder wouldn’t be starting that we would lose the game and then the next three to four hours was just a realization of that fact. Maybe it’s because nothing could have happened in the playoffs that would take away from what an amazing season 2012 was. (And, folks, it was an amazing football season.) Who knows, really.

What I do know is that I was, and am, at peace with what the Vikings did this year and what I think they’ll do in the near future.

There’s a lot to be excited about with this team. There’s a ton to look forward to this offseason and some great stories to look out for.

Here are five of the biggest stories headed into the offseason. Stories that we will be covering in [exhausting] detail here at Vikings Territory, I’m sure. Of course, there will always be a few (maybe more) developments that catch us all by surprise. You can be sure we’ll have those, too.

(Note: These do not include general things like “the draft” or “free agency.” It’s a given those will be huge. I tried to think of specific storylines that will provide intrigue, mystery and excitement.)

5. The New Stadium

I almost didn’t include the stadium on the list because it seems that, now that we’ve got our stadium, it’s more of a “I don’t care how it happens, just get it here” type thing. But, after Adam mentioned it to me when I queried the inner-workings of his very knowledgeable Vikings mind, I started to see why it could become something we talk about frequently during the offseason.

It shouldn’t be long until we start seeing a real design for this thing.  And that will be pretty dang cool. We’ll finally get to see what this thing will look like. What features it will have. Does it have a retractable roof? Seat warmers? Does it have a mammoth monitor floating eerily above the ant-sized players a hundred or so feet below? Who knows.

It will be something tangible at that point. Something we can look at and say, “Okay. So that’s going to be where I take my children to watch my Minnesota Vikings a few years from now.” (Maybe more if you’re me).

It’s been an idea up until this point. A finalized design that we can see is a big step to it becoming a real, real reality. (A real one.)

4. Backup Quarterback Backup Plan

Christian Ponder’s late season surge (and potentially even his absence from the playoff game at Lambeau) solidified his role as the Vikings starter at quarterback next season. Head coach Leslie Frazier has even already made it public. That’s all good and fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Vikings still need to figure some things out at the quarterback position during the offseason.

I’m not going to torch Joe Webb too much because I honestly feel like he’s better than what he showed Saturday in Green Bay. The guy was thrown into an incredibly difficult situation under an offensive coordinator who remained steadfast in his stubborn ways and refused to adjust his game plan to increase the likelihood of success for Webb. Nevertheless, I don’t think Joe Webb is somebody who can really threaten Ponder for the starting position and light a fire under his butt, so to speak.

I think Ponder is going to be a good quarterback with a little more development. I take a lot of heat for that position but I’ve held it since he was drafted and I still hold it today. But I’ll be the first one to tell you that it is not a sure thing. He is not a sure thing. And the Vikings need to have a Plan B just in case it doesn’t pan out with #7.

Personally, I’d like Spielman and Co. to do some superb scouting and find a quarterback in the middle rounds who has a lot of upside. It’s also possible the team could just to go the free agent route. (Also, let’s not kid ourselves, it’s entirely possible the Vikings could not address it at all…)

Nevertheless, I think how the roster shapes up behind Ponder is something to keep an eye on.

The second quarter began with the final play of the first quarter being reversed, giving Green Bay a touchdown and the lead, while Mason Crosby booted the kickoff through the endzone for a touchback.

Then the second quarter got underway officially.

Then disaster struck.  Joe Webb tripped over a completely beat Clay Matthews for a sack and then got obliterated, once again tossing the ball up to nowhere, on third down putting the Packers offense back on the field.

Harrison getting a good lick on DuJuan Harris, Jared Allen getting a coverage sack, and then another solid tackle from Smith on a Greg Jennings completion allowed the Vikings defense to escape without allowing any more damage to be done.

The Vikings offense then had a fairly uneventful three and out, ending with a Jerome Simpson completion where he was short of the first down marker, a problem that has plagued the Vikings all season.

The Packers were then able to dink and dunk their way down the field, but stalled out just short of field goal range, and decided to go for it on a 4th and five situation.  Of course, Greg Jennings converted a pass and beat Chris Cook after the catch before being shoved out of bounds at the two.  A stop of John Kuhn followed by a Jermichael Finley drop followed by yet another stop of Kuhn resulted in another 4th down situation.

This time, the Packers opted for the chip shot field goal, which extended the Packers lead to seven full points.

The next drive got started off by a nice return from Marcus Sherels, but a Marvin Mitchell penalty set the Vikings back, and Joe Webb once again took the field who immediately overthrew Jerome Simpson on a deep shot by about 10 yards and then was sacked.  Kluwe had to punt out of the Vikings endzone.

At the two minute warning, momentum sure seemed to be going the opposite directions than what the Vikings would have preferred.

With a two minute drill underway, Aaron Rodgers looked to be at his finest as he drove down the field with big gains from Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings putting them inside the five yard line.  Once again the Vikings tried to make a stand near the goalline, except this time fullback John Kuhn was successful in running one in.  This score put the Packers up by two touchdowns and left only 38 seconds on the clock for the Vikings to work with.

A penalty on the short kickoff gave the Vikings decent field position.  A checkdown to Adrian Peterson, an overthrown deep ball, and then a short run from Peterson kept the Vikings offense alive but a long ways away from the end zone.  Then three very poor passes in a row ended the half with the Packers leading 17-3.

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