Friday, February 27, 2015
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matt cassel

With a head coach hired, and both coordinator positions filled, we have as clear of an indication as to what direction this team is headed as we will get for quite some time.

On offense, the hiring of Norv Turner suggests that the development of a quarterback and bulking up of the O-line are going to be top priorities, as he will likely want to feature power running and deep routes throughout 2014 and beyond.  The defense will likely be a less-bland version of the 4-3 than what we have seen in Minnesota of late and talent is needed pretty much across the board.

The Vikings have a number of larger contracts set to expire this offseason which frees up a bunch of cap space and will allow them to make some moves.  The first wave of roster movement comes in the form of re-signings as teams try to lock up their own players, at least the ones they want.  The releasing of some some players (like, perhaps, Erin Henderson) might make this list grow, but here is an attempt to prioritize targets within the Vikings own roster.

THE TOP TIER

MATT CASSEL, QB:  Technically, Cassel is not a free agent… yet.  He has the ability to opt out of the second year of his contract which pays him $3.15 million with the Vikings.  Jay Cutler has already been retained by Chicago and this year’s free agent quarterback class leaves a ton to be desired.  It could be really tempting for Cassel to shoot for bluer (more lucrative) waters this offseason and the Vikings really need to convince him to stick around.  Without Cassel on the roster this team appears stuck without a plan A, B, or even plan C.

EVERSON GRIFFEN, DE:  Everson Griffen didn’t impress in 2013 the way he did in 2012, but then again either did just about anyone on this roster.  It remains to be seen how he can hold up playing full games over a full season, but the young, athletic defensive end has shown his ability to be disruptive in the backfield.  It would really be disappointing to see the Vikings let him leave without a fight as they are headed for great transition along the defensive line.

TOBY GERHART, RB:  Gerhart is most likely heading for a team willing to pay him to be a starter, or at least a key part of a rotation, instead of staying with the Vikings where Adrian Peterson is cemented as the top running back.  Running backs are no longer “a dime a dozen” as they were a few years back, so Gerhart actually stands to sign a decent sized contract as an unrestricted free agent.  The Vikings would probably love to sign him back, but logic indicates it is a long shot.

JARED ALLEN, DE:  It would be nice to see the Vikings get creative and structure a deal with Allen that sees him play out his career with the Vikings like they did with Antoine Winfield.  The problem with that is that the Vikings didn’t honor their end of the bargain and jettisoned Winfield after he earned incentives the hard way, thus burning up any goodwill they might have had with their veteran leaders.  Allen has noted how much Minnesota means to him, and maybe bringing Mike Zimmer to town changes things, but it seems unlikely that Minnesota will be the top bidder for his services at this point in his career.

I can’t help but wonder if one of the 13 categories that GM Rick Spielman talked about in regards to  finding the next head coach for the Minnesota Vikings could be, Super Bowl Experience. Well, Ray Horton just happens to have three Super Bowl rings setting on his office desk. Horton hasn’t had the opportunity to win one as a head coach yet, but his time may be just around the corner.

Currently the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Horton’s job status is somewhat uncertain because the Browns are also looking to fill a vacant head coaching position as well.

Horton is ready to be a head coach in the NFL, but at the very least, Horton should be a front runner to fill one of the many vacant defensive coordinator positions available right now. Spielman’s willingness to interview Horton is a strong indication that the Vikings are ready to move away from the 4-3 cover two scheme.

 I predicted a Vikings’ win against the Bears in week 13… and now I’m having those same sensations again this week.

 The Bengals are 9-5 and setting on top of the AFC North standings in part by winning all 6 of their home games in Cincinnati this season. At Paul Brown Stadium the Kittens have beaten Pittsburgh, Greenbay, New England, NY Jets, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. The Bengals have scored over 40 points in each of their last three home games. The Vikings on the other hand are only averaging 22 points per game in their last three road outings.

 On paper this looks like an easy win for the Bengals, right? Yes, and I bet the Eagles were thinking the same thing last week too.

The Vikings were without their top two running backs, their most productive offensive lineman this season, and their starting cornerback duo.  As if the odds weren’t stacked enough against them, Minnesota had to play the potent offense of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, so expectations were minimal as fans filed into the Metrodome.

The Vikings, however, had no-names show up big on their way to a 48-30 beatdown of the Eagles.  Here are ten things I noticed about the game:

1.  NFL Network reported prior to the game that Matt Cassel would remain with the Vikings into 2014.  The understanding is that both Cassel and the Vikings have the option to void the second year of his contract following the season, so I was surprised to see such a concrete report come across the TV.  Cassel then proceeded to have one of the best games of his career.  He finished 26 of 35 for 382 yards and two touchdowns.  He threw one interception and took three sacks, but for the most part he was sharp and poised on his way to a 116.6 quarterback rating.  He also ran for 19 yards and another score.  These are the types of games we just never saw out of Christian Ponder and it is no wonder that Cassel’s future with the franchise suddenly looks far brighter than Ponder’s.  Jennings had never before, in his entire career, caught 11 passes in one game.

2.  Greg Jennings continued to show that he can better reward the Vikings for their investment when Cassel is at the helm.  His best game as a Vikings so far came to the tune of 13 targets, 11 catches, 163 yards, and a touchdown.  Jennings continues to be precise with his route running and the main difference lately seems to be that he now has a quarterback willing and able to take advantage of his talents.

Don’t forget, during today’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, we here at VT will be hosting a discussion all game long on our Chat Page.  Join us if you can!

The Vikings inactives for this game are:  CB Josh Robinson, DT Chase Baker, G Jeff Baca, TE Kyle Rudolph, QB Christian Ponder, WR Rodney Smith, and T Mike Remmers.

With Ponder inactive due to the concussion suffered last week, Matt Cassel will get the start under center and Josh Freeman will act as the primary backup.  Both Chris Cook and Erin Henderson are expected to start today, with Henderson moving to the weak side spot and Cook reeling from an awful performance against the Bears that ended with an ejection.

The Vikings are fairly healthy and preparing to do battle with a team that has perhaps been even more disappointing this season than Minnesota has been.  It should be an interesting game with plenty of individuals to keep an eye on as we get closer and closer to the 2014 offseason.

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