Sunday, March 29, 2015
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Rick Spielman

With Rick Spielman’s first season as the official General Manager of the Minnesota Vikings nearing it’s end (no, I don’t necessarily mean two weeks from now) I wanted to take a look back at the moves that were made to help boost the Vikings from a three win season to an eight (or nine, or ten) win record the next year.

I want to start with the oft-criticized free agent class that he brought in.  The Vikings have really only had five free agent signings to see action this year, not including their own re-signings, so let’s take a look at what each on brought to the table.

TE JOHN CARLSON:  The $25 million contract signed by John Carlson became the butt of many jokes even before he played in his first game.  His production on the field hasn’t helped matters.  A sprained MCL caused him to miss to two games after missing all of his final season with the Seahawks, and it has been speculated that injuries have plagued his production on the field even when he was present.  His 11 catches for 60 yards on the season will surely end in his worst stats, other than the season he didn’t play, since he joined the league.  He has also yet to find the end zone as a Viking.  His solid blocking skills have gone mostly unnoticed by fans, but there are plenty of decent blocking tight ends in this league getting paid far less than Carlson.

Last week’s three reception performance was Carlson’s best of the year and he needs to continue to improve over the next two weeks if he plans on continuing to earn such lucrative salary.  At age 28, there is still some untapped potential there for a guy that has never come close to matching the expectations that scouts had for him in 2008.

GRADE:  D

FB JEROME FELTON:  Felton got off to a bad start in Minnesota when he was nabbed for a second degree DWI in a McDonald’s drive-thru in June.  After that incident, one that he says he learned a huge lesson from, Felton has been instrumental in Adrian Peterson’s record-setting rushing numbers this season.

Peterson hasn’t had as good of chemistry with as talented of a lead blocker since his rookie season when he ran behind Tony Richardson, one of the greatest fullbacks of the modern era.  Felton hasn’t carried the ball at all himself this season, and only has two catches for 18 yards, but there is no doubt that his blocking has added something that was previously missing to this offense.  Makes one wonder how many yards Peterson hasn’t gotten over the years because of Brad Childress and his stubborn support of Fahu Tahi.

Felton signed a one year deal worth $700,000 with a $50,000 signing bonus.  I would say the Vikings should be willing to offer him about twice that annual salary to return for the next year or five.

GRADE:  A

OL GEOFF SCHWARTZ:  After signing a one year deal that maxes out at $1.5 million, Geoff Schwartz has been eased into a rotation at right guard with Brandon Fusco.  By most accounts, including mine, Schwartz has outplayed Fusco but has yet to overtake the position on a full time basis for some unknown reason.  At a backup lineman’s salary, Schwartz has helped his team more than most backups in this league, and turned out to be a low-risk, medium-reward type of signing, despite nagging injury concerns.

GRADE:  C

LB MARVIN MITCHELL:  Another one year deal worth $700,000 here.  Mitchell was signed shortly after Remi Ayodele was released by the Vikings, despite Mitchell’s presence on the 2009 “BountyGate” Saints team as well.  He acted as a “Plan B” to Jasper Brinkley and provided great competition in the preseason, but Brinkley kept his job and has performed rather well in his first year as a full time starter.

A calf injury interrupted part of Mitchell’s season, as he has appeared in only nine games, but he has made a considerable impact on a special teams coverage unit that is greatly improved over last season.

GRADE:  B

WR JEROME SIMPSON:  The Vikings flirted with signing Packers free agent James Jones but shied away from the receiver because they were worried about his inconsistent hands, and instead opted to sign the suspended Simpson from Cincinnati.

Jones has done nothing but catch touchdowns for the Packers this year, his drop problems apparently solved, while Simpson has been incredibly inconsistent… when he manages to make it onto the field.  A three game suspension and injuries have kept Simpson out of four games this season, and bad drops and inconsistent routes have essentially kept him out of the other 10.

19 catches, 203 yards, and no touchdowns are stats that easily illustrate how wrong things have gone for the Vikings deep threat hopeful in 2012.

Spielman left legitimate receiver threats on the market for other teams to scoop up and instead opted to go short term and cheap with Simpson.  The risk was low, but the return has been even lower.

GRADE:  D

CONCLUSION:  Rick Spielman tortured Vikings fans by staying idle during the opening days of free agency in 2012, and has indicated we can expect more of that in the future, as he intends on playing a game of chance with these low risk and low cost signings available after all the funny money has been spent.

Carlson was his lone departure from that formula, and the jury may still be out on that one, but it isn’t looking good.  Luckily, the contract wasn’t quite as bad as initially reported and the Vikings could cut ties with minimal cap damage should they choose to move on.

Overall, Spielman’s approach to free agency led to adding one fantastic fullback, and a handful of otherwise disposable talents.

Not bad, not horrible, but not great.  That about sums up Spielman’s first free agency period as Vikings General Manager.

Sorry for the lack of posts here lately, but every time I sit down to write during this bye week I come up empty handed, and I just can’t bring myself to write about the Draft yet since the Vikings are still in the playoff hunt.

Leave it to Tom Pelissero, however, to give me something to regurgitate and then opine about.

Pelissero recently got a chance to talk with G.M. Rick Spielman about his decision to woe tight end John Carlson away from Kansas City with big bucks and sign the unheralded veteran despite a recent lack of production and knack for being injured.

“I know what you see out in practice and how he works in practice and the types of catches that he does make in practice,” said Spielman of his veteran tight end.  “That he got hurt and missed all that part of that training camp (with a knee injury) kind of set him back, especially when you’re trying to learn a new scheme. But sometimes, some of these veterans don’t work out as well until maybe their second year.”

“John looked healthy (on Sunday),” Spielman continued. “I know he caught that one (slide) route and you saw that burst that we have seen in the past when he sprinted up afterwards.  The one thing that he’s done that he doesn’t get enough credit for is he’s done an incredible job blocking for us. I think that whole tight end group is the key to the way Adrian (Peterson)’s had so much success on the field as well, along with our offensive line. But just haven’t seemed to be able to get John going (as a receiver).”

“I think John Carlson has a lot of football (left) and is a very good football player for us and will be a good football player in the future,” Spielman reiterated.

Now, I have never been as down on Spielman’s decision to sign Carlson, as he has been a solid tight end in the past.  I’ve always liked Carlson’s abilities, personally, when observing from afar.

What doesn’t sit well with me is that the money spent on Carlson completely ignored his tendency to get injured, and he has already been injured twice as a Viking, and also ignored a clear need at wide receiver.

Sure, when the Vikings signed Carlson they thought they would have Greg Childs at their disposal, but they also didn’t know they would have Jerome Simpson (who is another questionable signing as it is).  Instead, the Vikings decided to get cheap when courting wide outs such as James Jones who has cured his drops, 42 catches, 485 yards, and eight touchdowns this season.

Spielman’s comment about not being able to get Carlson going as a receiver might indicate he thinks the problem lies more with Bill Musgrave’s offense than it does on Carlson himself.  If Musgrave ends up being on his way out of Minnesota after this season, however, then Carlson won’t be the only tight end learning a new scheme in 2013.

For most of my life I have treated the Detroit Lions kind of like the stray three-legged kitten with no tail that roams the neighborhood.  For the longest time, I quietly cheered for the Lions out of pity, but that time appears to be up.

With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson leading the charge, Detroit is no longer the laughing stock of the NFL, and have proven to be a dangerous team.  The term “dangerous” has double meaning to it as they can score from anywhere on the field, but they also have become synonymous with dirty hits.

Following their second loss of the season to the Vikings, the Lions were plenty concerned with the level of integrity that the Vikings showed (or perhaps didn’t show) on the field.

Lions cornerback Chris Houston took to the media to express his displeasure with a Vikings lineman on Adrian Peterson’s 61 yard touchdown run that will forever be added to his highlight reel.

“Lineman just fell on my ankle on purpose. I went to cut him, and as he went down, he put both knees on my ankle on purpose. It’s part of the game,” Houston said of the play. “I was on the ground, so I didn’t get to see who it was, but as he pulled, I cut him, he was flying over the top of me, and you could feel him land on my ankle on purpose.”

I’ve watched the highlight of Peterson’s run a number of times now, and I can tell that the lineman Houston is talking about is the pulling guard Brandon Fusco.  I don’t see anything other than an excellent block by Fusco who rolls immediately back onto his feet and doesn’t seem to do anything out of the ordinary.

I can’t say for certain that Fusco did nothing wrong, but anyone that can point to the tape and claim to see a dirty play is lying to you.

Fusco isn’t the only Viking that Detroit would like slap on the wrist, however, as a number of hits to wide receiver Calvin Johnson drew some interesting remarks from quarterback Matt Stafford.

“Obviously, you never like to see anybody get hit in the head,” Stafford said. “It’s a part of our game that they’re trying to get rid of. I think it’s a good thing. Calvin’s a tough guy. He stayed in there and made some great plays for us. Obviously, had a great game, but there’s not a whole lot of place for that in this league.”

I was critical yesterday of the penalty that Jasper Brinkley drew on a helmet-to-helmet hit to Megatron, but I certainly didn’t think it was anything with malicious intent, but rather showed a lack of body control.  Johnson took a few licks on Sunday, but that is bound to happen when you 12 passes for 207 yards.  If anything, Chad Greenway’s hit on Johnson in their previous matchup would be the one to point at as dirty, but nothing in this game seemed like something worthy of such scorn.

Even Johnson admitted that he didn’t think the Vikings were targeting his head on purpose.

To throw some fuel on the fire, an unnamed NFL G.M. has had some very harsh things to say about Detroit in the media this season, and some believed that person was none other than Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.

Spielman, however, denied those rumors this weekend.

“No, no, no – absolutely,” Spielman said on the Lions official website. “If I have something to say, I’ll put my name on it.”

Spielman’s words may or may not be enough to convince some Lions fans, but I for one am kind of excited to see these two franchises building some animosity towards each other.

Future seasons are sure to be more fun because of it.

Percy Harvin is enjoying one of his most productive and drama-free seasons of his career thus far, but it was not without a rocky start.

As many of you will remember, Harvin caused a firestorm of reports and speculation when he openly expressed his displeasure with the Vikings organization this offseason and followed up by requesting a trade.  Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier seemed to quickly placate the star utility receiver, but we never heard for certain what Harvin’s issues were exactly.

Harvin has now opened up, following a game that was essentially won because of his opening kickoff return for a touchdown, and says that his problem stemmed from players not knowing where they fit into Minnesota’s offense.

“I think it was just the identity of our offense,” Harvin said via 1500 ESPN. “Not only me, just guys knowing exactly what the coaches (were) asking of them on a week-to-week basis. Not playing one position one week, and come in and not totally having a grasp on what they’re asking for the next week.

“I think (offensive coordinator Bill) Musgrave has done a great job — I said it all offseason — of putting (Kyle) Rudolph in great situations. We’ve got a package for Jerome (Simpson), which you’ve seen, where we’ll take shots downfield. So everybody knows their role, knows what the coaches expect them to do. Now you can just sit back and try to do it at the highest level you can.”

Harvin is on pace for a 120 catch and 1,200 yard season, not including his contributions on special teams and rushing the ball, which means his pending contract extension is likely to get more and more expensive with every week he stays healthy and production.

Sitting at 3-1 and on top of the NFC North, that is a good problem for the Vikings to have on the horizon.

I don’t know how many times I have typed this sentence, but here it goes one more time:  The Vikings always seem to be behind the rest of the league when it comes to signing their own free agents and their own draft classes.

I’ve also said before that we have no reason to worry about any holdouts now that the rookie wage scale is in place.

On one hand, it might appear as there is no reason to worry because the Vikings reportedly agreed to terms today with third round cornerback (and fastest man at the Combine) Josh Robinson.  The deal, as usual, is for four years.

On the other hand, however, there is a growing sense that the Vikings are taking a firm stance on the issue of “offset language” in these rookie contracts so Matt Kalil’s contract remains to be finalized with training camp beginning tomorrow.

The offset clause being referenced has to do with how the contract is handled should the player be cut prior to the contract expiring and then have the player sign with another team.  The Vikings want the contract to be worded in such a way that any money they still owe the player is offset by the new contract awarded.    The players, of course, would rather see themselves in a situation where they are being paid by two teams for a year or two in the event that they are cut by the team that drafted them.

Rick Spielman has indicated that he is confident that Kalil’s deal will be done without any major hiccups. 

Here is hoping he is correct.

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