Minnesota Vikings: Jerome Simpson

Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

The Minnesota Vikings still haven't identified their starting strong safety for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams (though it looks like Robert Blanton is in the lead for the spot). But in the meantime, they're trying to cross-train another one of their defensive backs to play multiple positions.

Cornerback Shaun Prater has been working with the Vikings' safeties in addition to his work as a cornerback (both on the outside and in the slot). Coach Mike Zimmer had discussed trying Prater at the position, calling him a "tough, feisty kid who can do a lot of jobs," and Prater -- who played for Zimmer in Cincinnati -- is getting a chance to show he can contribute in several different ways.

"He’s been playing safety on the scout team so I thought I’d just give him some drills there," Zimmer said. "Honestly, we’re trying to see what guys can do and how many guys you might need at emergency safety, and he’s got to know what to do when you go in there."

As Zimmer said, Nate Clements played both cornerback and safety for him in Cincinnati, and the Vikings are building a group of defensive backs who can move to different positions. Blanton and Antone Exum are converted corners, and Prater could be an option at some point if the Vikings aren't happy with their safety options next to Harrison Smith. Zimmer prizes flexibility among his defensive players, and Prater -- who is still buried on the depth chart at cornerback -- could help himself by showing some of it.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
Best of the rest:

Simpson's absence and the WR mix

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
MINNEAPOLIS -- While the Minnesota Vikings waited for the NFL to make a decision on whether or not to uphold Jerome Simpson's three-game suspension following a drunken driving arrest last November, they quietly were diversifying Simpson's role in their offense as part of a three-receiver package with a trio of interchangeable pieces.

[+] EnlargeJerome Simpson
AP Photo/Ric TapiaJerome Simpson has been seeing more time in the slot during the preseason.
The Vikings planned to move second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson around in their offense more this season, but it was actually Simpson for whom variety was going to be an adjustment. He caught just four of his 48 passes from the slot last year, according to ESPN Stats and Information, running only 58 of his 367 routes from there. Otherwise, Simpson was split wide, and most of the time he was split to the left, running more than half his routes from a traditional split end position.

During the preseason, though, the Vikings showed a newfound flexibility with their top three-receiver set (Simpson, Patterson and Greg Jennings). During their third preseason game in Kansas City, when the Vikings' starters played almost all of the first three quarters, they ran 18 plays out of three-receiver sets, displaying impressive variety in how they lined up their three wideouts. After a brief film review, here is how the night broke down for the three:

  • Patterson: 9 snaps split left, 6 split right, 2 slot left, 1 slot right.
  • Jennings: 2 snaps split left, 3 split right, 6 slot left, 7 slot right.
  • Simpson: 5 snaps split left, 3 split right, 3 slot left, 7 slot right.

Of the three, only Patterson spent 50 percent of the Vikings' three-receiver sets in the same spot. For the preseason as a whole, offensive coordinator Norv Turner avoided being pigeonholed with his personnel. Simpson ran 26.5 percent of his routes from the slot during the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus, and Patterson (at 26.0 percent) saw nearly the same percentage. Jennings got 58.7 percent of his routes in the slot, but the 30-year-old has done much of his work from there during his career. Now that Simpson has added slot receiver work to his game -- following the increased diversity Patterson saw late last season -- the Vikings have three players they can feel comfortable moving across the field.

With Simpson out for the first three games, though, what happens to the Vikings' three-receiver sets? Fortunately for the Vikings' receiver depth, their offense has two things working in its favor. First, Turner makes frequent use of two-tight end sets; the San Diego Chargers used more of them than all but one team while Turner was the head coach from 2007-12, and used the fewest three-receiver formations during that time. And second, the Vikings have another versatile wideout in third-year man Jarius Wright.

The 5-foot-11 Wright, who'd been cast as a slot receiver early in his rookie year, actually ran 192 of his 252 routes lined up wide last season, as Jennings and Patterson got more of the slot work. He caught 23 of his 26 passes lined up out wide, and clicked with quarterback Matt Cassel late in the season, catching 14 of his 26 passes from Cassel for 252 yards. Wright saw 30.7 percent of his routes from the slot during the preseason, and he's got plenty to prove in Year 3 as he tries to carve out a niche in the offense, so he should be ready and eager to fit into the Vikings' scheme while Simpson is out. The Vikings don't figure to use many four-receiver sets -- Turner's teams used them on just three snaps last season -- but if undrafted free agent Adam Thielen finds his way onto the field during Simpson's suspension, he'll be able to move around, too; he got 25.6 percent of his work in the slot during the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Vikings will get Simpson back for their fourth game of the season, and they'll have enough options independent of three-receiver sets that they should be able to survive without him. But if they're looking to continue the diversity they'd created with Simpson during the preseason, they should find ways to do it in his absence.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Wide receiver Jerome Simpson was back at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility on Tuesday morning, confident he'd made his case that the NFL should lift his three-game suspension as best he could. But until the league makes a final decision on whether it will suspend Simpson for a drunken driving arrest last November, the Vikings have to hedge their bets about whether they'll have their No. 3 receiver at the start of the season.

"You have to have a varied plan," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Unfortunately in this game, guys miss [time]. If it's a case where someone misses because of an off-the-field thing, that's one thing, but we could be in the opening game, and someone we're counting on to play a big role sprains his ankle on the third play. We have to have a plan to go play and do the things we want to do. There's certain plays that 'Simp' is really good on, and there's other guys that have to fill in if he's not in for that play."

[+] EnlargeJerome Simpson
AP Photo/Ric TapiaJerome Simpson has made his appeal regarding a three-game suspension and now awaits word.
Simpson's attorney, David Valentini, said on Monday night that he was one of two attorneys representing the wide receiver at his appeal at NFL headquarters in New York, where the attorneys argued Simpson's suspension should be lifted after he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of careless driving and refusing to submit to a chemical test. The receiver, who was arrested Nov. 9, registered a blood-alcohol level of .095 on a breath test, which was above Minnesota's legal limit of .08, when an officer stopped him on Interstate 394 in Minneapolis, but Valentini has contended that if Simpson had taken a blood test the morning of his arrest, he would have passed it.

The receiver has completed his community service requirement after pleading guilty in January, and if the NFL decides not to officially hand down the three-game suspension, Simpson would be available at the start of the season.

For his part, Simpson said on Tuesday that his meeting with the league "went great" and he's now ready to move on. But if the league decides to suspend Simpson, it could put the Vikings in a bind at the beginning of the year, especially after wide receiver Jarius Wright left practice with an ankle injury on Monday.

Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith have been battling for a fifth receiver spot -- and Turner said the Vikings could keep both of them if they're playing well enough -- but neither has caught a pass in a regular season game. The Vikings would also miss Simpson's downfield presence; the receiver might be the most natural deep threat on the Vikings' roster.

"I think we have a lot of guys who can stretch the field and get deep. Some of them do it in different ways," Turner said. "Greg Jennings has caught some deep balls out there against our top corners [in practice]. A lot of it depends on coverage, a lot of it depends on the play we have designed, but I think we have a number of guys that can make big plays down the field."

Vikings Monday practice report

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' Monday practice:
  • Safety Robert Blanton was back at practice, but the Vikings were still using Chris Crocker as their first-team safety alongside Harrison Smith. Blanton is listed atop the Vikings' depth chart, but he'll have to earn his way back into the race for a starting spot after missing time with a hamstring injury. Coach Mike Zimmer said Crocker didn't see enough action in Saturday's preseason game for the Vikings to evaluate him properly, but the Vikings seem to want to take a longer look at the 34-year-old. Zimmer said on Monday he's evaluating players like Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman as much for what they do in pass coverage as what they're able to do near the line of scrimmage. That'd explain why Crocker is getting a long look, and why Blanton had put himself in the mix for a starting job before his injury. We'll see if he can reassert himself now that he's back.
  • Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught a 51-yard touchdown pass during the Vikings' preseason game on Saturday night, was back at it on Monday, snatching passes away from Crocker and Michael Mauti in tight coverage over the middle. At 6-foot-5, Rudolph is already an inviting target for quarterbacks, and he's shown several times already how much it helped him to drop 15 pounds in the offseason in an effort to be a bigger downfield threat in Norv Turner's offense.
  • In 11-on-11 work on Monday, quarterback Matt Cassel hit 8 of 11 passes, getting one batted down at the line of scrimmage and throwing one away downfield. Teddy Bridgewater went 8-for-10, with his only misses coming to Rodney Smith and Jarius Wright -- who sustained a left ankle injury while trying to catch Bridgewater's sideline pass in tight coverage. And Christian Ponder, who didn't play at all on Saturday night, didn't throw a pass in full-team work during Monday's practice.
  • The Vikings made one roster move on Monday, cutting linebacker Dom DeCicco, who had hip surgery last week, and claiming linebacker Justin Jackson off waivers from Detroit.

Vikings wake-up call: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings have their normal routine of a 10:30-11:30 walk-through and a 3 p.m.-5:10 p.m. practice at Minnesota State University. Defensive coordinator George Edwards and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are scheduled to talk to reporters after the morning walk-through.

More observations from Thursday's practice:
  • The Vikings have been doing extensive work with Xavier Rhodes, their talented second-year corner who still seems to be learning to trust his instincts in coverage. Rhodes is expected to be the Vikings' top cover corner this year, and while coach Mike Zimmer's defense typically doesn't ask corners to travel across the field with one receiver, Rhodes will undoubtedly see his share of difficult matchups this season. On Thursday, he drove on a route early in practice, but dropped an interception for the second consecutive day. Later, in a seven-on-seven red zone drill, he showed good technique against Jerome Simpson, playing with inside leverage that forced Matt Cassel to make a difficult throw to the back corner of the end zone, but Rhodes turned a split-second late for the ball and tried to swat it, rather than hitting Simpson's hands as he leaped to catch it. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray explained to Rhodes afterward that he'd played the right technique in coverage, but he just needed to force the ball out, rather than trying to recover by batting it away. It was a vivid snapshot in what's been a camp full of learning for Rhodes.
  • Zimmer continued to mix and match players in his first-team defense, giving Tom Johnson some work with the top unit at 3-technique tackle and rotating Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and rookie Antone Exum in the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith with Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury. Zimmer said he will release the Vikings' first formal depth chart sometime next week, and at certain positions it's probably dangerous to assume too much about a pecking order, when the Vikings are trying to get a look at a handful of different players in a variety of roles. ""Really, it's just about figuring out what guys can do," Zimmer said. "The more you can do, the more value you have to this football team."
  • The Vikings are experimenting with first-round draft pick Anthony Barr in a number of different ways. He's played linebacker in their dime package, has rushed from a defensive end position in the nickel, in addition to his normal work at linebacker in the base defense. He'll have to be able to hold up in coverage as a linebacker, but Zimmer's had no complaints there so far. "Coverage is great. He moves well. He’s got a good idea," Zimmer said. "Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk, so he’s very, very into trying to learn what we’re trying to do and teach. He’s got a lot of raw, athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon that he’s got to do better at. But for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with that."
They said it: "I would say the sky's the limit, but there's no ceiling to his potential. There really isn't. If he's willing to put in the time, the potential is there. He has everything he needs. He's starting to mature as a player, as an individual, so his success is going to shoot straight through the roof. I'm excited. I told him this, and maybe it was a little premature, but I told him, 'At some point, I'm going to tell my kids I played with Cordarrelle Patterson.'" --Wide receiver Greg Jennings on Patterson.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Between now and the Minnesota Vikings' first training camp practice July 25, we will break down each position group.

We'll look at the wide receivers next.

Returning players: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Rodney Smith, Adam Thielen.

Gone from last season: Joe Webb

New this season: Kain Colter (undrafted free agent, Northwestern), Erik Lora (undrafted free agent, Eastern Illinois), Dante Foster (undrafted free agent, Ohio), Kamar Jordan (reserve/future free agent), Josh Cooper (free agent from Cleveland).

Position coach: George Stewart (eighth season)

Biggest issue: Only 12 teams targeted their wideouts less often than the Vikings did last year, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The group will be asked to carry a bigger load on offense last year (the Cleveland Browns' receivers had the sixth-most targets in the league in 2013 with Norv Turner as their coordinator), and that means the Vikings need players like Jarius Wright (who caught 26 passes last year) to make bigger contributions. And they're pinning plenty of hope on a breakout season from Cordarrelle Patterson, who made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner, scored three touchdowns as a running back and will be asked to take on a more significant role as a receiver this year.

Player to watch: It's no stretch to suggest the Vikings want Patterson to become one of the league's dominant playmakers this season, after the work Norv and Scott Turner did with Josh Gordon in Cleveland last year. Patterson primarily lined up at split end last season, but will be asked to play a number of different receiver positions this year as the Vikings try to take advantage of his sublime speed and vision. Another player to watch is Adam Thielen, whom general manager Rick Spielman said had made a noticeable leap forward from his first season on the practice squad. The Minnesota State product will return to his alma mater for training camp, where he'll try to win one of the final spots at wide receiver.

Medical report: The Vikings don't have many injury concerns at the position coming into the season; their receivers were healthy all spring, and of their top four wideouts, only Jennings missed a game last year.

Help wanted: Minnesota could carry six receivers on the roster headed into the season, which might leave space for players like Thielen and undrafted rookie Kain Colter.

Quotable: "I think from day one to now he’s improved as a route runner," Norv Turner said of Patterson. "He’s been very serious about working as a route runner. I think George Stewart has done a great job with him, the details of running routes. He’s so explosive when he comes off the ball the way he’s capable of coming off the ball. He creates problems for defensive backs. I think he’s made great strides. We have a lot of work to do when we come back and start again in July. The defense has changed, you see a lot more press, bump-and-run coverages when you get into training camp when you have pads on. I think he’s a good example of where our guys are. I love his talent."
In the last few weeks before the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp, we're going to take a look at a number of players on their roster with something to prove this season, excluding rookies. We will focus primarily on veterans or players being asked to assume a larger role this season. Today: wide receiver Jerome Simpson.

Why he has something to prove: Despite posting a career high in yards and coming two catches short of his career high in that category last season, Simpson got a one-year deal worth only $1 million for 2014. That has less to do with his performance on the field than it does about concerns off of it. Simpson was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving last November, and though he's completed his community service requirement after pleading guilty to a lesser charge, he could still face NFL discipline for his second arrest in less than three years. If Simpson is suspended at all this season, he'll have a harder time putting up the numbers to earn the multi-year deal he's often said he wants. If he can stay out of trouble, though, there will be opportunities for him in the Vikings' offense.

What he must do: Simpson could flourish as a deep threat in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, which has traditionally made effective use of speedy outside receivers like Simpson. "It's fun to have that big speed guy on the outside, and when we’ve had it, that guy has usually averaged 18-20 yards a catch," Turner said at the Vikings' minicamp June 18. "We do tend to get more single coverage, particularly with Adrian (Peterson) back there. He’s had a very good offseason, and hopefully he can be that guy they have to respect. And if they don’t, hopefully he can make big plays." The Vikings could line up Cordarrelle Patterson as their starting split end this season, but Simpson could get opportunities there on first downs, if Patterson is taking a play off after a kick return. Both Patterson and Simpson have worked at other spots, and in an offense that figures to spread things out and push the ball downfield more than the Vikings have in the past, Simpson could find plenty of opportunities to put up numbers. More than one-third of his targets last season came on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and that number could be at least as high this season.

Projection: It's difficult to know what will happen with Simpson's off-field situation, and even if he isn't suspended, he'll probably be no higher than the third receiver on the Vikings' depth chart, behind Patterson and Greg Jennings. But Simpson has shown he can be effective in that role, and even if he only catches 40 passes or so, he could turn those catches into nearly 700 yards.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A look at the highlights from Day 2 of the Minnesota Vikings' mandatory minicamp on Wednesday:

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Jim Mone/AP PhotoVikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater runs through drills in Wednesday's minicamp.
1. Bridgewater solid, drops hurt Cassel: The Vikings again gave Matt Cassel most of the first-team snaps at quarterback, but Cassel's final numbers were tarnished by a handful of drops from his receivers. Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson each dropped a pass, and one of Teddy Bridgewater's two incompletions for the day was a drop (from Jarius Wright). Cassel also had three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Bridgewater mostly threw to backup receivers like Adam Thielen, Josh Cooper and AC Leonard, but connected on 15 of his 17 passes for the day, and won praise from offensive coordinator Norv Turner for throwing a better deep ball than many expected him to have. "It's just been all footwork -- laying it and playing," Bridgewater said. Christian Ponder got just three throws, completing all of them.

2. More work for Barr: Once again, the Vikings gave rookie linebacker Anthony Barr plenty of different looks in their defense, lining him up as an edge rusher and working him in their nickel package alongside Chad Greenway. Barr flashed some impressive edge speed on one rush from the left end spot, and might have sacked Bridgewater had he been allowed to do so. It's clear the Vikings are exploring the options provided by Barr's versatility; they dropped Brian Robison into coverage at one point while Barr was rushing the quarterback.

3. Blanton paired with Smith again: The Vikings continued their rotation of safeties, but once again, they had Robert Blanton working with Harrison Smith. They've used that combination quite a bit in organized team activities and minicamp, though it's hard to assume anything with Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo limited because of injuries. Still, Blanton is getting a chance to make a case for a job opposite his former Notre Dame teammate.

4. Greenway impresses: Playing in nickel coverage, Greenway had a nice breakup of a throw from Cassel over the middle, diving in front of Kyle Rudolph to swat a pass away from the tight end.

5. Audition for Patterson's backup: With wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson likely to take on a bigger role in the Vikings' offense this year, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is making similar plans to what the Vikings did to keep Percy Harvin fresh. Priefer said he wants a second kickoff return man ready to go in case the Vikings need to reduce Patterson's workload there, and he had Captain Munnerlyn, Jarius Wright and Kain Colter fielding kicks on Wednesday.

6. Notable visitors: Former University of Minnesota linebacker Peter Westerhaus, who was forced to retire from football after he was diagnosed with a severe form of ulcerative colitis, visited practice on Wednesday. Westerhaus was presented with this year's Courage Award from the Minnesota chapter of the National Football Foundation in May, at an event sponsored by the Vikings. Mike Grant -- the son of Hall of Fame Vikings coach Bud Grant and the winner of six state championships as the coach at Eden Prairie High School -- also was on hand for practice. Grant is also the athletic director at Eden Prairie, where two of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's sons won a state lacrosse championship last week.

Vikings sign Josh Cooper

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings added another receiver to their depth chart on Friday, and this one should already be well-versed in Norv Turner's offense.

They signed former Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Cooper, a day after waiving injured receiver Lestar Jean. Cooper spent 2012 and 2013 with the Browns, catching nine passes last season while Turner was the offensive coordinator. Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner was Cooper's position coach last season in Cleveland, as well, and his familiarity with the Vikings' system should help him jump into the team's minicamp next week, likely as a slot receiver.

Time will tell whether that familiarity will help Cooper earn a spot on the Vikings' roster. The team is well-stocked at the position, with Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright likely accounting for four spots, and Cooper could have to battle practice squad holdovers Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen, as well as undrafted free agent Kain Colter, for a job. The work Cooper has already done with the Turners, though, means the coaches were able to vouch for him, and he could be worth watching in training camp.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In an ESPN Insider piece published last Thursday, Pro Football Focus ranked the starting lineups Insider of all 32 NFL teams, grading the starters on each roster in the same manner that teams use to stack their draft boards (blue players are elite, green ones are good starters, yellow ones are average and red ones are poor).

PFF ranked the Minnesota Vikings' roster 29th in the league, largely because of how few elite players it sees in the current lineup. According to PFF's rankings, only Adrian Peterson merited a blue rating. But the site also pointed out something I think is worth examining a little more thoroughly here: How many good starters are on the Vikings' roster.

According to PFF's rankings, 53.6 percent of the Vikings' starters are either good, high quality or elite players. Only left guard Charlie Johnson is rated as below-average on offense, and receiver Jerome Simpson is the only other player rated as average. Things are spottier on defense, as should be expected, but even there, only middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, cornerback Josh Robinson and outside linebacker Chad Greenway are listed as worse than average.

The Vikings believe they can make a quick turnaround after a 5-1o-1 season, and I don't think it's farfetched for them to believe that, especially given how much better they could get through the development of a few players: Cordarrelle Patterson, Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes. All five players were first-round picks in the last two years, and all five have significant room to improve. PFF ranked the Green Bay Packers -- who have won the last three NFC North titles -- as having the eighth-best roster in the NFL, with three elite players (quarterback Aaron Rodgers, guard Josh Sitton and linebacker Clay Matthews) as elite, and two more (running back Eddie Lacy and wide receiver Jordy Nelson) as very good. It's not a stretch at all to think the Vikings could have Patterson, Smith, Rhodes and Kalil in one of the top two classes by the end of the year, to go with Peterson and three offensive linemen (center John Sullivan, right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt).

This year, as much as any in the Vikings' recent history, will hinge on player development, and that's without even discussing rookies like Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater yet (PFF lists Bridgewater as the starting quarterback, though I'd put Matt Cassel in the spot for now). It's probably wise to prepare for a long line of tepid preseason predictions for the Vikings -- there are simply too many questions to think otherwise -- but those don't have any bearing on how good the team can actually be. There are enough pieces on the roster to think the Vikings could be on solid footing in the near future. How quickly they get there will depend on whether their stockpile of recent first-round picks becomes a stable of high-end players.


Vikings offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Minnesota Vikings' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Matt RourkeIt's been a long time since the Vikings had a run-stuffing nose tackle like Linval Joseph.
Best move: The Vikings needed a run-stuffing nose tackle as much as they needed anything else on their defense, and the signing of Linval Joseph gave them a big body for the middle of their defensive line. Joseph should provide a presence the Vikings haven't had since Pat Williams' time in Minnesota ended, and although his contract will pay him $31.75 million over the next five years, including $12.5 million guaranteed, it's structured in such a way that the Vikings would face minimal cap repercussions if they needed to cut Joseph as soon as 2016. He's just 25, and in an ideal world, he'll be playing nose tackle for the Vikings for the next five years.

Riskiest move: It's based on the Vikings' high assessment of his potential, but giving $20 million guaranteed to defensive end Everson Griffen after four seasons of rotational duty was a gamble. The Vikings could insert Griffen in Jared Allen's old left end spot, and while sacks are an incomplete measure of performance for a defensive end in Mike Zimmer's scheme, Griffen will have to generate some pressure and be stout against the run. He has the talent to do both, but for him to be worth a contract that pays him like one of the league's top defensive ends, Griffen will have to showcase that talent more frequently than he's done so far in Minnesota.

Most surprising move: In an offseason that followed a fairly sensible shopping list, there weren't too many out-of-character steps among the Vikings' decisions. But the team opting not to add another receiver was worth at least a second glance. The Vikings could have plucked one in the middle rounds of a deep draft, giving themselves another option at a position where No. 3 receiver Jerome Simpson is coming off his second arrest in three years. Instead, the team will hope that Simpson is available for the better part of the season, third-year man Jarius Wright can become a more consistent part of the offense, and practice squad holdovers like Adam Thielen can add something to an offense that should push the ball downfield more than it has in the past.

Quarterback plan in place: The Vikings started their offseason by giving themselves some pre-draft insurance at quarterback, signing Matt Cassel to a new two-year, $10 million deal after he opted out of the contract he'd signed in 2013. They also traded back into the first round to take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, meaning their succession plan is in place at the position, whether that happens sometime this year, in 2015 or in 2016. If the Vikings do want Bridgewater to sit for a year, they're making a leap of faith that Cassel can be reliable for a full season in Norv Turner's offense after starting just 23 games from 2011 to 2013. If he's not, the Vikings could have to decide whether to put Bridgewater on the field or see whether they can get through a few games with Christian Ponder. But Cassel was mostly solid in six starts last season, and with both him and Bridgewater in the building, the Vikings have more reason to feel comfortable at quarterback than they've had in a while.
Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for our weekly Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can send them to me on Twitter any time during the week at @GoesslingESPN, using the hashtag #VikingsMail. There were plenty of good questions after the draft this week. We covered the first handful of them on Saturday, and we'll look at another set of them this morning.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. We'll get started here for the day, with a topic that's getting plenty of attention after coach Mike Zimmer said on Friday that Teddy Bridgewater will get some first-team reps before the season. To be clear, the fact that Bridgewater will get some first-team snaps doesn't mean he's in line to be the opening day starter, nor does it mean he should be. There's no reason to rush him along, with Matt Cassel signed for two years and having offered a few snapshots of his ability to lead the Vikings' offense. To me, the only way Bridgewater should start in Week 1 is if he's so much better than Cassel before the season that it's a clear choice. If anything, the Vikings' trade back into the first round to select Bridgewater should engender more patience, not less; the Vikings now have a fifth-year option on his contract that they wouldn't have had if he'd still been there for them in the second round. I also wouldn't rule out Bridgewater starting later in the year if he doesn't start Week 1, especially if the Vikings get off to a poor start against their tough opening schedule. Essentially, I'd do this: If Bridgewater is good enough to beat out Cassel for the job, give it to him. If he's not, don't force him onto the field just to get his feet wet and showcase the future to the fans. There will be plenty of time for that, and the great benefit of the Vikings re-signing Cassel is the flexibility it bought them. They should use it wisely.

@GoesslingESPN: I wouldn't say the safety competition is exclusively between Jamarca Sanford and Antone Exum; there are plenty of other players, like Andrew Sendejo, Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton and Mistral Raymond, who will be fighting for playing time at safety. The thing I think the Vikings like about Exum is that he should theoretically have good cover skills as a safety, having played cornerback in college. General manager Rick Spielman has talked about the new coaching staff's desire to have safeties who can cover receivers, and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has held up Seattle's safeties (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) as a model of the versatility that safeties who can cover receivers buy for their teams. That said, I can't see the Vikings having three safeties on the field unless one of them is good enough to moonlight as a cover corner. Exum might be able to do that, and Blanton played slot cornerback some last season, but the Vikings doing that would likely mean something went wrong with their group of cornerbacks.

@GoesslingESPN: The possibility of NFL discipline for wide receiver Jerome Simpson is one reason why I thought the Vikings might take a receiver in the middle rounds of the draft. The fact that they didn't means that they'll have to hope the league doesn't come down on Simpson for his drunken-driving arrest last November, or that someone else on their roster can emerge. Jarius Wright has shown flashes of being a contributor as a slot receiver, and he might be less at risk of getting lost in Norv Turner's offense than he did at times in Bill Musgrave's, but the Vikings could really use another receiver that can line up outside and allow Greg Jennings to work in the slot, where he saw much of his success in Green Bay. I wouldn't discount Adam Thielen, who spent last season on the Vikings' practice squad and offers some of the size they need at 6-foot-3. Even if Simpson isn't disciplined, the Vikings could benefit from another receiver emerging, since Jennings will be 31 in September and Cordarrelle Patterson, for all his talent, is still only three years removed from junior college.

@GoesslingESPN: We'll close here for the week, since this question will be a natural follow-up from the previous one. That's because Erik Lora, who was Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite target at Eastern Illinois, could have a chance to fight for a roster spot at slot receiver. Antonio Richardson, the Tennessee tackle who went undrafted after being projected to go on the second day of the draft, could be a nice pickup if the Vikings can figure out how to manage his health (there were concerns before draft that Richardson would only play several years because of arthritic knees). Tight end AC Leonard is intriguing because of his speed (a 4.5 40) and the fact he can play a number of different spots, but he'd have to learn to play in-line and handle blockers effective (he's just 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds). All three have potential, and some significant question marks, but it's becoming more common for teams to find solid contributors in the ranks of undrafted free agents. The Vikings will have to hope they've got a couple this year.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Sometime around 8:30 Central time Thursday night, the Minnesota Vikings will finally be on the clock with the No. 8 overall pick, finally rendering insignificant the months of mock drafts and speculation about who they'll take.

When they do make their pick, general manager Rick Spielman said Tuesday, they could take a player that none of the mock drafts have pegged.

"Everybody reads the mocks, because we're tired of yelling at each other," Spielman said. "At night, I read the mocks and kind of get caught up on things. You guys are missing some names on our spot at 8, I can tell you that."

Spielman said no one in the building knows who the Vikings will take with the eighth pick, even though the general manager has had plenty of discussions about the options at that pick. Many of the media mock drafts (including plenty at ESPN) have the Vikings taking a quarterback, in large part because that's what many pundits feel the team should do, not necessarily what it will do. In light of Spielman's comment, though, here's one name that could be worth a longer look for the Vikings than he's received so far: Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The 6-foot-5 receiver has been listed in the top seven picks of many mock drafts, and is seen as the second-best wideout in the draft behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins. The Vikings don't have a big, physical presence at the position, and they only have two receivers who look like sure-fire starters: Greg Jennings, who will be 31 in September, and Cordarrelle Patterson, who is still learning the finer points of playing receiver in the NFL before his second season. Jerome Simpson is on a one-year deal (and was arrested for a second time last November), and third-year man Jarius Wright might not be more than a complementary receiver.

Would it be a bit frivolous to take Evans when the Vikings have so many other needs on defense? Perhaps. But if the Vikings are going to take a young quarterback at some point -- or if they're going to try to win with Matt Cassel for now -- one theory is that they could try to load the offense up with as many weapons as possible. Adrian Peterson, Jennings, Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Evans would put the Vikings on par with the rest of the high-powered offenses in the division and potentially make things more comfortable for whomever the Vikings' quarterback is, this year or in the future.

And then there's this: The Vikings had at least three wideouts on the field for just 447 snaps last season, the fourth-fewest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Cleveland Browns used at least three receivers on an extra 112 snaps. If three-receiver looks are going to be at least a slightly more prominent part of the offense, and the Vikings have depth concerns about the position, is taking a player like Evans the craziest idea in the world?

"You can look at spots on offense, besides quarterback," Spielman said. "There's no way that's not a need. While that may be a need, that guy can't come in and help this year, but he sure as heck is going to be an impact player for us down the road as well, whether that's receiver or whatever."

It might not be the most sensible, in terms of filling an obvious need, but that scenario would test the Vikings' commitment to Spielman's stated practice of taking the best player available, regardless of position. If Evans meets that description when the Vikings were on the clock Thursday night, it isn't beyond the realm of possibility to think they'd take him.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings will return to the team's facility in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Tuesday for the start of a three-day voluntary veteran's minicamp, which will give new coach Mike Zimmer his first real chance to work with his team on the field.

Before that, we thought it'd be a good idea to take stock of the Vikings' financial position after a busy offseason and see how their salary-cap picture compares to the rest of the league. The team has about $10.3 million in cap space remaining, according to ESPN Stats and Information. We'll start our discussion today with a look at the team's offense:


Percentage of salary-cap space: 7.18

Total cap charge: $8.98 million

NFL average: $11.67 million

Biggest cap hit: Matt Cassel, $5.75 million

Biggest bargain: Cassel

Thoughts: The Vikings aren't spending much money, by NFL standards on the position, counting only Cassel's $5.75 million and Christian Ponder's $3.23 million against the cap. That's obviously because they don't have a franchise player commanding a large chunk of their salary cap at the position, but while they'll try to get by with Cassel this season and possibly add a young quarterback in the draft, they'll at least know they won't have the major cap charges at the position that many other teams -- including all three of their division foes -- face. That's a silver lining of not having the position settled, though the Vikings would like to be in a Seahawks- or Colts-esque situation, where they're getting great production from a young quarterback who's still in his rookie deal.

[+] EnlargePeterson
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Peterson has the biggest cap charge of any running back in the NFL.
Wide receiver

Percentage of salary-cap space: 9.82

Total cap charge: $12.29 million

NFL average: $13.56 million

Biggest cap hit: Greg Jennings, $7 million

Biggest bargain: Jarius Wright, $675,027
Thoughts: Cordarrelle Patterson looks like a star in the making, and Wright can be a capable No. 4 receiver, but the Vikings do have some things to figure out at the position. Jennings will be 31 in September, and Jerome Simpson could face NFL discipline after being arrested for a DUI last November. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings add a receiver on the second or third day of the draft for some extra depth, and practice squad players like Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith could emerge in their second year with the team.

Tight end

Percentage of salary-cap space: 4.93

Total cap charge: $3.26 million

NFL average: $6.12 million

Biggest cap hit: Kyle Rudolph, $1.47 million

Biggest bargain: Chase Ford, $495,000

Thoughts: Rudolph could be a candidate for a contract extension if he has a strong season this year, though the Vikings haven't approached his agent about a new deal yet. Ford looked like a threat in the passing game late last season, and the Vikings will have room for another pass-catcher in Norv Turner's offense. Rhett Ellison has been a reliable run blocker at both tight end and fullback the past two seasons.

Running back/fullback

Percentage of salary-cap space: 14.8

Total cap charge: $18,51 million

NFL average: $7.75 million

Biggest cap hit: Adrian Peterson, $14.4 million

Biggest bargain: Matt Asiata, $570,000

Thoughts: Peterson has the biggest cap charge of any running back in the NFL, and with each passing year, his contract is more of an anachronism; as running backs continue to make less and less money, Peterson is the highest-paid player on the Vikings' roster at age 29. There's little question he's been worth the money, but it's worth noting there's no guaranteed money left in his deal and he only has $4.8 million left of signing bonus proration remaining on the contract he signed in 2011.

Asiata could be the Vikings' No. 2 running back this year, though it stands to reason they'll draft someone, and Zach Line, who had an impressive preseason last year before going to injured reserve with a knee injury, could find a role in Turner's offense catching passes out of the backfield.

Offensive line

Percentage of salary-cap space: 18.43

Total cap charge: $23.05 million

NFL average: $21.45 million

Biggest cap hit: Phil Loadholt, $5.75 million

Biggest bargain: Brandon Fusco, $1.45 million

Thoughts: Loadholt is in Year 2 of his new contract, and remains one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league. Matt Kalil will count $5.39 million against the cap in Year 3 of his rookie deal, and even though he didn't follow up a Pro Bowl rookie year with a big progression in Year 2, he can set himself up for a big payday with a good third season -- the Vikings will have to decide by next May whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on his deal and potentially pay him more than $12 million in 2016.

Fusco gets little attention, but continued to develop into a solid right guard last season, and triggered escalator clauses in his rookie contract by starting 15 games after playing all 16 in 2012. He'll be a free agent after this season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings begin to explore a new deal for him before next March.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings emerge from the busiest period of free agency with more than $11 million left in cap space, they can begin to turn their attention to the pursuits that will occupy the rest of that money.

They'll need roughly $6.5 million for their 2014 rookie pool, though as Overthecap.com estimates, they'd only need about $3.2 million in salary cap space for those players, assuming many of their cap numbers aren't among the top 51 contracts on the roster. The Vikings could also look in the coming months toward a contract extension for tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will be a free agent next spring, has said several times he wants to stay with the Vikings and reiterated that this week in a pair of remarks (to the St. Paul Pioneer Press and KSTP-TV).

A league source said there have been "no talks whatsoever" between the Vikings and Rudolph's agent about a contract extension, and even though the tight end wants to get a deal done this offseason, it might behoove him to wait. After missing eight games last season with a broken foot, he'd benefit from a full season in Norv Turner's offense (which has been famously friendly to tight ends) and could command more money with big numbers in 2014. The Vikings haven't been in the mode of signing their players to extensions before the final years of their contracts, anyway; they got Brian Robison's four-year deal done last October, and waited until just before free agency to sign Everson Griffen this spring and Phil Loadholt last year.

But while it's probably too soon to assume things will heat up between the Vikings and Rudolph, it does seem like a good possibility the Vikings will reward the former second-round pick for a big season. The team cut John Carlson this spring, further cementing Rudolph's status as their top tight end, and the Vikings have few other major free agents next spring; guard Brandon Fusco could be in line for a new deal, but players like wide receiver Jerome Simpson, defensive end Corey Wootton, safety Jamarca Sanford and fullback Jerome Felton (who can opt out of his deal after next season) would be relatively affordable to keep, if the Vikings did indeed want to retain them.

With a big season, Rudolph might be able to get a deal along the lines of the one the Baltimore Ravens gave tight end Dennis Pitta last month. Pitta, who was drafted a year earlier than Rudolph and caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 before getting hurt last season, got a five-year, $32 million deal, with $16 million guaranteed. While there's nothing developing between Rudolph and the Vikings in terms of an extension yet -- and there might not be quite as soon as the tight end might like -- he's in a good spot to produce and get rewarded for it.