NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- While we wait for the resolution of the Adrian Peterson saga, some of you might find comfort in the fact that betting on the running back's return to the Minnesota Vikings is still a really bad way to make money.

Peterson
Peterson
Online sports book Bovada released odds on Thursday for where Peterson will be for Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season, and the Vikings are still the favorite to have Peterson on their roster. Bovada gives them 5-6 odds of having Peterson, with the Dallas Cowboys in second at 9-4. The Indianapolis Colts have 5-1 odds, the Arizona Cardinals are at 9-1, and the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at 10-1.

The Vikings, of course, still have Peterson under contract for 2015, and there's a good chance he could still make more money in Minnesota than anywhere. Those factors certainly make the Vikings the favorite from a betting perspective, even if the relationship between Peterson and the Vikings is still on shaky ground. So if you're feeling confident, go ahead and plunk down that $60 on Peterson being in purple next fall. You can win $50 if you're right.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings already have commitments for more than 33,300 seats in their new stadium, the team announced Wednesday as it marked a milestone in its ticket drive.

The Vikings' new stadium preview center opened a year ago Wednesday, featuring an interactive display and sales center for the 65,000-seat facility that's scheduled to open in August 2016. In that time, the team said, 70 percent of ticket holders from the Metrodome have committed to seats in the new stadium, with nearly 800 accounts upgrading to lower-level seats.

The preview center has hosted more than 34,000 people in its first year, the Vikings said. Fans can begin selecting their seats as early as March 16.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Matt Cassel's strange saga in Minnesota -- which took him from backup to starter twice in 2013, and from starter to injured reserve in September 2014 -- is over. The Vikings traded him and a sixth-rounder to the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday afternoon, giving the 32-year-old one more chance to start in exchange for a pair of late-round picks.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltMatt Cassel was the starter for the Vikings when the 2014 season opened, but a broken foot opened the way for Teddy Bridgewater.
Cassel seemed like a nice luxury for the Vikings in 2015; he could be a mentor to Teddy Bridgewater, and a serviceable starter in case of emergency. But Cassel was due for a $500,000 roster bonus on the seventh day of the league year, and there was a growing sentiment he might want to go to a team where he'd get a better chance at the starting job next year. He'll be part of a quarterback competition in Buffalo, while the Vikings will be in the market for a backup quarterback.

It's not likely to be Christian Ponder; the 26-year-old is a free agent and has said he's looking forward to a fresh start somewhere else in 2015. It's probably more prudent to look at players who have a history with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, such as Brian Hoyer, Charlie Whitehurst and Jason Campbell, and as the market shakes out in the coming weeks, the Vikings could wind up with one of those players.

The ideal scenario would be for the team to land a veteran backup and bring in another young passer, who could develop behind Bridgewater and a veteran. That player could eventually turn into a long-term backup, or a trade chip. It has been a long time since the Vikings had this much confidence in their QB hierarchy. With Bridgewater, a stable backup and a good set of coaches, there's reason to keep looking for growth stocks at the position.

But if Cassel's two years in Minnesota prove anything, it's the value of a good insurance policy at the game's most important position. Cassel stepped in when Ponder flopped, waited out the strange (and brief) Josh Freeman experiment, and was there to steady the ship while the Vikings looked for Bridgewater in the 2014 draft. Cassel came to the team after he'd been run out of Kansas City and left with another chance to be a starter. In the end, things seemed to have worked well for all parties. And as the Vikings head back out into the quarterback market, they should know the value of a sturdy veteran. They tried to go without one in 2012 and wound up losing a playoff game in Green Bay when Joe Webb couldn't run the offense in Ponder's absence. Now that the Vikings are on the rise with a promising young starter, it's doubtful they'll make that mistake again.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Wednesday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings will finally get what they've wanted for months: Mike Zimmer, in a room with Adrian and Ashley Peterson, talking candidly to the couple about the Minnesota Vikings' promising young roster, his vision for the team, and how well a fully committed Peterson would fit into it.

There won't be any agents, business executives, sponsors or reporters at Peterson's home outside Houston in a meeting that a league source said Peterson agreed to "because of his respect for Zimmer." When the coach and general manager Rick Spielman arrive for the sit-down, Zimmer will get a chance to make his pitch to Peterson. It's probably not a stretch to call it the Vikings' best shot to keep him.

[+] EnlargeZimmer/Peterson
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiVikings coach Mike Zimmer has the respect of Adrian Peterson even though they have been together for only one regular-season game.
When Peterson told ESPN last month that he was "uneasy" about returning to the Vikings, who he felt hadn't supported him after he was indicted on child injury charges last September, he was quick to point out his deep respect for Zimmer. "Coach Zimmer -- I love that guy, even though I only played one game for him," Peterson said. It was a face-to-face conversation with Zimmer last spring that pulled Peterson out of his funk after the Vikings fired Leslie Frazier, and the coach's ability to shoot straight with Peterson and his wife could have the same effect Wednesday.

If Zimmer is driving the conversation, though, we shouldn't expect him to beg for Peterson's return. The coach has made it clear there needs to be reciprocal interest, and while he'll undoubtedly try to sell Adrian and Ashley Peterson on the upside of being in Minnesota -- both on and off the field -- he won't have any desire to bring back a malcontent. The Vikings begged Brett Favre to return in 2010, with disastrous results, and Peterson would see through such an approach anyway.

"I wish it was that simple as a conversation, but it’s not, it’s way deeper than that," Peterson told ESPN last month. "I’ve prayed about it a lot. It's definitely not that easy, just to have the conversation. People are saying what they need to say. In any situation, people will say whatever they need to say to heal the wounds and make things better. I discovered that a long time ago, and I’ve seen it in the past year."

Rather, if Peterson tells the Vikings he doesn't want to be back, the team can begin to make other plans. The Vikings haven't been able to sit in a room with the running back for nearly six months, and Wednesday's meeting will help them get an unfiltered sense for Peterson's mindset. There's no doubt the Vikings want Peterson back, and they're in a strong enough cap situation to pay him his full $12.75 million salary next season. But Peterson said last month that the decision comes down to more than who can pay him the most.

"As far as me being happy, my family being happy, it's bigger than [money]," he said.

There's no doubt Peterson's situation put the Vikings in a bind last fall, and we can debate whether the Vikings have anything for which to apologize. In the end, though, the only thing that matters is what's going on inside Peterson's head, and Wednesday is the Vikings' best chance to figure that out before the new league year starts Tuesday.

The meeting outside Houston is a productive step in that process -- it strips away the layers between Peterson and the Vikings' football operation -- but the Vikings' best move is to let Zimmer talk. Both men value directness, and it's that quality about Zimmer that helped win over Peterson in the first place. If things go well Wednesday, the Vikings will leave knowing more about what Peterson wants. Maybe they'll even leave with a commitment from the running back to return next season. Getting Zimmer and Peterson face to face, though, is the best development in this saga for the Vikings in quite some time.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's been a while since the Minnesota Vikings were among the NFL's movers and shakers in the early stages of free agency, and coach Mike Zimmer had already indicated they weren't likely to be terribly active on the open market this season. But what general manager Rick Spielman said at the University of Minnesota's pro day on Monday morning offered another rationale for why the Vikings could pass on some of the league's hottest commodities when free agency kicks off next Tuesday.

The Vikings, Spielman said, could have more interest in players who are cut by their teams for salary-cap reasons than players who are unrestricted free agents. Those players are not counted in calculations for compensatory picks the next year, so signing one this year would not affect the Vikings' chances to get extra selections in the 2016 draft.

It's unlikely the Vikings will get any compensatory picks this year, Spielman said, and their group of players about to hit free agency is small enough that the Vikings might not get any choices next year, either. But if there is a recently-released player who can fill the same need as an unrestricted free agent, it doesn't hurt to consider that option.

"There's a pretty good group of guys that are going to get cut, or have been cut already," Spielman said. "You weigh UFAs, but we also put in all the guys who are potential street free agents. We may look at that route."

The Vikings, Spielman said, plan to "just sit back, unless something unique pops up." The last time they used a similar manifesto before the market opened, they signed Greg Jennings at the end of the first week. The wide receiver was 2013's "unique" option, after the Vikings had traded Percy Harvin, and it wouldn't be shocking to see the team chase one expensive acquisition in free agency, especially considering it has about $20.8 million in available cap space.

But a March spending spree hasn't been the Vikings' style since the late 2000s, and it's not likely to happen now.

"We've been pretty patient through free agency, and we feel good about a lot of these young kids we have on our roster that could potentially step up and fill some voids if we do lose some of our guys," Spielman said. "[VP of football operations] Rob Brzezinski is working through some of our current guys now, before March 10. There's a lot of work we have to get done this week. And once free agency starts, we'll probably lay in the weeds a little bit and see what happens."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Any football department run by a general manager as meticulous as the Minnesota Vikings' Rick Spielman -- who rates draft prospects down to the thousandth of a point -- is going to have a fairly high view of information gathering.

Before Spielman hired Mike Zimmer in January 2014, he studied 13 different backgrounds for potential head coaches. The GM routinely charts in-game decisions, and went through a litany of scenarios with Zimmer before his first games as a head coach last fall. Spielman, Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner crisscrossed the country last spring, interviewing passers who could be the Vikings' next QB of the future. If the Vikings' front office is ever going to be accused of falling short in any one area, preparedness will not be it.

There's a difference between accumulating data and using it to shape a significant number of decisions, however. And in a league that probably still ranks among the least data-dependent of the four major U.S. sports, the Vikings ranked among the 12 teams listed as analytics "skeptics" in ESPN's Great Analytics Rankings, which attempted to measure how heavily all 122 North American major pro teams use analytics. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote, the Vikings don't have a full-time employee devoted to analytics, and it's unclear how much the team relies on data findings in its decisions. Coach Mike Zimmer leaned on the traditional side of fourth-down decisions, going for it just three times before the fourth quarter in 2014.

The Vikings made their skepticism about Pro Football Focus clear last season, particularly when the name of left tackle Matt Kalil came up, but that stemmed more from a belief that outside sources don't have all the information to thoroughly evaluate the team than it did from an inherent aversion to new schools of thought. When I covered the team for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, I talked with Spielman about his approach to analytics, and the methods the Vikings use to evaluate draft picks. Essentially, the team takes all of its combine data, in-house ratings and psychological evaluations of players and feeds them into a giant database, looking for precedents. If the Vikings can find a player with similar attributes who has since been successful in the NFL, they might be more willing to consider a prospect whose measurables would otherwise invite skepticism. But for Spielman and Zimmer, the tape still takes precedent.

When I've talked with Spielman about the Vikings' analytics use, he hasn't seemed particularly interested in standing out, so he's likely happy the team is lumped with more than one-third of the league in one of the middle quartiles of our survey. The Vikings certainly use analytics as a tool, but to say they have a deep reliance on them would probably be stretching it.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Last spring, when Adrian Peterson was still stung by the Minnesota Vikings' decision to fire Leslie Frazier and still unsure about his future with the team, he traveled to the Twin Cities for some rehab work following groin surgery. Peterson got to meet the Minnesota Vikings' new head coach, Mike Zimmer, and something about the coach quickly won him over.

"I have a thing about me, that I'm able to look people in the eyes and kind of get a feel for them," Peterson said. "He just came off as an honest person. Before then, all I was hearing was good things about him. But just looking at him, having that eye contact with him, I could see the fire in him. I could see the rugged [personality] in him as well, but also someone who's considerate as well. In the time I've been around him, that's pretty much how he is."

[+] EnlargeZimmer/Peterson
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiAdrian Peterson has misgivings about returning to Minnesota following his suspension last season, but Mike Zimmer, left, has the running back's respect.
At this point, with Peterson still harboring concerns about returning to Minnesota following his suspension last season, Zimmer might be the man with the best shot to fix it.

The coach is prohibited from participating in meetings with players before the start of the Vikings' offseason workout program on April 20, and unless U.S. District Court Judge David Doty orders the NFL to reinstate Peterson sooner, the running back can't rejoin the league until at least April 15 anyway. But if Peterson is unsure who he can trust, and uneasy about whether people will be honest with him, Zimmer's words at least have the potential to cut through that.

"Coach Zimmer -- I love that guy, even though I only played one game for him," Peterson said on Thursday night. "Coach (Norv) Turner, Kirby (Wilson), the running backs coach, I have a lot of respect for those guys there. But it boils down to just my family and I being happy."

If Peterson decides he can't be happy in Minnesota -- and he still sounded unsure about that prospect on Thursday night -- he said he knows the Vikings won't force him to stay. Still, the team hasn't planned on cutting Peterson, and it seems unlikely they will give up without taking another shot to reconcile things at this point.

It would ultimately be Zimmer, Turner, and Wilson who Peterson deals with on a daily basis, not ownership or the front office. Perhaps Zimmer can, at the very least, convince Peterson to sign up for one year of holy terror on the field, prove to everyone what kind of player he still is and move on from there. Perhaps Peterson's concerns are too deep-seeded for that to work. But it's clear the coach earned Peterson's respect in their short time working together, and the Vikings should at least give Zimmer a chance to try.

"I would respect Adrian’s decision (if he didn't want to be here)," Zimmer said in a Pro Football Talk interview in January. "I’ll always be honest with him and up front, but I’m going to try to explain to him the reasons why I would like for him to be here. But it has to be a two-way street, and he has to get his life taken care of. But we’ll sit down and talk, and I’m a pretty good recruiter, too."

The running back said on Thursday night that he wished it only took a conversation to fix things, but "it's way deeper than that. People are saying what they need to say. In any situation, people will say whatever they need to say to heal the wounds and make things better."

There likely wouldn't be any fluff in what Peterson hears from Zimmer. It would be candid, impassioned, and direct. But Peterson found he could trust that approach from Zimmer once before. Maybe the coach can convince the running back to trust the Vikings again.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer still wouldn't tell reporters at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday whom he asked to work with Cordarrelle Patterson this offseason. But Zimmer said Patterson has been in touch with the instructor, and added on KFAN-FM that Patterson has planned for some additional structured training this offseason.

Patterson
The Vikings were sending not-so-subtle hints to Patterson at the end of the season that he needed to dedicate himself to improving this offseason, and there are concrete reasons why 2015 is a pivotal year for the receiver. The Vikings will have to make a decision on Patterson's fifth-year option by next spring. If another subpar season leads the Vikings to decline Patterson's option, he could find himself on the outs in Minnesota, headed into a contract year.

Zimmer made a couple interesting comments about Patterson to reporters in Indianapolis, especially if they're taken in conjunction with how he praised Teddy Bridgewater for not getting caught up in individual honors.

Of Patterson, Zimmer said, "I think one of the biggest problems Cordarrelle had last year was, he was going to have this breakout year and he was going to be this. I think all those things maybe affected him a little bit, and he thought how easy this game would be and how easy it was going to go. And it didn’t quite go that way. So let’s just keep our heads down and work and not worry about whatever.

“I know he likes the limelight and all that stuff, but if you’re not playing, that stuff’s going to fade away fast.”

There was plenty of talk about Patterson before his second season, and his performance against the St. Louis Rams in Week 1 only enhanced it. The absence of Adrian Peterson certainly led defenses to focus more on Patterson, but his problems mastering the basics of the receiver position had more to do with his diminished role in the offense than what defenses were doing to him. By the end of the season, he was staring up at Charles Johnson and Adam Thielen on the Vikings' receiver depth chart, and from what Zimmer said on Thursday morning, Patterson seems to be doing the right things early this offseason. We'll see if those things lead to concrete results in 2015.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Between a morning interview session with Twin Cities media and an afternoon podium news conference at the NFL scouting combine, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman probably spent more time answering questions about Adrian Peterson on Wednesday than he has in months.

Spielman's two interview sessions came on the heels of comments from Vikings president Mark Wilf and COO Kevin Warren in support of Peterson's return. The general manager sounded more definitive about Peterson on Wednesday than he did during his postseason media session in January, saying "we want Adrian Peterson back with the Minnesota Vikings" and adding he expects the running back will return "with a point to prove to everybody."

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Tom Gannam"I think as you go through this this, time heals things," GM Rick Spielman said of Adrian Peterson.
Anyone who's followed Peterson's career knows how dominant he can be when he's setting out to make a statement. When I spoke with Peterson in December, it was easy to hear the passion in his words as he countered what he felt was an unfair portrayal of him in the months following his indictment for child injury charges. Peterson's voice swelled as he talked about commissioner Roger Goodell scolding him in a published letter, reporters and legislators reviling him and the NFL appointing former league executive Harold Henderson to hear Peterson's appeal. The Vikings are banking on Peterson using all of that as fuel, while hoping his own unrest about a lack of support from some in the organization has subsided.

Peterson talked in December about the possibility of a "fresh start" with another team, but also sounded open to returning to the Vikings, where he knew coaches and teammates supported him. The Vikings were mostly silent about Peterson during the season, once he was placed on the commissioner's exempt list, but I thought something Spielman said on Wednesday was particularly instructive.

"I think as you go through this this, time heals things," Spielman said. "People judge right away, but you have to look at what type of person Adrian is and look at the whole picture and a lot of the great things he has done off the field and for charities and our organization.”

Unless his suspension is shortened -- by U.S. District Court Judge David Doty's decision or the NFL's own concession -- Peterson will be at least seven months removed from his arrest by the time he is reinstated. He will have missed 15 games in the prime of his career, been fined more than $4 million and lost millions more in endorsements. Peterson has been punished, and consequently, support for Peterson's return is less provocative than it was last September.

The Vikings were undoubtedly affected by the backlash they got when they first announced on Sept. 15 that Peterson would be allowed to play, and that backlash could explain their relative silence on Peterson from September until the end of the season. "Last year was a complicated year, at various levels," Warren said last week. "But once Adrian gets all of his items resolved with the NFL, is free to play again and rejoin our franchise, I think it's good for Adrian. It'd be good for us, it'd be good for all the Vikings fans, it'd be good for our community and it'd be good for the NFL."

There's considerably less risk in supporting Peterson now, and the Vikings' public outreach to Peterson will likely continue on Thursday, when coach Mike Zimmer speaks at the combine. The Vikings will have to hope time has also healed whatever resentment Peterson might have felt about the team's position last season, but there's no question they're wading through calmer waters as they move toward the running back now.

"He made a mistake; he admitted a mistake," Spielman said on Wednesday. "I’m sure he’s doing everything he can to not only make himself better as a football player but also a better person off the field, and that’s the type of person Adrian is. He’s a suspended player right now, and then we’ll see where it goes from there."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said last month at the Senior Bowl that he and general manager Rick Spielman had identified eight positions where the Vikings need to improve in 2015.

It always seemed reasonable to think linebacker was on that list. Speaking at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Spielman effectively said as much.

"That's an area that we'll look at," Spielman said. "We have a couple guys that are unrestricted free agents. We'll weigh in on that position to see. We're very excited about where Anthony Barr is, but we want to continue to build in that area."

The Vikings could have two new starters next to Barr, depending on what they do with Chad Greenway. The 32-year-old said on Tuesday he is recovered from a strained MCL he suffered in the Vikings' Week 16 loss to the Miami Dolphins, and Zimmer said at the end of the season he believed Greenway could still start in his 10th year. But Greenway is due to make $7.1 million in 2015, and the Vikings are widely expected to approach Greenway about restructuring his deal. Gerald Hodges played well while filling in for an injured Greenway in four games this season, and could push for the starting spot.

There could also be turnover at middle linebacker, where Jasper Brinkley is a free agent. Brinkley, who turns 30 in July, did a decent job against the run last season, but has never been on the field much in passing situations, and the Vikings could look for a long-term answer in the middle of their defense.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Based on the public comments of Minnesota Vikings executives in recent weeks, it seems as though the team hopes to have Adrian Peterson back in purple next season, once he is reinstated from his NFL suspension. And as we discussed yesterday, the simplest way for the Vikings to make that happen is to leave Peterson's contract untouched: wait for him to be reinstated, pay him the $12.75 million base salary he's due in 2015 and make the roster moves necessary to field a competitive team while carrying a $15.4 million cap figure for Peterson.

That approach, of course, would leave the Vikings paying a 30-year-old running back $3 million more than any other running back in the league. And while some around the league believe that's a reasonable price to pay for a healthy, motivated Peterson -- a league source said at least one playoff team has indicated it would take on the running back's deal, as is -- the Vikings could pursue a number of restructuring options, should they seek cap relief. Several of them would still leave as much cash in Peterson's pocket as he was originally scheduled to make in 2015, though there's always a risk in approaching a player about redoing his deal.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
MSA/Icon SportswireThe Vikings could pursue a number of restructuring options with Adrian Peterson's contract.
To get a better sense of the Vikings' options, we'll return to our panel of experts, which includes ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt and Institute for Athletes president Blake Baratz, whose Minneapolis-based agency represents 38 NFL players. While Peterson currently cannot be reinstated until April 15, Brandt believes the starting point is for Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra, to get a sense of what the running back's value would be on the open market.

"I’m sure Ben is somehow surveying what he could make on the open market," Brandt said. "I know people bring up the tampering thing, but there are all kinds of shades of gray here. You could simply say to teams, 'What do you think a guy like that would be worth on the open market?'"

That question becomes more complicated because Peterson isn't able to return until more than a month after the start of free agency. But with the cap rising to $140 million this year, it's probably safe to assume Peterson isn't going to have to play for much less than he was originally scheduled to make. The Vikings also aren't tight against the cap this season, meaning they might not see the benefit in asking Peterson to open up his deal.

From an agent's perspective, Baratz said, "I'm all for restructuring if it helps the team and the player gets what he deserves. That's great. But I’d have to have a real reason to restructure. If I was already planning on making $12.75 million in cash (in 2015), I'd want that or more and some security, or a very valid reason why I should take less. The valid reason is, 'There’s not going to be that cash available elsewhere,' or, 'I really want to be in Minnesota because I love it -- I love my teammates, my coaches. I want to be in Minnesota; maybe my kids are in school.' There have got to be valid reasons."

But if the Vikings were going to ask Peterson to redo his deal, they'd have a couple ways to go about it.

One idea is helped by Peterson's absence last season; because he didn't play, the Vikings could set up some reasonably-attainable benchmarks as "not likely to be earned" incentives that wouldn't count against the 2015 cap because Peterson didn't hit them in 2014. Let's say Peterson had a $9.75 million base salary in 2015 -- matching Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy for the top base salary among running backs next season -- and had $3 million in incentives to get his cash back to $12.75 million. The Vikings could guarantee part of that base salary for 2015 (Peterson currently has no guaranteed money in his deal), and if the running back hit the incentives, the $3 million charge would be debited from the Vikings' cap space in 2016.

"You’re going to be able to structure a deal that can be incentive-based, based on (him) not playing," Brandt said. "Whether he and Ben would take a deal like that is another story."

With assistant GM Rob Brzezinski managing the team's salary cap, the Vikings have typically been reluctant to mortgage future space by pushing cap dollars into the future. That means another method of restructuring Peterson's deal -- by adding a year to the contract and converting his 2015 salary into a signing bonus -- would be even more out of character for the Vikings. But if the team wanted to pursue such a path, it could replace the final three years on Peterson's deal with a four-year contract that essentially guaranteed him $20 million in exchange for lower payouts.

If Peterson got a $12 million signing bonus to go with a guaranteed base salary of $4 million and his original $250,000 workout bonus, he'd actually make $16.25 million in 2015. The cap number, though, would be just $7.25 million, and assuming another $4 million base salary and $250,000 workout bonus in 2016, the Vikings would need the same cap space to keep him around in 2016. The drawback would come in 2017, when the Vikings would still have $6 million of bonus prorations looming for a 32-year-old Peterson, possibly around the time they'd be looking to pay Teddy Bridgewater.

In the end, the Vikings might not have a compelling enough reason to approach Peterson about restructuring his deal this year, particularly if the team is concerned about the state of its relationship with the running back after a tumultuous 2014. But a restructured deal, done right, wouldn't necessarily leave Peterson with less cash in 2015 than he originally planned to make.

"It all depends on the player’s perspective," Baratz said. "If he’s scheduled to make $12.75 million, what is he going down to? Ten (million)? He's not going to five. He might go to 10, with an incentive to get to 15 or 16. Maybe he'd ask for something in return to go to 2,000 yards again. But if you’re asking to go to five, six or eight (million) -- and I'm not advising him -- I don’t see an incentive to do that."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who missed the team's last game of the year with a knee injury he sustained on Dec. 21 in Miami, said on Tuesday the injury was a strained MCL. As with most MCL injuries, though, Greenway didn't need surgery, and said he's gotten back to some offseason workouts without any trouble.

[+] EnlargeBobby Rainey
Cliff McBride/Getty ImagesVikings linebacker Chad Greenway had a difficult 2014 season both on and off the field.
Greenway had said after the game he felt a "pop" in his knee, and he wasn't able to participate in practice the next week before the team's season finale against the Chicago Bears. Appearing on KFAN-FM with Vikings play-by-play announcer Paul Allen on Tuesday morning, Greenway confirmed it was to his MCL. And in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, he said he's "completely healthy."

"I'm just getting back into working out, starting back on my lower body," he said. "It feels good. I'd been taking some time off, but I have been testing it a little bit."

The 32-year-old linebacker said he hasn't done much running yet, but added that wasn't because of his knee. As most players are, Greenway is in the early stages of his offseason workout program.

Greenway restructured his 2014 contract, giving back $1 million in exchange for a guarantee of $5.5 million on his base salary. It's widely expected the Vikings will ask him to restructure the final year of his deal, which calls for him to make $7.1 million and count $8.8 million against the cap. But the Vikings haven't approached Greenway or his agent, Marvin Demoff, about redoing his deal yet, he said.

The linebacker said at the end of the season he was open to reworking his deal if it helped keep him in Minnesota for the final year of his contract, and Greenway reiterated on Tuesday that he's still willing to do that. But for the moment, he said, "We're still under contract. We'll just see what they say."

Greenway played in the Dolphins game two days after his father, Alan, died following a 2 1/2-year battle with leukemia. A month after Alan Greenway's death, his mother, Janice, died suddenly at age 79 in Mitchell, South Dakota. "Her heart just stopped," Chad Greenway said of his grandmother.

The former Pro Bowler missed four games in 2014, snapping a 90-game starting streak and ending the season on the sideline. That, coupled with the losses of his father and grandmother, has made the past five months one of the toughest stretches in Greenway's life. As the linebacker said on KFAN, "For the first time in my career, I was happy the year was over."

He's hoping for another chance to suit up with the Vikings and play out the final year of his contract. Coach Mike Zimmer, who praised Greenway's leadership at the end of the season, said Greenway can still be an effective starter at age 32. And considering the fact that Greenway appears willing to work with the Vikings on his contract, it's possible he'll get that chance.

As reporters, we're not in the business of rooting for the teams we cover. That said, it's easy to want good things for certain players, and Greenway -- a tireless worker who's deeply involved in the community, helpful to his teammates and approachable to reporters -- is one of those players. He's hoping to get another season with the team that drafted him in 2006, but he's played long enough to know the Vikings will make their decision irrespective of any attachments they might have to Greenway. They need to figure out their future at a couple of linebacker spots, and Gerald Hodges played well enough to push for a full-time starting spot in 2015. But after a trying year in 2014, it'd be nice to see Greenway get one more year with the team that drafted him.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If last week's comments from Minnesota Vikings executives are to be taken at face value, the team appears to be laying a path for Adrian Peterson's return to the team, once the suspended running back is reinstated by the NFL.

At this point, the biggest potential roadblock probably isn't principle. It's Peterson's contract, which calls for the running back to make $12.75 million in 2015 and count $15.4 million against the salary cap at age 30. Peterson would have the highest cap figure in the league at his position, by 28 percent over Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy. His deal would seem to be an outlier in the marketplace, as he reaches an age when running backs typically see their production decline.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonAdrian Peterson will be turning 30 soon, but his health should be solid after a limited workload in 2014.
But if the Vikings are serious about keeping him -- and based on their recent comments, they certainly appear to be -- could they? It's not as difficult, or outlandish, as you might think.

We spoke with a handful of people around the league about Peterson's future, and we'll be examining the Vikings' options this week. Today, we'll look at the possibility the Vikings will keep Peterson on his current deal in 2015. Several people we spoke with, including ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt and agent Blake Baratz, believe that's a viable option.

First, let's look at the particulars of where things stand. Currently, Peterson can't be reinstated until April 15, and he would be returning to the league at least five weeks after the start of free agency, when teams have the most money to spend. Peterson, though, will return completely healthy (tackled only 21 times in 2014), and anyone who remembers his 2,097-yard return from ACL surgery in 2012 knows what a force he can be when he has something to prove.

With the cap likely to rise to $140 million, Baratz doesn't believe it's unreasonable to think another team could pay Peterson what he's scheduled to make in 2015.

"In my opinion, is it going to be impossible for him to make $12.75 million in 2015? No," said Baratz, whose Minneapolis-based agency represents 38 NFL players. "I think it's a very, very difficult decision for both sides, but if you asked me to pick who has more leverage, it would be Adrian Peterson. He’s already on the books for a certain number. He's 100 percent healthy. The season’s over. There's no risk of injury."

That's why the Vikings could be taking a risk if they asked Peterson to restructure his deal, especially if the relationship between the team and the running back is at a tenuous state.

"Looking from a front-office point of view, the question is simply, 'Do we want him?'" said Brandt, who managed the Green Bay Packers' salary cap for nine years as their vice president. "'If we want him, let’s work to make it happen. If we don’t, I’m not sure a pay-cut decision really matters.' One thing I’ve learned about teams and pay cuts is, if you’re going to ask someone to take one, better be damn sure you’re going to cut him [if he doesn't accept]. Otherwise, you lose all credibility."

The safest, simplest way to ensure Peterson's return in 2015, then, would be to keep him under his current contract. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Vikings would be roughly $13.76 million under a $140 million cap, counting Peterson's $15.4 million cap figure. A few roster moves could push the Vikings' available cap space north of $20 million.

The Vikings are expected to reduce linebacker Chad Greenway's 2015 contract. Let's say they kept Greenway and guaranteed a base salary of $3.1 million, which would result in a net savings of $4 million. Otherwise, releasing Greenway would produce a cap savings of $7.1 million. Wide receiver Greg Jennings is scheduled to carry an $11 million cap number in 2015. He will be 32 in September after two years of underwhelming production. Considering the Vikings could save $9 million by releasing him with a June 1 designation, they might approach him with a similar offer to the ones they have made to Greenway and defensive tackle Kevin Williams in recent years, offering to guarantee a reduced base salary in exchange for cash savings. Let's call it a $5.4 million base salary in exchange for a savings of $3.5 million. Cutting guard Charlie Johnson would save another $2.5 million.

That's $10 million in savings with three moves, and the Vikings suddenly have almost $24 million in cap space and Peterson in the backfield with their young quarterback. They would have another year to gauge how much Peterson has left and more time to see if Teddy Bridgewater can get them closer to contention, and they would avoid any restructuring talk with Peterson until he's 31. By that point, he would be a year removed from reinstatement, possibly more amenable to redoing his deal if he felt the Vikings were close to a deep playoff run and less likely to recoup his $14.75 million base salary for 2016 on the open market.

"Jared Allen had a $17 million cap number [in 2013], and they let him play that out," said a source who works on NFL contracts. "Adrian at $15.4 million is a better value than that. Maybe you kick the can down the road for a year and see where you're at."

Said Baratz: "If you've got a young QB and an absolute monster like Adrian Peterson, he frees everything up. I've never been one that's gotten caught up in, 'This is what the top running back makes.' When you get into the category of being one of the more dominant players in the league, you should get paid like one."

Vikings promote Kevin Warren to COO

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
11:40
AM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings announced Thursday morning they have promoted Kevin Warren to chief operating officer, placing him in charge of all of the team's business operations.

Warren, who had previously been the team's executive vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer, is believed to be the highest-ranking black executive in an NFL team's business department. His promotion comes at a time when diversity hirings around the league are on the rise. The league's only minority president is San Francisco's Paraag Marathe, but the NFL currently has seven minority GMs, and a quick survey of team leadership reveals more than a dozen other teams with a female or minority executive.

Vikings owner Mark Wilf serves as Minnesota's team president; Warren, who has been with the Vikings since 2005, will continue reporting to Wilf.

"We are thrilled to promote Kevin to chief operating officer,” Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said in a statement. “We embrace the opportunity to promote individuals from within our organization and believe the continuity and stability is a positive reflection on our many talented and hard-working staff members. Kevin’s leadership, acumen, passion and work ethic will continue to be a positive asset for the Vikings and this community.”

The move potentially gives the Vikings the unifying figure they seemed to lack last September. General manager Rick Spielman was left to explain the team's initial decision to let Adrian Peterson play during his ongoing legal case in Texas. Two days later, when the Vikings reversed their decision under pressure from sponsors, Warren, Mark Wilf and Zygi Wilf joined Spielman to explain the team's move to put Peterson on the commissioner's exempt list. With the Vikings moving into a new stadium in 2016, it makes sense for them to have a business executive with the clout to explain major decisions or face the media in crisis situations. Warren, one assumes, will take on a significant part of that role.

It's worth noting that, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Warren wasn't in favor of Peterson's return last season and worked with the NFL to make sure Peterson did not come back to the playing field in 2014. In an interview with ESPN last December, Peterson said he felt support from players and coaches, adding he'd watched each of the team's games since he'd been placed on the commissioner's exempt list.

"Through this process, I've thought about playing other places, with everything that's been floating around the organization," Peterson said. "But I keep a level mind. The people that are doubting me are people that are, in the big scheme of things, not relevant. I'm able to look at the organization as a whole and see for what it is. There are friends, teammates, people I've been around for years. I think about what I would be leaving behind, but it's a business as well."

It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the Vikings' promotion of Warren will have on Peterson's future in Minnesota -- though the move certainly signifies Warren's influence in the organization is on the rise. In the meantime, however, it made sense for the team to identify an executive who could serve as the face of the team in tough situations. Warren appears to be the Vikings' choice for that job.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' need for a bona fide No. 1 receiver has been a consistent theme across the early rounds of mock drafts this winter. Both ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay had the Vikings taking Louisville's DeVante Parker in one of their first two mock drafts, and several other outlets have pegged the Vikings to take a wideout with the 11th overall pick.

Kiper's second mock draft again has the Vikings selecting a wideout, but he's got a different name this time. It's West Virginia receiver Kevin White, whom Kiper has going to the Vikings one pick ahead of Parker.

The fact that Parker played with Teddy Bridgewater in college is worth something, in my mind, especially in light of how much Cordarrelle Patterson's struggles seemed to stem from him not being on the same page as the quarterback. But Bridgewater's familiarity with Parker should elevate him over White if the Vikings think the two players are equal. There's plenty to like about both players -- each is 6-foot-2, weighs more than 200 pounds, has shown the ability to go up for the ball and can run after the catch. If there's one concern with Parker, it might be with his hands, but both players seem to have the attributes the Vikings would want in a top-level receiver.

We'll see if the team decides to prioritize that position over some of its other needs -- it's worth noting that Iowa guard Brandon Scherff was gone when the Vikings picked in Kiper's mock -- but we're likely to hear plenty more about receivers for the Vikings between now and April.

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