NFC North: Cullen Loeffler

The Minnesota Vikings took care of their main 2015 free agent priorities last preseason, signing tight end Kyle Rudolph and guard Brandon Fusco to contract extensions in August and September, respectively. Their main 2015 offseason question will revolve around the future of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, but in terms of the team's pending free agents, the Vikings have few major items on their to-do list. Below is a quick look at the Vikings players who will become unrestricted or restricted free agents when the new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET March 10, when unrestricted free agents can sign with any team.

Unrestricted:

Christian Ponder, QB
Jerome Felton, FB (can opt out of 2015 contract)
Joe Berger, OL
Vladimir Ducasse, OG
Corey Wootton, DE
Tom Johnson, DT
Jasper Brinkley, LB
Mistral Raymond, SS (spent 2014 on injured reserve)
Cullen Loeffler, OL

Restricted:

Matt Asiata, RB
Mike Harris, OT
MANKATO, Minn. -- According to the summary the Minnesota Vikings released last week of an independent investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations, long snapper Cullen Loeffler was the only member of the team to corroborate Kluwe's claim that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer made a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. But if Kluwe contends he was released in part because of his support for same-sex marriage, Loeffler said he never felt in danger of losing his job for telling investigators he remembered Priefer making the statement.

Loeffler
"I was never worried about my job, never worried about the Vikings' support," Loeffler said. "They’ve been very supportive throughout the process. Just wanted me to cooperate, which I did."

Loeffler, who told investigators that he and Kluwe both laughed off Priefer's comment about "putting all the gays on an island and nuking it," said again on Thursday he remembered thinking the remark was a joke. He said he hasn't talked to Kluwe since the former punter published his allegations in a Deadspin piece on Jan. 2, and said he was glad the investigation had come to a close.

According to the summary, Loeffler met with Vikings executive director of player development/legal Les Pico after Kluwe asked him to sign an affidavit confirming the remarks in May 2013. Kluwe told investigators that Loeffler was concerned he would be "blacklisted" from the NFL if he was associated with a controversy involving Priefer. The summary said Pico told Loeffler he felt a need to alert general manager Rick Spielman and vice president of legal affairs Kevin Warren about the situation, even though Kluwe wanted it to remain private and avoid any risk of jeopardizing Loeffler's job status.

Asked about his conversations with Pico on Thursday, Loeffler said, "At the time I wasn’t really sure what was going to come out of it. Really everything that I’ve said is in the report. If you want to address that question you can address it from the report."

Pico has declined comment since the summary was published, referring questions to his attorneys.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings players are on a one-week break from the team's offseason workout program, and many of them will return next week for the team's voluntary veteran minicamp. The Vikings got to start their offseason program two weeks earlier than most teams, after hiring new coach Mike Zimmer, but that doesn't mean they get to have a longer program than the rest of the league. As such, players are on their own this week, though there are still handfuls of players working out at the team's facility.

But when the Vikings do get back together, they'll likely have high attendance for their minicamp, as they've had for the beginning of their offseason program and they've had for their programs in years past. For many players, in addition to a chance to get extra work with teammates and make a good impression on coaches, there's money to be earned by participating in the team's offseason program.

Like many teams, the Vikings include workout bonuses in the contracts of veteran players, offering them an incentive to spend time in a structured program where the team can keep track of what they're doing and give them opportunities to work with players. The bonuses generally aren't offered to players in their rookie contracts, but some draft picks, like cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, have $100,000 bonuses in the fourth year of their rookie deals.

This season, the Vikings could pay out as much as $1,695,000 in workout bonuses to players who participate in the majority of their offseason program. Those bonuses range from $250,000 (for running back Adrian Peterson) all the way down to $10,000 (for cornerback Josh Robinson and long-snapper Cullen Loeffler). Peterson, of course, hasn't been with the team yet during its offseason workouts, instead staying in Houston to do rehab work after his January groin surgery, but he said earlier this month he hopes to join the Vikings for their offseason program soon.

Here is the full list of the Vikings' 2014 workout bonuses, according to ESPN Stats & Information contract data:

 
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson did not practice on Thursday, getting treatment on his sprained right foot, but coach Leslie Frazier said he still expects Peterson to play on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Peterson
Peterson
Peterson did some limited work in practice on Wednesday, which was his earliest practice of the week in more than a month, but Frazier thought it best to hold Peterson out for precautionary reasons on Thursday.

"We just thought it'd be wise to give him a day inside with our training staff, to work through some of the kinks from yesterday's practice," Frazier said. "Unless something comes up tomorrow that I don't foresee, he should be ready to go on Sunday."

Frazier also said running back Toby Gerhart, who joined Peterson on the Vikings' inactive list last Sunday with a strained right hamstring, should be ready to go on Sunday. The same, however, might not be true for tight end John Carlson or defensive back Xavier Rhodes.

Both missed practice on Thursday -- Carlson wasn't feeling well after sitting out last Sunday with a concussion, and will have to clear some aspects of the NFL concussion protocol before he can practice again. Rhodes, meanwhile, is still unable to practice with a sprained ankle, and if neither one is able to practice on Friday, it seems unlikely either would play Sunday.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As the Minnesota Vikings got back on the practice field, they had an unusual participant: Adrian Peterson took part in a Wednesday practice for the first time since Nov. 13, working in a limited role as he tries to come back from a sprained right foot in time for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Peterson
Peterson
The Vikings also had running back Toby Gerhart, who missed Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles because of a strained right hamstring, as a limited participant, and coach Leslie Frazier seemed optimistic about both playing on Sunday. Peterson has been missing practice time because of a groin injury, which isn't completely healed yet, but after he was unable to do more than light work last week and missed Sunday's game, Peterson will likely get more work in the middle of the week than he has recently.

"If he's healthy, we'd like for him to get some work," Frazier said. "We think that helps with the timing and helps the offensive line as well."

Frazier also said tight end John Carlson has cleared NFL concussion protocol; Carlson practiced Wednesday, and seems likely to play Sunday.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:

Vikings injury report: Cook, Sanford out

September, 27, 2013
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WATFORD, England -- Along with quarterback Christian Ponder, the Vikings ruled out defensive backs Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, leaving their secondary thin heading into a game that they probably need to win in order to keep their season from careening off course.

The Vikings will likely keep rookie Xavier Rhodes at his left cornerback spot in the nickel -- coach Leslie Frazier said earlier this week the Vikings don't want to take him out of his routine there -- but it remains to be seen whether A.J. Jefferson or Marcus Sherels will get more work at Cook's right cornerback spot in the base defense. Jefferson injured his ankle shortly after Browns receiver Josh Gordon caused him to bite hard on a double move on the way to a 47-yard touchdown last week, and Sherels was serviceable in the base defense once Jefferson didn't return.

After Sanford left last week, safety Andrew Sendejo took his place, with Mistral Raymond de-activated for the game. It stands to reason both players will be active on Sunday, and though Sendejo will likely get more snaps than Raymond, this could be an opportunity for Raymond -- who was a starter last year before an ankle injury opened the door for Sanford -- to reassert himself.

In any case, the Vikings could have their hands full against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose MO has long been to hold the ball, extend plays and burn cornerbacks who can't stick with their receivers for six or seven seconds. Roethlisberger's receiving group is depleted, and his battered offensive line could have its hands full with Jared Allen and company, but if the quarterback can stay upright, he might be able to find some big plays downfield against the Vikings' depleted secondary.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • We discussed Ponder's status here, and will have more in a little bit on what it means for Matt Cassel and the Vikings' plans at the QB position.
  • Tight end Rhett Ellison will miss his second straight game with a hyperextended knee.
  • Running back Matt Asiata (hamstring) returned to full participation as did defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee). Both are probable for Sunday.
  • Long snapper Cullen Loeffler (neck) and LB Erin Henderson (heel) participated in full, and are probable.
  • Running back Adrian Peterson was back at work after being limited because of a coach's decision on Thursday. That offers further confirmation that the Vikings were trying to get him a break -- and in light of their quarterback situation, they need him ready for a heavy workload on Sunday.
WATFORD, England -- Defensive back Chris Cook didn't practice again for the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, walking out to the team's practice field in England without pads, and the possibility of the cornerback missing Sunday's game seems to be increasing.

Cook
Cook
Cook left last Sunday's game early with a groin strain, and he had a groin injury in the Vikings' third preseason game against San Francisco. He was hopeful he would be able to practice on Friday, but if he can't, the Vikings would likely rule him out for Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"The fact that he's not able to practice today leads you to believe it may be difficult tomorrow," Frazier said. "He wants to try tomorrow, so we'll see."

The Vikings got safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerback A.J. Jefferson back at practice in a limited capacity on Thursday, but it remains to be seen if they'd have either player healthy on Sunday. Frazier said the Vikings would likely have to add a cornerback to their roster if Cook and Jefferson were both out, since they would only have three healthy cornerbacks in that scenario. The easiest move -- especially considering the team is in London -- would be to elevate Robert Steeples from the practice squad, but general manager Rick Spielman said yesterday that assistant GM George Paton is still in Minnesota to give the Vikings a front-office member in the U.S. this week in case they needed to make a roster move, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that the Vikings could sign someone and fly him to England for Sunday's game.

Looking at the rest of the Vikings' injury report:
  • Quarterback Christian Ponder was limited again because of his rib injury, but backup Matt Cassel said Ponder did the majority of the work on Thursday, and Ponder said he was comfortable playing with extra padding on his ribs. We've got more on that situation here.
  • Running back Adrian Peterson was limited because of a coach's decision on Thursday, but Frazier has built in breaks for the running back before, and it's probably safe to assume that's what happened here, especially since if Peterson had an injury, it would be listed on the injury report.
  • Running back Matt Asiata (hamstring) returned to full participation on Thursday.
  • Tight end Rhett Ellison (knee) was out of practice again.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee) was limited, and linebacker Erin Henderson (heel) and long snapper Cullen Loeffler (neck) were again full participants.

Vikings injury report: DBs still out

September, 25, 2013
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LONDON -- Aside from Christian Ponder being limited in practice for the Vikings on Wednesday, the team was still without its three defensive backs -- Chris Cook, Jamarca Sanford and A.J. Jefferson -- who were injured during last Sunday's loss to the Cleveland Browns.

All three players did not practice on Wednesday, and it remains to be seen how many of them will be available on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium. If the Vikings' depth is limited, coach Leslie Frazier said he would likely stick with the same arrangement the Vikings used last Sunday, playing Marcus Sherels and Josh Robinson in the base defense and using rookie Xavier Rhodes as the left cornerback in the team's nickel package. But Frazier, again, admitted the Vikings' cornerback depth is a concern.

Whether Antoine Winfield could be a solution to that problem remains to be seen. General manager Rick Spielman would not address whether the Vikings have had any conversations with Winfield about coming out of retirement, adding, "I can't rule anything out. You never know."

Here is the rest of the Vikings' injury report:
  • Tight end Rhett Ellison, who missed last Sunday's game with a hyperextended knee, also sat out of practice.
  • Ponder was limited in practice because of a rib injury, with Matt Cassel taking some of his reps in practice.
  • Running back Matt Asiata (hamstring) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee) were also limited.
  • Linebacker Erin Henderson (heel) and long-snapper Cullen Loeffler (neck) practiced in full.

BBAO: Better late than ...

January, 16, 2013
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

So that's a first.

I've covered a few coaching changes in my day, but I'm pretty sure none of them broke between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., as the Chicago Bears' decision to hire Marc Trestman did Wednesday morning. We're a bit off our blog game as a result, but while we have a moment, let's take a quick tour of non-Bears news in the NFC North:
  • Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "… My plans are to be here. Again, I think we've got a young defense that's ascending. All the statistics point to that. I feel awful about the way we played [last Saturday] because you want to play your best in that game and we didn't. And I accept responsibility for that. That's my job to make sure that we play better."
  • Capers told reporters Tuesday that the 49ers hurt the Packers' defense more with quarterback scrambles than with the read-option play. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has more.
  • Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn't talk Tuesday like a man who plans to release tight end Jermichael Finley this offseason. McCarthy, via Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "I really felt Jermichael Finley was a different man, a different player from the bye week on. I had an opportunity to talk to him about that at length in his exit interview, so I feel very good about the way he finished the year. He did some good things Saturday night [at San Francisco]. There was a change in that young man."
  • Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell has some history with new running backs coach Curtis Modkins, notes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions long-snapper Don Muhlbach was selected to play in the Pro Bowl, notes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • Minnesota Vikings long-snapper Cullen Loeffler will be at the Pro Bowl as well, but as a guest of teammate Blair Walsh, explains Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune examines the big picture of the Minnesota Vikings' franchise.
  • Writing in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton notes that he was once considered "a freak" because of his mobility.
In what seems like ages ago, we pointed out that Minnesota Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler suffered a season-ending fracture in his lower back last Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Via Twitter, punter Chris Kluwe lashed out at Atlanta Falcons receiver Kerry Meier for what he considered an "unecessary" hit that "cheap-shotted" Loeffler.

Friday, the NFL fined Meier $20,000 for the hit, ruling it was an "illegal blindside block to an opponent’s head area," according to the NFL Network's Jason La Canfora.

"Well, hopefully Meier learns from that one. Good job front office," Kluwe tweeted Friday.

BBAO: Vikings roster shakeup

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

I ran out of steam Tuesday before the news stopped pouring in, so let's catch up on a flurry of moves that ended the season of four prominent Minnesota Vikings players, including two starters.

Receiver Michael Jenkins (knee) and safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) were placed on injured reserve, along with safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) and long-snapper Cullen Loeffler. Among those signed to fill their spots were veteran safety Jarrad Page.

Abdullah hadn't played since Week 10. Jenkins, however, had been a reliable receiver for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder and leaves the team's receiving corps in shambles. Percy Harvin is the only remaining wide receiver with more than nine receptions this season.

Continuing around the NFC North:

NFC North at night

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
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Catching up on some NFC North newsbits as a busy day winds down:

Chicago Bears: Linebacker/special-teams ace Brian Iwuh was waived after suffering a minor hamstring injury last Sunday. An injury settlement will follow. Iwuh had a team-high 14 special-teams tackles this season. The Bears promoted linebacker Patrick Trahan from their practice squad to take his place.

Detroit Lions: Four starters didn't participate in a bonus Tuesday practice: Cornerback Chris Houston (knee), safety Louis Delmas (leg), running back Kevin Smith and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (suspension). Defensive back Brandon McDonald (leg) also didn't practice. Delmas isn't expected to play Sunday night at the New Orleans Saints and likely will be replaced by Chris Harris. The Lions gave themselves some depth behind Delmas and Harris by promoting practice-squad safety Ricardo Silva. Punter Ryan Donahue was placed on injured reserve to create that roster spot.

Green Bay Packers: Linebacker Erik Walden, arrested last Friday after a domestic incident with his girlfriend, apologized to his teammates and in an interview session with reporters. Walden has not been formally charged.

Minnesota Vikings: The Minnesota state Senate held the first of two public hearings on the Vikings' stadium issue. This hearing centered around site options. The team wants the project built in suburban Arden Hills, Minn. But Vikings officials were encouraged during the hearing to work with Minneapolis officials to select one downtown option for comparison's sake, if nothing else. Meanwhile, the Vikings signed long-snapper Matt Katula to replace Cullen Loeffler, who suffered a fracture in his lower back Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
At least one member of the Minnesota Vikings is livid about the hit that appears to have ended the season of long-snapper Cullen Loeffler. Via Twitter, punter Chris Kluwe said the Atlanta Falcons' Kerry Meier "cheapshotted" Loeffler on a legal but "totally uncalled for" hit that caused a fracture in the long-snapper's lower back.

Kluwe: "To the Falcon that cheapshotted Loeffler - I hope someone does the same [expletive] to you and knocks you out for the rest of the year too."

(Here's the link to Kluwe's timeline. Warning: It contains adult language.)

When you watch the replay, you see Meier sprint across the field and catch up to Loeffler, who was covering on a second-quarter punt. As Loeffler turned to chase Falcons returner Eric Weems, Meier flattened him with a legal block to the chest.

At the time, Loeffler was outside of the right hashmark. Weems was outside of the left hashmark, meaning they were about 10 yards away.

"There was no call to do something like that," Kluwe tweeted.

Meier isn't likely to be disciplined for the block. Because he broke no rules that I'm aware of, he shouldn't be. But you hate to see a player suffer a violent injury so far away from the action. The Vikings will have to sign a new long-snapper this week.

Wrap-up: Falcons 24, Vikings 14

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
4:23
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A few thoughts on another loss for the NFC North's last-place team:

What it means: Down 17-0 at halftime, the Minnesota Vikings made it interesting but ultimately absorbed their ninth loss of the season. It's the franchise's first 2-9 start since 1962.

Harvin Watch: With tailback Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain, receiver/running back Percy Harvin was the team's lone remaining offensive playmaker. And Harvin made two huge plays to give the Vikings a chance in this game, hauling in a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-13 in the fourth quarter and also returning a kickoff 104 yards to the Atlanta Falcons' 3-yard line with six minutes, 28 seconds remaining. Harvin caught eight passes for 95 yards and, including special teams, accounted for 200 all-purpose yards.

Late-game questions here: The final seven minutes in this game will be hotly debated among Vikings fans. Here are the primary questions: Even without Peterson, were the Vikings justified in using Harvin on two consecutive inside running plays on the goal line after his kickoff return? Should coach Leslie Frazier have challenged Harvin's second run, in which he appeared to have crossed the plane on second effort? Down by 10 points, should the Vikings have taken an easy field goal rather than go for a touchdown on fourth down? And should they have given the ball to tailback Toby Gerhart, who hasn't been much of an effective short-yardage runner in his career?

Opinion here: My quick reaction to those questions goes as following. I'm fine with using Harvin. He was the Vikings' best player Sunday. Frazier would have had nothing to lose by challenging the ruling on third down. I would have taken a field goal, but either way you need a field goal and a touchdown to force overtime. But handing the ball to Gerhart on fourth down, especially with a quarterback in Christian Ponder who excels at plays that give him a pass-run option on the outside, was the least defensible of the decisions we saw from Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Injury report: Already playing without safety Husain Abdullah and cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, the Vikings lost safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) and cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) during the game. I thought their defense played well considering they had Benny Sapp, on the street two weeks ago, playing at one cornerback spot and rookie Mistral Raymond at safety. The Vikings also lost long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a back injury. Defensive end Jared Allen did a flawless job as Loefller's replacement and even made a special teams tackle after his first snap.

What's next: The Vikings will host the Denver Broncos next Sunday at the Metrodome. Remember, the game has been moved from CBS to FOX. As of last week, the team had more than 5,000 tickets to sell to avoid a local television blackout.

NFC North at night

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
6:51
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Checking in on Wednesday news bits in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: Receiver Devin Hester (illness) didn't practice Wednesday but is expected to play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Detroit Lions: Running back Jahvid Best made an appearance at practice Wednesday. He did not participate, but he hadn't been seen anywhere near practice since suffering a concussion last month. Agent Tony Fleming told ESPN's Josina Anderson that Best has been seeing specialists and will be "re-evaluated" when his symptoms subside. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (finger) wore gloves again during practice but was a full participant. Safety Amari Spievey (toe) was among those who did not practice. Meanwhile, Lions receivers coach Shawn Jefferson opened practice with a full-squad breakdown that ended with "[Expletive] them."

Green Bay Packers: Defensive end Mike Neal (knee) is continuing to increase his workload in practice and hasn't been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Running back Ryan Grant (knee) did not practice but should be ready for Sunday's game. Linebacker Desmond Bishop and guard T.J. Lang were attending to personal matters Wednesday and didn't practice.

Minnesota Vikings: Guard Anthony Herrera (knee), safety Husain Abdullah (concussion), linebacker Erin Henderson (hamstring) and long snapper Cullen Loeffler (shoulder) all missed practice. The Vikings will wait another day or so before deciding whether to sign an emergency long-snapper for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.

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