NFC North: Letroy Guion

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With the bulk of the free-agent work done, it's a good time to recheck the Green Bay Packers' depth chart leading up to the May 8-10 NFL draft.

On Thursday, we broke down the way things look on offense.

Next up is the defense:

Defensive end: Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Packers are counting on defensive end Datone Jones to rebound in his second season.
Analysis: The Packers have high hopes for Jones despite a disappointing rookie season in which the former first-round pick was slowed by an ankle injury and recorded just 3.5 sacks (two of which came in one game). "I feel he's one of those second-year players who [can] take a huge jump," coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones earlier this offseason. "That will be my expectations for him." Boyd, a fifth-round pick, actually saw more playing time late last season than Jones. Worthy played in only two games a year after he blew out his knee.

Defensive tackle: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion.

Analysis: Moving Raji back to nose tackle on a full-time basis should help his production, which declined sharply over the last three years following a move to defensive end. Daniels was perhaps the team's most improved player last season, which should lead to an even bigger role this season. Guion, who was cut the Minnesota Vikings, will have to battle for a roster spot.

Elephant: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal.

Analysis: Elephant is a catch-all term for the multiple positions this trio will play. They will be part outside linebacker, part defensive end and part defensive tackle. The addition of Peppers, who was signed last month after being released by the Chicago Bears, should boost the pass rush. Expect Perry to play more on the right side this season, where he was far more impactful last season. These players will actually be tutored by linebackers coach Winston Moss.

Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Victor Aiyewa.

Analysis: Hawk had perhaps his best season last year, but Jones was a disappointment after signing a three-year, $11.75 million contract and could be on shaky ground for a starting job. Lattimore, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his tender, got some playing time last year while Jones was hurt and could push for the starting job. So could Barrington, a promising rookie who missed the second half of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Chase Thomas.

Analysis: Neal and Perry played almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season, so there's a good chance they'll be a big part of this group again. But behind Matthews are a couple of second-year players, Mulumba and Palmer, who played more than anyone expected last year as a rookies. Mulumba, an undrafted free agent, played better than Palmer, a sixth-round pick. Thomas was signed early in the offseason off the street after spending most of last season on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.

Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo.

Analysis: Easily the thinnest position on the roster, there's still likely to be several additions here, probably via the draft. However, McCarthy said cornerback Micah Hyde will get some work at safety. Whether he's a candidate to start next to Burnett (a strong safety), however, remains to be seen. Burnett needs to bounce back from a disappointing season, but there's little reason to think his job is in jeopardy. Richardson returned late last season from a serious neck injury and showed promise. Banjo played more early in the season than he did late last year.

Cornerbacks: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Davon House, James Nixon, Jumel Rolle, Antonio Dennard.

Analysis: This is among the Packers' deepest positions thanks to the return of Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract, and Hayward, who is expected to be healthy after a hamstring injury limited him to just three games last season. Williams closed the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl season of 2010, which is why they kept him despite a $7.5 million salary. Bush had his best season in coverage last year, while House was a disappointment. Nixon's speed makes him an intriguing prospect. Rolle was promoted from the practice squad late last season, while Dennard joined the practice squad late last season.
The Green Bay Packers have four picks in the first 100 selections of the upcoming NFL draft -- something they haven't had since 2008, when they drafted receiver Jordy Nelson (36th), quarterback Brian Brohm (56th), cornerback Pat Lee (60th) and tight end Jermichael Finley (91st).

If draft analyst Mel Kiper were in charge of the Packers' draft room, he'd find plenty of defensive help along with an intriguing tight end prospect. In an ESPN Insider exclusive, Kiper put a different twist on the mock draft. Rather than predicting who he thinks the Packers will pick, he detailed who he would pick if he were in charge.


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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's never too early to start looking ahead to the next class of free agents. That's part of what Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and vice president of player finance Russ Ball have been doing while also dealing with their more immediate concerns.

Although they're not done assembling their roster for 2014, for every move the Packers make now, they must also consider how it will impact their ability to re-sign their players who will be free agents next offseason.

It's not as lengthy a list as it was this offseason, when the Packers had 17 unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents, but next year's group is no less important with receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson at the top of the list of players entering the final year of their contracts.

There's a good chance one or both of them will have their contracts extended before the start of this season. Thompson and Ball no doubt kept enough salary-cap space available -- $16,168,766 to be exact as of the beginning of this week, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- with that in mind.

Here's a look at the players entering the final season of their current contracts:

Offense
Defense

*Scheduled to be a restricted free agent

Also, it's likely tackle Derek Sherrod will be a free agent next offseason. He was part of the 2011 draft class in which all first-round picks signed four-year deals with a club option for a fifth year. It's unlikely the Packers will exercise that option, a decision they must make next month, given that the pay for that option year is expected to be around $9 million for offensive linemen.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers signed Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion in free agency to bolster their defensive line, not necessarily to replace certain players.

That was the takeaway from comments coach Mike McCarthy made at the NFL annual meetings this week when asked about the possibility that free-agent defensive linemen Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett could return to Green Bay.

Both remain on the open market.

However, their situations are different.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Jolly
AP Photo/Tom LynnJohnny Jolly recently was cleared to resume normal offseason workouts after neck surgery in January.
Jolly's is mostly a medical one. He had neck surgery in January to repair a bulging disc that bothered him late last season. Doctors fused together his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae using bone from his hip. He recently was cleared to resume normal offseason workouts.

McCarthy said the Packers remain interested in bringing back the 31-year-old, who returned to football last season after sitting out for three years while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and also spending time in prison.

"Yeah, if it definitely works out, I mean we're monitoring that," McCarthy said. "I think Johnny did a nice job last year. You have to be very pleased for where he started and where he finished. I think he gave us every inch of what he had and then some. I was very pleased with Johnny's contribution last year."

Jolly played last season for the veteran’s minimum of $715,000.

Pickett, 34, made $6.2 million in base salary and bonuses last season in the final year of a four-year, $24.925 million deal. Although he played in all 16 games for the second straight season and missed only four games during his most recent contract, his production dropped off last season, when he recorded only 19 tackles, his fewest since his rookie season of 2001.

"We'll watch what's going on with Ryan," McCarthy said.

There might not be room on the roster for both Jolly and Pickett. Even though McCarthy said Peppers will work mostly with the linebackers, he still has a deep defensive line group. The Packers return Josh Boyd, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Jerel Worthy -- all four of which are still on their rookie contracts. They also plan to return Mike Neal back to the defensive line, at least on a part-time basis, after playing almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season. Nick Perry and Peppers also could split time between the two spots in what McCarthy calls the elephant position.

The Packers also re-signed nose tackle B.J. Raji and brought in Guion, who played for the Minnesota Vikings.

"Let's not forget about Letroy," McCarthy said. "I thought he was an excellent acquisition that we haven't even brought up. I thought he's played very well the last three times we played the Vikings. So he's been an excellent addition to our defensive front."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The seven players the Green Bay Packers signed or re-signed since the start of free agency received a total of $24.175 million in guaranteed money.

However, more than 80 percent of that went to two players -- cornerback Sam Shields ($12.5 million) and defensive end Julius Peppers ($7.5 million).

All of the guaranteed money came in the form of signing bonuses. For salary-cap purposes, that means each player's bonus will be prorated over the life of the contract. For example, Shields' bonus will count for $3.125 million on the salary cap during each of the contract's four years.

Let's review the highlights of each deal the Packers have done:

Sam Shields, CB
  • Details: Four years, $39 million, including a $12.5 million signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $15 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $5,562,500.
  • Full breakdown available here.
Julius Peppers, DE
  • Details: Three years, $26 million, including a $7.5 million signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $8.5 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $3.5 million
  • Full breakdown available here.
B.J. Raji, DT
  • Details: One year, $4 million, including a $500,000 signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $4 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $4 million
  • Full breakdown available here.
Mike Neal, OLB/DE
  • Details: Two years, $8 million including a $2.5 million signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $5 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $3.75 million.
  • Full breakdown available here.
James Starks, RB
  • Details: Two years, $3.165 million including a $750,000 signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $1,732,813.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $1,370,313.
  • Full breakdown available here.
Andrew Quarless, TE
  • Details: Two years, $3 million including a $350,000 signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $1.425 million.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $1.25 million.
  • Full breakdown available here.
Letroy Guion, DT
  • Details: One year, $985,000 including a $100,000 signing bonus.
  • 2014 cash value: $985,000.
  • 2014 salary-cap charge: $985,000.
  • Full breakdown available here.
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Vikings made their final round of cuts Aug. 31, trimming their roster to 53, they had a nine-man group of defensive linemen that looked like this:

Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, Chase Baker and George Johnson.

Williams

Griffen
The group was highlighted, as usual, by two productive pass rushers, but four of its nine players were over 30. The group lacked bulk up the middle and depth at the end of the group, and the Vikings were waiting on a breakout year from Griffen that never really came.

Six months later, after a sweeping set of changes precipitated by a new coaching staff, the Vikings' top eight defensive linemen currently look like this:

Robison, Floyd, Griffen, Evans, Linval Joseph, Corey Wootton, Tom Johnson and Baker, with a draft pick or two possibly coming.

Five players in that group will be 27 or younger by the start of the season. Robison and Evans will be the oldest at 31, and in Joseph, the Vikings have their first true road grader since Pat Williams.

It's a striking overhaul to a position that had been the Vikings' hallmark for years under Allen and Kevin Williams. This group still could be the identity of Mike Zimmer's defense, but it figures to be younger, nastier and tougher up the middle, befitting a defense that's designed to be structurally sound and stout against the run.

In some ways, this had been coming since last spring, when the Vikings drafted Floyd, decided not to pursue a contract extension for Allen and asked Williams to void the 2014 season on his contract while taking a $2.5 million pay cut in 2013. Both Allen and Williams sensed it at the end of the season, giving a handful of valedictory speeches in December press conferences and talking about how their relationship would continue once they were done playing together.

Allen and the Vikings decided to part ways before the start of free agency, and while general manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings would keep the door open for Willliams, it seemed obvious the Vikings had other plans. Williams said Wednesday he hadn't heard from the Vikings in a week, and the team signed Johnson to add depth at the three-technique tackle position the same day. And then, to make the inevitable somewhat official, he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday night he was even more sure his time with the Vikings was over.

It's a coldly efficient way for one of the Vikings' great defensive players to see his time with the team end, but it's the order of the NFL in 2014. The Vikings have swept through their defensive line remodel with little attachment to their past, and they've come out from at least the first phase of it with a markedly different look to the group. The ultimate success of their plan will depend on young players -- most notably Griffen and Floyd -- turning their potential into legitimate production, but at some point, the Vikings had to detach from their past and attempt going in this direction.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Shortly before free agency opened, the Green Bay Packers had the sixth-most salary-cap space in the NFL.

Since then, they have re-signed cornerback Sam Shields, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, tight end Andrew Quarless, tendered restricted free-agent linebacker Jamari Lattimore and added free-agent defensive linemen Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion.

They began the month with nearly $34.2 million in cap space and even after all that activity, they still have about half of that remaining.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had $20,627,413 in available cap space as of the start of the second week of free agency. However, that did not include Raji’s one-year, $4 million contract. It also did not include the new two-year deal that running back James Starks has agreed to but has yet to be announced by the team.

According to NFL Players Association salary information, counting the Packers' top-51 players under contract -- which is all that must be counted for cap purposes at this time of the year -- the Packers still had $17,024,449 in salary-cap space as of the start of business on Wednesday. That also did not include Starks' contract.

The Packers will need around $5 million for their rookie salary pool but even accounting for that, general manager Ted Thompson still has room to maneuver.

Among the things he has to consider is having enough space to extend the contracts of receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, both of whom are entering the final years of their contracts. Their situation likely played a role in Thompson's decision not to re-sign receiver James Jones, who signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Oakland Raiders on Monday.
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then will deliver the answers over the weekend.

MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Minnesota Vikings were going to have the kind of defensive line Mike Zimmer wanted -- one that could stand up against the run, occupy blockers and give linebackers the room to run free -- they needed the kind of junkyard dog lineman they haven't had since Pat Williams. They needed a big, hulking presence who tips the scales at more than 300 pounds and can take on two blockers at a time. They needed someone who would be hard to move at the point of attack.

Joseph
They needed someone like Linval Joseph.

The Vikings' first external signing of the free-agency period was made to fill a sizable need in the middle of their line -- and not just because Joseph checks in at 6-foot-4 and 323 pounds. After gambling on the undersized Letroy Guion's ability to succeed Williams at the position, the Vikings' run defense had gone from formidable to mediocre at best. Gone were the days of the Williams Wall, when Pat and Kevin Williams made the Vikings nearly impenetrable and forced teams to try their luck against the team's effective pass rush. The Vikings needed a tackle like Joseph to help them move back in that direction -- especially with the style of defense Zimmer wants to play.

The move, which will cost the Vikings a handsome $31.5 million over the next five years, helps them remake the defense in Zimmer's image. Before his linemen think about shooting gaps, they're instructed to engage offensive linemen and keep them from getting to the linebackers. It's not all that different than what linemen are asked to do in a 3-4 scheme (though the Vikings are sticking with a 4-3), and since Pat Williams left, the Vikings haven't had anyone who could affect an offensive front like Joseph could. Joseph has managed to post nine sacks in the past three years, even while fulfilling his responsibilities as a run defender, so the guess here is the Vikings were fairly high on him.

Now, they'll have three high-paid players (Joseph, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison) and a first-round pick (Sharrif Floyd) set to start on their line. It's not impossible that Kevin Williams could come back as a rotational player, but as we've discussed, he'd find a markedly different scheme than what he's used to in Minnesota if he does return.

The Joseph signing made it clear how high a priority the Vikings placed on fixing the first line of Zimmer's defense. It's not a top-of-the-page headline-grabber, but if Joseph does his job, it's a sensible move that fills a critical need on the Vikings' defense.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings continued to remake their defensive line on Thursday afternoon, releasing defensive tackle Letroy Guion and clearing another $4 million of cap room by shedding the final year of the 26-year-old's deal. That move, along with the release of wide receiver Greg Childs, gives the Vikings more than $41 million in cap room heading into the start of free agency next week.

Allen
If they wanted to, they could certainly use some of it to re-sign veteran defensive linemen Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. But as new coach Mike Zimmer molds the team's defense to fit his scheme, Allen and Williams could find there is not much familiarity in a return to their old team.

Zimmer's defenses traditionally have emphasized run discipline, particularly on the defensive line, over big sack numbers. Both Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson posted double-digit sacks in 2012, but no other Bengals defensive lineman reached double-digit sacks in Zimmer's seven seasons as defensive coordinator. Zimmer said again on Thursday that the Vikings will emphasize run defense in their linemen's techniques and assignments, and added Allen would have to decide whether he would buy into the scheme the coach is planning to run.

"He’s the one that would have to decide that he wants to come back and fit into what we do and how we do it," Zimmer said. "He has to decide how much money that needs to be due for him to buy into doing that. And we’re the ones that have to decide how much we want to pay him for that, too."

Allen has often talked about how he's paid primarily to rush the passer, and said last season -- as he was in danger of seeing his streak of double-digit sack seasons end at seven -- that posting 10-plus sacks means "the world" to him. It sounded like Zimmer was saying, in so many words, that Allen wouldn't be able to count on that happening if he returned to Minnesota. The Vikings will certainly take sacks when they can get them under Zimmer, but they won't be sending their linemen upfield past blockers, especially when an incorrect guess about an offense's play call can leave a defensive end out of position to play the run.

It has already seemed unlikely to me that Allen would be back in Minnesota, simply because other teams could offer him a chance to do what he's done best over the years and put him closer to a championship. The fact that he -- and to a lesser extent, Williams -- would have to adjust his role with the Vikings might make the chances of a return even slimmer.

Meet the free agents: DT Fred Evans

February, 19, 2014
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Every day we'll take a look at one of the Minnesota Vikings heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he'll be back with the club in 2014.

Evans
Free agent to be: Fred Evans

Position: Defensive tackle

Age: 30

Years in the league: 8

What he made last season: $1,750,000 (cap number); $1,500,000 (cash value)

What he did last season: Evans was again a rotational player in the Vikings' defense, splitting time with Letroy Guion at nose tackle. He missed two games with a knee injury, and didn't record a sack after notching two in 2012. Pro Football Focus ranked him the 46th-best defensive tackle in football, rating him slightly below-average. With Guion struggling, and also missing some time because of injury, Evans got 34 percent of the Vikings' defensive snaps, but his play particularly slipped at the end of the year.

His potential market value: He'll likely be able to find a job as a rotational player on a defensive line -- teams are always in the market for serviceable linemen, and Evans' size (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) has helped keep him on the field regularly for most of his career. He certainly won't get a big-time offer, but he should be able to offer some value and find playing time for some team.

Will he still fit the Vikings? It wouldn't be in any kind of major role, but as unsettled as things are for the team at nose tackle right now, Evans could be brought back. The Vikings need an upgrade at the position, and they won't get it by keeping the same personnel they've had in the past, but Evans could be of some use in spot duty.

What happens: Even though the Vikings could bring him back, the guess here is the Vikings let Evans go, choosing to restock the position with younger and cheaper tackles.

Vikings inactives: Rhodes out

December, 29, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Hello from the late, great Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which sees its final NFL game today as the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions finish their seasons (and possibly the tenures of their respective coaches). We'll have plenty more on that later, but from a competitive perspective, today's game will be missing a few things.

Both the Vikings and Lions are out of the playoff chase, both will be missing their star players (Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson) and both will be missing at least two of their top five cornerbacks. For the Vikings, that means rookie Xavier Rhodes will be out with a sprained ankle. Rhodes had been listed as questionable for the game after working out late last week, but he evidently wasn't able to go today. Chris Cook, Shaun Prater and Marcus Sherels will be the Vikings' top three corners today. Not having to defend Johnson will make things easier, but the Lions showed in September they can gash the Vikings' defense with Reggie Bush, too.

Josh Freeman, of course, ends his season on the inactive list, which could bring his bizarre tenure in Minnesota to a close. Freeman has only been active as a backup quarterback since his "Monday Night Football" debacle in October, and it seems unlikely he'll be in the Vikings' plans going forward, unless a new coach would have some strong ties to him.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:

Vikings: Xavier Rhodes practices again

December, 26, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In addition to getting Adrian Peterson back on the practice field, the Vikings saw cornerback Xavier Rhodes practice for the second time this week on Thursday, giving coach Leslie Frazier hope the rookie could play in the season finale against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Rhodes
Before he missed the Vikings' past two games with a sprained ankle, Rhodes had been turning into one of the Vikings' best cover corners, and the team especially suffered without him in Cincinnati last weekend, when Chris Cook gave up two touchdown passes in a 42-14 loss. If the Vikings were to get Rhodes back on the field, it could help them against Calvin Johnson and give them one more chance to see the rookie against top competition this year. Cook has typically covered Johnson in Vikings-Lions matchups, but if Rhodes is healthy enough to start, he could see time lined up against Johnson.

The Vikings are also trying to get cornerback Shaun Prater back from a sprained ankle, and coach Leslie Frazier said his starters would depend on "how healthy they are."

"They should all be out there tomorrow," Frazier said. "We'll figure out how healthy they all actually are."

Frazier also said running back Toby Gerhart looks like a long shot to play Sunday; Gerhart was not on the practice field again on Thursday with a strained hamstring.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:

Vikings: Jennings, Peterson sit out

November, 20, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Both wide receiver Greg Jennings and running back Adrian Peterson sat out of the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Wednesday, but coach Leslie Frazier was hopeful that both would be ready for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

The Vikings will try to get Jennings, who was a surprise scratch on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks with a strained right Achilles tendon, a full day of practice on Thursday, Frazier said. Though he added Jennings "had some soreness" on Wednesday morning. The coach, meanwhile, is "cautiously optimistic" Peterson will be able to play after being limited by a strained groin against the Seahawks.

"We'll see what we need to do this week. Is he able to practice today or tomorrow, or do we hold him back until Friday?," Frazier said. "We'll make that determination this afternoon when we sit down and talk with our trainers."

In other Vikings injury news:
  • The Vikings were also without center John Sullivan, who had not cleared the NFL's concussion protocol in time to practice on Wednesday. Joe Berger is preparing to start if Sullivan is not cleared before Sunday.
  • Linebacker Erin Henderson missed practice, but the team said the reason for the middle linebacker's absence was not injury-related.
  • Tight end Kyle Rudolph (fractured foot) and cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) were out of practice.
  • Tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (chest) and linebacker Michael Mauti (knee) were limited.
  • Lastly, wide receiver Greg Childs returned to practice for the first time since tearing the patellar tendons in both knees last August. The Vikings have three weeks to activate the second-year player from the physically-unable-to-perform list or put him on injured reserve, but Childs was still hopeful he could see game action this season. "I’m going to work hard and I”m going to get on the field," he said. "There was never a doubt that I was ever going to play again."

Jennings inactive, Simpson benched

November, 17, 2013
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SEATTLE -- Hello from CenturyLink Field, where we're getting the day started with a bang for the Minnesota Vikings: Wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who was arrested last Saturday for drunken driving, has indeed been benched, as was expected most of the week.

What was not expected was that receiver Greg Jennings, who was listed as probable with a strained Achilles tendon, would be inactive.

Jennings will indeed sit out this afternoon's game against the Seattle Seahawks, which means rookie Cordarrelle Patterson and second-year receiver Jarius Wright will be the Vikings' starters at receiver. Simpson will likely see some action today, but for Patterson -- who's been indoctrinated slowly in the offense after the Vikings picked him in the first round -- this is a big opportunity.

It comes against one of the league's best defenses, and it comes with Percy Harvin (whom the Vikings traded away in March) on the other sideline. Harvin will return from hip surgery to play for the Seahawks today, and while he's only expected to see about 15 snaps, the Vikings know well he has the potential to alter the game on a single play.

So does Patterson, though, and today, he'll get his chance to show that as a receiver after scoring two touchdowns this season as a kick returner. The Vikings gambled when they traded Harvin and gave Jennings -- who had missed 11 games in the previous two seasons -- $18 million guaranteed the same week. They figured Jennings would steady their receiving corps, while Patterson could replace some of Harvin's explosiveness in time.

But with Jennings out and Simpson starting the game on the bench, Patterson gets a chance to make a statement.

Also inactive for the Vikings are quarterback Josh Freeman and defensive tackle Letroy Guion, which means Matt Cassel will back up Christian Ponder, and Fred Evans -- who missed the Vikings' past two games with a knee injury -- starts at nose tackle. I'd expect we'll see Kevin Williams at nose tackle a fair amount today.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:

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