NFC North: Russell Wilson

TAMPA, Fla. – Former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik said Wednesday on WDAE 620 AM that he prefers Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota over Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

“I just think it’s easier to get to a point where you’re comfortable with Mariota,’’ said Dominik, who now works as an analyst for ESPN.

Mariota
Dominik acknowledged there are off-field questions about Winston. But he also said there are on-field questions about Mariota, who played in a spread offense in college.

”Mariota, to me, has a lot of talent, a lot of tools that you really like,’’ Dominik said. “He’s got the quick delivery, he gets the ball out of his hands, he makes smart decisions. You look at his touchdown to interception ratio. I know he plays in a system that’s certainly suited to what he does. That’s not his fault. Chip Kelly, everybody wondered if his offense could work in the National Football League and it worked just fine. The things on Mariota are the dropbacks, the five-step, the seven-step, how is he going to handle pressure? Those are the things you can figure out.’’

Dominik said Mariota's pro day and his private visit with the Bucs will be chances for the team to see if he can transition to a pro-style offense.

“When they do that, certainly the big thing for Tampa Bay is going to be take a snap under center, give me a three-step, give me a five-step, give me a seven-step,’’ Dominik said. “Obviously, the moving is great for both quarterbacks. We think of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. There aren’t as many Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings anymore. There’s a lot more of the movement and both quarterbacks do that well. With Mariota you’ll have the time to figure that out with those two workouts because those are critical as to if you’re going to make the pick or not.’’
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Lest you had any doubt about which team the Green Bay Packers -- or at least a couple of their offensive linemen -- were rooting for in Super Bowl XLIX, David Bakhtiari and T.J. Lang cleared that up as the New England Patriots were putting the finishing touches on their improbable win against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.




Sure, Bakhtiari and Lang were no doubt still bitter over the Packers' collapse against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game two weeks earlier, but there's been an unfriendly rivalry between the two teams ever since the Fail Mary game in 2012. The Packers weren't happy with how the Seahawks celebrated after a game in which they felt the replacement officials handed Seattle the win.

The next year, the Packers played the Seahawks in a preseason game that was chippy to say the least.

Lang's message hit cyberspace shortly after Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin was ejected for instigating a fight following the Patriots' game-clinching interception of Russell Wilson near the goal line in the game's final seconds.

A few minutes later, Lang offered something more politically correct.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – When Clay Matthews was fined $22,050 for his blindside block on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, it closed the door on the Green Bay Packers' fines from the 2014 season.

There were a total of six known fines for actions on the field, not including uniform violations. The total from those fines was $88,197.

There also were at least two known uniform fines – one to Julius Peppers and one to Matthews, both for wearing unapproved shoes.

We have to write "known fines" because the league does not volunteer all information on fines. Rather, they will confirm inquiries about specific players.

Here's a list of the known Packers' fines this season:
  • Matthews: $22,050 for a blindside block vs. Seattle in NFC Championship Game
  • T.J. Lang: $8,268 for unsportsmanlike conduct vs. Dallas in NFC divisional playoff game
  • Sam Barrington: $16,537 for roughing the passer vs. Detroit in Week 17
  • Barrington: $16,537 for horse-collar tackle vs. Buffalo in Week 15
  • JC Tretter: $16,537 for leg whip vs. Philadelphia in Week 11
  • Andrew Quarless: $8,268 for fighting vs. the New York Jets in Week 2
SEATTLE -- Here are some odds and ends to wrap up the week before the Green Bay Packers play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field in the NFC Championship Game:
  • Ear plugs: If you looked closely at quarterback Aaron Rodgers' helmet early in the Week 1 game at CenturyLink Field, perhaps the NFL's loudest stadium, you would have seen that the ear holes were covered with something yellow. Later the in the game, the ear holes were open. We finally got an explanation. "Sometimes [the equipment staffers] put some things in there to try and block out the noise but I never really felt like those worked very well," Rodgers said this week. "So, if they were in there, I'm sure I took them out as soon as I realized they were in there."
  • Comparing run games: In last Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers faced the NFL's second-ranked rushing offense. This Sunday, they face the No. 1 rushing team. But those two teams go about it differently. Running back DeMarco Murray accounted for 78.4 percent of the Cowboys' rushing offense, while quarterback Tony Romo (2.6 percent) was a non-factor in the running game. For Seattle, running back Marshawn Lynch accounted for a team-high 47.3 percent of the rushing yards, but quarterback Russell Wilson had 30.7 percent of the team's rushing yardage during the regular season. "Against the Cowboys, their quarterback is not going to come out there and carry the ball like Russell Wilson," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He's a threat with the ball in his hands. He can make the big play at any time. One of the things that makes their running game as efficient as it is, is when you have to account for the quarterback, you aren't squeezing those run lanes down quite as hard."
  • Follow the leader: Packers coach Mike McCarthy hates comparison questions, which made it surprising to hear him say this week, "If you want a comparison, an improvement from last year, I think our most improvement that I've seen out of our football team is leadership." But does that translate into anything on the field? "It really does," veteran fullback John Kuhn said. "Guys really believed we were going to play for 20, 22 weeks and it wasn't a finish line that we've crossed. We've always been like, we're playing this thing through February."
  • Major underdogs: According the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the Packers are a 7.5-point underdog. If the line stays above 6.5, the Packers would be the biggest underdog in any game (regular season or playoffs) that Rodgers has started. The Westgate listed the Packers as 6.5-point underdog at the New York Giants in 2010, a game the Packers won. However, ProFootballReference.com, which also charts point spreads, says the Packers' biggest underdog game under Rodgers was in the opener at Seattle in Week 1, when the Seahawks were favored by six and won 36-16. "It's one of those things, if you believe you're the underdog, then you've already lost," backup quarterback Matt Flynn said. "We've got the two best teams in NFC going at each other. Both teams think they're the best team in the NFL. Something's got to give."
  • Blowout rematch: This is the fourth NFC Championship Game in the last 20 years to be a rematch of a regular-season game that was decided by 20 or more points. Twice, the team that lost in the regular season won the conference title game. The Packers were involved in one of those. They beat the New York Giants (35-13) in 2007 and then lost to them in the NFC Championship Game in overtime.
  • Face time: In his press conference on Thursday, Capers spoke with reporters for nearly 15 minutes. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements spoke for less than five. That may have nothing to do with why Capers has held two NFL head coaching jobs, while Clements, by most accounts a fantastic offensive coach, hasn't had another interview since he spoke with the Chicago Bears about their opening in 2012. But if owners or general managers care about a coach's public persona, then it just might.
  • A Fox in Chicago: What should the Packers expect next season from the arch-rival Bears under new coach John Fox? A quick turnaround is likely. In his previous two stops, he made an immediate impact. In 2002 with the Carolina Panthers, he took over a 1-15 team. and went 7-9 in his first season. In his second, they went 11-5 and went to the Super Bowl. In 2011 with the Denver Broncos, he took over a 4-12 team and went 8-8 in his first year and 13-3 in his second.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the recent annals of performances by rookie quarterbacks, the number of times Teddy Bridgewater's been taken to the ground has been startling.

The Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback has been sacked 15 times in just four games, or on 11 percent of his dropbacks.

In other words, according to ESPN Stats and Information, Bridgewater is on pace to be the most frequently-sacked rookie quarterback in the league since the Dallas Cowboys' Chad Hutchinson in 2002. He's been pressured on 27.9 percent of his dropbacks, and he's thrown just one touchdown pass against five interceptions so far.

Bridgewater
 I've heard some talk recently about the idea that the Vikings could be "ruining" Bridgewater by exposing him to so much pressure -- and running the risk of either getting him injured or making him skittish -- as a rookie. The name David Carr usually comes up in these conversations as a cautionary tale, after the former first overall pick was subjected to 76 sacks in the Houston Texans' inaugural season, and then another 173 in the following four seasons, before the Texans let him go.

It's true that the list of the most-sacked rookie quarterbacks in history (usually passers playing for bad teams behind leaky offensive lines) includes a number of busts: Carr tops the list at 76, followed by Tim Couch at 56, Jake Plummer at 52, Dieter Brock at 51, Tony Banks at 48 and Rick Mirer at 47. But then we come to names like Warren Moon and Jim Kelly (albeit after time in the CFL and USFL, respectively), and Andrew Luck, who was taken down 41 times as a rookie and pressured on 28.8 percent of his dropbacks while playing for a team that threw the ball 627 times. Phil Simms took 39 sacks as a rookie. Russell Wilson was sacked 33 times, Joe Flacco 32 and Ben Roethlisberger 30.

It'd be one thing to worry if Bridgewater was showing signs of letting the rush affect him, either by taking off early or hurrying throws to avoid sacks. We've seen him rush throws on a couple occasions, but not to the point where I'd attribute it to something more deep-seeded than a rookie still figuring out his timing in the NFL. He rebounded from two interceptions on Sunday, making some of his best throws when he stood in the pocket and fired decisively to a receiver, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner sounded pleased on Thursday with how composed Bridgewater has remained in the face of all the pressure.

"He's got good sense in the pocket. He's getting better at getting the ball out," Turner said. "He threw the ball away a couple times Sunday when there was nowhere to throw it, where against Detroit [on] those plays he took sacks. We're working on getting him a lot quicker, we're working on design to help get the ball out quick, we're working on protection so we don't have to have the conversation about how he handles it."

If the Vikings keep giving up pressure to the point where Bridgewater's sack totals are pushing into the 50s, then we might have something to worry about long-term. But right now, the issue seems to be affecting the Vikings' ability to win in the present more than it's stunting Bridgewater's growth. The amount of pressure the Vikings have allowed is alarming, especially from an offensive line that was supposed to be one of the team's strengths. But the Vikings were drawn to Bridgewater in part because of how masterfully he handled pressure in college, and any sense of a maladjustment because of what he's faced as a rookie probably is premature.
SEATTLE -- You could tell Dom Capers was uncomfortable with the subject.

It was three days before the Green Bay Packers' season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field, and the team's defensive coordinator was holding his weekly session with reporters at Lambeau Field.

And he knows we know.

He knows we have seen it.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson
Elaine Thompson/AP ImagesSeahawks QB Russell Wilson is expecting the unexpected from Dom Capers' defense in Week 1.
He knows, as is the team's right per an agreement between the NFL and the Pro Football Writers of America, that we have been asked to keep any major scheme-specific changes out of our reports from practice.

The most Capers will admit to is there are unscouted looks in every NFL game in Week 1, when coaches finally unveil what they spend all offseason concocting in their offices but refuse to put on film for others to see in the preseason.

But anyone who has spent time around the Packers since they started workouts in April knows this one might be the granddaddy of all unscouted looks.

"Well, I don't think it will be any different from any opening game,” Capers insisted this week. "There’s always a few unscouted looks in opening games. That's just kind of the nature of our business, so I don't think it will be any different from other openers, really."

Really?

Let's talk about that after everyone sees what he throws at the Seahawks.

Maybe Capers will just send out his base 3-4 defense on first down followed by the nickel package (a 2-4-5 alignment) on second down and the dime on third down (a 2-3-6 look) like he did so often last season. But the Packers have no desire to field the 25th-ranked defense in the league again, so that's unlikely.

The Seahawks surely know something new will be coming their way, even if they're not exactly sure what.

"Well, you just have to trust your eyes, you have to trust what you see," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said this week. "I think that obviously Coach Capers, the defensive coordinator for them, is a great defensive coordinator and he knows so many different things and you just study and be prepared. I've played a lot of football games and seen a lot of a lot of different things and so you just try to trust what you see and let rip and be on time, be consistent with your eyes and be consistent with what you're trying to do."

That the Packers now have Julius Peppers, a rare high-priced veteran free-agent signing by general manager Ted Thompson, gives them flexibility on defense. Including Peppers, who will play outside linebacker rather than his old defensive end spot in the Bears' 4-3 scheme, the Packers have 11 linebackers and just five defensive linemen on their roster.

Clearly, there's a reason for so many linebackers and so few linemen.

"It'll be fun to see," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said this week. "I know, as I've seen over the years and as Dom has shown, we keep a multitude of defenses and schemes and formations and this is a team that presents the very same problems, so we'll look to unleash it in Week 1 and hopefully it works in our favor."

Moment in Time: Fail Mary revisited

September, 3, 2014
9/03/14
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SEATTLE -- As painful as the play might have been -- and probably still is -- for Green Bay Packers' fans, the famous Fail Mary touchdown in Seattle nearly two years ago will always have a place in franchise and NFL history.

It will forever be a "Moment in Time," which makes it interesting to revisit the play through the key figures involved in one of the most controversial endings pro football has ever seen. You can do that by clicking on the link above.

What you will find is anger, jubilation, humor and much more from the play's central characters, including the official who made the touchdown call.

Here are some highlights from each:
  • Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who was standing next to team security head Doug Collins while the play was being review: "And I remember talking to Doug saying, 'Hey, they're not playing the replay here. We're going to be fine.' But I had this weird feeling. It reminded me a little bit of the Immaculate Reception. I remember [referee] Wayne [Elliott] comes walking out to the boundary, and I said to Doug, 'Holy s---. He doesn't have the balls to overturn it.' He was scared to death. He looked nervous."
  • Side judge Lance Easley, who made the touchdown call: "I said, 'Oh God, please when I get over to that pile, let someone have clear possession of the ball.' I got over there and looked down, and it was like a meatball with spaghetti wrapped all around it. … By rule, I got it right. By rule, there's nothing else I could do with it."
  • Then-Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, who caught the touchdown: "I actually have a bottle of wine signed by Charles Woodson that says 'Touch-ception' or something like that. M.D. Jennings signed a picture that I also have that says something, but I forgot what it says; I haven't looked at it in a while."
  • Then-Packers safety M.D. Jennings, who thought he intercepted it and said he signed autographs with the postscript "Screwed in Seattle" on pictures for Packers' fans: "It's what they wanted. I did it. The fans loved it."
  • Packers cornerback Sam Shields, who said he knew immediately who had shoved him as the ball was in the air (an act the NFL later said should have been called offensive pass interference): "It was Tate."
  • Packers cornerback Tramon Williams: "I'm looking at M.D., who's got it and has got it against his chest, and I'm saying to myself, 'We won the game.' And you look up at the referee, and you want to get that validation. You look up at the referee, and those guys are looking around like they don't know, and then they call it a touchdown, and it's like, 'No, no, this can't happen.'"
  • Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: "What I liked is Golden had the ball lying on the ground. I know he had the ball on the ground. When do you call it a catch? [Easley] looked down and that's what he saw, so he gave him a touchdown. It was a tremendous play by their guy and our guy, and that's the way he saw it."
  • Seahawks receiver Charly Martin, who also was in the scrum for the ball: "I take a lot of flak, being the white guy who can't jump, because there are some pretty good pictures out there where I am about two inches off the ground and everyone else is skyrocketing over me. I just tell them, 'Hey, they used me. They used me as a springboard.' I kind of boxed them out for Golden, and they pushed me down."
  • Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the man who heaved the pass: "Everybody was a target. I was able to find a player in the back of the end zone and hit him."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It is not uncommon for NFL contracts to become outdated in a hurry.

Someone is always signing a new deal or an extension to become the highest-paid this or the highest-paid that.

Rodgers
So when Colin Kaepernick signed his contract extension with the San Francisco 49ers last week, the initial reports suggested his deal contained more guaranteed money than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s highest-paid player.

On paper, Kaepernick signed a six-year, $114 million extension that contained $61 million in guaranteed money. But in this case, the definition of guarantee is a loose one.

As ESPN’s John Clayton pointed out in his weekend Mailbag column, Kaepernick's deal is much more of a pay-as-you-play contract than the five-year, $110 million extension Rodgers signed on April 26, 2013. Rodgers’ deal was loaded with real guarantees.

Rodgers' signing bonus of $35 million followed by a guaranteed roster bonus of $9.5 million that was paid this March and another one worth $9.5 million due next March brought his guaranteed money to $54 million in real dollars.

For those who were outraged that Kaepernick received more guaranteed money, a closer examination of the deal revealed that those were "soft" guarantees. Kaepernick's yearly guarantees don't become such until April 1 before each season, meaning the 49ers can get out from under the deal at any point without paying those so-called guarantees.

So for the time being, even though Kaepernick has the potential to collect more than Rodgers, it's not accurate to call him the higher paid at this point.

Perhaps the best measure when comparing contracts is a three-year window. Looking at it that way, here's a breakdown of the top quarterback contracts by average per year, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data:
Three of the quarterbacks on the list -- Ryan, Cutler and Kaepernick -- signed their deals after Rodgers did his 14 months ago. In that time, Rodgers' contract has held up. He remains the highest-paid quarterback with a $22 million-per-year average over the life his deal.

Maybe Russell Wilson, the next quarterback likely to cash in, will surpass him. But Kaepernick's deal did not.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Three years ago, the Minnesota Vikings took Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the draft, setting in motion a chain of events that ended -- or at least crossed the start/finish line for a second lap -- on Thursday night, when they spent the 32nd overall pick on Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, hoping to give new coach Mike Zimmer a better solution at quarterback than they gave former coach Leslie Frazier.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWith QB Christian Ponder mostly ineffective in his three seasons in Minnesota, the team will be looking to quickly develop Teddy Bridgewater.
It was no surprise at all the Vikings would take a quarterback high in the 2014 draft, after emerging from the rubble of what turned out to be a disappointing 2011 quarterback class. What was interesting, though, was how much company they had in making a quick pivot at the position.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns became just the fourth, fifth and sixth teams in the common draft era to take a quarterback in the first round for the second time in three years. Before Thursday night, it had never happened twice in the same draft, and it hadn't happened at all since 2005, when the Washington Redskins took Jason Campbell three years after drafting Patrick Ramsey.

There are multiple reasons why it's easier to move on from quarterbacks after the 2011 collective bargaining agreement than it used to be, but the structure of the current CBA -- and the profound changes it's enacted on rookie contracts -- might also be driving teams to be less patient. Gone are the days of contracts like the six-year, $78 million deal the St. Louis Rams had to give No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford in 2010.

It's much less cost-prohibitive to replace a quarterback, with both salaries and contract guarantees down significantly for young players, and there's also an incentive to get players on the field sooner. Four of the final six teams playing last season -- the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts -- all had quarterbacks playing in their rookie deals, and all four got high-level quarterback play at a price that allowed them to spend money on other players. Those teams all have bills coming due for Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, respectively, but they've combined to get seven playoff appearances out of those players while ranking in the bottom half of the league in quarterback spending.

With quarterbacks directing more complex offenses in college and high school, it's easier to expect more out of them at a young age, and while the Vikings have talked about wanting Bridgewater to sit this season, it wouldn't be surprising if they want to have him on the field by 2015. They've got a little extra time, thanks to the fifth-year option that will automatically be added to his contract after they took him in the first round, but one of the best tools in roster construction these days is to have good quarterback play at below-market cost.

If the Vikings can capitalize on those years from Bridgewater, they'll be in great shape to put a playoff team around him. If they can't? Well, as Ponder can attest, it isn't expensive to be impatient in today's NFL.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Well, we've reached draft day at last, which means our series looking at the Vikings' quarterback possibilities comes to a conclusion today. This post will be a quick-hit look at some of the other options in the class. Several of them, like Alabama's AJ McCarron, could be viable possibilities for the Vikings in this draft, so we'll spend more time on some quarterbacks than others in this post, but this is meant to wrap up the series with some final words from our resident experts: ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick (a former pro personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles) and ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson (who used to be a college and pro scout for the Cleveland Browns):

AJ McCarron, Alabama

2013 stats: 67.3 completion percentage, 3,063 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, 31 1/2-inch arm length, 10-inch hand span

Williamson's take: "I don't like McCarron at all, especially not for them. I think he's vastly overrated as a player, and certainly as a passer."

Riddick's take: "I'm not someone who dings players for playing with other good players. AJ has shown more than enough, as far as executing the things you need to see a college quarterback execute, regardless of who he's playing with, to say he projects as being a good pro in the right context. Knowing his background, he's another guy that, despite playing in that pro style, can really benefit from going to a place where footwork, mechanics, progression reading, essentially staying within the structure of the offense and not being given any slack will benefit him greatly. A place like Kansas City -- and I say Kansas City because of Andy Reid -- is the kind of place he really needs to go. I like him a lot."

Aaron Murray, Georgia

2013 stats: 64.8 completion percentage, 3,075 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, 30 5/8-inch arm length, 9 1/8-inch hand span

Riddick's take: "I've talked to people who say, 'Slow down (on his return from a torn ACL).' If you're going to draft him high, understand that it's probably best for him to sit a year, whether that be starting off on the PUP (physically unable to perform list). If it weren't for the knee, and how much it would benefit him to have a quote-unquote 'redshirt' year, and not have to be rushed into action, the only thing you would be noticing about Aaron Murray is the same thing you were noticing about Russell Wilson when he came out. It was just, 'But he's not 6-5.' That's the only thing you would be able to say, because the kid ran an offense that was as multiple as any in college football, and probably as multiple as many in the National Football League. He executed from the pocket, from the shotgun, he executed situational football brilliantly. He made big plays with his feet, he threw on the run. He did every single thing. This past year, he lost his top three receivers, his top two running backs, and was still balling. If it wasn't for the knee, there would be no other reason besides our preconceived notions (to keep him from) being a top-level pick. What else are you going to say? I like Aaron Murray a whole, whole lot."

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

2013 stats: 66.0 completion percentage, 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns, nine interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-2, 226 pounds, 31-inch arm length, 9 1/4-inch hand span

Riddick's take: "Of all these guys, he has the longest road to travel before he's ready. His offense was nothing like what he's going to be asked to do in the NFL, unless they're going to take his offense there. He has so much to learn, just from a footwork perspective. He had a lot of yards last year, a lot of short passes, a lot of bubble screens, didn't look very comfortable in the pocket, didn't look comfortable at all under pressure. He seems to be the most green, and has the biggest road to travel as far as development. He's a great kid, very smart and he has a quick release. He doesn't have a great arm. He's never demonstrated pro-style footwork and/or mechanics, and he played at a lower level of competition, although he dominated that level of competition. To me, it's a very vague projection. It's almost more of a guess. When I start thinking in those terms, I'm not going very high for that player."

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

2013 stats: 56.6 completion percentage, 2,909 yards, 16 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, 34 1/4-inch arm length, 10 7/8-inch hand span

Williamson's take: "He might be a real good fit for Minnesota's offense. He's got a rocket launcher for a right arm, and he's got unbelievable physical characteristics, but he needs time. He's the type of guy that, if you draft him in the second or third round -- the second's probably a little rich -- you'd hope he doesn't see the field at all in 2014. You groom him, you let Norv (Turner) and (Matt) Cassel take him under their wing. To me, he's got more upside than (Zach) Mettenberger, (Tom) Savage, maybe more than anyone in the draft, to be honest with you. I think he's as gifted, and probably more so, in terms of arm strength, athletic ability, size, he's more gifted than anyone else in the draft."
MINNEAPOLIS -- There are just 16 days to go until the 2014 NFL draft, meaning we're firmly in the time of year when general managers are more likely to top off their draft preparations with a dollop of misdirection than a scintilla of truth.

And yet, when Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman described the process of evaluating this year's quarterback class as "torturous" in an interview published Monday, his comments were structured around a consistent theme he's been hitting since the Vikings began draft preparations in earnest three months ago.

"Every one of these quarterbacks ... nothing is a sure thing," Spielman said in a discussion with MMQB.com on Monday. "There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player -- every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feeling, why don’t you just wait ’til later in the draft and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now?"

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWould the Vikings have stayed with Christian Ponder as long as they did if he had been drafted in the second or third round?
Since January, Spielman has been talking about how far and wide the Vikings would search for a quarterback, how careful they would be not to get boxed into drafting one in the first round. He has described this class as being without a sure thing since February and has talked since March about how re-signing Matt Cassel gave the Vikings the freedom to wait on a quarterback.

There are a couple of viable explanations for the consistency. One possibility is that Spielman has been crafting the narrative that the Vikings won't force a quarterback pick at No. 8 for months, possibly to ward off teams that might be interested in leapfrogging the Vikings for a QB or to create a market for trading down. The other scenario is that Spielman is staring at the situation, knowing how damaging the fallout could be for him if he misses on another highly drafted passer, and is mulling the possibility that a first-round quarterback might just be too big of a gamble in this draft.

Plenty of people around the league believe the Vikings won't take a quarterback at No. 8, choosing instead to draft a defensive player or trade back a few spots to accumulate more picks before picking a defender. With the caveat that what you hear from people around the league has to be triple-filtered this time of year, I'm inclined to think it's likely the Vikings wait, for a couple reasons. First, the Vikings still have enough defensive needs that they would be helped sooner by a linebacker or defensive back than they would by drafting a quarterback who needs time to develop. There's some legitimacy to Spielman's statements that the Vikings aren't that far away from being back in the playoffs. That's based on how many close games they might have won with only slightly more efficient quarterbacking and a less porous defense last season. If you believe a full season of Cassel and the prospect of defensive improvement is enough for a quick pivot while Adrian Peterson is still in his 20s, wouldn't it be tempting to consider that route?

The second, and probably more important reason for the Vikings to wait on a quarterback, is this: They've seen just how much time and how many resources can be squandered on a quarterback who doesn't pan out. Peterson was 26 when Christian Ponder made his first start for the Vikings. Percy Harvin was a 23-year-old turning into a breakout star, and Jared Allen was in the midst of a 22-sack season at age 29. The Vikings were in the middle of a rebuilding project under Spielman and Leslie Frazier, but those don't have to take that long in the modern NFL when there are cornerstone players in place.

Heading into 2014, though, Harvin, Allen and Frazier are gone, Ponder has lost the benefit of the doubt, and the Vikings are still trying to figure out their long-term answer at quarterback. Spielman outlived Frazier in Minnesota and got a chance to hire his own coach in Mike Zimmer, but he probably can't survive another big swing and miss at quarterback. If the Vikings were to hitch their fortunes to the wrong guy at No. 8, Zimmer could eventually be dragged down with the GM.

It's interesting to think about what might have happened in 2011 if the Vikings had taken Ponder in the second or third round and if they would have felt less compelled to stand by him. Would they have made a play for Robert Griffin III the next year or taken Russell Wilson instead of Josh Robinson in the third round after Frazier and his staff coached Wilson at the Senior Bowl?

The Vikings might have decided to give Ponder time anyway, but it's difficult to argue any team faces the same pressure to stick by a second-day draft pick as it does with the 12th overall selection. It has to be in the back of Spielman's mind that taking a quarterback later in the draft wouldn't carry the same kind of inherent commitment as drafting one in the top 10, in addition to the fact that passing on QB at No. 8 would give him the opportunity to pick from a dynamic group of defensive players. Considering the quarterbacks that could be in next year's class -- such as Florida State's Jameis Winston, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota -- the Vikings had better know how tethered they want to be to a quarterback they would take this year.

The Vikings are in eight days of pre-draft meetings that conclude next Tuesday, when players return to the team facility for a three-day voluntary minicamp. That event will give Zimmer his first real chance to work with players and make some determinations about what he has in Cassel and Ponder. From there, the Vikings can have their final discussions about how they want to approach the quarterback position. But it seems possible, as it has for months, that they are seriously weighing the benefits of waiting if they're not completely enamored with a QB in the first round.

"How many franchise quarterbacks actually come out?" Spielman said earlier this offseason. "Last couple years, there have been a couple guys that have been taken in the second and third rounds that have been successful. I think there’s some depth in this quarterback class. You’re definitely not going to be forced to take a quarterback at 8 unless you’re totally sold on that quarterback. I can guarantee you that it’s not going to be a forced issue.”

Vikings: Short QBs get a longer look

February, 23, 2014
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The group of quarterbacks the Minnesota Vikings will assess during the lead-up to this year's NFL draft include Central Florida's Blake Bortles (6-foot-5), LSU's Zach Mettenberger (6-foot-4) and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas (6-foot-6). It will also include Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (6-foot-2), Fresno State's Derek Carr (6-foot-2), San Jose State's David Fales (6-foot-1), South Carolina's Connor Shaw (6-foot-0) and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (5-foot-11).

That there are so many shorter quarterbacks near the top of this year's draft class owes plenty to Seattle's Russell Wilson, who stands 5-foot-11 and led the Seahawks to a win over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. It also owes something to New Orleans' Drew Brees, the record-setting quarterback and MVP of Super Bowl XLIV who stands just six feet tall. But it also is because of a changing game that's asking quarterbacks to move more and is setting them up to throw in places where being 6-foot-5 isn't as important as it used to be.

More teams are rolling their quarterbacks out and using moving pockets to neutralize pass rushes and keep defenses uncomfortable. Shotgun and pistol schemes have made it easier for short QBs to find throwing lanes. And players like Wilson have done enough to make general managers realize they might have discredited good QB prospects because of one trait.

"It was height, period," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. "But Ill tell you what: He's going to open the floodgates for people breaking through that stigma of, you need a really tall quarterback. You've got to pinpoint, are people batting down passes? He didn't have a lot of batted balls (in college) at Wisconsin. He's able to find those passing lanes that usually you'd think were solely based on height. But he's been effective."

Manziel's height was as big a topic at the NFL scouting combine as his off-field issues, but the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner said, "I feel like I play like I'm 10 feet tall," and turned heads with an unofficial time in the 40-yard dash of 4.56 seconds (his official time was 4.68). Manziel's hands are nearly 10 inches long, when measured from thumb to pinky, which should eliminate some of the concerns that would naturally come up with his size. The success of quarterbacks like Wilson and Colin Kaepernick should take care of others.

"For those guys, being able to evade a first wave of pass rush, really extend the play just a little bit, be able to move the pocket and do some things like that, it really opens the playbook up a little bit more," Manziel said. " The young guys who are doing that, the guys that I enjoy watching, I think they’re really doing a good job for some of the mobile quarterbacks in college right now."

Shaw, who officially ran a 4.66 40 on Sunday, said he met with the Vikings twice at the combine, and added the team told him "there would be good opportunities if I were to land at that place because they had a little quarterback battle going on." His arm strength has been a concern, and his scouting report on NFL.com says he "can be too jittery vs. pressure and quick to tuck and run" (remind you of anybody?)

But Shaw will be another quarterback who gets a look because of his speed. Thanks to QBs like Wilson, he won't immediately be discredited because of his size.

"There is not a specific mold you have to fit anymore to be an NFL quarterback," he said. "You see Russell Wilson and he’s kind of proved that. He’s got a shiny rock on his finger now and he’s 6-foot. I don’t think there is a prototypical quarterback size anymore."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Three Green Bay Packers ranked among the top 50 NFL players in total retail sales of items in their names.

In a release by the NFL Players Association at this week’s Super Bowl, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 6 overall), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 12) and receiver Jordy Nelson (No. 43) were among the league leaders in sales from September through November of 2013. Both Rodgers and Nelson missed time because of injuries during that period.

NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA, releases the data quarterly. The players association said the list is compiled from “overall total sales of all licensed products from online and traditional retail outlets as reported by more than 65 NFLPI licensees.”

The top-six players on the list all were quarterbacks. Seattle’s Russell Wilson was first followed San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Denver’s Peyton Manning, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, New England’s Tom Brady and Rodgers.

Matthews was the third-highest ranked defensive player behind Houston’s J.J. Watt (No. 7) and Seattle’s Richard Sherman (No. 11), while Nelson ranked eighth among receivers.

NFLN survey/Super Bowl player: Steelers

January, 22, 2014
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Vikings running back Adrian Peterson topped the list in an ESPN NFL Nation survey of the player those polled would most like to see play in a Super Bowl.

Peterson received 59 votes to edge Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez by three votes.

More than 320 NFL players took part in an anonymous, comprehensive survey with Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson finishing third (26 votes) followed by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (15), Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (14) and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (11).

The voting, which aimed to identify worthy players who have never made a Super Bowl, took place before Wilson led Seattle to this year’s title game.

That Peterson beat out Gonzalez is a bit of a surprise to me considering how well-known it was that 2013 would be the latter’s final season in the NFL. Both Gonzalez and Peterson were first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers but Peterson would appear to have his share of chances to play in a Super Bowl -- assuming the Vikings can ever get a quarterback to pair with the transcendent running back.

That Peterson finished first in the survey isn’t just a testament to his greatness but also the respect he earned for rushing for more than 2,000 yards in 2012, less than a year after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.

Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery received two votes in the survey.

 
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Vince Young took a major step toward winning the Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback job Friday in the Packers' 17-10 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The former first-round draft pick outplayed Graham Harrell, who couldn’t produce any points in five series (including four with the starting offensive line).

Young, who replaced Harrell in the third quarter, led an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on his first possession. Although Young nearly threw an interception on his third play, the 30-year-old showed that if nothing else, he can still make plays with his feet. He scrambled for 21 and 18 yards on the touchdown drive. He also showed he can be effective running play-action bootlegs. He hit tight end Andrew Quarless for 16 yards on one such play, which helped set up Young’s 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jonathan Amosa.

Young’s second -- and final -- series was a three-and-out that was ruined by a shotgun snap that sailed over his head. He finished 6-of-7 passing for 41 yards. With one touchdown pass and no interceptions, his rating was 130.7. He rushed three times for 39 yards.

Harrell relieved starter Aaron Rodgers, who got only one series, and played the entire second quarter behind the starting offensive line, plus another series in the third quarter with the No. 2 offensive line. Harrell’s four series with the top offensive line ended with a punt, a fumble by receiver Jarrett Boykin, a turnover on downs after Jermichael Finley dropped a potential touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal at the 2 and another punt. The ball Finley dropped was not a good throw. Harrell, who was 6-for-13 passing for 49 yards with a 52.4 rating, also overthrew several open receivers. His biggest gain was a 25-yard pass-interference penalty on Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

[+] EnlargeVince Young
P Photo/Tom LynnVince Young, bidding to back up Aaron Rodgers, led the Packers to their only touchdown Friday.
Here’s a rundown of the rest of the night:

  • In his lone series, Rodgers went 10 plays and completed 4 of 7 passes for 41 yards. It led to a 38-yard Mason Crosby field goal. It was the Packers’ only possession of the first quarter. In last year’s third preseason game at Cincinnati, Rodgers played the entire first half -- 41 plays over six series. Rodgers took a hard hit on his final play, when center Evan Dietrich-Smith appeared to be late to pick up defensive end Benson Mayowa on a loop move to the inside.
  • In his preseason debut, running back DuJuan Harris looked rusty and might have reinjured his knee. He rushed for 2 yards on three carries but missed an opportunity for a big gain when he failed to bounce a first-quarter run outside, where there was a big hole. Harris missed the first two preseason games because of a knee injury and then limped off the field in the second quarter and did not return.
  • Rookie running back Eddie Lacy had no running room. In eight carries, he had minus-5 yards.
  • Safety Morgan Burnett dropped out after the first series with an apparent hamstring injury.
  • First-round draft pick Datone Jones, who had played only one preseason snap before Friday because of the ankle injury he sustained Aug. 9 against Arizona, was questionable entering this game after dropping out of practice Wednesday. But after going through warm-ups with no problems, he played a handful of plays in the first half, mostly as the lone defensive lineman in coordinator Dom Capers’ “Bat” package, which is a variation of a dime defense.
  • Outside linebacker Clay Matthews rushing against a running back is a matchup the Packers would take every time. On a five-man rush, Matthews easily beat Seahawks running back Robert Turbin and sacked Russell Wilson.
  • Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari had a rough series in the second quarter, when he was called for a holding penalty that wiped out an 11-yard run by Lacy and then got beat on an inside move by linebacker Mike Morgan, who tipped a Harrell pass.
  • Crosby rebounded from his woeful practice Wednesday, when he missed three consecutive field goals. He made his only field goal attempt of the night, the 38-yarder in the first quarter.
  • Rookie safety Chris Banjo helped his case for the No. 4 safety job. He stopped tight end Luke Willson a yard short of the first-down marker on a third-and-5 pass in the second quarter. He also made a tackle on special teams.
  • Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, who caught the controversial touchdown pass on the Hail Mary at the end of the Seahawks’ victory over the Packers last season, was booed when he took the field to return a second-quarter punt.
  • Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian both intercepted Wilson. It was Hayward's preseason debut after missing the first two games because of a hamstring injury.
  • The first half was very chippy and had several altercations and near fights.
  • The Packers dropped to 1-2 in the preseason.
  • The following players were not in uniform: WR Randall Cobb (biceps), CB James Nixon (ankle, knee), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Tramon Williams (knee), OL JC Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Matthew Mulligan (elbow), WR Jordy Nelson (knee) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).

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