NFC North: Ryan Longwell

We're Black and Blue All Over:

As we navigate another summer of drama regarding a former Green Bay Packers player now in a Minnesota Vikings uniform, it's worth noting that in most cases, time heals all (or most) wounds.

Look no further than place-kicker Ryan Longwell, who retired Tuesday as a member of the Packers -- eight years after signing with the Vikings with some admittedly hard feelings. Longwell told reporters in Green Bay: "I know a lot of us have migrated that way, and most of us migrate back."

Quarterback Brett Favre will one day do the same, and Longwell believes that even receiver Greg Jennings will eventually be a member in good standing of the Packers family.

"Everything takes time," Longwell said, "and everything will happen. I have no doubt that Greg is loved here and will be loved here eventually, and Brett, I think that thing is pretty close. I think they’re in a good spot, everybody, and I think time heals everything and everything will be made right when the time is right."

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Longwell is the best kicker in franchise history, based on field goal accuracy, so it seemed only natural for him to return home. And it was apparent the Packers organization, which gave him his first NFL kicking job, and the city of Green Bay still hold a special place in his heart."
  • Packers cornerback Davon House wasn't happy with his performance in last Friday's preseason opener, writes Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sizes up the Packers' roster.
  • Should Packers receiver Randall Cobb have practiced Tuesday? Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com takes a look.
  • Vikings coach Leslie Frazier took his team to a movie Monday night. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tells you which one.
  • The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority has put the Vikings' stadium deal on hold while it conducts due diligence into Wilf family finances after the team's owners were found guilty in a civil case in New Jersey. More from Richard Meryhew of the Star Tribune.
  • Joe Webb gives the Vikings versatility as a receiver/quarterback, despite what the team says, argues Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus suggests the Vikings move longtime "under" tackle Kevin Williams to nose tackle. Monson: "A move to NT for Williams would help disguise his lost step, allow quicker DTs on the roster to play in their natural position, and fill the void that Minnesota hasn’t been able to patch since Pat Williams retired all in one act."
  • Getting to the bottom of the Vikings' seeming two-toned purple uniforms.
  • Robert Klemko of MMQB.com investigates what has happened to former Detroit Lions receiver Titus Young.
  • Chemistry between Lions running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matthew Stafford is improving, according to Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • It doesn't look like the Lions will play Louis Delmas in the preseason. More from Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • The Lions continue to give veteran Jake Scott first-team reps at right guard, writes Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com.
  • My take on Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's comments on growing up.
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "There is no telling yet what the Bears will become on offense this season, but any questions about everyone buying into Marc Trestman's new program were answered sufficiently in nearly three weeks of training camp."
  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Say what you will, watch what you want, but this Bears season is about Jay Cutler. And for reasons I'll explain that make me -- and, I'm guessing, you -- very nervous."
  • It sure doesn't look like J'Marcus Webb is going to get his right tackle job back, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com, and he might not even make the team.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ryan Longwell had to know the question would come: What if his old team, the Green Bay Packers, called him back for a tryout?

“I’m done,” Longwell said Tuesday when he returned to Green Bay to retire as a member of the Packers. “I’m done kicking.”

But that doesn’t mean he won’t help the team he played for from 1997-2005 with their kicking situation. Longwell stuck around long enough after his retirement news conference to watch practice and talk with veteran kicker Mason Crosby and his challenger for the job, Giorgio Tavecchio.

[+] EnlargeRyan Longwell
Sporting News/Sporting News/Getty ImagesKicker Ryan Longwell retired from the NFL on Tuesday as a member of the Green Bay Packers.
Longwell has connections to both kickers. He befriended Crosby after he left Green Bay and signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2006. The two have kept in regular contact, and Longwell has been a public supporter of Crosby even throughout Crosby’s struggles last season, when he made a league-worst 63.6 percent of his field goals. Meanwhile, Longwell and Tavecchio share the same alma mater, the University of California.

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to talk to Ryan throughout my career and obviously followed him before I got here,” Crosby said. “It’s awesome today that he got to retire as a Packer. … I pick his brain sometimes on different things, but at the same time today was really awesome for him.”

When asked if he had any advice for Crosby, Longwell said: “I think as long as his rhythm is fine, he’s one of the best in the league.”

Longwell saw the Packers’ kickers at their best. Both went 8-for-8 in practice, converting field goals of 33, 34, 39, 43, 45, 48, 50 and 54 yards. Crosby got off to a horrible start in camp, missing five of eight field goals during the Family Night scrimmage but has gone 15-for-16 the past two days in practice and is 30-of-39 this summer. Tavecchio went 16-for-16 the past two days to improve to 35-of-39.

Crosby’s problems have been described as mental, and Longwell agreed.

“Kicking is, I’ve always said, 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental,” Longwell said. “I think the good Lord gave me an above average ability to swing my right leg and a really, really strong mind and faith. That’s what it takes to kick in this league. I think [Crosby and Tavecchio] need live kicks, and they need the live situation. As long as they both have the right mindset, I see it working out the way it should.”

Here were some other developments from Tuesday’s practice:

  • Rookie receiver Kevin Dorsey practiced for the first time since July 27, when he dropped out because of a hamstring injury. It was the first time in full pads for the seventh-round pick from Maryland, but he did not take any snaps during team (11-on-11) periods. Dorsey also missed most of the offseason workouts because of injuries and is facing an uphill battle to make the team. “There’s a lot of football left,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We have three [preseason] games left. There have been no decisions that have been made this week. We tell our players all the time your most important ability is availability. It’s something we need to do a better job [of as] a football team. I’m just glad to see him back out there.”
  • With Ryan Pickett attending to a family matter, Mike Daniels worked at left defensive end in the base defense with the starters.
  • Running backs DuJuan Harris (knee) and Eddie Lacy (hamstring) both were limited to individual drills.
Medical report: Cornerback Casey Hayward, who led all NFL rookies last season with six interceptions, will miss at least another week of training camp. Hayward remains on the physically unable to perform list because of the hamstring injury he sustained while working out prior to camp.

“Casey Hayward’s injury is going to take time,” McCarthy said. “Communication from Casey and the medical staff is he’s made a lot of progress in the last five or six days. As far as a timeline, I think we’ll have a better understanding next week how close he is.”

Others who missed practice were WR Charles Johnson (knee), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Tramon Williams (knee), G T.J. Lang (back), OL JC Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Andrew Datko (concussion), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Andrew Quarless (quad), TE Ryan Taylor (knee), WR Jordy Nelson (knee), DE Datone Jones (ankle) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).

What’s next: Wednesday’s practice is at 11:15 a.m. CT.
Before he stepped to the podium to retire as a member of the Green Bay Packers on Tuesday morning, kicker Ryan Longwell talked on the phone with Brett Favre.

And Longwell, the Packers’ all-time career kicking leader and one of Favre’s closest friends, came away with no doubt that someday soon Favre would be standing in the same spot he is.

“I think that thing is pretty close,” said Longwell, who like Favre played for both the Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. “I think they’re in a good spot, everybody. And I think time heals everything and everything will be made right when the time is right.”

Longwell spoke for 25 minutes about his time with the Packers, leaving for the Vikings and his infamous (and he says misunderstood) shot at Green Bay’s restaurant scene. I’ll have more on Longwell later, but the Packers are about to hit the practice field.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

How concerned should the Chicago Bears be about their offense? ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright examined that question as part of this Four Downs post.

Dickerson wrote that despite the ample set of skill players on the offense, it hasn't looked sharp, and that quarterback Jay Cutler has been intercepted "far too often." Those interceptions might be cause for concern, but Wright countered: "It's important to remember that the Bears are executing a brand new offense, and the truth is the first-teamers executed fairly well" in the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.

My sense is that it's unreasonable to expect the Bears to work out all of their kinks before the regular season starts. The development of the offense will continue into the regular season. The trick is finding enough things they can do well right away to give them a chance to win during the early part of their schedule.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Bears need defensive ends Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin to elevate their games regardless of who starts, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The Bears just can’t seem to get the offensive line right. As long as that’s an issue, we never really will get a definitive answer about whether Cutler is the franchise quarterback so many people desperately want him to be. It’s like trying to judge the talent of an artist who uses defective brushes."
  • Detroit Lions teammates think that tight end Brandon Pettigrew is poised for a career year. More from Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com.
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press checks in with Lions quarterback hopeful Thaddeus Lewis.
  • Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News profiles Lions undrafted rookie Darren Keyton, a local product trying to make the team as an offensive lineman.
  • Minnesota Vikings players failed in a (somewhat) light-hearted attempt to convince coach Leslie Frazier to not have a full-pads practice Monday. More from Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
  • Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "As the Vikings have waited to get a look at Desmond Bishop in a game at weak-side linebacker, they've been able to evaluate Marvin Mitchell, who has been practicing with the first team at the position and started there in the preseason opener last Friday. Mitchell, who played 11 games and started one at middle linebacker for the Vikings last year, re-signed with the team on a one-year deal last spring. He has put himself in the mix for a starting job, especially as Bishop misses time with a groin injury."
  • Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke needs to even out his performances, writes Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Green Bay Packers running back DuJuan Harris is hoping to back up coach Mike McCarthy's faith in him, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • There was a grain of truth to the "Applebees line" of former Packers place-kicker Ryan Longwell, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. Longwell is set to retire as a Packer on Tuesday.
  • The Packers' place-kicker competition has intensified, writes ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Lane Taylor might be this year's Don Barclay."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Before practice on Tuesday morning, kicker Ryan Longwell will retire from the NFL as a member of the Green Bay Packers.

Before he does, the Packers might want to put their all-time leading scorer through one last workout. Even at age 38, he might be a better option than what they have.

Longwell, who asked for permission to retire as a Packer, played in Green Bay from 1997-2005 before signing with the Minnesota Vikings. He spent six years in Minnesota but was out of football in 2012 until the Seattle Seahawks signed him for their divisional playoff game after kicker Steven Hauschka strained a calf muscle. Longwell still holds the Packers’ records for points (1,054), field goals (226) and field goal percentage (81.6).

[+] EnlargeMason Crosby (2) and Giorgio Tavecchio
AP Photo/Mike RoemerThe Packers are ramping up the kicking competition between Mason Crosby, No. 2, and Giorgio Tavecchio.
Now, the Packers are staging a full-fledged kicking competition between veteran Mason Crosby, who last season converted an NFL-worst 63.6 percent of his field goals, and first-year kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

Coach Mike McCarthy ramped up that competition on Monday in large part because the Packers were so inept on offense in Friday’s 17-0 loss to the Arizona Cardinals that they didn’t attempt any field goals. And once again, there were signs of problems by Crosby on Monday. On a perfect day with little wind, Crosby had the only miss of a 16-kick period, when he was wide left from 46 yards. Both kickers attempted two kicks each from 36, 42, 46 and 53 yards. Crosby went 7-for-8, while Tavecchio made all eight. For the entire camp, Crosby is 22-of-31, while Tavecchio is 27-of-31.

“I thought they hit the ball better than the last time we lined them up,” McCarthy said. “We increased the volume; we need to continue to do that. We’re kicking every other day, and we just can’t do enough of it.”

While Tavecchio’s numbers look better, there are reasons for the Packers to be concerned about him, too. He uses a three-step approach, unlike Crosby’s two-step method, which means it could take him more time to get to the ball after it is snapped. Packers special-teams coach Shawn Slocum wants the ball to be kicked 1.3 seconds after it is snapped to avoid getting blocked.

“I know Coach Slocum has brought up a couple of good points about being quick on the get off,” Tavecchio said.

Tavecchio’s leg strength also is a question. On Monday, he showed more distance than in some recent sessions, but it remains to be seen whether he’s strong enough to handle cold-weather kicking conditions.

“I haven’t experienced that kind of weather yet,” said Tavecchio, a native of Italy who played college football at the University of California. “When I get there, hopefully I get there because that means I’m still around, I’ll deal with it.”

Here were some other developments from Monday’s practice:

  • It was the first session this summer that was closed to the public. It was a non-padded practice that McCarthy said focused on “potential concepts” that he did not want seen or written about.
  • Rookie receiver Tyrone Walker, the undrafted free agent from Illinois State, who had a team-high five receptions in the loss to the Cardinals, received increased playing time with the starting offense and may be challenging Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross for the No. 4 or 5 receiver spot.
  • Rookie cornerback Micah Hyde, a fifth-round pick from Iowa, replaced Davon House as the starting right cornerback. House struggled against the Cardinals, allowing a 38-yard touchdown pass and completions of 18 and 36 yards. When the Packers went to their nickel package on Monday, House replaced Hyde on the outside, and Hyde played in the slot. Hyde and House have received increased reps while Casey Hayward (hamstring) and Tramon Williams (knee) remain sidelined.
  • McCarthy defended his decision to practice last Thursday, the day before the preseason opener. It was originally scheduled as a full-pads practice but was held without pads. He said that workout had nothing to do with the team’s poor performance against Arizona. “I don’t think there was a player who played above 35 plays,” McCarthy said. “If we can’t play with energy for 60 minutes after practicing Thursday, then those individuals aren’t going to be here. We’ve been very conscientious how we’re repping our football team, and I can’t be any more conscientious, frankly.”
Medical report: With right guard T.J. Lang resting his sore back, it was impossible to tell what the Packers have planned at right tackle. Don Barclay, who outperformed starting right tackle Marshall Newhouse against the Cardinals, played almost exclusively at Lang’s spot on Monday while Newhouse remained at right tackle.

First-round draft pick Datone Jones missed practice because of the sprained left ankle he sustained against the Cardinals but isn’t expected to be out for more than a few days.

Receiver Randall Cobb, who missed the Arizona game because of a biceps injury, practiced with a wrap on his upper right arm.

Others who missed practice were WR Kevin Dorsey (leg), WR Charles Johnson (knee), RB Eddie Lacy (hamstring), S Sean Richardson (neck), OL JC Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Andrew Datko (concussion), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Andrew Quarless (quad), TE Ryan Taylor (knee), WR Jordy Nelson (knee) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee)

What’s next: The Packers have a full-pads practice that is open to the public on Tuesday at 11:15 a.m. CT.
Tuesday's SportsNation chat brought a nuanced discussion amid the continuing intra-division flow from the Green Bay Packers to the Minnesota Vikings. It's usually assumed that successful general managers only allow veteran players to leave when their careers are on the downturn, but that hasn't always been the case with the Packers' Ted Thompson.

The difference: Thompson is willing to part ways with still-productive veterans when he is relatively certain he either has a suitable replacement or that he can find one imminently. The relevant discussion:

JR. Eau Claire Wi [via mobile]

When will the Vikings start paying Ted Thompson for being their GM too?

Kevin Seifert (2:02 PM)

Ha. Was talking about this the other day with someone. The Packers have been so good at developing young talent that their castoffs are more than worth sifting through. When the Packers release someone or let them leave via free agency, it doesn't mean they can't play anymore. It just means the Packers have younger and/or cheaper players they want to use instead.

Mike (Wisconsin)

Referring to my earlier comment, Thompson had [Aaron] Rodgers and [Mason] Crosby to replace [Brett] Favre and [Ryan] Longwell. They're still trying to find a guard to replace [Mike] Wahle/[Marco] Rivera and a pass rushing 3 down DE like [Cullen] Jenkins. Nick Collins also effectively replaced [Darren] Sharper who also had a few good years left. The career ending injury was more of a fluke thing but you can't deny Packers had Collins to replace Sharper.

Kevin Seifert (2:26 PM)

There's a difference between having good players to replace departed veterans, which the Packers did, and letting players go when you judge their careers to be done, which the Packers did not. They have released players who still have some tread on the tires. In most cases it was prompted by having a worthy replacement on hand, but that doesn't mean those players' careers were over when they were released.

Otto (Happy Hour)

About the Thompson comments. It was definitely an unknown that Rodgers would develop into the league's best QB. Remember early in his career the talk was can he stay healthy enough to replace a legend.

Kevin Seifert (2:30 PM)

True from the outside, but while the Packers didn't know Rodgers would become an MVP, they did feel very confident that he was ready to play at a high level. If their backup at the time was, say, Graham Harrell, I think they would have been more receptive to Favre's return.

One addendum to that discussion: Longwell departed after the 2005 season, and in 2006 the Packers used Dave Rayner as their place-kicker. They made Crosby a sixth-round draft pick in 2007.
Chris KluweTom Dahlin/Getty ImagesChris Kluwe ranked No. 31 last season in punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Here's the key question to consider after the Minnesota Vikings made it official Monday and released punter Chris Kluwe: Would Kluwe be an ex-Viking today if he had never campaigned for gay rights, Hall of Fame candidacies and other issues?

My informed guess: Probably.

So what impact did Kluwe's public advocacy play in the Vikings' decision? It moved the odds from "probably" to "certainty," erasing any equity his eight-career with the franchise might otherwise have built.

I know that explanation won't satisfy those of you who are convinced the Vikings targeted Kluwe because he took on a politically and socially sensitive issue. It's easy to see this move, contextualize it with the Baltimore Ravens' release of special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, and suspect an agenda against NFL players who get involved in the gay rights issue.

I just don't think it's that simple. When viewed through the bigger picture of NFL business, and in the context of the Vikings' personnel approach over the past 16 months, you realize that Kluwe's off-field life was at best the final shove at the end of the plank.

The facts:

  • Kluwe finished 2012 ranked No. 31 among NFL punters in a statistic the Vikings value highly: punts downed inside the 20. Of Kluwe's 72 punts, 18 settled in what the league considers poor field position. By comparison, the Chicago Bears' Adam Podlesh nearly doubled Kluwe's total among his 81 punts. Podlesh finished with 34, while Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay had 30 in 70 punts.
  • Kluwe set a career high with a 39.9-yard net average, but that mark still ranked in the lower half (No. 18 overall) among punters.
  • In a relatively flat salary-cap era, the Vikings had an opportunity for significant savings. Because of a rarely needed NFL rule, Kluwe has no acceleration remaining on his six-year deal. Thus, all of his projected $1.45 million cap figure has been erased. His replacement, Jeff Locke, will count about a third of that total. In two years, in fact, the Vikings have shaved 23 years off the combined age of their punter and place-kicker and have lowered their cap commitment for those roles by two-thirds.

So in cold business terms, the Vikings had a 31-year-old punter who turned in a below-average performance last season and was entering the final year of his contract. They had several options, including keeping Kluwe for one more season, before deciding whether to re-sign him.

But if you've watched general manager Rick Spielman operate since January 2012, when he was promoted to his current role, you know he has systematically bid farewell to 30-plus-year-old players. The list ranges from guard Steve Hutchinson to linebacker E.J. Henderson to cornerback Antoine Winfield, and it has left only three players on the roster who are older than 30.

Two of them, defensive end Jared Allen (31) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (32), are among the best players on the team. The third is long-snapper Cullen Loeffler.

Even the most youth-oriented NFL teams make age exceptions for specialists, as the Vikings apparently have for Loeffler. But that's where Kluwe's advocacy came in. The Vikings didn't resent his personal views, per se, but his pursuit of them at a time when his own performance was slipping served to eliminate any benefit of the doubt he might have held with decision-makers. If they were otherwise inclined to wait another year for this move, or had some hesitation about using a rookie punter, Kluwe's standing wasn't high enough to push them in the other direction. He implied a divided attention, whether or not that was actually the case, and that isn't a recipe for convincing football-focused bosses that his performance was likely to turn around.

Kluwe made a true and real impact on a national issue, one so significant that NBA player Jason Collins thanked him by name last week when announcing he is gay. Those efforts didn't cost Kluwe his job Monday, but they eliminated any chance for saving it.

This one you could see coming a mile away.

A year after drafting a place-kicker to replace their veteran incumbent, the Minnesota Vikings appear to have done the same at their other specialist position. They just made UCLA's Jeff Locke the first punter taken in the 2013 draft, at No. 155 overall in the fifth round, and that probably means the end of Chris Kluwe's eight-year run with the team.

Kluwe might be the best punter in Vikings history, but his inconsistent performance and diverted attention clearly gnawed at special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer last season. Priefer criticized Kluwe publicly for attaching a handwritten note on his game jersey promoting Ray Guy's candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and then expressed frustration that Kluwe wouldn't have listened if he had tried to admonish him. When a coach admits a player won't listen to him, you can assume that something will eventually shake loose there.

General manager Rick Spielman refused to discuss Kluwe's future in an interview in March, and it became clear early this month that the team was working out most of the draft's top punters. Locke was one of several the Vikings worked out; he is a left-footed punter who averaged 44.2 yards per punt at UCLA and also led the nation in touchback percentage as a kickoff man.

Teams rarely use draft picks on kickers, so you can rest assured the Vikings didn't devote one Saturday just to provide Kluwe with competition. Last year, they released place-kicker Ryan Longwell days after rookie Blair Walsh's reassuring performance in the Vikings' post-draft rookie minicamp.

Kluwe is entering the final year of a deal that would pay him $1.45 million in 2013. He would not count against the Vikings' salary cap at all if he were cut because the maximum five-year pro-ration of his contract is over. If and when that happens, we'll have a more thoughtful discussion about the impact -- or lack thereof -- that Kluwe's public activism might have had on the decision.

Via Twitter, Kluwe responded with what I think is a reference to the movie "Dodgeball:" "That's a bold move Cotton. Lets see how it plays."

I wouldn't have expected anything less.
PHOENIX -- We spent plenty of time last season discussing the short- and long-term future of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who had an inconsistent year on the field and an eventful one off of it. Instead of further speculating on the issue, I had it on my list to inquire with Vikings general manager Rick Spielman during an interview with local reporters here at the NFL owners meeting.

Kluwe
Kluwe
Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com brought up the topic first, asking Spielman if Kluwe would be the Vikings' punter in 2013. Spielman's response? He laughed.

Asked if he anticipated bringing legitimate punting competition to training camp, Spielman said: "I don't know. We haven't gotten that far yet in the process. I couldn't tell you."

(The Vikings signed street free agent T.J. Conley, who punted for the New York Jets in 2011, in January.)

Kluwe has been the Vikings' punter for eight seasons and has the highest gross average (44.4) in team history. But there is some important precedent and a few important facts to keep in mind here.

First, the Vikings unceremoniously parted ways with veteran place-kicker Ryan Longwell in 2012, a few days after drafting replacement Blair Walsh. If the Vikings weren't at least considering drafting a punter, or pursuing one of the top undrafted rookies, then Spielman probably would have said as much Tuesday.

Second, Kluwe is entering the final season of the six-year contract extension he signed in October 2007. Because signing bonuses pro-rate only over five years, the Vikings would not have to carry any of Kluwe's $1.45 million cap number if they release him before the start of the regular season.

Again, Spielman didn't say the Vikings want to replace Kluwe this season. But, notably, he also didn't commit to Kluwe as the Vikings' 2013 punter. This one is worth staying tuned for.

Will the Green Bay-to-Minnesota pipeline produce another hit for the Minnesota Vikings? That's the question we're asking Thursday morning amid the news that receiver Greg Jennings is taking his first free-agent visit to the Packers' NFC North rival.

The Vikings have a long recent history of acquiring players the Packers either no longer want or hadn't yet re-signed, a list that includes quarterback Brett Favre, kicker Ryan Longwell, safety Darren Sharper and receiver Robert Ferguson. Over the years, the Vikings also made free-agent pitches to defensive end Aaron Kampman, fullback William Henderson and receiver James Jones, in each case jump-starting their eventual agreements with the Packers. (In 2010, the Vikings brought in receiver Javon Walker to training camp for a comeback attempt but released him before the season began.)

While that history will surely inflame passions on this blog and between fan bases, Jennings' case is a relatively unique one. He is in the prime of his career, and according to multiple reports, the Packers have genuine interest in bringing him back. It seems the Packers have bet -- accurately, so far -- that he wouldn't fetch one of the few premium contracts available to receivers in this market and have been waiting for the dust to settle.

The Miami Dolphins gave Mike Wallace a five-year deal worth $60 million, and former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin got $67 million over six years from the Seattle Seahawks. After that, however, the receiver floor has dropped. Wednesday, the annual average salary receivers were fetching fell almost by half, to about $6 million. Wes Welker got a two-year deal worth $12 million from the Denver Broncos, and the Patriots replaced him by signing Danny Amendola to a five-year deal worth $31 million.

That makes for a fascinating dynamic from multiple angles, a discussion we started earlier in the week.

We all know how barren the Vikings' receiving corps is after the Harvin trade, and they could give Jennings an unquestioned role as their No. 1 receiver in a midrange passing scheme that caters to his strengths. By agreeing to this visit, Jennings must have an inkling that the Vikings will make him a competitive contract offer -- and by "competitive," I mean more money than what the Packers have offered. If nothing else, Jennings could use a division rival to put pressure on the Packers to raise their offer.

Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter was certainly on board Thursday morning, tweeting:

On the other hand, Jennings would face several levels of uncertainty in Minnesota. Quarterback Christian Ponder will get another year as the unquestioned starter, but he is far from established and it wouldn't be remotely fair to compare him to the quarterback Jennings would have in Green Bay. There is also a greater possibility for instability with the Vikings, considering the team declined to give coach Leslie Frazier a contract extension after his 10-6 performance in 2012. The chance the Vikings have a different coach in 2014 is much higher than the Packers making a change by that point.

Some Packers fans want Jennings to return because of his skills. Others don't like the idea of him helping the Vikings out of a personnel hole. And a few of you wonder if it's worth any investment of salary cap space to bring him back when the team has Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on the roster and are presumably gearing up to sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to monster contract extensions.

I've been in the camp that assumed the Packers planned to part ways with Jennings given the lack of substantive negotiations over the past year. Jennings put up his Green Bay house for sale, and the proverbial ship seemed to have sailed. But sometimes the market has a way of changing and/or clarifying the thinking of a player, a team or both. And so here we are. It's on. And from our perspective especially, it's going to be tons of fun.

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
12:55
PM ET
After the Minnesota Vikings' 23-6 victory over the Houston Texans, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    I agree with Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. Sunday was the most impressive defensive performance from this team in a long time. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams hasn't gotten enough credit for returning this group to the aggressive, play-making style that characterized its best years under former coordinators Mike Tomlin and Leslie Frazier. One way to measure that aggressiveness is to note the Vikings hit Texans running back Arian Foster behind the line of scrimmage on six of his 10 rushes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Foster totaled minus-four yards before first contact in the game. That's a fancy way of illustrating that the Vikings' backfield penetration gave him nowhere to run. Even before the game, the Vikings ranked sixth in the NFL in percentage of runs (18.7) in which they hit the opposing runner behind the line of scrimmage.
  2. There have been some complaints from fans this season that quarterback Christian Ponder is too quick to leave the pocket and run. Sunday's game showed there is a fine line between asking him to stay in the pocket and letting him use his obvious running ability. Ponder converted two critical third downs with runs of 29 and 21 yards, capitalizing on the Texans' man-to-man defense to exploit openings in the field. With all players, it makes sense to emphasize what they are good at and minimize the things they are not. Getting Ponder in the open field, either on rollouts or scrambles, makes a lot of sense. Sunday, it clearly got Ponder in a groove. He completed four passes that traveled 15 or more yards in the air, matching his total in his previous seven games combined.
  3. I thought it was worth pointing out a really classy series of tweets from former place-kicker Ryan Longwell, whom the Vikings released shortly after drafting Blair Walsh in the spring. Longwell hasn't surfaced with a team this season and seems to have moved on from football altogether. But after seeing Walsh break the NFL record for field goals of at least 50 yards in a season (nine), Longwell tweeted: "I've purposely not commented on any football stuff this entire year so let me make my first one now. I've seen many great seasons go unrewarded by not getting voted to Pro Bowl. But if @BlairWalsh3 does not get voted in this year it will prove system is broke! What more can the guy do?? Accuracy, 9-9 50+ yarders, Kickoff touchbacks and a game winner in his first career game!!" Indeed, Walsh is tied for second in the NFL with 32 field goals (in 35 attempts). He ranks sixth in the NFL in conversion percentage (91.4), but only two of the place-kickers ahead of him play for NFC teams. Finally, Walsh ranks third in touchback percentage (62.0).
And here is one issue I still don't get:
For a team to pull off the kind of wall-to-wall upset the Vikings did, it needs some unexpected contributions. None was more surprising than seeing defensive tackle Fred Evans drag down quarterback Matt Schaub for a 14-yard loss on third-and-goal in the third quarter. Evans has been a solid role player for the Vikings for six seasons. But before Sunday, he had two sacks in 77 career games. He picked a pretty good time for what was probably the biggest play of his professional career. The Texans couldn't even consider going for it on fourth down after such a big loss. How was it that Fred Evans, of all people, was the reason why? The universe can be an inexplicable place.

Final Word: NFC North

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

November woes: The Green Bay Packers have won four consecutive road games against the New York Giants, their opponent in Sunday's prime-time game. And are the Packers getting the Giants at a good time? Recent history is inexplicable but clear. The Giants are a bad November team, and this year quarterback Eli Manning has slumped badly as well. Under coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants are 13-21 in November and 67-37 in all other months. The Giants have lost their past five games in November, including two this season. Manning, meanwhile, hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since the fourth quarter of Week 7, a span of 99 passes. Since Week 8, Manning has completed only 54.5 percent of his total throws and has a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of 27.1, ranking him No. 29 of 33 qualifiers during that span.

Run opportunities: The Packers achieved rare equality in their run-pass ratio last week against the Detroit Lions, running on 28 plays and passing on 31. Coach Mike McCarthy lamented a relative lack of production from starter James Starks, who rushed for 74 yards on 25 carries, and it appears Starks and Alex Green will rotate more frequently Sunday night. The Packers should have some opportunities against a Giants defense that has allowed at least 150 rushing yards in consecutive home games for the first time since 2006. The Pittsburgh Steelers rushed for 158 yards against them two weeks ago, and 99 of those yards came after contact, an indication of the state of the Giants' tackling.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bears will be counting on QB Jay Cutler to make an impact in their upcoming games against Minnesota.
Big meeting: Few thought when the season began that the Week 12 meeting between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings would be so crucial to the NFC North race. Only one game separates the Bears (7-3) and Vikings (6-4), and they're set to play twice in the next three weeks. The Vikings have lost 10 of their past 11 games in Chicago, and the only game they've won in that span required a 224-yard effort from tailback Adrian Peterson and a 54-yard game-winning field goal from Ryan Longwell. The Bears are coming off a short week after an embarrassing road loss, but they appear likely to get back the services of quarterback Jay Cutler, who has won 12 of his past 13 games that he has finished. Of ESPN's 14 NFL experts, all but one picked the Bears to win this game.

Tracking Allen: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had at least one sack in six consecutive games but has now gone two games without one. But the last time Allen saw the Bears, he lit up left tackle J'Marcus Webb for 3.5 sacks in the 2011 season finale. Webb is one of three offensive linemen who kept his job after backup quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked six times by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night, but offensive coordinator Mike Tice has pledged constant chip help for Webb this weekend. The Bears will try to contain the rest of the Vikings' defense with a new right tackle (Jonathan Scott) and left guard (Chris Spencer).

Peterson power: The Bears' defense has proved vulnerable recently to what has been the decided strength of Peterson all season. Specifically, they have given up at least 80 yards on runs between the tackles in each of their past five games. Peterson, of course, has been gashing teams almost exclusively between the tackles since returning from knee surgery. This season, 174 of his carries, 922 of his yards, six of his touchdowns and 11 of his 20-plus yard runs have come on runs that began between the tackles. There is every reason to believe the Vikings will attack that area early and often, and then probably follow up with a heavy dose of their play-action game.
Rookie minicamps are a lot like college orientation: A chance to get new players acclimated to NFL life before the upperclassmen show up. So it's important to avoid seeking detailed answers or drawing deep conclusions over the next three days in Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay.

It is worth pointing out, however, that at least one significant personnel move resulted in part from the rookie minicamp the Minnesota Vikings held last weekend. The Vikings saw enough from place-kicker Blair Walsh, a sixth-round draft choice from Georgia, that they felt comfortable releasing incumbent Ryan Longwell earlier this week.

With all of that in mind, let's take a look at some of the reasonable answers we might find over the next few days. I won't be in attendance, but hopefully we can round up some information by Monday.

Chicago Bears: What is the conditioning level of receiver Alshon Jeffery?

We've spent some time discussing Jeffery's drop from nearly 240 pounds this winter to 216 pounds at the February scouting combine. Some personnel evaluators were concerned about his commitment to keeping in shape, but as we noted Thursday, Jeffery spent some time with Bears reserve quarterback Josh McCown last weekend and is skipping the NFLPA Rookie Premiere presented by Nike to continue working out.

Detroit Lions: How many positions is offensive lineman Riley Reiff playing? Also, how much work, if any, is receiver Ryan Broyles doing?

Reiff was a left tackle at Iowa. Some teams projected him as a right tackle in the NFL, a path followed by his predecessor, current Green Bay Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Lions offensive line coach George Yarno told the Detroit Free Press that Reiff would see time at both left and right tackles this weekend. But you also wonder if the Lions would be tempted to work him a bit at guard to see if there could at some point be a competition with right guard Stephen Peterman.

Broyles, as you know, is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last November. He was recovered enough to work out for scouts before the draft, but there is a big difference between running and participating in football activities. It's hard to imagine the Lions subjecting him to much, if anything, this weekend.

Green Bay Packers: How rough does Nick Perry look at outside linebacker? Also, are there any clues that B.J. Coleman will be able to challenge Graham Harrell for the No. 2 quarterback job?

These questions speak to the dangers of putting rookie minicamp observations into stone. Perry, for one, is making the transition from being a defensive end. It's no insult to him to suggest he's not going to look like a polished professional in his first three days at the new position. The important gauge, if it can be determined, is whether Perry makes significant progress over the weekend or if to looks like it's going to take him an extended period of time to grow comfortable with his role.

The same thing goes for Coleman, who as a rookie quarterback will be fortunate just to know all the plays this weekend. If he looks sharp from the start, it will be a miracle -- and again, that's no insult to him. But the Packers have a precedent for using a seventh-round draft pick as Aaron Rodgers' top backup -- with Matt Flynn in 2008 -- and so it's worth checking to see if Coleman has anything close to the aptitude required to challenge for that role.
Adrian PetersonBrace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireWhile the Vikings keep focus on a roster rebuild, Adrian Peterson keeps focus on his rehabilitation.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- I joined a number of reporters Wednesday afternoon at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility, where tailback Adrian Petersonwas scheduled to discuss the rehabilitation of his surgically-repaired left knee. On cue, Peterson popped his head through the door. With athletic trainer Eric Sugarman at his side, Peterson motioned for us to join him at the far end of the practice field.

For the next 15 minutes, Peterson demonstrated the extent of his progress by running two sets of sideline-to-sideline sprints. He performed a series of box jumps, moved laterally to catch a rolling soccer ball and ran tight circles around a wide hula hoop.

The scene was impressive for a player 19 weeks removed from tearing two ligaments in his knee. As he caught his breath afterwards, Peterson reiterated his intent to be ready for the Vikings' Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, by far the early side of the typical range for injuries as significant as his.

"People can say what they want to say," he said. "I've got my goals."

I felt conflicted watching Peterson work out and listening to his optimism. Part of me admired his intense desire to return ahead of schedule. The other part kept flashing back to the end of "Fargo."

And for what?

If it wasn't clear before, it should be obvious now. The Vikings have launched a full-scale roster rebuild that should better position them for the long-term but will almost certainly sacrifice the short-term to do it. The latest evidence was this week's decision to jettison still-reliable place-kicker Ryan Longwell for rookie Blair Walsh, perhaps the most extreme example of the team's systematic effort to make its roster younger.

A cynic might say the Vikings know they won't compete for an NFC North title in 2012, making this season as good of a time as any to break in a new place-kicker. Here's what general manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday:

"I think our emphasis has always been trying to get our team better, get it younger, and that's the direction we kind of went. It just fits in with everything else we’re kind of honed in on this offseason."

It's hard to argue with that approach after a 9-23 record over the past two seasons. But as we first discussed last fall, it threatens to nullify the prime of one of the NFL's best players.

Peterson is 27 and has taken the pounding of five professional seasons. By the standards of NFL running backs, at least, the clock on his career is already ticking. It's more than reasonable to wonder what type of performer he will be when the Vikings see the fruit of their rebuilding project.

I asked Peterson what he thought of the Vikings' offseason approach, and he focused mostly on praising Spielman's draft. Peterson also admitted that "the biggest part of my motivation" to return in Week 1 is because "I know how much I mean to this organization." He added: "I want to be out there helping my team and organization accomplish the ultimate goal."

Even with Peterson in the starting lineup, the Vikings figure to have new starters at 11 positions in 2012 in addition to an unproven second-year quarterback in Christian Ponder. In all likelihood, it will be a year measured by progress, not playoff contention.

I'm not going to suggest the Vikings should hold Peterson out of the lineup once he's medically cleared. But in the big picture, there seems to be every reason to take it as slow as possible. If Peterson can avoid some wear and tear during a rebuilding season, wouldn't that help the Vikings in the long-term?

That's a cold and calculated analysis that isn't likely to apply in this case. Neither the Vikings nor Peterson should time his rehabilitation progress based on the projected competitiveness of the team. NFL teams are expected to compete with all available resources at all times. It's not for Peterson to "save" himself for future seasons. The timing is what it is.

The best thing Peterson can do in the short-term is help this team squeeze out a few more victories than it appears capable of while imposing his fanatical work ethic on others. He seems to understand that as well. During rehabilitation a few weeks ago, Peterson noticed some teammates running sprints. Sugarman gave him permission to join them. He wiped out the field.

"Those guys got an understanding of 'Hey, he's really pushing hard to get back out to a level better than he played at before' and it was even more motivation for those guys," Peterson said. "It was like, 'Hey he's out here four months and he's beating us.' Maybe we need to do something different."

Knowing Adrian Peterson, he'll do everything he can to will the Vikings to more success than expected in 2012. It's reasonable to question whether it will be enough, and to wonder how long it will take the rest of this roster to catch up. Will Adrian Peterson be this generation's Barry Sanders? Is he a Hall of Fame player whose career window doesn't match up with his team's window for winning? That's what it feels like at the moment.

We're Black and Blue All Over:

We spent a good part of Monday night following the Minnesota Vikings' stadium vote in the state House of Representatives, so Tuesday morning we should shift to the other big story going on in the NFC North.

New Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said he did not tell current Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove to deny the existence of a bounty program when both were with the New Orleans Saints in 2010. Hargrove made that claim of Vitt and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in a signed declaration that was leaked Monday.

Vitt told Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times Picayune: "At no time did I ever tell Anthony Hargrove to lie or deny the existence [of the alleged bounty program]. He can say whatever he wants to say. It just didn't happen."

Consider it yet another twist in a story that doesn't seem to have a lot of indisputable truths.

Continuing around the NFC North:

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