NFC North: Ted Mondale

Last week, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf continued to express optimism that his latest stadium proposal will be approved during a special fall session of the Minnesota state legislature.

One of his most ardent legislative supporters isn't so sure.

In a story published Sunday in the Star Tribune, state Rep. Morrie Lanning said a special session remains "a possibility" but added: "It's not the likely scenario." Lanning, one of two chief authors of a bill to authorize the $1.057 billion project, said he has "prepared the Vikings for the possibility" that legislators won't consider the bill until January 2012.

The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires on Feb. 1, 2012.

As we discussed last week, the bill will no doubt face some opposition from ardent legislators who just backed down Gov. Mark Dayton from raising any taxes in his state budget. The last financing plan we saw called for $650 million in public money, generated by user fees and a half-cent rise in Ramsey County's sales tax. Lanning said he doesn't see the point of a special session unless there is a "reasonable expectation" that the bill will pass.

There also appears to be a difference of opinion on the extent of pre-construction environmental work necessary on the site in Arden Hills, Minn., where the U.S. Army once operated a munitions factory. Ted Mondale, Dayton's stadium point man who is conducting a fast-track review of the proposal, told the Star Tribune that a lengthy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be conducted.

Historically, similar studies have taken a year or more to complete.

The Vikings are pushing Dayton to call a special session for several reasons, including the fact that the issue wouldn't get buried by other state business. Without a special session, the Vikings will technically become franchise free agents. They have said they won't sign an extension of their Metrodome lease until a new stadium is approved, setting up a potential showdown next winter if no special session is called.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

If all goes as expected, NFL teams will soon enter a three-day exclusive window to sign their own free agents.

The Minnesota Vikings will get their chance to re-sign receiver Sidney Rice, who has previously indicated a desire to test the market. The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, will get three days to, in the words of the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh, avoid fielding the "NFL's worst offensive line."

That's how important it is to re-sign center Olin Kreutz, according to Haugh. "Nothing would sabotage their season quicker" than allowing Kreutz to depart. The Bears have no obvious replacement in house and need an anchor amid the moving parts they're expected to have at both tackle and guard positions.

Kreutz acknowledged he will return to the Bears as long as he's offered "a fair deal." Haugh suggests it should fall in line with the three-year, $12 million deal the Baltimore Ravens gave Matt Birk two years ago. The Bears will be some $37 million under the cap and will need to dish out a number of contracts in order to meet the NFL's new minimum for cash expenditures.

Concern arose when the Bears opted not to re-sign him before the lockout, but it's possible they were awaiting the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, as many other teams chose to do as well.
Kreutz: "Everybody knows the way I feel about the Bears. I've chosen them many times. You hate to toot your own horn but I've left a lot of money on the table to be a Bear. The guys at Halas Hall have to decide what's best for the Bears. That's the decision they're going through this off-season and probably why I'm not signed yet."

We'll find out soon enough.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Don't expect a free-agent splurge from the Bears, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Neal said his surgically repaired shoulder won't be 100 percent until October and that he'll have to participate in training camp with slight pain in the area. Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more.
  • Former Packers linebacker Dave Robinson has come to grips with his own mortality, writes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The artificial playing surface at the Metrodome will be replaced following work to replace the roof, according to Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Ted Mondale, the political appointee who serves as the liaison on the Minnesota Vikings' stadium issue, sought to calm tensions after Gov. Mark Dayton turned a cold shoulder on the issue. Via Rochelle Olson of the Star Tribune: "Everyone's tired and angry. It's time to cool off. Have a glass of iced tea. Walk the dog. Everything will be all right." My opinion: The time for backing away is over. The state has used up that leverage. A better idea: Put down your ice tea and do your job.
  • The opinion of Tom Powers from the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Sit down, clam up and wait until another special session is called this fall. And tell Zygi Wilf to back off. From what I hear, our elected officials are beginning to consider him a royal pain in the keister. I'm not sure how many people around here actually are fond of him. I'm pretty sure not too many trust him. The Vikings will get their stadium. We're in, like, the sixth inning of this whole process. Progress has been made. A site and a local partner have been established. Financing figures have been tossed around. Infrastructure has been addressed. It's going to happen. The word is that a special session likely will be called in the fall."
  • Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been working out with new Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph and compared him to former New York Giants star Mark Bavaro. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has more.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com views Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and former running back Barry Sanders the same way in one sense: "[B]y and large, they're both loners in the locker room."
The Minnesota Vikings' 2011 home stadium remains in doubt, but their plans for the draft are not. In reviewing comments Thursday from coach Leslie Frazier and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, it seems clear they intend to draft a quarterback who could jump in as a near-immediate starter when the season begins.

The Vikings hold the No. 12 overall pick, and as we noted Wednesday, early mock drafts suggest anywhere from two to four quarterbacks could already be off the board by that point. But past decisions have put the Vikings in an unenviable position this spring: They have little choice but to force a pick. The only question is whether the rookie will be ready to play right away or if the Vikings will also have to acquire a veteran option.

"I guess it depends on that young guy," Frazier said. "Ideally, you'd like to find the Matt Ryans of the world, the Joe Flaccos of the world and ride with one of those guys. But it doesn't always happen that way. We just kind of have to see where things fall. If we find someone like that, you'd like to build around him. That really gives you a chance for the long term. But as I mentioned it doesn't always happen that way. If we have to go with a veteran guy while we're developing that young guy, I'm not opposed to that either. But ideally, find a young guy, build around him and know you're going to have him for that next nine or 10 years as your starting quarterback. But those guys are sometimes hard to find."

Said Musgrave: "Ideally, you would like to find a young guy that has a bunch of promise and potential and you would hand him the keys and let him make his mistakes and learn and but also know that he would be there for you in the long term. That's ideal. I believe that will be one of our goals to identify any candidates that can fit that role but at the same time be ready to find some other fellows that may have some experience, that can come in and be effective and also have some upside to them as well."

Frazier announced most of the additions he has made to the coaching staff Thursday, acknowledging Musgrave along with Mike Priefer (special teams), Fred Pagac (defensive coordinator), Jeff Davidson (offensive line), Craig Johnson (quarterbacks) and Mike Singletary (linebackers). Holdovers will include George Stewart (receivers), Jimmie Johnson (tight ends), Karl Dunbar (defensive line) and Joe Woods (defensive backs).

Where that staff is working on game days next season is anyone's guess. Ted Mondale, the new chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, said Thursday it could take up to six months to replace the damaged roof of the Metrodome, if engineers determine a total replacement is necessary. That timetable could threaten the Vikings' preseason schedule if a lockout doesn't do the trick first.

As we've noted before, the Vikings have already questioned whether they will be able to play next season in the Metrodome. It's possible they'll move to TCF Bank Stadium, at least for 2011, while awaiting approval for a new stadium to replace the Metrodome. Stay tuned.

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