NFL Nation: Jerome Simpson

MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings emerge from the busiest period of free agency with more than $11 million left in cap space, they can begin to turn their attention to the pursuits that will occupy the rest of that money.

Rudolph
They'll need roughly $6.5 million for their 2014 rookie pool, though as Overthecap.com estimates, they'd only need about $3.2 million in salary cap space for those players, assuming many of their cap numbers aren't among the top 51 contracts on the roster. The Vikings could also look in the coming months toward a contract extension for tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will be a free agent next spring, has said several times he wants to stay with the Vikings and reiterated that this week in a pair of remarks (to the St. Paul Pioneer Press and KSTP-TV).

A league source said there have been "no talks whatsoever" between the Vikings and Rudolph's agent about a contract extension, and even though the tight end wants to get a deal done this offseason, it might behoove him to wait. After missing eight games last season with a broken foot, he'd benefit from a full season in Norv Turner's offense (which has been famously friendly to tight ends) and could command more money with big numbers in 2014. The Vikings haven't been in the mode of signing their players to extensions before the final years of their contracts, anyway; they got Brian Robison's four-year deal done last October, and waited until just before free agency to sign Everson Griffen this spring and Phil Loadholt last year.

But while it's probably too soon to assume things will heat up between the Vikings and Rudolph, it does seem like a good possibility the Vikings will reward the former second-round pick for a big season. The team cut John Carlson this spring, further cementing Rudolph's status as their top tight end, and the Vikings have few other major free agents next spring; guard Brandon Fusco could be in line for a new deal, but players like wide receiver Jerome Simpson, defensive end Corey Wootton, safety Jamarca Sanford and fullback Jerome Felton (who can opt out of his deal after next season) would be relatively affordable to keep, if the Vikings did indeed want to retain them.

With a big season, Rudolph might be able to get a deal along the lines of the one the Baltimore Ravens gave tight end Dennis Pitta last month. Pitta, who was drafted a year earlier than Rudolph and caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 before getting hurt last season, got a five-year, $32 million deal, with $16 million guaranteed. While there's nothing developing between Rudolph and the Vikings in terms of an extension yet -- and there might not be quite as soon as the tight end might like -- he's in a good spot to produce and get rewarded for it.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Coming off a frustrating season where he played much of the year with a broken left wrist and heading into a season where he was due to count $8.2 million against the Vikings' salary cap, 31-year-old linebacker Chad Greenway seemed like a possible candidate to restructure his deal with the team. Now, he has.

Greenway
Greenway dropped his base salary to $5.5 million for the 2014 season, saving the Vikings $1 million in exchange for a fully guaranteed salary. The move, first reported by overthecap.com, is the third contract restructuring the Vikings have done in a week, following similar moves for safety Jamarca Sanford and fullback Jerome Felton. All told, the moves saved the Vikings $1.75 million under the cap, and they still have just over $16 million to play with after signing former San Diego Chargers cornerback Derek Cox, with wide receiver Jerome Simpson's contract still not on the NFL Players Association ledger.

The way the Vikings restructured Greenway's deal is reminiscent of what they did with Kevin Williams in 2013 (except the Vikings also voided a year of Williams' contract in that case). It effectively protects Greenway from being cut, since the Vikings are on the hook for his entire $5.5 million salary. Greenway saw his play slip in 2014, though his broken wrist undoubtedly had something to do with it. He will have to adapt to new coach Mike Zimmer's defense, which asks linebackers to be more active than the Vikings' old Cover-2 system did, but the change could also rejuvenate Greenway, who seemed at times like he was trying to cover for the inexperience of other linebackers last season.

Felton's base salary drops $500,000 for next season, and Sanford's deal saved the Vikings another $250,000. According to overthecap.com, Felton is also able to void the final year of his deal after the 2015 Super Bowl.

Vikings re-sign Jerome Simpson

March, 14, 2014
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings announced they re-signed wide receiver Jerome Simpson, adding some depth to their receiving corps by bringing Simpson back for his third season in Minnesota.

Simpson
Simpson caught 48 passes for a career-high 726 yards last season, and might have been the Vikings' best receiver during the first half of the year. He lost his starting job in November, however, after he was arrested on Nov. 9 for drunken driving in Minneapolis. Simpson, who was suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season after a drug-related arrest, pled guilty to careless driving in January, and could still face NFL discipline. But the Vikings still decided to bring Simpson back, and he figures to be the team's third receiver next season.

He played in Cincinnati while new coach Mike Zimmer was the Bengals' defensive coordinator, so the two are familiar with each other, and Simpson could fit in nicely with offensive coordinator Norv Turner's downfield passing game. The Vikings are probably set at the top of their receiving group with Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, and Simpson can pair with Jarius Wright to fill out the roster. The team could, however, try to add another receiver now that their offense figures to open up a little more under Turner.

The Vikings did not announce the terms of Simpson's deal.
Now that the fumes from the jet that took wide receiver Steve Smith to Baltimore and beyond have dissipated, what's next for the Carolina Panthers?

They still need help at wide receiver with none of their top four from 2013 under contract since Smith was released on Thursday. They still need help at cornerback and safety.

And they still need help at offensive tackle, although most of those in free agency that could help are long gone.

But there is still talent out there to be had as we get past the first wave of free agency. Here are a few players who might be a good fit:

Wide receivers
  • Nicks
    Hakeem Nicks: The former member of the New York Giants remains a priority for Carolina. He was in Indianapolis on Friday, but he also has expressed an interest in Carolina and San Diego. San Francisco reportedly is interested as well. This might take some time to sort, and the Panthers appear willing to wait to see what the market sets for the former Independence (Charlotte) High standout. That he already has a relationship with general manager Dave Gettleman, who spent most of his career with the Giants before last season, doesn't hurt.
  • James Jones: He had a modest 59 catches for 817 yards and three touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers last season, but the year before he had 64 catches for an amazing 14 touchdowns. Don't think for a second the Panthers don't have their eye on him.
  • Emmanuel Sanders: He had 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns at Pittsburgh last season. In his fourth year out of Southern Mississippi, this 5-foot-11, 186-pounder also could be a bargain. He was with the Chiefs on Friday, and he reportedly has visited Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. Has the speed to replace Ted Ginn Jr.
Cornerbacks
  • Tillman
    Charles "Peanut" Tillman: Chicago wants him back, and he got out of Tampa Bay without a deal. He's 33, but word has it Panthers coach Ron Rivera loves him. Rivera coached Tillman as the defensive coordinator with the Bears from 2004-2006. At 6-2, 198, there has even been speculation he could move to safety. Carolina secondary coach Steve Wilks also coached Tillman in Chicago from 2006-2008.
  • Asante Samuel: Before spending the past two seasons with Atlanta, he played four seasons at Philadelphia, where Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott overlapped as the secondary coach and then defensive coordinator. And remember, both Samuel and Tillman are the same age as Drayton Florence, who was a key contributor last season for Carolina.
  • Antoine Cason: This could be a darkhorse to keep an eye on. He didn't do much at Arizona last season, but prior to that he played five seasons for the San Diego Chargers, where Rivera and Wilks coached him. A first-round pick in 2008, he has 14 career interceptions.
Safeties
  • Roman Harper: The Panthers already have brought in the former New Orleans Saints strong safety. He's 31, but he's a two-time Pro Bowler who would bring experience as Quintin Mikell did last season. Mikell, also 33, remains available as well.
Let’s look deeper into the San Francisco 49ers’ interest in free-agent receivers Julian Edelman of New England and Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants.

Odds of landing them: There is competition. The Patriots want Edelman back and Cleveland has been connected to him as well. Nicks is visiting Indianapolis on Friday. Carolina is also interested. The 49ers don’t have a ton of salary-cap room, so they have to get creative in a deal with either player.

Nicks
Edelman
Who else is out there if Edelman and Nicks don’t end up with 49ers: The top available receivers include Steve Smith, James Jones, Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerome Simpson.

Who is the best fit? Probably Nicks because he is an outside receiver. Landing him on a short-term deal to see if he can become a top-notch player again could be smart. Don’t get me wrong; Edelman is good as well. You don’t catch 105 balls in a season if you’re not talented. But Anquan Boldin is essentially a slot guy as well. Still, I’m sure the 49ers could find ways to make it work.

How Crabtree, Boldin and the draft figure: Crabtree is a free agent next year and Boldin is 33. So, even if the 49ers sign Edelman or Nicks, I can still see them taking a receiver early in the draft.

Kaepernick factor: I’m sure quarterback Colin Kaepernick is paying attention. This passing offense could be nasty with Boldin, Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis and Nicks or Edelman. It would open it up. It could also behoove Kaepernick to wait to get his contract done until next year. He could put up big numbers with another top weapon.

Should Seattle worry? Yes. The 49ers must get better on offense to beat Seattle. That was the reason why the 49ers couldn’t overtake Seattle in 2013. A big-time offensive weapon could even the playing field.

Scout's thoughts: “I was a little surprised to be honest, especially after the re-signing of Boldin. Quinton Patton also shows some promise, but this would be a heck of a receiver corps if is Patton is your No. 4. I would think if they were in the market for WR though, that they would be looking for a pure speed guy, which isn't Nicks or Edelman.” -- ESPN analyst Matt Williamson
The wide receiver position has become an even greater priority for the New Orleans Saints now that they are parting ways with both receiver Lance Moore and pass-catching running back Darren Sproles.

The draft is probably the Saints’ best bet for finding a dynamic young athlete who could develop into a future starter -- and ideally help stretch the field in the short term as part of the rotation. This is a deep class for wide receiver talent, so the Saints could have ample options in Round 1 or the middle rounds of the draft.

But the Saints always prefer to fill their pressing needs in free agency. So I could see them adding a No. 3-type receiver with speed or shiftiness. And an ability to return kicks would be a major plus.

[+] EnlargeMcCluster
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelVersatile Dexter McCluster could fit with the Saints as a replacement for Darren Sproles.
I picked ESPN Scouting Insider Matt Williamson's brain for a few suggestions that could fit that mold. And I particularly loved his suggestion of Kansas City Chiefs receiver/runner/returner Dexter McCluster -- a guy who could help fill both voids by himself.

McCluster has taken turns as a running back, receiver, kick returner and punt returner at different times in his first four NFL seasons. Last season he made the Pro Bowl as a punt returner. And he could be a dangerous weapon in the hands of Saints coach Sean Payton.

“I think he would be a good fit,” Williamson said. “Most teams, he might turn into nothing. But I think Payton and (Drew) Brees would use him properly.”

Williamson also thinks Carolina Panthers receiver/return man Ted Ginn Jr. could be an interesting fit in New Orleans, especially after Ginn had a bounceback season last year after underachieving for most of his seven-year career.

“He was a bust for a ninth pick in the draft (for the Miami Dolphins in 2007). But he played pretty well for Carolina. And he can fly,” Williamson said.

If the Saints want to spend a little more money on a receiver/punt returner, they might be interested in the Seattle Seahawks’ Golden Tate, a yards-after-the-catch threat who could be a lot more dangerous in New Orleans’ passing offense.

Maybe they would consider slot receiver/punt returner Julian Edelman from the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers’ big-play threat Emmanuel Sanders, who has some kick-returning experience. And New Orleans native Jacoby Jones is a speedster who has been better so far as a kick returner than a receiver with the Baltimore Ravens -- but he could certainly provide that deep threat as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver.

The Minnesota Vikings’ Jerome Simpson is another deep threat who could fill that No. 3 role. And Williamson mentioned a deep wild-card possibility in another former first-round underachiever -- the Indianapolis Colts' Darrius Heyward-Bey.

“Everybody hates the guy, and he isn’t a great player. But Darrius Heyward-Bey can still run,” Williamson said. “He wasn’t that big of a bust. And you could get him streaking down the sideline. And you can get him for nothing.”

There aren’t many big-name receivers available in free agency this year. The Denver Broncos' Eric Decker could command the biggest deal, and he might be too costly for the Saints. The New York Giants' Hakeem Nicks could also be costly, though he’s been plagued by injury issues.

Other receivers in the next tier or two include the Green Bay Packers' James Jones, the Arizona Cardinals' Andre Roberts, the Seahawks' Sidney Rice and the Panthers' Brandon LaFell -- plus Lance Moore, of course.

Free-agency primer: Vikings

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: QB Matt Cassel, DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams, DE Everson Griffen, CB Chris Cook, WR Jerome Simpson

Where they stand: The Vikings' biggest issue is at quarterback, where Christian Ponder is the only player they have under contract. They've told Cassel's agent they want to bring him back, but that could depend on how much more interest Cassel attracts on the free-agent market. Of the free agents on the Vikings' defensive line, Griffen probably has the best chance of returning to Minnesota to play in Mike Zimmer's new-look defense. But he, too, could attract attention from teams who think he can be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

What to expect: Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson could find a natural landing spot in Minnesota because of his familiarity with Zimmer and the Vikings' likely need for a new right end. Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner, who played for new Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray in Tennessee, could also make sense for Minnesota, though both Verner and Johnson will have plenty of suitors. The Vikings have more than $40 million in cap space, though, so they could be contenders for both. If Cassel doesn't come back, the Vikings will also have to pursue another veteran quarterback; running back Adrian Peterson tweeted on Wednesday that Michael Vick could quickly turn the team into a playoff contender.
As the San Francisco 49ers prepare for free agency, outside free agents are not necessarily on the team’s priority list.

Simpson
However, if the 49ers look for a free-agent receiver, one name that could make sense is Minnesota’s Jerome Simpson.

He fits what the 49ers are looking for in a receiver. He can stretch the field, a quality high on the 49ers' wish list. Plus, Simpson is known as a strong run-blocker. Since this is a run-first offense, the team demands their receivers to be strong blockers.

Simpson, 28, had 48 catches for 726 yards and one touchdown for the Vikings in 2013. Simpson, who has had some off-field issues, could be a good No. 3 receiving option in the 49ers' scheme.

There have been other veteran receivers, such as Pittsburgh’s Emmanuel Sanders, who have been connected to the 49ers as potential fits. However, it is no sure thing the 49ers pursue a receiver in free agency. Their top free-agent priority is re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin and they have made positive steps to accomplishing that. Also, the 49ers will likely draft a receiver in one of the early rounds.

However, if Boldin doesn’t re-sign or if the secondary-receiver market is soft and a player like Simpson comes cheaply, the 49ers could potentially show interest.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Minnesota Vikings heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

Free agent to be: Jerome Simpson

Simpson
Position: Wide receiver

Age: 28

Years in the league: 6

What he made last season: $2,100,000 (cap number); $2,100,000 (cash value)

What he did last season: Simpson had one of the best years of his career, eclipsing his career high in yardage (by one yard) and coming two catches shy of matching his career high there as well. He caught 48 passes for 726 yards and a touchdown, and looked like he'd found a home in Minnesota until Nov. 9, when he was arrested for drunken driving in Minneapolis. Simpson, who'd already served a three-game suspension in 2012 for a drug-related arrest, lost his starting job to Cordarrelle Patterson and saw his role diminish during the final six weeks of the season.

His potential market value: Simpson would command plenty of interest as a third receiver, but with the potential of NFL discipline looming over him, it's tough to say what he would command on the open market. He would be an effective third receiver for the Vikings, and could fit in especially well in new offensive coordinator Norv Turner's offense. It will depend on whether the Vikings -- or another team -- wants to pay for another year where Simpson might not be on the field for all 16 games.


Will he still fit the Vikings? Yes. He stretched the field as well as he has at any point in his career last season, and has blossomed into an effective run-blocker under receivers coach George Stewart. That trait could give him more value to the Vikings than many teams in the league, and could buy him playing time in Minnesota, since Simpson is a better downfield blocker than either Greg Jennings or Patterson.

What happens: Simpson remains a risk, but if he's able to line up outside and allow Jennings to move to the slot on three-receiver sets, he'd still have value to the Vikings. The guess here is the team will bring Simpson back on another one-year deal and see if he can reward their continuing faith in him.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When Jerome Simpson signed with the Minnesota Vikings before the 2012 season, the team knew it would be waiting a while before seeing if the former Cincinnati Bengals receiver could jolt their passing game; he was facing a three-game suspension for a 2011 drug-related arrest, so Simpson wasn't going to play any more than 13 games on his first one-year with the team.

[+] EnlargeJerome Simpson
AP Photo/Ric TapiaVikings receiver Jerome Simpson is on pace to have one of the best seasons of his six-year pro career.
In many ways, though, the Vikings were still waiting for an impact from Simpson when they gave him another one-year deal this spring; he was limited by a mysterious leg injury last season, and caught just 26 passes for 274 yards, with none of them going for a touchdown. But as he returns to Cincinnati this weekend to face his old team, Simpson is on track for what could turn out to be his best year in the NFL.

He's got 44 catches for 689 yards and a touchdown, and has a strong chance to eclipse career highs for catches (50) and yards (725), both set in his final season with the Bengals. Simpson has become the Vikings' third receiver behind Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, and his future with the team could once again be in doubt, with more NFL discipline possibly coming after Simpson's DWI arrest in November. But on the field, at least, he's shown he brings value to the Vikings.

"To see him bounce back this season and have the type of impact he's had has really been good for Jerome," coach Leslie Frazier said. "It helped us to kind of bring Cordarrelle along the way we needed to. So he has been a real plus; he has made a lot of big plays for us this season. He is really, really trying to do the right things."

Frazier seems to take a special interest in helping players who have run into off-field troubles, like Simpson has, and the Vikings had enough questions at receiver after last season that it made sense for them to bring Simpson back. Time will tell if the same will hold true after this season; as much as Patterson looks like a star in the making, he still has some things to figure out at receiver, and Simpson might have a niche as a dangerous No. 3 receiver.

At the very least, he's enjoying a nice rebound season on the field after struggling last year, and he can take pride in that as he returns to Cincinnati.

"(It was) just a great organization to play for. I love the Browns (the family that owns the Bengals)," Simpson said. "They stuck by me for my years there, showed me a lot of love and support. It's just going to be fun times to go back and play in 'The Jungle.'"

Greg Jennings learns the art of blocking

December, 19, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Greg Jennings' transition from the Green Bay Packers to the Minnesota Vikings was always going to have some fits and starts, well beyond the border-hopping rivalry stuff that fans soak up (and Jennings fed with several rounds of well-publicized comments earlier this year). He went from playing with two quarterbacks -- Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers -- for all but one game of his time with the Packers, to having three in his first six games with the Vikings. On top of that, Jennings had to learn how to exist in an offensive system that revolved not around an MVP quarterback, but an MVP running back.

That meant fewer opportunities as the Vikings went through their quarterback changes. And it meant Jennings taking a more serious approach to the art of downfield blocking.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson and Greg Jennings
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesMoving from a team where the quarterback was the star to one where the running back is meant that Greg Jennings (15) had to work on his blocking.
"I kind of saw that the role, my mindset had to change, making sure that I was doing my job and not becoming a distraction at all," Jennings said. "Embracing the run game even more, making sure that I did my part from that aspect of what we were trying to on the offensive side of the ball. ... It didn’t get to me. I just had to shift my mindset to more of a run-blocker because that’s where we were having success at. That’s what was going to get our offense rolling."

For much of Jennings' time in Green Bay, the Packers were either so committed to the pass or so inept at the run that he wasn't asked to do much other than get open and catch passes. The most Jennings had to run-block was in his first season with Rodgers -- in 2008, when he was blocking on 33.8 percent of his offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. His run-blocking dropped in each of the next three seasons (32.3 percent in 2009, 30.9 percent in 2010, 26.7 percent in 2011) before jumping back up to 29.1 percent in 2012. But this season, Jennings is back to blocking almost as frequently as he's ever done.

The Vikings have asked him to do it on 33.4 percent of his snaps this season, and in wide-receivers coach George Stewart, Jennings has a former offensive-line coach who stresses proper blocking technique. During his disappointing 2012 season, wide receiver Jerome Simpson won praise from the coaching staff for the way he worked to improve as a blocker, and that might have helped him earn a new contract from the Vikings this season. It also might have helped converted quarterback Joe Webb make the team out of training camp; Webb has blocked on 42.1 percent of his offensive snaps, filling the role Stephen Burton had occupied for the Vikings last season.

Jennings' productivity has increased since Matt Cassel took over as quarterback, and the Vikings are paying him primarily to do what he always did in Green Bay. But run-blocking is always going to be a reality in an offense with Adrian Peterson, and it's been one of several adjustments for Jennings in his first year in Minnesota.

He had a career-high 11 catches last week in a win over the Eagles, and has 59 catches for 733 yards this season. But Jennings will need a big finish to the season to avoid his lowest full-season yardage total since his rookie year, and his four touchdowns also match his fewest since his rookie year.

"It’s a challenge," he said of working with so many quarterbacks. "That’s why you get a lot of receivers, and a lot of people tag us as divas. Because a lot of times the work that we put in, not to get a result, it can be frustrating for anyone. For a team that’s lost as many games as we’ve lost, we put in a lot of work in practice not to get the production and have the success that we feel we deserve or that we’re putting in on Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays, it can be frustrating. But you have to keep rolling with the punches, and right now we’re having some success and that’s where we are."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The demolition in Denver made sense. Peyton Manning at the top of his game shredded a still-learning Eagles defense in a 52-20 Broncos rout.

But the meltdown in Minneapolis? Against a Vikings team with a journeyman quarterback and without Adrian Peterson? Nobody saw that coming, and when the 48-30 beating was over, nobody seemed able to explain how a defense that held nine consecutive opponents to 21 or fewer points got dismantled so thoroughly.

“I wish I had better answers for you,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsGreg Jennings had his best game as a Viking, catching 11 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown.
“They just made more plays than we did,” Eagles safety Nate Allen said.

Matt Cassel completed his first eight passes, finishing 26-of-35 for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Greg Jennings caught 11 of those passes for 163 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown. Matt Asiata, who hadn’t touched the ball in a game all season, ran for three touchdowns.

It added up to the most points surrendered by an Eagles defense since Oct. 30, 2005, when the Broncos scored 49 points. Denver scored two special-teams touchdowns in their 52-20 win in September.

“I do not know if we were overlooking them or did not take it seriously,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “I don’t know what happened, but whatever we did was not good enough going into this game.”

The Eagles have made it a priority to avoid giving up big plays. Cassel found Jennings streaking behind Allen and Patrick Chung in the first quarter for that 57-yard score. The Eagles gave up four passes of 20 yards or more, the most they allowed since a game against Carolina last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Chung, who lost his starting job to rookie Earl Wolff earlier in the season, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman.

“Kurt has done a good job in practice,” coach Chip Kelly said. “Just trying to find out where we are since Earl has been down (with a knee injury). I think Kurt deserves some time and we’re just trying to figure out who can play.”

No one on the defense made much of a case for themselves in this game.

“We just weren’t playing tight enough coverage,” Davis said. “That’s attached to the rush, too. It’s all attached together. It’s not just the coverage giving up plays, it’s the rush that has to get there. Collectively, as a defense, we came up really short today.”

The Eagles had gotten some breaks this season. They faced Green Bay in its first game without Aaron Rodgers. That snowstorm last week helped neutralize Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Facing a Vikings team without the injured Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart seemed like good fortune smiling on the Eagles again.

But without Peterson to lean on, Cassel was free to throw to Jennings, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Chase Ford. It begged the question of how Chicago, with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, will attack this defense.

“I don’t see it as a blueprint,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “It was mainly us. We are going to have to go back and watch the film to see what we can correct.”

They should see plenty.
BALTIMORE -- The Minnesota Vikings' remote chances of making the playoffs for a second straight season officially died on Sunday, when they watched another last-minute lead evaporate in M&T Bank Stadium's snowy west end zone. That means they will play their final three games with nothing at stake other than their draft positioning, and if they haven't had a consequence-free environment in which to evaluate their quarterbacks, they have one now.

Cassel
Cassel
That could give the Vikings reason to put Josh Freeman on the field for a game or two. Or they could go back to Christian Ponder once he is cleared to return from a concussion. Matt Cassel, though, made another case that he is the man who can run the Vikings' offense most efficiently on Sunday.

He hit just 17 of his 38 passes, but threw for 265 yards -- the most by a Vikings quarterback this season -- and connected on two touchdown pases that put the Vikings ahead in the fourth quarter. Cassel found Jerome Simpson in the back of the end zone early in the final period, and hit Cordarrelle Patterson on a screen pass that the rookie took 79 yards for a touchdown.

"I thought he did some good things," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He battled. He kept giving us a chance throughout the ballgame under some tough conditions against a good defensive team."

Frazier did not say who will start next Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, and that decision could take his coaching staff some time to figure out this week, if Ponder is ready to go and Freeman factors into the final three games of the season.

But Cassel might have as good an argument as any of the quarterbacks, with the way he's run Minnesota's offense the past two weeks.

"I would like to start every week, but then again, as you well know, it's not my decision," he said. "All I can do is try to get myself ready and be ready to play every week. Then I need to make the most of my opportunity."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings emerged from the fog of their 2010 season in early January 2011, when they removed the interim tag from coach Leslie Frazier's title and got to work reconfiguring an aging roster that had slogged through one of the most tumultuous years in team history.

That process took another leap forward in early 2012 with another job change: The Vikings made vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman their general manager, giving him full control over personnel decisions. Spielman and Frazier went looking for players they termed a "Viking fit" -- which typically meant players who were young, hungry, committed to the team and able to stay out of trouble.

It worked splendidly in 2011 and 2012, as the Vikings built their roster primarily with players they'd vetted through the draft process. They took some risks here and there, signing receiver Jerome Simpson last April shortly after he was suspended three games for a drug-related arrest and hanging onto fullback Jerome Felton when he was arrested for drunken driving last May, but the Vikings believed they could fold players into their culture and get them to clean up as they helped the team. In some cases, such as those of Felton and cornerback Chris Cook, that approach has worked. The Vikings -- who led the league with 33 arrests from 2000-11 -- went 16 months without one from July 2012 to November 2013, and they jumped from 3-13 to 10-6 during a charmed 2012 season, reaching the playoffs for the first time in three years.

That approach officially hit rough water this week, when the Vikings released defensive back A.J. Jefferson on Monday, hours after he was arrested on a domestic assault charge. Then, news surfaced on Wednesday that linebacker Erin Henderson had been arrested eight days earlier for drunken driving and possession of a controlled substance. The arrests, following Simpson's drunken-driving arrest earlier this month, gave the Vikings three since Nov. 7, when Frazier sent a jubilant locker room off on a three-day break following a Thursday night win over the Washington Redskins. And the news sent the coach to the podium on Wednesday, reading a hastily prepared statement from Spielman the Vikings had released three minutes before Frazier's news conference, while the general manager did not appear in public to discuss the arrests or the remarks he'd made through the team.

Headlines about NFL players behaving badly are far too common these days, and the problem stretches far beyond the Vikings. But when the Vikings have rebuilt their organization on a build-from-within process and Frazier's ability to get players pulling the same direction, it stings to have three incidents occur in such a short period of time. It leads Spielman to admit the Vikings might have to review their player development program, as he did in Wednesday's statement, and it forces Frazier to stand at a podium and attempt to explain why the Vikings have taken such different approaches to discipline with each player. None of it wears particularly well, especially when paired with the team's 2-8-1 record, and none of it helps the causes of an embattled coaching staff and front office.

Frazier has often likened a coach's role in player conduct to that of a parent, giving a child the information to make good choices, praying he does but knowing he ultimately has the ability to do what he wants. Neither he nor anyone else with the Vikings can mandate everything their players do outside the building. But for a team that had purportedly rebuilt itself on the premise it was beyond so many off-the-field troubles, it's been an awfully ominous month.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Now that it seems we're past the point of the Minnesota Vikings treating Cordarrelle Patterson with kid gloves, we get a little more information each week about why they felt the need to bring the rookie receiver along slowly earlier this year.

Coach Leslie Frazier said on Nov. 8 the Vikings had gone about as fast as they could with Patterson, whom they drafted in the first round amidst concerns about how quickly he could pick up their offense. Shortly after that, Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said Patterson had learned enough to play several receiver spots in the Vikings' offense, not just the split end position he'd first learned when the team selected him. And on Monday, Frazier said part of the trouble with using Patterson earlier in the season was the Vikings couldn't disguise what they were trying to do when he got on the field.

"Each time we were getting him in early in the season you could see that we were trying to get him the ball," Frazier said. "We were getting a little bit predictable, you know. He wasn’t getting that many snaps early on, and when he was, people were like, ’84 is in the game.’ We said, ‘Oh, boy that’s not good.’

"As time has gone on, we’ve moved him around to different spots. He’s not just playing the ‘X’ receiver anymore. We played him a lot [Sunday] at the ‘Z’ receiver position so we’ve had to adjust some things but the intent is to get him the ball in space as often as we can and see if he can make plays. And down the field as well, we tried some shots with him [Sunday]. So we want to try to get the ball in his hands and let him try to make plays. But that is the intent."

As excited as the Vikings are about Patterson's talent, the idea that they wouldn't put him on the field because they were concerned about being predictable sounds a bit like classic NFL overthinking to me. But the Vikings eventually had to get to a point where they could use Patterson in the flow of their normal offense, and they seem to be more comfortable doing that now. He played 42 offensive snaps on Sunday, was targeted with a team-high 11 passes and hauled in eight receptions, also a team-high.

Patterson could have had a bigger impact if not for two drops that might have helped the Vikings seal the game. He couldn't haul in a deep ball down the sideline from Christian Ponder with 9:40 left, losing his grip on a pretty well-placed ball as Packers cornerback Davon House shoved him to the ground. And in overtime, Patterson failed to corral a pass in the back of the end zone that would've won the game. House tipped it slightly, but Patterson said he took his focus off the ball for a brief second.

It's all part of the growth process for a rookie receiver, but Patterson's opportunities -- which grew after Jerome Simpson was arrested for drunken driving on Nov. 9 -- don't seem to be going away. It's worth noting that Frazier referred to Patterson on Monday as a "starter." As he matures, it seems possible he could become the Vikings' No. 1 receiver before too long.

"I don’t think the light bulb all of a sudden went on. I just think he’s been growing all along," Frazier said. "The situation with Jerome thrust [Patterson] into a different role. And we’ve tried to. And we were doing this along just to increase what we were doing with him. Now he’s starter and he’s really embraced that opportunity. And we’re continuing to try to find ways to get him the ball. But I think it’s just a process that he’s been a part of over the course of the year."

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