NFL Nation: Jerome Simpson

Vikings wake-up call: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings have their normal routine of a 10:30-11:30 walk-through and a 3 p.m.-5:10 p.m. practice at Minnesota State University. Defensive coordinator George Edwards and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are scheduled to talk to reporters after the morning walk-through.

More observations from Thursday's practice:
  • The Vikings have been doing extensive work with Xavier Rhodes, their talented second-year corner who still seems to be learning to trust his instincts in coverage. Rhodes is expected to be the Vikings' top cover corner this year, and while coach Mike Zimmer's defense typically doesn't ask corners to travel across the field with one receiver, Rhodes will undoubtedly see his share of difficult matchups this season. On Thursday, he drove on a route early in practice, but dropped an interception for the second consecutive day. Later, in a seven-on-seven red zone drill, he showed good technique against Jerome Simpson, playing with inside leverage that forced Matt Cassel to make a difficult throw to the back corner of the end zone, but Rhodes turned a split-second late for the ball and tried to swat it, rather than hitting Simpson's hands as he leaped to catch it. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray explained to Rhodes afterward that he'd played the right technique in coverage, but he just needed to force the ball out, rather than trying to recover by batting it away. It was a vivid snapshot in what's been a camp full of learning for Rhodes.
  • Zimmer continued to mix and match players in his first-team defense, giving Tom Johnson some work with the top unit at 3-technique tackle and rotating Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and rookie Antone Exum in the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith with Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury. Zimmer said he will release the Vikings' first formal depth chart sometime next week, and at certain positions it's probably dangerous to assume too much about a pecking order, when the Vikings are trying to get a look at a handful of different players in a variety of roles. ""Really, it's just about figuring out what guys can do," Zimmer said. "The more you can do, the more value you have to this football team."
  • The Vikings are experimenting with first-round draft pick Anthony Barr in a number of different ways. He's played linebacker in their dime package, has rushed from a defensive end position in the nickel, in addition to his normal work at linebacker in the base defense. He'll have to be able to hold up in coverage as a linebacker, but Zimmer's had no complaints there so far. "Coverage is great. He moves well. He’s got a good idea," Zimmer said. "Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk, so he’s very, very into trying to learn what we’re trying to do and teach. He’s got a lot of raw, athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon that he’s got to do better at. But for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with that."
They said it: "I would say the sky's the limit, but there's no ceiling to his potential. There really isn't. If he's willing to put in the time, the potential is there. He has everything he needs. He's starting to mature as a player, as an individual, so his success is going to shoot straight through the roof. I'm excited. I told him this, and maybe it was a little premature, but I told him, 'At some point, I'm going to tell my kids I played with Cordarrelle Patterson.'" --Wide receiver Greg Jennings on Patterson.
John TaylorUSA TODAY Sports
We have a winner. The voters selected John Taylor's game-winning TD catch in the 49ers' win over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII as the Bengals' most memorable play and I question their selection.

Score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16
Date: Jan. 22, 1989. Site: Joe Robbie Stadium.

Apparently the people who voted all this week in our Cincinnati Bengals most memorable plays poll aren't on Twitter. Because a good majority of the tweets I received this week regarding the Bengals' three most memorable plays -- selected, I might add, in part by those who participated in an unofficial Twitter survey back in June -- criticized the inclusion of 49ers receiver John Taylor's 10-yard touchdown catch that closed Super Bowl XXIII.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Bengals' history?

  •  
    20%
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    46%
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    34%

Discuss (Total votes: 30,879)

Those of you who vented such frustrations, I get them. When you think about a top plays or most memorable plays countdown, it's in your nature as a sports fan to assume right away that all of the plays involved are "good" ones for the team you root for. For example, either of Ken Anderson's two touchdown passes during the 1981 AFC championship "Freezer Bowl" game with minus-59 wind chills could have been options. Or Jerome Simpson's no-hands goal-line front flip into the end zone in 2011 might have been one. So, too, could Giovani Bernard's field-reversing, tackle-breaking 35-yard run at Miami last season.

Neither of those plays, though, made the cut. Stanford Jennings' 93-yard kick return touchdown that gave the Bengals a late lead in Super Bowl XXIII did, as did running back Corey Dillon's 41-yard touchdown run in 2000 that broke Walter Payton's longtime single-game rushing record. Since some of the best and brightest moments in team history include the Super Bowl appearances, it simply made sense that Jennings' return was a memorable play option. The same had to be said for Taylor's reception, as painful as it may have been for some of you to relive. That reception, which capped another one of Joe Montana's famous comebacks, came at the close of the most recent Super Bowl for the Bengals.

As problematic as the inclusion of Taylor's catch was for some of our loyal Twitter followers, it apparently wasn't an issue for the rest of you. Taylor's catch led the memorable play voting much of the week and ended up the winning selection.

Again, that reception arguably contributed (maybe in a small way) to the downturn the Bengals endured that caused a generation of football fans to grow up believing they weren't a very good franchise. As Chad Richard Bresson tweeted, "One could argue the Jennings return represents apex of Bengals franchise. SB loss, then Montoya. Downhill." (Max Montoya was a guard on the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowl teams. Instead of coming back to Cincinnati as expected in 1990, the then-free agent and California native signed with the Los Angeles Raiders. That postseason, his Raiders beat the Bengals in the second round. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game since that year's win over the Houston Oilers a round earlier.)

Instead of Taylor's catch, my pick would have been Dillon's run. Although his record has since been broken by Jamaal Lewis and Adrian Peterson, Dillon's 278 yards against the Broncos were just the dose of optimism the organization needed at the time. In the middle of what was a 14-year stretch without a winning record, the Bengals were in real dark days. They were 0-6 entering that game alone. There was very little to cheer about. But then Dillon came along and smashed one of the game's longstanding records, bringing some positive vibes to the city, even if they lasted for only one more week.

Vikings offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Minnesota Vikings' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Matt RourkeIt's been a long time since the Vikings had a run-stuffing nose tackle like Linval Joseph.
Best move: The Vikings needed a run-stuffing nose tackle as much as they needed anything else on their defense, and the signing of Linval Joseph gave them a big body for the middle of their defensive line. Joseph should provide a presence the Vikings haven't had since Pat Williams' time in Minnesota ended, and although his contract will pay him $31.75 million over the next five years, including $12.5 million guaranteed, it's structured in such a way that the Vikings would face minimal cap repercussions if they needed to cut Joseph as soon as 2016. He's just 25, and in an ideal world, he'll be playing nose tackle for the Vikings for the next five years.

Riskiest move: It's based on the Vikings' high assessment of his potential, but giving $20 million guaranteed to defensive end Everson Griffen after four seasons of rotational duty was a gamble. The Vikings could insert Griffen in Jared Allen's old left end spot, and while sacks are an incomplete measure of performance for a defensive end in Mike Zimmer's scheme, Griffen will have to generate some pressure and be stout against the run. He has the talent to do both, but for him to be worth a contract that pays him like one of the league's top defensive ends, Griffen will have to showcase that talent more frequently than he's done so far in Minnesota.

Most surprising move: In an offseason that followed a fairly sensible shopping list, there weren't too many out-of-character steps among the Vikings' decisions. But the team opting not to add another receiver was worth at least a second glance. The Vikings could have plucked one in the middle rounds of a deep draft, giving themselves another option at a position where No. 3 receiver Jerome Simpson is coming off his second arrest in three years. Instead, the team will hope that Simpson is available for the better part of the season, third-year man Jarius Wright can become a more consistent part of the offense, and practice squad holdovers like Adam Thielen can add something to an offense that should push the ball downfield more than it has in the past.

Quarterback plan in place: The Vikings started their offseason by giving themselves some pre-draft insurance at quarterback, signing Matt Cassel to a new two-year, $10 million deal after he opted out of the contract he'd signed in 2013. They also traded back into the first round to take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, meaning their succession plan is in place at the position, whether that happens sometime this year, in 2015 or in 2016. If the Vikings do want Bridgewater to sit for a year, they're making a leap of faith that Cassel can be reliable for a full season in Norv Turner's offense after starting just 23 games from 2011 to 2013. If he's not, the Vikings could have to decide whether to put Bridgewater on the field or see whether they can get through a few games with Christian Ponder. But Cassel was mostly solid in six starts last season, and with both him and Bridgewater in the building, the Vikings have more reason to feel comfortable at quarterback than they've had in a while.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Sometime around 8:30 Central time Thursday night, the Minnesota Vikings will finally be on the clock with the No. 8 overall pick, finally rendering insignificant the months of mock drafts and speculation about who they'll take.

When they do make their pick, general manager Rick Spielman said Tuesday, they could take a player that none of the mock drafts have pegged.

Evans
"Everybody reads the mocks, because we're tired of yelling at each other," Spielman said. "At night, I read the mocks and kind of get caught up on things. You guys are missing some names on our spot at 8, I can tell you that."

Spielman said no one in the building knows who the Vikings will take with the eighth pick, even though the general manager has had plenty of discussions about the options at that pick. Many of the media mock drafts (including plenty at ESPN) have the Vikings taking a quarterback, in large part because that's what many pundits feel the team should do, not necessarily what it will do. In light of Spielman's comment, though, here's one name that could be worth a longer look for the Vikings than he's received so far: Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The 6-foot-5 receiver has been listed in the top seven picks of many mock drafts, and is seen as the second-best wideout in the draft behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins. The Vikings don't have a big, physical presence at the position, and they only have two receivers who look like sure-fire starters: Greg Jennings, who will be 31 in September, and Cordarrelle Patterson, who is still learning the finer points of playing receiver in the NFL before his second season. Jerome Simpson is on a one-year deal (and was arrested for a second time last November), and third-year man Jarius Wright might not be more than a complementary receiver.

Would it be a bit frivolous to take Evans when the Vikings have so many other needs on defense? Perhaps. But if the Vikings are going to take a young quarterback at some point -- or if they're going to try to win with Matt Cassel for now -- one theory is that they could try to load the offense up with as many weapons as possible. Adrian Peterson, Jennings, Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Evans would put the Vikings on par with the rest of the high-powered offenses in the division and potentially make things more comfortable for whomever the Vikings' quarterback is, this year or in the future.

And then there's this: The Vikings had at least three wideouts on the field for just 447 snaps last season, the fourth-fewest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Cleveland Browns used at least three receivers on an extra 112 snaps. If three-receiver looks are going to be at least a slightly more prominent part of the offense, and the Vikings have depth concerns about the position, is taking a player like Evans the craziest idea in the world?

"You can look at spots on offense, besides quarterback," Spielman said. "There's no way that's not a need. While that may be a need, that guy can't come in and help this year, but he sure as heck is going to be an impact player for us down the road as well, whether that's receiver or whatever."

It might not be the most sensible, in terms of filling an obvious need, but that scenario would test the Vikings' commitment to Spielman's stated practice of taking the best player available, regardless of position. If Evans meets that description when the Vikings were on the clock Thursday night, it isn't beyond the realm of possibility to think they'd take him.
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
Mar 14
3:00
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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
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» 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
12/19/13
10:00
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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."

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