NFL Nation: Kenny Onatolu
The other inactives are running back Chris Ivory, running back Travaris Cadet, defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker, offensive lineman Bryce Harris and defensive end Turk McBride. Lance Moore is likely to start in Henderson’s place with Greg Camarillo and Joe Morgan getting time as the third and fourth receivers. Jabari Greer returns after missing last week’s game and will start at cornerback opposite Patrick Robinson. Rookie Corey White is expected to be used as the third cornerback.
Also, rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks will be active for the first time.
Carolina’s inactives are quarterback Jimmy Clausen, defensive back D.J. Campbell, linebacker Kenny Onatolu, tackle Bruce Campbell, guard Mike Pollak, tight end Ben Hartsock and defensive tackle Frank Kearse. Receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart, who had been listed as questionable, are active for Carolina.
Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:
Carolina’s special teams were among the worst in the league last year. That’s why the Panthers didn’t sit still in the offseason. They went out and made a bunch of moves that should help their special teams.
Safety Haruki Nakamura, linebacker Kenny Onatolu and fullback Mike Tolbert all have been productive on the coverage units in previous stops. The Panthers also used two draft picks on two players they expect to be regulars on special teams. Wide receiver Joe Adams has excellent potential as a return man. The Panthers also drafted punter Josh Nortman. But the job doesn’t automatically belong to Nortman. The Panthers also brought in veteran Nick Harris to compete with Nortman, after they released Jason Baker earlier in the offseason.
Even kicker Olindo Mare, who had some big misses last season, is going to have to win his job. The Panthers brought in former Canadian Football League kicker Justin Medlock to compete with Mare. There’s competition everywhere. That’s a good thing. Injuries left the Panthers very short-handed on special teams at times last season. This offseason, general manager Marty Hurney has gone out of his way to make sure the Panthers have plenty of talent and depth on special teams. If the special teams and the defense can be better than last year, Carolina has a chance to challenge for a playoff spot.
Item: The NFL has taken $36 million in salary cap space from the Washington Redskins and $10 million from the Dallas Cowboys for two-year-old contract violations.
Comment: Each NFC North team will receive $1.6 million in additional cap space as a result. Yee-haw!
Item: The Detroit Lions released tight end Will Heller.
Comment: Heller was due a roster bonus of $200,000 and would have received a base salary of just under $1 million in 2012. As cold as it sounds, you don't need to pay your third tight end that kind of money.
Item: The Chicago Bears issued a low tender of $1.26 million to running back Kahlil Bell, a restricted free agent.
Comment: The Bears have the right to match any contract offer Bell might receive, but they would get no compensation if he departs. At this moment, he appears in line to be Matt Forte's primary backup in 2012. Marion Barber isn't expected back.
Item: The Vikings aren't expected to tender linebacker/special teams ace Kenny Onatolu, according to Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Comment: The fate of the Vikings' other restricted free agent, running back Lorenzo Booker, has yet to be learned.
Item: The Green Bay Packers are entering into their final hours of exclusive negotiating with center Scott Wells, a pending free agent.
Comment: The Packers have a history of last-minute agreements, but Wells might feel compelled to test his market value before being satisfied with what the Packers have offered.
Item: I can't count how many people have asked for updates on the status of Packers left tackle Chad Clifton and receiver Donald Driver.
Comment: If either player has restructured his contract and/or been informed of his release, it hasn't been made public. That's all I can tell you at this moment.
David specifically wants to know how it relates to the Detroit Lions, who need to shave more than $11 million in cap space before Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, but it's worth taking a broader look at what is almost always a drama-less segment of free agency.
RFAs -- "Restricted Free Agents" -- are players who have accrued three years' experience in the NFL. They are eligible for a new contract, but teams can restrict their access by requiring draft-pick compensation for them to move on and receiving the right to match any deal a player receives. Rare is the case when a third-year player is valuable enough to merit a lucrative contract and a draft pick, and a result, RFAs usually don't change teams.
So the only news when it comes to RFAs is typically whether they were issued a tender or not. The level of the tender is mostly an issue of the salary cap.
In 2012, according to NFL.com, there are three levels of RFA tenders. A player who requires a first-round compensation will get a tender (and cap number) worth $2.742 million, according to NFL.com. Second-round tenders are worth $1.927 million in cap and cash, and tenders that include right to match only are worth $1.26 million.
The Lions have two significant RFAs: Linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Sammie Hill. You would think both would get at least a second-round tender. Would another team give up a second-round pick to acquire either player? Probably not, and every cap dollar will matter this year to the Lions. But they could ensure both players' return beyond a doubt by giving them first-round tenders at a combined additional cost of $1.63 million.
The NFL typically announces tender levels on the day free agency begins, and we'll pass along what we find out before then. Other key RFAs in the NFC North include Chicago Bears running back Kahlil Bell, Minnesota Vikings running back Lorenzo Booker and Vikings linebacker/special-teams ace Kenny Onatolu.
Surprise move: Either the Vikings have confidence in a number of unproven offensive linemen or they have their sights on some veteran acquisitions later this weekend. They released guard/tackles Chris DeGeare and Ryan Cook, both of whom saw substantial action at right guard during the injury rehabilitation of starter Anthony Herrera. This version of their 53-man roster features three centers and a total of 10 offensive linemen. The group includes two rookies (DeMarcus Love and Brandon Fusco) and one first-year player in Patrick Brown. The Vikings' arrangement here remains under construction, as far as I’m concerned.
No-brainers: Undrafted tight end Allen Reisner was one of the big surprises of camp. He not only pushed veteran Jeff Dugan off the roster but also forced the Vikings to keep four tight ends on their roster. I wondered whether the Vikings would release safety Tyrell Johnson, who has struggled to maintain his starting job in the face of a modest challenge from Jamarca Sanford. In the end, the Vikings didn’t have enough in-house experience to make that move. But watch out down the road for rookie Mistral Raymond, who forced his way onto the initial 53-man roster and is clearly respected by coaches.
What’s next: You would think the Vikings would be on the lookout for two areas in particular: Linebackers and running backs. The decision to release veteran Heath Farwell left them with five linebackers, only two of whom have starting experience. The current backups are special-teams ace Kenny Onatolu and undrafted rookie Larry Dean. With new starter Erin Henderson still establishing himself, you wonder if that is enough depth. Meanwhile, the Vikings kept only three tailbacks (and no fullbacks). Both of Adrian Peterson's backups, Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker, were dealing with injuries as recently as last week. Depth is definitely an issue and could be addressed in the next 24-48 hours.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Check here for a full list of Minnesota’s roster moves.
Biggest surprise: There weren’t many, but it was a bit startling to see the Vikings part ways with tight end Garrett Mills. He’s always demonstrated soft hands and seemed to be an offensive playmaker in the waiting. The Vikings carried him on their roster for two years hoping that would be the case, but this year they decided to go heavier at the receiver position. They kept three tight ends -- Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan -- along with six receivers. Essentially, No. 6 receiver Darius Reynaud beat out Mills.
No brainers: There will be some hand-wringing over the decision to release quarterback John David Booty, especially if he is claimed by another team. I don’t deny that he’s in the middle of his development, but to this point I’ve never seen anything to suggest he’ll be any better than a No. 3 quarterback. The Vikings have three passers on their roster who are better than him. I don’t think there are many people in the NFL who consider Booty the Vikings’ quarterback of the future. It’ll be OK.
What’s next: Minnesota will have to determine whether Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels will be the No. 2 quarterback behind starter Brett Favre. I’m guessing it’s Jackson. Coach Brad Childress loathes interceptions, and Rosenfels threw a bad one Friday night against Dallas. I’ll also be interested to see if some of the Vikings’ roster decisions help improve their coverage units. Linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Kenny Onatolu, along with defensive backs Jamarca Sanford and Karl Paymah, made the team based almost exclusively on special teams.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
MINNEAPOLIS -- I think it’s fair to say Minnesota coach Brad Childress isn’t entirely comfortable with the quarterback depth on his roster even after the arrival of new starter Brett Favre.
Childress was steamed late Friday night about the play of backups Sage Rosenfels and John David Booty, each of whom had interceptions returned for touchdowns in the third quarter of a 35-31 loss to Dallas. Childress admitted he intentionally benched both of them for the transgression -- a rarity in the scripted world of the preseason -- and didn’t sound like a coach who has decided on the final configuration of the position.
Asked to assess the team’s quarterback play on a night Favre watched from the sidelines, Childress said, “At times it was embarrassing. And I’ll end up putting that on myself some, not having them ready to come out of the locker room at halftime. [But] all of the quarterbacks I’ve ever coached have some regard for the football and you can’t throw it them.”
Tarvaris Jackson started the game and played four series, completing 2 of 4 passes for 42 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown to tight end Jeff Dugan.
But on the first play of the third quarter, Rosenfels threw a short out pass into the hands of Dallas safety Patrick Watkins, who returned the interception 23 yards for a touchdown. Booty replaced Rosenfels for the next series. One the fifth play of that possession, however, he forced a pass to receiver Vinny Perretta. Dallas linebacker Steve Octavien grabbed it and dashed 44 yards for a score.
Then we were back to Rosenfels. Asked why he flipped quarterbacks the first time, Childress said: “Because he threw an interception for a touchdown.” Asked if that also explained why Booty sat down after one series, Childress said: “Pretty much, yep.”
Rosenfels seemed much less disturbed after completing 7 of 15 passes for 115 yards, noting that even Favre has thrown an interception or two (or 310) in his career.
“It always seems like you want to take back one play,” Rosenfels said. “I wish I could get that play back. Just a bad play by me. Other than that, I felt comfortable out there and did a pretty good job of executing the offense, other than that one play. So I’m going to keep firing. I talked to Brett. Brett’s overcome his fair share of interceptions. I think he has the NFL record. And he just keeps firing. So just keep firing and keep plugging away.”
Entering the game, we wondered which of the Vikings’ four quarterbacks would be spending his last day on the roster. After watching Childress’ reaction to Friday night’s game, it’s hard to imagine it being Jackson. For one night, at least, Jackson appeared to be the Vikings’ second-best quarterback. The team reportedly has been trying to trade him, but at this point I don’t believe Childress would feel comfortable with what he would be left with.
Jackson finished the preseason with a 118.4 passer rating, having completed 23 of 36 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’ve been having fun the past few weeks and that’s really all I can say,” Jackson said. “I feel like regardless of what happened here, my future is still bright in the NFL. I can’t control exactly what happens here. I can only control what happens on the field.”
Childress doesn’t seem to have the same comfort level with Rosenfels, but it would be foolish for the Vikings to release him four months after trading a fourth-round draft pick for him. That leaves Booty, who is still developing but could find his way to the practice squad.
I asked Childress about the possibility of keeping four quarterbacks on the active roster. He didn’t seem enthused by the idea.
“The No. 3 only plays a very, very small percentage of the time,” Childress said. “We’ve done some studies about that. Unless you think you have somebody that somebody else covets and might be able to get something for, that would be a reason to hold on to somebody. [You’re] hoping that you’re not getting to No. 4 during the season.”
We’ll know more Saturday. NFL rosters must be pared to 53 by 6 p.m. ET.
A few other points before we call it a night:
- Childress managed to sit all 22 starters. (Fullback Naufahu Tahi played on special teams only.) Also held out were backup receivers Percy Harvin and Bobby Wade, reserve linebacker Heath Farwell and backup tailback Chester Taylor. My instinct is to make a sarcastic remark about Childress taking it easy on so many players, but after watching Chicago and Green Bay on Thursday night, I suppose I understand. The Bears lost tailback Kevin Jones (ankle) for the season, while Green Bay rookie B.J. Raji limped off the field with an ankle injury.
- Receiver Darius Reynaud might have locked up a roster spot by returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown.
- A sight to see: Defensive tackle Letroy Guion fumble while trying to move the ball to his left hand as he returned a second-quarter interception. Linebacker Kenny Onatolu recovered to maintain possession for the Vikings.
- Not sure what this means, but every time I noticed Favre on the sideline, he was talking to left guard Steve Hutchinson. Like Forrest and Jenny, they were two peas in a pod.
I get regular requests for updates on the health of Minnesota defensive end Kenechi Udeze, who missed last season while fighting an acute form of leukemia.
Minnesota coach Brad Childress told local reporters Thursday night that Udeze remains on track to participate in the Vikings' Organized Training Activities when they begin this spring. Those drills typically are scheduled for after the draft.
Udeze was declared to be in remission early last summer and then underwent a bone marrow transplant. He remains under contract, and the Vikings will give him every opportunity to make the team in 2009. Here is Rick Alonzo and Sean Jensen's report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Continuing around the NFC North on this Friday morning:
- The Vikings promoted offensive assistant Chad O'Shea to assistant special teams coach, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. O'Shea had spent the past three seasons working mostly with receivers.
- The Vikings signed Canadian Football League linebacker Kenny Onatolu to a contract, according to Sun Media. He played college football at Nebraska-Omaha.
- Chicago became the latest team to freeze ticket prices for the 2009 season, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- The Bears will absorb a 1 percent increase in the City of Chicago's amusement tax as part of the decision, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette examines how long it might take for the Packers to make the transition to the 3-4 defense. Here's how new defensive coordinator Dom Capers put it: "You have enough flexibility that you adapt your scheme to the players you have. You can't totally change the players you have. As you gradually work toward your percentage of playing a defense, it's not as high the first year as it is the second year, and you gravitate."
- Soon to be ex-Detroit cornerback Leigh Bodden on Sirius NFL Radio: "I don't want to say divided but I don't think everybody was on the same page, to tell you the truth. That's what I felt and that's what I saw, especially in my situation. I can only speak from my situation and that's what I felt." Dave Birkett of the Oakland Press provides a transcript of Bodden's interview.