NFL Nation: Leslie Frazier

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are just 16 days to go until the 2014 NFL draft, meaning we're firmly in the time of year when general managers are more likely to top off their draft preparations with a dollop of misdirection than a scintilla of truth.

And yet, when Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman described the process of evaluating this year's quarterback class as "torturous" in an interview published Monday, his comments were structured around a consistent theme he's been hitting since the Vikings began draft preparations in earnest three months ago.

"Every one of these quarterbacks ... nothing is a sure thing," Spielman said in a discussion with MMQB.com on Monday. "There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player -- every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feeling, why don’t you just wait ’til later in the draft and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now?"

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWould the Vikings have stayed with Christian Ponder as long as they did if he had been drafted in the second or third round?
Since January, Spielman has been talking about how far and wide the Vikings would search for a quarterback, how careful they would be not to get boxed into drafting one in the first round. He has described this class as being without a sure thing since February and has talked since March about how re-signing Matt Cassel gave the Vikings the freedom to wait on a quarterback.

There are a couple of viable explanations for the consistency. One possibility is that Spielman has been crafting the narrative that the Vikings won't force a quarterback pick at No. 8 for months, possibly to ward off teams that might be interested in leapfrogging the Vikings for a QB or to create a market for trading down. The other scenario is that Spielman is staring at the situation, knowing how damaging the fallout could be for him if he misses on another highly drafted passer, and is mulling the possibility that a first-round quarterback might just be too big of a gamble in this draft.

Plenty of people around the league believe the Vikings won't take a quarterback at No. 8, choosing instead to draft a defensive player or trade back a few spots to accumulate more picks before picking a defender. With the caveat that what you hear from people around the league has to be triple-filtered this time of year, I'm inclined to think it's likely the Vikings wait, for a couple reasons. First, the Vikings still have enough defensive needs that they would be helped sooner by a linebacker or defensive back than they would by drafting a quarterback who needs time to develop. There's some legitimacy to Spielman's statements that the Vikings aren't that far away from being back in the playoffs. That's based on how many close games they might have won with only slightly more efficient quarterbacking and a less porous defense last season. If you believe a full season of Cassel and the prospect of defensive improvement is enough for a quick pivot while Adrian Peterson is still in his 20s, wouldn't it be tempting to consider that route?

The second, and probably more important reason for the Vikings to wait on a quarterback, is this: They've seen just how much time and how many resources can be squandered on a quarterback who doesn't pan out. Peterson was 26 when Christian Ponder made his first start for the Vikings. Percy Harvin was a 23-year-old turning into a breakout star, and Jared Allen was in the midst of a 22-sack season at age 29. The Vikings were in the middle of a rebuilding project under Spielman and Leslie Frazier, but those don't have to take that long in the modern NFL when there are cornerstone players in place.

Heading into 2014, though, Harvin, Allen and Frazier are gone, Ponder has lost the benefit of the doubt, and the Vikings are still trying to figure out their long-term answer at quarterback. Spielman outlived Frazier in Minnesota and got a chance to hire his own coach in Mike Zimmer, but he probably can't survive another big swing and miss at quarterback. If the Vikings were to hitch their fortunes to the wrong guy at No. 8, Zimmer could eventually be dragged down with the GM.

It's interesting to think about what might have happened in 2011 if the Vikings had taken Ponder in the second or third round and if they would have felt less compelled to stand by him. Would they have made a play for Robert Griffin III the next year or taken Russell Wilson instead of Josh Robinson in the third round after Frazier and his staff coached Wilson at the Senior Bowl?

The Vikings might have decided to give Ponder time anyway, but it's difficult to argue any team faces the same pressure to stick by a second-day draft pick as it does with the 12th overall selection. It has to be in the back of Spielman's mind that taking a quarterback later in the draft wouldn't carry the same kind of inherent commitment as drafting one in the top 10, in addition to the fact that passing on QB at No. 8 would give him the opportunity to pick from a dynamic group of defensive players. Considering the quarterbacks that could be in next year's class -- such as Florida State's Jameis Winston, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota -- the Vikings had better know how tethered they want to be to a quarterback they would take this year.

The Vikings are in eight days of pre-draft meetings that conclude next Tuesday, when players return to the team facility for a three-day voluntary minicamp. That event will give Zimmer his first real chance to work with players and make some determinations about what he has in Cassel and Ponder. From there, the Vikings can have their final discussions about how they want to approach the quarterback position. But it seems possible, as it has for months, that they are seriously weighing the benefits of waiting if they're not completely enamored with a QB in the first round.

"How many franchise quarterbacks actually come out?" Spielman said earlier this offseason. "Last couple years, there have been a couple guys that have been taken in the second and third rounds that have been successful. I think there’s some depth in this quarterback class. You’re definitely not going to be forced to take a quarterback at 8 unless you’re totally sold on that quarterback. I can guarantee you that it’s not going to be a forced issue.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings' pursuit of former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson began just after the start of the free agency negotiating period on March 8. It was fueled by an obvious connection between Johnson and new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who had been Johnson's defensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

Griffen
Johnson
The Vikings, however, finished a five-year, $42.5 million deal with Everson Griffen in the early morning hours March 9, and Johnson had a five-year, $43.75 million deal with Tampa Bay in place just before the start of free agency. Zimmer said in a radio interview Thursday morning that he "lost" out on Johnson because he wanted to be closer to his Selma, Ala., home, but added bringing back Griffen was the Vikings' first priority.

"Michael is a very Southern, country kid," Zimmer said on KFAN-FM in the Twin Cities. "It had nothing to do with football. He wanted to be with me, and I think that was the struggle he was going through -- whether to be with me in Minnesota or close to home. I lost.

"I don't want to give the impression that Michael Johnson was the guy we were going after and Everson was the second guy. We felt like Everson was a guy that, his career is starting to go up and he was the guy that we really put our eggs in his basket first. If it got too out of hand, money-wise or something like that, we were going to move on Michael."

The Vikings would have had to get creative, both with their scheme and their finances, to get Griffen and Johnson. It's hard to envision a scenario in which they would have landed both, but it seemed like they knew fairly early in the process that Johnson wanted to stay home, which probably allowed them to hammer out the Griffen deal in short order. The team had been talking with Griffen's camp in general terms about a new deal for months, but things got serious late on the night of March 8 and early in the morning of March 9.

As we discussed earlier in the month, it was an interesting twist to see Johnson sign with Tampa Bay (where former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is the defensive coordinator) while Griffen stayed in Minnesota with Zimmer, but if Johnson was always itching to play closer to home and Griffen wanted to stay in Minnesota, things might have worked out for both players anyway. Time will tell how the deals worked out for both teams.
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LB Adam Hayward, FB Erik Lorig, LB Jonathan Casillas and WR Tiquan Underwood.

Where they stand: The Buccaneers don't have any huge names among their own free agents, but they'd like to keep some of them as role players. Hayward is a key special-teams player and Lorig is important as the lead blocker for Doug Martin in the running game. If Casillas returns, he's a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. The major need on defense is for a pass-rusher. On offense, the team may look to overhaul its offensive line. Tight end and depth at wide receiver also are big needs.

What to expect: The Bucs were 4-12 last season and they have a new coaching staff and general manager. That means there will be significant changes. The Bucs have $18 million in cap room, so they’re going to be active in free agency, even though they've stated their goal is to build through the draft. Look for connections to the new regime to play into free-agent signings. Return man Devin Hester and cornerback Charles Tillman played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier worked with defensive end Jared Allen in Minnesota. All of those players could be prime targets. A veteran quarterback also could be added to the mix, with Josh McCown and Michael Vick as possibilities.
Before I head off to Bristol, Conn., for a couple days of meetings, let’s reach into the mailbag for our question of the day.

Alex in San Angelo, Texas, asks if the Bucs keep Darrelle Revis, will they still be able to pursue free agents like Jared Allen and Charles Tillman.

The Bucs can keep Revis (and his $16 million cap figure) and still have plenty of room to target the two veteran free agents and others. At the moment, the Bucs have $114.2 million committed toward a cap that’s expected to be $133 million. And I think the cap position will only get better. I suspect you’ll see a few high-priced offensive linemen get released or have their contracts restructured.

Age should keep the price for Allen and Tillman relatively low. The Bucs don’t want to overhaul their team with veteran free agents, but Allen and Tillman are likely exceptions to the rule. The Bucs have needs at defensive end and cornerback. Allen has history with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Tillman played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In his introductory news conference as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach, Mike Zimmer made it clear that he wanted to be involved in every aspect of the team, not just the ones where he'd made his reputation as a defensive coordinator for more than a decade.

Zimmer
"I want to hire an offensive coordinator, yes, and I want him to have his ideas, but I want to be the head coach and I want to be in charge of this football team and I want to be in charge of everything that we do here," Zimmer said on Jan. 17. "So there will be times when I’ll go in the offensive room and talk to them about certain plays and doing different things and what I have seen on tape. Being a defensive coach and knowing a lot of things that hurt certain defenses, I know a lot of coaches in this league from playing against them for so long. But my goal is to be the head coach, not the defensive coach, and then have an offensive coach to be the offensive coach."

Zimmer wouldn't have hired an offensive coordinator with as much clout as Norv Turner if he wasn't planning to empower that person, but it's clear Zimmer also won't limit himself to the defensive side of the ball. His predecessor, Leslie Frazier, also became a head coach after working as a defensive coordinator, and seemed too deferential to his coordinators at times. Frazier said on Sept. 16 he had overridden his coordinators' calls on some occasions, and wouldn't hesitate to do so in the future, but the entire reason he was discussing the topic was what had happened the day before in Chicago, when Frazier had castigated himself for not getting more involved in the defensive play-calling at the end of a 31-30 loss to the Chicago Bears, where Jay Cutler found Martellus Bennett for a touchdown with 10 seconds left.

We don't -- and won't -- have all the details on coach/coordinator interactions, so it's difficult to make a full assessment of the relationship, but at a minimum, it seems safe to say Zimmer wants to make sure he's directly involved with the entire sphere of the Vikings' decisions. He spent last Thursday night talking offensive strategy with Turner at the NFL scouting combine, he said, and is intent on tapping Turner's knowledge to learn more about the offense.

"I’m still growing that way," Zimmer said on Friday. "Obviously I’m trying to get all the defensive things in place as far as playbook, terminology and all that and we keep working our way over that. I’m learning offense, the offensive system and things. The one good thing about Norv, we talk about different things and I said, ‘Do you ever do this off of it?’ and he’d say, ‘We used to do that.’ So we communicate.”

Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have said they'll lean heavily on Turner as the Vikings think about taking a quarterback in the draft, but Zimmer won't be shy about weighing in on the decision, either. He'll ultimately be judged on how smoothly he can transition from running one phase of the game to running a whole team, and when the Vikings' biggest offseason move might be on the side of the ball Zimmer hasn't coached, it makes sense for him to get involved quickly.

"It will be a collective decision between Rick and myself and Norv," Zimmer said of the quarterback move. "When I was in Cincinnati, they wanted to find out what kind of defensive players I wanted and guys who I liked and things like that. And just because I liked them didn’t mean they were going to take them. I think it’s important that's the same thing with Norv. I think he’s evaluated quarterbacks a lot longer than I have. I’ve played against them a lot longer than he has. I think it’s part of the process, too.”
Mike ZimmerAP Photo/Johnny VyCoach Mike Zimmer said Friday at the combine that he wants the Vikings to be "smart players."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The image much of football-watching America, and ostensibly a good chunk of Minnesota, has of new Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is the one portrayed in HBO's "Hard Knocks," where Zimmer could be seen delivering corrections or admonishments well-seasoned with expletives. Zimmer was branded as fiery, or a disciplinarian, or some similar catch-all term meant to depict a coach who does a lot of yelling and swearing.

That will certainly be part of Zimmer's on-field persona, and it will stand in stark contrast to the stoic demeanor of Zimmer's predecessor Leslie Frazier. But both the coach and general manager Rick Spielman have been working hard at the NFL scouting combine to chip away at the image of Zimmer as a drill sergeant who didn't get a shot to be a head coach earlier in his career because he was too blunt for his own good.

"He may be gruff between those lines, but if you ask -- and I called agents with players who played for Mike Zimmer -- as demanding as he is, I've never heard so much respect for a coach, that guys love to play for this guy," Spielman said. "He has that 'it' factor, on being able to hold guys accountable, and get them to play to their utmost ability. The players love him for that."

Zimmer certainly doesn't come across as a coach who will suffer fools. He talked on Friday about how much he likes smart players, and said "I'm not a patient person with anybody" when talking about whether Christian Ponder could get another chance to start at quarterback. But if Frazier's calling card as a coach was leadership, Zimmer's could turn out to be education.

He talked in detail on Friday about how he ordered a renovation of the Vikings' meeting room at their team facility, swapping out a flat floor and tables for stadium seating, where the coach could meet the eyes of every player in the room. He recalled more details from the film session he recently conducted with team scouts and front office members, detailing the specific responsibilities of each position in his defense and what kinds of players could best meet those responsibilities. And he largely declined to offer sweeping assessments of the Vikings' current players, saying he wanted to wait until he'd had a chance to work with them and observe them on the field this spring.

"I try not to prejudge that," he said. "Number one, I don't know if a guy's a smart guy, yet. I don't know what they were being told to do. I think you can make a lot of mistakes by guessing, 'Well, he should have been doing this,' but maybe the coach was telling him to do something else. Whatever they were telling him could be right or wrong, or maybe the player was in the wrong, too. But there are so many different ways to do it, it's what you believe in and how you do it."

The natural tendency in the NFL is to replace a fired coach with his opposite, or at least perceive that the replacement must inherently be the opposite of the fired coach. Frazier reached players through quiet motivation; therefore, Zimmer must do it through loud force. Those narratives might encompass some fragments of reality, but they can also be overly simplistic.

Zimmer will be more animated than Frazier, and if he is fiery, he'd follow Jerry Burns and Dennis Green in the tradition of Vikings coaches who have been that way. But for as many players as have credited Zimmer for getting the most out of them, his methods must be more nuanced than sheer volume and obscenity.

At the combine this week, he and Spielman have offered a part of his platform: Zimmer will have exacting standards for his players, but he'll make sure he's equipping them with enough knowledge to do the job.

"Bill Parcells used to have a big sign in the facility -- and I may put one up, too -- that said, 'Dumb players do dumb things. Smart players very seldom do dumb things,' and it's true," Zimmer said. "I want us to all understand that we all represent one another, and all of our livelihoods are based on how (we all) do. That's one of the things that we tried to do, tried to [set up] a good educational environment, football-wise."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Early in his time as the Minnesota Vikings' coach, Mike Zimmer sat the team's front office and scouting staff down in a film room, and turned on tape of the Cincinnati Bengals' defense. He pointed out the responsibilities of each player in the Bengals' scheme, outlining what he'd want those players to do when Zimmer brings that defense to the Vikings.

Quickly, general manager Rick Spielman said, the people in the room realized they'd be able to look at some players that had been incompatible with the Cover-2 schemes of the Vikings' past.

"There are guys that are good football players that we may not have been interested in, in the past, that we’ll be interested in now because of what we learned so far of listening to Zim speak," Spielman said on Friday.

So what does that mean on a practical level? Well, I'd say a couple things. First, if Zimmer is using the Bengals' defense as a template for what he wants in Minnesota, I think we can largely put the idea of a 3-4 scheme to bed. Zimmer has coached a 3-4 defense in the past, as has defensive coordinator George Edwards, but Zimmer has typically preferred a 4-3 defense, and told reporters at the Vikings' Arctic Blast event last weekend that he hired Edwards in part because he'd been working in Miami under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, the former Bengals secondary coach who had been running Zimmer's defense in Miami.

It also means, though, that the Vikings can probably take a longer look at corners who play more man coverage and linebackers who can play a bigger role in the pass rush than they've had in the past. Zimmer's defense figures to be more aggressive than Leslie Frazier's and Alan Williams' were, and the Vikings will find their personnel accordingly. To paraphrase the famous line of Zimmer's mentor, Bill Parcells, the Vikings' front office has been given a different grocery list to cook a different meal.

Spielman mentioned the Vikings might be able to take a look at smaller defensive ends that many teams view as 3-4 outside linebackers. In the past, the Vikings haven't necessarily pursued those players, but they might have more interest in them now. They could be nickel rushers, such as Everson Griffen (a similar body type) has been, or might even fit as linebackers in a 4-3 under Zimmer. Remember, former Steelers linebacker James Harrison -- one of the best pass-rushing 3-4 linebackers in the league -- shifted to the strong-side linebacker role in the Bengals' 4-3 scheme under Zimmer last season.

The Bengals' defensive ends were on the taller side, but they made effective use of shorter pass-rushers like Wallace Gilberry. That makes me think it's even more likely Griffen will be back with the Vikings next season, and it could cast a wider net for linebacker types than the Vikings have used in the past. Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, who is a free agent this March, could also make sense for the Vikings. Essentially, they're able to consider players they might have previously stamped as poor fits for their scheme.

"We were on a particular player and it was, 'This is what his skill set is. Can he fit or can he not fit in the system?'" Spielman said. "In the past, he couldn’t fit in the system but now he does fit in the system. So as we're talking and going through it learning about what we’re doing defensively, offensively, but more on a defensive of the ball (we were), I don’t want to say retrained, but we’re looking at guys differently than we may have in the past."

Bucs question: Jared Allen a fit?

February, 13, 2014
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Let’s reach into the mailbag for the question of the day.

Blake in Rutherford, N.J., asks if the presence of defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier could help the Bucs land defensive end Jared Allen in free agency.

Allen
This has become a frequent question and it’s only logical to wonder about it. Frazier and Allen were together in Minnesota and have a good relationship.

The Bucs have a big need for a pass-rusher. In fact, you could make an argument that the lack of an outside rusher is the only thing standing between this defense and being great. Allen instantly could fill that need.

The only downside might be Allen’s age. He’s 31 and you have to wonder how much he has left. But Frazier knows Allen as well as anyone. If Frazier thinks Allen has something left, I can see the Bucs making a run at him.

Allen isn’t going to command an outrageous salary. That means there would be little risk with the possibility of a high reward.
Rick SpielmanAP Photo/Jim MoneThe success of the next Minnesota Vikings quarterback may determine the legacy of general manager Rick Spielman.

MINNEAPOLIS -- In his 17 years as a member of NFL front offices, through a career that's spanned three teams and taken him through two convoluted power structures, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman might never have had more influence over a team than he does right now.

Vikings ownership scrapped its disjointed "triangle of authority" structure in 2012, elevating Spielman from vice president of player personnel to general manager and giving him full control over personnel decisions. The Wilf family decided not to give coach Leslie Frazier a contract extension after a surprising 10-6 season in 2012 and fired him after a 5-10-1 season in 2013. Spielman got to pick his own coach for the first time in his career, hiring well-respected former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and heads into the 2014 draft with four of the top 100 picks, including the No. 8 overall selection.

Spielman could use that pick to take the highest-drafted quarterback in Vikings history. If he does, he could also be making the selection that defines the rest of his tenure as the Vikings' GM.

The biggest hole in Spielman's résumé with the Vikings -- which includes an otherwise commendable record on first-round picks, a shrewd trade for DE Jared Allen, and what appears to be a good return on dealing WR Percy Harvin -- is his inability to find a long-term solution at quarterback. Spielman came to the Vikings shortly after the team had used a second-round pick on Tarvaris Jackson, and didn't have to devote a high pick in the draft to a QB until the end of Brett Favre's two-year run triggered a youth movement in 2011. And now the Vikings appear to be acknowledging that the decision to pick Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011 was a mistake.

"I haven't got it right yet. We've worked as hard as we could to try to get that right," Spielman said after the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30. "I wish that you could get a quarterback [easily], and it's not. It's maybe the most difficult position to fill, but we're going to do everything and use every resource we can to try to get that corrected."

Spielman will have veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner helping him this time, and the GM might rightly conclude that the best decision is to take a defensive player in the first round, come back to draft a quarterback later and let him develop without the expectations (and guaranteed money) that often drive a first-round pick into action right away. But the Vikings would have to bring Matt Cassel back on a new deal or go another route if they want to have a veteran quarterback on their roster next year, and trading for a player like Kirk Cousins or Ryan Mallett would cost the Vikings at least a midround pick while offering few guarantees. More than ever, it's incumbent upon Spielman to get it right at a position he's struggled to fill since his days in Miami.

During his five seasons with the Dolphins, Spielman initiated the first of his two trades for Sage Rosenfels, a move he'd repeat with the Vikings. Spielman had a hand in the acquisitions of Ray Lucas and Brian Griese, and in 2004 -- his only season as the Dolphins' full-fledged GM -- Spielman dealt a second-round pick to Philadelphia for A.J. Feeley, only to watch the quarterback fail to hold the starting job as the Dolphins slipped from 10-6 to 4-12.

The Dolphins' 2004 season went awry in part because running back Ricky Williams went AWOL before the season, but a clear direction at quarterback might have helped the offense weather the loss of its best player. And for all of the Vikings' defensive issues -- and running back Adrian Peterson's nagging injuries -- along the way in their fall from 10-6 to 5-10-1 in 2013, there's a convincing argument to be made that the team could have won a mediocre NFC North if it had stability at quarterback. Frazier seemed to be making that point on his way out of town, leaving some strong hints that responsibility for the quarterback situation -- and who started games there in 2013 -- should be borne by more people than just him.

Frazier, of course, is gone now, and Spielman got his chance to build a more seamless football department by picking his own coach. He has outlived his gaffe on Ponder, and he has more than $20 million of cap space with which to mold the roster this spring. Ownership seems firmly behind him, and as the Vikings move toward the opening of their new stadium in 2016, their direction is firmly under Spielman's control.

But the stigma of his misses at quarterback still follows him around, and if he can't get the position right this time around -- especially if he makes what turns out to be a bad investment with the eighth overall pick -- he likely won't get another chance to change his reputation. General managers can often survive at least one coaching change, but the best ones extend their careers by finding quarterbacks.

To his credit, Spielman seems to know he needs to fix the position. All that's on the line is all he's built for himself in his time with the Vikings.

"I have confidence we'll get this quarterback situation resolved. I really do," he said on Dec. 30. "What that answer is right now, I'm not going to have those answers until we get the coach in place. And when we sit down and delve into what we have at this position -- what is potentially out there in free agency? What is the draft class? Those answers will all come in time."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Now that the Minnesota Vikings have finally announced their coaching staff for the 2014 season, we can take a look at the list of assistants and see what trends emerge with the group new coach Mike Zimmer has put together. And as it turns out, it won't take quite as long to peruse the list as it did with predecessor Leslie Frazier's staff.

The Vikings currently have just 17 coordinators and assistants on their staff, down from the 20 they carried last season under Frazier. As ESPN.com Packers reporter Rob Demovsky pointed out this morning, that makes the Vikings' staff the smallest in the division and one of the smallest in the NFL.

That's not to say a leaner staff is good or bad -- it's simply a different way of doing business -- but it does offer some insight into how Zimmer might conduct business. In Cincinnati last season, he had five position coaches under him while he was the Bengals' defensive coordinator (former Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams had six).

It could also help Zimmer that he has offensive and defensive coordinators in Norv Turner and George Edwards who have done those jobs before. Frazier, on the other hand, was working with first-time coordinators Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams, who both seemed to struggle at times in Minnesota. Turner also has 13 seasons of NFL head coaching experience on his resume.

"We already talked a little bit about things. Scheduling, how we did things," Turner said. "He’s an extremely experienced coach. He's been with some outstanding people. I’m sure he has strong opinions of how he wants to do things and if there’s something he wants to lean on me, I’ll give him my opinion."

It's always possible the Vikings could add another coach or two, but assuming the staff is set for now, here are some factoids about each group:

The 17 coordinators and assistants on Zimmer's staff have a combined 278 years of coaching experience, for an average of 16.35 years per coach. Five coaches -- Turner, Edwards, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, defensive backs coach Jerry Gray and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson -- have at least been coordinators for other teams before joining Zimmer's staff.

Frazier's 2013 staff had 336 years of experience across 20 coaches, or an average of 16.8 years per coach. Three coaches -- Priefer, Davidson and assistant linebackers coach Mike Singletary -- had at least been coordinators before coming to the Vikings. A fourth, assistant linebackers coach Fred Pagac, was the Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2010-11 until Frazier demoted him to assistant linebackers coach.
MINNEAPOLIS -- On Friday afternoon, with a couple lines of agate type in a news release, the Minnesota Vikings announced they'd parted ways with linebacker Erin Henderson, ending a six-year relationship with the linebacker and marking the first time since 2003 they didn't have either Erin or his brother E.J. on their roster.

[+] EnlargeErin Henderson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsOn Friday, Minnesota released linebacker Erin Henderson, who played 64 total games over his six-year career for the Vikings.
It was a move that had seemed inevitable since New Year's Day, when Henderson got in a one-car accident in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen and was arrested for the second time in six weeks on suspicion of drunken driving and possession of a small amount of marijuana. But it probably wasn't as clean and seamless as the transaction wire would indicate.

Since last April, when coaches first told Erin Henderson he should prepare to play middle linebacker in the event the Vikings didn't find a more proven option, the younger Henderson seemed to take extra pride in the idea of moving from weak-side linebacker, becoming the quarterback of the Vikings' defense and taking over the spot where his brother had become a Pro Bowler. He announced the move to reporters last May, fired back at doubters later that month and curtly replied, "I'm playing the 'Mike,'" when asked about the possibility of the Vikings signing former Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop last June.

The pressure of holding onto something he wanted so badly seemed to get to Henderson; he admitted after his first arrest in November that he'd been struggling with the "the stress and pressure of playing in the NFL -- coming in here and fighting for your job day and day out and what goes with that." And on Dec. 30, as he cleaned out his locker and thanked former coach Leslie Frazier for his guidance, Henderson sounded like he'd done some more soul-searching toward the end of the season.

"I think I grew leaps and bounds as a player and as a person as well," he said that day. "You start to learn a lot about yourself when things can go wrong or bad, if you’re willing to try to learn, if you’re willing to look in the mirror and figure things out and I think I was able to do that. Not just as a player, but as a person as well. Started watching the film honestly, looking at tape and seeing stuff I can improve on and what I can do better. As opposed to, 'I’m here, I’m already the greatest ever.' That allowed me to progress and get better as the season went on."

This is not to say that Henderson -- or any NFL player -- is unique in his struggle to process the stress of keeping a job in a competitive industry, or that he's not responsible for his two arrests. He put his employment on the line by getting himself in trouble, and he'll have to deal with the consequences, legal and otherwise.

But Henderson's situation -- and his introspection in a couple of interviews about it -- does provide a glimpse into the darker side of the NFL, a game where young men are handed exorbitant sums of money at a tender age, put their bodies on the line to keep the cash coming in and are expected to navigate the churning waters at the confluence of wealth and physical toil.

As it is for many young American men, alcohol is often an accomplice when things go wrong; just over a quarter of the players polled in ESPN's NFL Nation Confidential survey this season said alcohol is a problem in the NFL. There's a reason teams invest so much time into educating rookies about the temptations of being a professional athlete -- as a safeguard against personal missteps that can range from the unfortunate to the tragic -- and a year after getting a two-year contract from the Vikings, Henderson is looking for a job not because of what happened on the field in 2013, but because of what happened off of it.

Did he make mistakes? Yes. Are the Vikings within their rights to cut ties with him for those mistakes? Yes. But Henderson seemed like he was battling some deep-seeded issues this season, and his release is a reminder that for players in the NFL, there is often shaky and treacherous ground to walk on the way from inexperience to success.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Eight days after groin surgery, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is making the rounds in New York City before the Super Bowl. He's been conducting interviews for a handful of promotions, headlined a Super Bowl party earlier this week and is hosting a comedy show featuring Chris Tucker in New Jersey on Friday night. On Saturday, he'll present the Comeback Player of the Year award at the NFL Honors show.

Peterson
Peterson
Peterson stopped by ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" show on Friday morning, and said he's feeling fine after surgery, adding he's been able to do some upper-body workouts and will be back to normal in about six weeks.

"I would probably be back working (out already if not for the surgery, but) not too much. It's not going to interfere," Peterson said. "I'm still able to do some of the upper body exercises and things like that, but kind of laying off the lower body workouts."

The running back said again that he's keeping an eye on the Vikings' moves this offseason, and mentioned how gratifying it was for players to name him the player they'd most like to see in a Super Bowl. But as we've discussed, Peterson typically isn't one to hang onto his objections, at least publicly. On Friday, the running back -- who was upset the team fired coach Leslie Frazier on Dec. 30 -- gave the strongest endorsement he's given yet of new coach Mike Zimmer.

"I'm just looking forward to heading in the right direction. I feel like the organization did a great job of bringing in Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner," Peterson said. "I feel like we're putting the pieces in the right place so I'm just excited to see who all we bring in (to coach) other positions and to see which direction as far as bringing in players to help us accomplish our goal of winning a championship."
MINNEAPOLIS -- When we talked with Adrian Peterson this month about his reaction to the Minnesota Vikings hiring head coach Mike Zimmer, the 2012 NFL MVP made it clear the Vikings' next move -- namely, hiring an offensive coordinator to help Peterson while Zimmer brought his expertise to the team's defense -- would resonate loudly with him as he processed the team's new direction.

Peterson
Peterson
Peterson was more outspoken than anyone else on the Vikings' roster about his desire to keep Leslie Frazier, and though he's always seemed to understand -- and said again this month -- that his opinions only carry so much weight in the organization -- he has been bolder about stating his preferences in recent months. But his comments to USA Today yesterday would suggest that the Vikings have done right by Peterson, at least in hiring offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

As we talked about this month, Turner could be exactly what Peterson needs at this point in his career. Turner took a San Diego Chargers offense built around running back LaDainian Tomlinson and turned it into a more diverse -- and ultimately, more dangerous -- attack when Tomlinson was 28 years old, and Turner's bona fides as a passing-game engineer are well-established. He'll likely put more receivers on the field, make more liberal use of tight end Kyle Rudolph, and ultimately attempt to give defenses more to think about than just Peterson, who has logged more carries against eight-man fronts than any running back in football each of the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

It never seemed like Peterson was going to let his disappointment over the Frazier firing linger, but it was important for the Vikings to do right by him as they put together their next coaching staff. At least for now, it seems they've done that, and as Peterson gets to work with Turner, he could find he'll be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Turner's approach.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There's been plenty of chatter in the wake of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's comments in a Pro Football Talk interview that "Adrian Peterson is not going anywhere." And while that's probably true, context and perspective can often get lost in the NFL echo chamber. So, we'll attempt to provide a little bit of that here.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesDespite comments to the contrary, Adrian Peterson's future in Minnesota isn't certain.
Peterson has wondered aloud on several occasions about the possibility of playing somewhere else, but he's usually done so when he's been asked what he thinks of the idea. The refreshing thing about Peterson -- and the thing that sometimes gets him in trouble -- is that if he's asked a question, he'll ponder it and answer it honestly, which means if a reporter posits an idea to him, he'll speak in hypotheticals and give his honest opinion about it. That's far different than him trying to force his way out of town. While he's been more outspoken about keeping an eye on what the organization is doing, he also was more guarded than he'd been in previous interviews when I asked him about the idea of playing for another team in an interview about players voting him the player they'd most like to see in a Super Bowl.

"I try to stay in stride with what's going on and play my cards as they're dealt to me," he said. "I've always said I would love to finish here, with the Vikings, so I'll just stick with that."

Now, the Vikings' side of things: Spielman said at the scouting combine last February the Vikings had "no intent" of trading Percy Harvin, a carefully worded statement that gave Spielman room to execute a deal everyone knew could be happening soon. Spielman traded Harvin to Seattle on March 11. And on Nov. 1, the general manager was asked about the future of coach Leslie Frazier. He said, "Leslie Frazier is not going anywhere. I am telling you that we are very committed to Leslie Frazier and this coaching staff." To be fair, Spielman was asked that day if Frazier's job was safe for the rest of the season, but rather than simply answering in the affirmative, he gave a statement that suggested the Vikings were firmly behind Frazier, who was fired on Dec. 30.

Spielman, of course, is well within his right to give himself wiggle room in his public comments, and he's hardly the only general manager to do so. He gets paid to put a winning team on the field, and he's decided -- as many executives have -- that it often makes more sense to bluff than to show many of his cards. In some ways, Peterson has done the same thing. But that's also why reporters (and by extension, fans) have to view things through that prism. Common sense always said Harvin could be dealt soon, and that Frazier's job was in jeopardy, and common sense also is a useful barometer in the Peterson situation.

Here are the facts: Peterson will be 29 in March, and is coming off his third surgery in as many years. He's carried 2,033 times in seven NFL seasons. As great as he's been, and could continue to be, his worth on the trade market would be about future returns, and it's tough to see another team paying full value to acquire a running back with that much mileage.

And make no mistake: From a contractual standpoint, Peterson's fate is firmly in the Vikings' hands. He's signed through 2017, with only non-guaranteed base salaries left in his contract, and though the Vikings would have freedom to release Peterson in his later years if they need the cap space, the running back can't exactly demand his way out of town (not that Peterson is necessarily the type to do that, anyway). But while the Vikings' quarterback situation is in flux, and their offense is still built around their running game, Peterson is the most valuable asset they have. If there were any possibility of him moving on at some point, it would require the Vikings' offensive structure to look much, much different than it does now.

That's why we'd encourage some context when reading and reacting to comments such as the ones we've discussed here. The reality is, anything Spielman, Peterson or anyone else says about the running back's future could be true now, but it might not be true three months or three years from now. Every situation in the big-business, highly competitive world of the NFL can be changed for the right price. The fact that Brett Favre wound up in a Vikings uniform should be evidence of that, and while we'd be highly skeptical that Peterson is leaving the Vikings anytime soon, we'd also be highly skeptical of the notion that it's impossible he could.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings will announce all of Mike Zimmer's coaching staff once it's finished, but we're starting to get some sense of how the group will look.

We know it will not include former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave; Fox Sports reported on Tuesday that Musgrave has accepted a job as the Eagles' quarterbacks coach. That's not a big surprise, considering the Vikings had already replaced Musgrave with Norv Turner, but Tuesday's news rules out any chance of Musgrave returning to the Vikings in a smaller role.

The Vikings have defensive coordinator George Edwards reportedly in place, as well, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Master Tesfatsion, who's at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., reports he saw Turner's son Scott conducting the Vikings' meetings with quarterbacks -- which is a likely indicator the younger Turner, who was the Browns' wide receivers coach last season, will be on his father's offensive staff for a second season in a row. Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach Adam Zimmer, who worked for his father last season, is also expected to join the Vikings' staff.

How many of former coach Leslie Frazier's assistants could stay on with Zimmer? According to a NFL source, wide receivers coach George Stewart and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson both have decent chances. Stewart, who is at the Senior Bowl this week, had developed a bond with rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson dating to last year's scouting combine, and he has worked with Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens in the past. The Vikings blocked Davidson from interviewing for a job with the Atlanta Falcons, which would seem to indicate they would like to keep him on Zimmer's staff.

There are bound to be plenty of questions about special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who was accused by former punter Chris Kluwe of making homophobic remarks during the 2012 season. The Vikings are investigating the matter, and that investigation could help delay an announcement of the Vikings' coaching staff. Priefer is well-respected as a coach, but the Vikings might want to get the situation resolved before announcing a staff with or without Priefer on it.

The rest of the group is still waiting to see what decisions Zimmer makes, but the Musgrave move is at least an indication that the Vikings have given some coaches the chance to accept jobs elsewhere.

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