NFL Nation: Rick Spielman

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Media conference calls with the head coach and one player from the opposing team are a Wednesday fixture across the NFL. They usually begin with the voice of a PR person on the phone, informing beat writers that the coach or player is ready to talk. But on Wednesday afternoon, the first voice from Chicago bellowed, "Put me on the phone with the media!"

And with that, Jared Allen had returned to talk to Vikings beat writers, assessing his departure from Minnesota, his first season with the Bears, and his team's disappointing start with his usual brand of candor, hum0r and defiance toward anyone who thinks the 32-year-old has lost a step as a pass rusher. Allen's numbers have dropped precipitously in his first season of a four-year, $32 million deal with the Bears. Slowed by a bout with pneumonia that caused him to lose 15 pounds and drop to a weight he said he hasn't been at "since high school," Allen has just 1.5 sacks this season for a Bears defense that has allowed more passing touchdowns than any in the league and a team that's 3-6.

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
AP Photo/Evan PinkusJared Allen has just 1.5 sacks this season after signing a free-agent deal with the Bears.
"If I'm on the field, I expect to play at a high level. I expect to get to the quarterback," Allen said. "I've been playing probably some of the best run defense I've played in my career this year, but it just needs to translate to getting to the quarterback. We're 3-6. It's been up and down. I'll give myself a 6 [on a scale of 1 to 10]."

The Bears, of course, are expecting more -- and paying Allen for more -- than that. He's still looking for his first career victory at Soldier Field, and if the Bears start slow on Sunday after a 55-14 loss to the Packers last Sunday night, Allen joked he expects "total anarchy" from the fans.

The Vikings, on the other hand, expect to see a player eager to be at his best.

"Any time you play against a team that didn't sign you back, for whatever reason that you're not with them, I'm sure it's extra motivation to really go out there, give it your best and put something great on tape," said defensive end Brian Robison, who played with Allen for all six of his seasons in Minnesota. "I'm sure we're going to get his best shot, as we are the whole Chicago Bears team."

Allen never seemed like a good fit in new coach Mike Zimmer's system, and the Vikings decided to give Everson Griffen a new deal rather than pursue a new contract for Allen once he hit free agency in March. Allen said again on Wednesday that he assumed 2013 would be his final season in Minnesota, and he added he held no hard feelings toward the Vikings.

"I think [general manager] Rick [Spielman] and I, and [assistant GM] Rob [Brzezinski] were always honest with each other, in what direction we wanted to take," Allen said. "When I didn't get a deal done before my last season [in Minnes0ta], I knew I was going to test free agency. We didn't know who the coach was going to be, or the quarterback, so there were a lot of unknowns [before 2014]. I believe the Lord takes me where he's going to take me. I prayed hard and long about where I was going to end up, and these were the doors that opened. Did I know 100 percent last year? No. But I always knew it was a possibility, and the conversations were always honest. I've got no ill will toward anybody."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Concluding our Q&A with Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer (here's part 1 and part 2):

What has your working relationship been like with [general manager] Rick [Spielman] and the Wilfs?

Zimmer: Really good. Really good. I don't talk to Mark and Zygi all that much -- every Monday after the game we talk, after the game, I see them and stuff like that, and sometimes before the game, but that's really about it. But they've been, with everything, anything I've asked for, they've been accommodating. Rick has been really good. We'll sit down and talk; we'll watch film together, we'll watch the game tape after the game together. It's actually been pretty easy. That part has been easy.

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
AP Photo/Jim MoneCordarrelle Patterson has had problems playing at a consistently high level.
Was that a big adjustment for you -- being more involved in the higher-level stuff with management?

Zimmer: Not too much, because in Dallas, Jerry Jones was pretty involved. And then in Cincinnati, I met with Mike Brown every Monday. He was involved in all the draft meetings and everything. He was at practice every single day. It really wasn't that much different.

At least watching from the outside, it seems like your working relationship with Rick is pretty good -- it seemed like you were kind of able to say, 'Here's what I need to be successful,' and he was able to go get it. Is that how it's worked?

Zimmer: Yeah, and he's said, when he goes on the road now and looks at these college guys and stuff, even now, in watching how we play and the things we do, I think he's getting a better idea of what we need. Everything happened so fast before the draft -- getting here in January and all that, and trying to evaluate. Now, [Scott] Studwell and George Paton and Rick, when they're watching the tape and seeing how we play, the things we do and the techniques we're teaching, I think they have a good idea of that. It's never going to be 100 percent agreement on everything, but from watching the defensive players for so long, I have a good idea -- now, I'm wrong a lot, too, and we all are -- but I think the core characteristics that we're looking for in guys are easier to spot when you've been watching the tape.

In terms of getting all the pieces you need and guys that are perfect fits in your system, is it hard to expect that to happen in a year? Do you think it takes a couple cycles of player acquisition to get everything you need?

Zimmer: I don't ever look at it like that, because I think I'm a pretty good coach, and I can coach guys into doing it. Like, Josh Robinson, I think he's had a pretty good half so far. I think when guys learn the techniques we're trying to teach, they can improve. That's all I've ever tried to do, is improve players -- whoever they are, whoever we have at the time -- and then worry about the next year and figure out how we can get other guys in here. My job is to take each player and make them better every day.

You mentioned Cordarrelle [Patterson] a little bit [in your Tuesday news conference]. Is he still figuring out what you guys want from him, or is it a matter of being consistent in practice every day? What's the summary of where he's at right now?

Zimmer: It's not so much the consistency in practice, because I think he's doing a lot of good things in practice. It's maybe the consistency in the game a little bit more. That's really it -- it's being consistent, running the same route all the time, being at the same depth, running the same release, so that everybody is on the same page. That's really what it's about.

When he got here, of course, he hadn't played a lot of football. Is it something that just takes time for him to learn all the nuances of the game?

Zimmer: Yeah, and it's different for every player. Anthony Barr is coming here as a young guy that's learned a lot of things in a short amount of time, and some guys take a little bit longer. That's always how it's been. I've had some really great players that, in their third year, they start really coming on and figuring it out -- guys that have probably played more football than [Patterson] did. As long as they work, and they want to do the things the right way, and continue to do it good -- and I think he does. That's why it was good last week [against Tampa Bay] that he had some success. We've just got to keep trying to get him maintaining the consistency level.

You've mentioned you haven't been paying a whole lot of attention to Adrian Peterson's legal status. If he comes back, is it hard to put him back in the system when it's been this long?

Zimmer: I think it all depends on the guy a little bit. Each person is different. I've had a player tear his Achilles, and the first day back, he remembers everything and how to do it. And then you have other guys that will come back, and you have to re-teach their steps and technique -- everything. I think everything's different with every player.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman held his midseason news conference with Vikings beat writers on Tuesday morning; he quickly made it clear there would be no updates on Adrian Peterson's status, but Spielman did spend some time defending the player whom he selected with the Vikings' highest draft pick since 1985: Matt Kalil.

The left tackle has been a frequent target of fans and reporters for his struggles in pass protection this season, and Pro Football Focus currently has Kalil ranked as the third-worst pass-blocking tackle in the league. But Spielman, as coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner did before him, defended Kalil while chiding those who use the site's rankings to assess Kalil.

"I know you guys beat the heck out of him in the press, and a lot of times, and I know you guys love Pro Football Focus and read that, but a couple of the sacks you guys are dinging him on are not always his fault because you guys don't know what the pass protection was, or where the slide was," Spielman said. "I know Matt was inconsistent early, but over the last two or three weeks, he really has gotten a lot better, and got back to being focused. I really think Matt's going to be a heck of a left tackle in this league."

The comments shouldn't be taken to suggest the Vikings think Kalil has played satisfactorily during the first half of the year -- Spielman admitted the left tackle has been inconsistent, and it doesn't take an expert to notice when the third-year tackle gets beat one-on-one -- but as we've discussed, the Vikings are a long, long way from giving up on Kalil. There are plenty of dollars and reputations invested in him, and Kalil showed during a Pro Bowl rookie season he has the talent to play the position. The Vikings have to make a decision after the season on Kalil's fifth-year option, which will be more telling than anything they say now, but Spielman's comments at least suggest the Vikings aren't contemplating a large-scale change at the moment.

"I think just in general, all these young guys, I think if you look at a lot of our higher draft picks, most of them were all juniors coming out [as Kalil was]," Spielman said. "There is a huge difference in my opinion [in] a four- or five-year senior coming out, and a three-year junior coming out. There is a lot of difference in maturity. Guys mature and guys click at different times. I think you have to be patient through that process."
MINNEAPOLIS -- That the Minnesota Vikings were looking to trade Percy Harvin was an open secret in March 2013, when general manager Rick Spielman sent the talented, yet troublesome receiver to Seattle for three draft picks. It seemed like a situation where Spielman would struggle to create leverage, given how apparent a Vikings-Harvin split seemed, but the Seahawks were willing to unload a first-, a third- and a seventh-round pick for reasons that Harvin made obvious during his dynamic performance in Seattle's Super Bowl win in February.

Eight months later, with Harvin on the way to the New York Jets for the paltry sum of a mid-round draft pick, the reasons the Vikings wanted to part with him again seem as obvious as the reasons the Seahawks wanted him in the first place. Harvin leaves Seattle with a fresh set of reports swirling in his wake about how the receiver was a bad fit for Seattle's culture, to the point where the team's front office wanted him off the roster. Now, he goes to a 1-6 team that will owe him no guaranteed money after this season, and especially if the Jets have a new power structure in place next year, Harvin could again be looking for a team to gamble on his immense talent.

That Harvin seemingly couldn't function in the Seahawks' ecosystem -- seen as one of the most player-friendly in the league -- is as dumbfounding as the fact he clashed with a coach as genteel and likable as former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. It's not as though Harvin's recent stops have seen him matched with coaches regarded as difficult to work with, and even though he seemed thrilled to join the Seahawks when the Vikings dealt him 19 months ago, his durability and behavioral issues surfaced as quickly there as they did in Minnesota.

The Vikings used the picks they received for Harvin on cornerback Xavier Rhodes (who looks like a mainstay in Mike Zimmer's defense), offensive lineman Travis Bond (who was released last year) and running back Jerick McKinnon (who could develop into a solid weapon for offensive coordinator Norv Turner). That remains an impressive haul for a radioactive player like Harvin, and even if Rhodes and McKinnon fail to capitalize on their potential, Spielman appears vindicated by his decision not to consider giving Harvin a lucrative multi-year contract.

Harvin is someone else's problem now, a step further removed from the Vikings and a step closer to an uncertain future in the league. He will return to Minnesota with the Jets on Dec. 7, and even if he makes a few splash plays against his former team (as he did last November in Seattle), it's doubtful the Vikings will miss him much. His abrupt exit from a championship team suggest the Vikings were right to turn him loose, and shrewd to sell as high on him as they did.
Zygi WilfAP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltThe indictment of Adrian Peterson was another lesson in management for the Wilf family (Mark, second from left, and Zygi, right) as Vikings owners.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It was about 2 years ago when Zygi Wilf and I were having an informal conversation in his office at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility. It was the same room where, in previous years, Wilf had addressed his embarrassment over the team's "Love Boat" scandal, and later his concerns about a coach who kept releasing players without telling him, and later a stadium fight that threatened the future of his franchise.

"I'll tell you this," Wilf said, rubbing his forehead, "you have to really love football to do this. I mean, you have to love football. The headaches that come with it ..."

We laughed, because he and I both understood that the money is pretty decent, too. But to me, it was Wilf's way of saying that owning an NFL team comes with all sorts of unintended consequences and moments far beyond the comfort zone and interest level of even the most successful businessmen in the country.

The indictment of running back Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings' confusing and contradictory response, should be viewed as the latest in a long line of lessons in the education of an accidental owner. The Wilfs made their billions with a family-run real estate company that by definition bears little resemblance to the structure of NFL franchises, distinctions that have been made clear one incident at a time.

Few people remember that Zygi Wilf, his brother Mark and cousin Lenny never intended to be in a spot where their management style was subject to public scrutiny. They grew up as New York Giants fans whose father, Joseph Wilf, once made a run at purchasing the New York Jets.

In 2005, mutual acquaintances helped recruit Zygi Wilf into an investment group led by Arizona entrepreneur Reggie Fowler, who signed the initial 2005 purchase agreement with former Vikings owner Red McCombs. When questions about Fowler's financial backing threatened to scuttle the deal, Wilf and his family swapped places with him -- in part to salvage the group's $20 million deposit.

From the start, the Wilfs were on their managerial heels. Their initial hopes to be invested fans scuttled by Fowler's financial questions, the Wilfs tried to structure a franchise to operate independently with their occasional involvement.

The model was Garden Homes, the Wilfs' real estate company, where family members talk through issues and make group decisions. In Minnesota, it led to a three-man committee system for football operations that included the head coach, the personnel director and the contract negotiator. Zygi Wilf envisioned himself as the tiebreaker on football decisions, while Mark Wilf was considered the glue between vice presidents of finance, marketing, stadium development and legal.

That structure was appealing in theory because it removed owners from making decisions out of their expertise. But it proved clunky and inefficient while leaving the team vulnerable to issues that fall between the cracks of their internal fiefdoms.

Rick Spielman finally convinced Wilf in 2013 to verticalize football operations under one general manager role, but the rest of the organization remains structurally splintered and contributed to the team's chaotic response to Peterson's arrest.

The Wilfs are among a handful of NFL owners who don't live in their home market, but in most of the other cases, a unifying team president is on site every day. The Vikings' team president technically is Mark Wilf, who like his brother lives and works in New Jersey.

The arrest of a superstar, at a time of intense social scrutiny of the NFL, is not a matter for a general manager, a vice president of legal affairs or anyone else. It requires leadership from a unifying figure that the Vikings don't possess. Someone with the appropriate authority must take charge in that situation. The decision to reinstate Peterson on Monday was overbalanced toward football goals and was punctuated by an obvious failure to work through the problem from a moral and business standpoint.

Zygi Wilf acknowledged Wednesday that the Vikings made a mistake, and Mark Wilf expressed hope that team supporters will recognize "we are doing our best as ownership and a franchise to do the right thing."

How will the Wilfs react? It was worth noting that they were joined at their news conference by not only Spielman but also Kevin Warren, the longtime vice president of legal affairs. Is Warren in line for a business-side promotion on par with Spielman? That's a question worth asking as the Wilfs deal with the headache that is NFL ownership.
MANKATO, Minn. -- Before his first preseason game as a head coach, Mike Zimmer spent an hour each day with Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, going over in-game scenarios and practicing how he'd approach them as a strategist. Now that Zimmer's had his first quiz, of sorts, on game strategy as a head coach -- the Vikings' first preseason game last Friday against Oakland -- he's got a sense of what he needs to correct.

As Zimmer saw it, there were two game situations where he could have done something different -- or at least handled the moment differently in a preseason game. "When we kicked the field goal on fourth-and-1 (that Blair Walsh missed from 53 yards), we’ve been practicing a situation out here that I should have done in the ball game," Zimmer said. "Even if it wasn’t the time, we could have practiced that. And then the one time the official on our sideline called a fumble and an official in the back called an incomplete pass and I had three timeouts left and we were winning 10 to nothing. There was three minutes left. I probably should have challenged."

The coach said the Vikings will practice the fourth-and-1 situation again on Thursday afternoon, saying he "just didn't think quick enough" to give the Vikings a chance to run it last week.

Zimmer said during his introductory news conference as the Vikings' coach he would use the preseason as a gauge of whether he could call defensive plays during a game -- like he did as a defensive coordinator -- and still be engaged in his new responsibilities as a head coach. He said he called some of the defensive plays on Friday night, but not all of them, and hasn't decided how he's going to handle the job in the regular season.

"When I was calling the plays in Cincinnati on defense, I was able to go over and talk to the defense and look at the pictures and do all that stuff," Zimmer said. "I didn’t do that this time."
MANKATO, Minn. -- It's fourth down and the clock is ticking toward the two-minute warning. The punt team jogs onto the field. The crowd is moved to hysterics. Half of it screams for a timeout. The other half shouts down the suggestion as the coach considers one of the game-management decisions that will shape public perception of his acumen more than anything other than wins or losses.

Game-management decisions in the NFL spark intense debate and second-guessing, but it's amazing to me how little time we spend discussing it on the front end. This is especially true for first-time coaches, so high atop my to-do list for the Minnesota Vikings' training camp this week was to develop an understanding of coach Mike Zimmer's planned approach.

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer and Rick Spielman
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltMike Zimmer, left, and Vikings GM Rick Spielman spend time each day analyzing game scenarios that Zimmer might face in his first season as head coach.
Will he take risks? Will he play it by the book? How much data and analytics will he incorporate into decisions?

What I found was fascinating. With the Vikings' preseason opener set for Friday, Zimmer's style remains under development. Having taken few "mental reps" in game management as an assistant coach, Zimmer has spent up to an hour per day drilling scenarios with general manager Rick Spielman. Together, they are working through a tape Spielman made of most points requiring a subjective decision, from milking the clock to challenging a close play to utilizing onside kicks. What are the options? What do the percentages say? And what does your gut tell you?

"I think I have a decent idea of how I'm going to do things," Zimmer said. "I just never looked at it this way before because I always tried to do my job [as an assistant] as best I could. I never worried about it. Obviously throughout the years, you talk about certain situations that come up. But you don't focus on it like I would focus on calling a defensive game or anything like that."

The exercise is Spielman's idea, and if you're a conspiracy theorist, you're probably wondering whether he is stepping beyond the scope of his job. Perhaps you view it as Spielman's first attempt to exert influence over his first-time coach. I understand those concerns, but having gotten to know Spielman a bit over the years, I think they're unfounded. More than anything, these sessions are a reflection of his obsessive accumulation of information.

This is a man whose draft ratings for players extend to a half-dozen decimal points, one who visited people "outside of football," he said, to compile a list of five characteristics in good leaders before embarking on the search that brought him to Zimmer. During games, he charts timeouts, challenges, fourth-down calls, scoring decisions and the like. Spielman said he mostly wants Zimmer to avoid surprises and isn't pushing a particular answer.

"I'm not trying to coach or make game decisions here," Spielman said. "What I've done in the past during games is always track game management. ... I do it just because it fascinates me, and coaches have to make split-second decisions in the emotion of the game. I've always taken the approach, just like anything else I try to do -- whether it's getting prepared for the draft or anything else -- the more scenarios you can put yourself through, or at least get your thought process going on, the better."

The situation is further complicated in Minnesota because Zimmer is giving strong consideration to calling defensive signals during the regular season. At least 10 other head coaches likely will call plays in 2014, but it still represents a heavy game-day load for a first-time head coach who has never faced a "live" decision on whether, say, to punt or go for it on fourth-and-3 from the 40-yard line late in the fourth quarter of a close game.

Zimmer wouldn't reveal specific answers to scenarios he has discussed with Spielman, but everything about his old-school background suggests he won't be looking to reinvent the game. Asked about his risk tolerance, Zimmer said: "Without giving away any secrets, I think there are situations going into the game where you say if something happens, we want to be aggressive here, we want to take this shot. Or maybe we can handle some things, so let's just be smart and play field position."

I also don't expect Zimmer to be heavily influenced by the recent infusion of analytics into game management. Data might suggest that NFL teams are far too conservative on fourth down and in utilizing the two-point conversion, but neither he nor Spielman seemed overly moved when speaking this week.

"We have all of those charts and looked at them," Spielman said. "But when [the game is] going, you still have to go off what your gut instinct is. How is your defense playing? How are you moving the ball or not moving the ball? So if in one game, your offense is moving the ball up and down the field but you're not scoring, maybe that's a different scenario in terms of your decisions. A lot of it is the ebb and flow of the game, who you're playing against. The right answer for this game might not be the right answer for the next game. But at least you're thinking."

And really, that's the primary point of this unusual exercise between Spielman and Zimmer. There are few universal truths in NFL game management. Avoiding surprises and having a plan seem most important. Spielman said "sometimes you have to maybe make a mistake to grow and learn," and to me it makes sense to stumble or waver during a camp film session rather than in the fourth quarter of Week 3. So it goes.
MANKATO, Minn. -- Six days from now, the Minnesota Vikings will line up for their first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, with a new coach, major scheme changes on both sides of the ball and possibly as many as seven new starters on defense. To call it anything more significant than a checkup on the Vikings' progress would be silly, and coach Mike Zimmer doesn't seem to be treating it as anything else.

"I told our players a little bit last night, 'We've got a game in six days now, but to me, this is about us, and us getting better,'" Zimmer said. "I don't want to go out and trick the Raiders. I want to go out and play solid, fundamental football. I'm sure we could run some blitzes they're not ready for, but that's really not what I want to do. I want to find out if we can cover, if we can line up and play the run, if we can block people in the running game and if we can get open on offense and throw the ball in the right places."

To this point in training camp, the Vikings have made progress in Zimmer's eyes, though it's been uneven in some areas. The Vikings' run-blocking has been solid, he said, but the team's pass protection needs work. The defense needs to be more precise in its alignments, but its blitz package has exceeded Zimmer's expectations. It would be presumptuous to think the Vikings would be close to a finished product at this point, though, and four preseason games will provide them opportunities to get closer to that point.

Zimmer wouldn't say how much he will play his starters on Aug. 8 at TCF Bank Stadium, but hinted the Vikings' top units would get more than a series. "It's not going to be, one-two-three and out," he said. And though his assistant coaches have started some preparation work for the Raiders, Zimmer will use his time to drill his own set of new responsibilities.

Friday's game will be his first at the helm of a NFL team, and Zimmer started working on Saturday through a set of game situations that general manager Rick Spielman put together for him to study. "Rick put together a tape; we sit down and talk about game-like situations, challenges, when to use timeouts, go for field goals, things like that," Zimmer said. "We've got four more days to go. We hit probably 15 scenarios today. We sit down for an hour each day." Then, he joked, "Rick's never wrong."

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will handle the offensive play-calling, and Zimmer will use the preseason to determine whether he will call defensive plays or delegate the task to defensive coordinator George Edwards. Zimmer, of course, will have veto power on offensive play calls, and he's also working to make sure he can give Turner sound feedback there.

"Honestly, I trust Norv's judgment," Zimmer said. "I'll come in and talk to him about, 'How are we going to get this guy blocked this week? What do you think the best runs are?' We talked about a couple things last night. But the biggest input for me will be, 'Alright, it's this situation, Norv; we need to run the ball here. We've been running it down their throats. Let's not throw it three times. Let's get another run in there, give the ball to Adrian [Peterson] or whatever it is. Or things that I see on tape; they're having a hard time [with] no-backfield formations, or things like that."
MANKATO, Minn. -- The process that led to Kyle Rudolph earning a new contract from the Minnesota Vikings, which culminated in a hug and words of congratulations from general manager Rick Spielman after Sunday's practice, seemed about as devoid of drama and tension as either side could have wanted.

Rudolph made it known at the end of last season he wanted to stay in Minnesota; the Vikings spoke highly of the big tight end and said they wanted the same thing. They hired an offensive coordinator with a history of featuring tight ends; Rudolph responded by taking a more serious look at his offseason nutrition program, dropping 15 pounds and sharpening his technique as a receiver. He said he hoped to get a contract done before the season; the Vikings met with his agents in the Twin Cities on July 15 to begin discussions on a deal.

There seemed to be little chance of the Vikings letting Rudolph get to free agency next spring, not when they had taken him in the second round of the 2011 draft, not when he was one of the only viable candidates for a contract extension before next season. But the toothy smile Rudolph flashed when talking about the contract on Monday let everyone know even an inevitable payoff was sweet.

"Being the organization that took a chance on me out of the draft, being hurt at the time and still drafting me when they did and now giving me this extension, it shows the faith that they have in me," Rudolph said. "Certain people have the opportunity to change your life, and I can't thank Rick and (assistant GM) Rob (Brzezinski) enough for that opportunity."

Now comes the hard part for Rudolph. He will have to play well enough to maximize the value of his contract, which pays him a $6.5 million signing bonus and effectively guarantees his $956,343 base salary in the final season of his rookie deal. The five-year, $36.5 million deal could be worth up to $40 million if Rudolph triggers incentives in the contract, and though another $12 million of the deal is currently guaranteed for injury only, that money will become fully guaranteed by the start of the 2016 league year, coming to Rudolph in separate chunks on the third day of the 2015 and 2016 league years.

But the tight end, as usual, seemed sensible about the contract on Monday. He said he didn't plan to buy himself anything special, adding his only plan was to fulfill a promise to his old strength coach and pay to remodel the weight room at his alma mater, Elder High School in Cincinnati.

As for the Vikings, Rudolph wants to make sure they get a good return on their investment.

"Essentially, if you look at this from a business side, I'm here for the next three years (anyway) because of the last year of my deal and opportunity to be franchised twice," he said. "So they felt like it was important to keep me here for a long time. It instills a responsibility to become one of the veteran leaders in the locker room. We have a lot of young guys on this team and it's weird for me to see that now, four years later I'm one of the veterans in the locker room who have to bring those guys along so we can win football games."
MANKATO, Minn. -- According to the summary the Minnesota Vikings released last week of an independent investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations, long snapper Cullen Loeffler was the only member of the team to corroborate Kluwe's claim that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer made a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. But if Kluwe contends he was released in part because of his support for same-sex marriage, Loeffler said he never felt in danger of losing his job for telling investigators he remembered Priefer making the statement.

"I was never worried about my job, never worried about the Vikings' support," Loeffler said. "They’ve been very supportive throughout the process. Just wanted me to cooperate, which I did."

Loeffler, who told investigators that he and Kluwe both laughed off Priefer's comment about "putting all the gays on an island and nuking it," said again on Thursday he remembered thinking the remark was a joke. He said he hasn't talked to Kluwe since the former punter published his allegations in a Deadspin piece on Jan. 2, and said he was glad the investigation had come to a close.

According to the summary, Loeffler met with Vikings executive director of player development/legal Les Pico after Kluwe asked him to sign an affidavit confirming the remarks in May 2013. Kluwe told investigators that Loeffler was concerned he would be "blacklisted" from the NFL if he was associated with a controversy involving Priefer. The summary said Pico told Loeffler he felt a need to alert general manager Rick Spielman and vice president of legal affairs Kevin Warren about the situation, even though Kluwe wanted it to remain private and avoid any risk of jeopardizing Loeffler's job status.

Asked about his conversations with Pico on Thursday, Loeffler said, "At the time I wasn’t really sure what was going to come out of it. Really everything that I’ve said is in the report. If you want to address that question you can address it from the report."

Pico has declined comment since the summary was published, referring questions to his attorneys.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Fans who were expecting to sit behind the Minnesota Vikings' bench on the south sideline at TCF Bank Stadium this fall won't be doing that after all.

The Vikings made the decision to switch from the south to the north sideline at their temporary home on the University of Minnesota campus, as they move outdoors for the first time in 33 years. General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer had made several trips to the stadium to make preparations for the 2014 season, and the Vikings realized the north sideline will afford them more time in the warmth of the sunshine late this season, when the sun sets by 5 p.m. in Minnesota and heat is at a premium.

The press box is in the southeast corner of the stadium, and there is club seating on the south side, which means the south sideline is in the shadows during late-season games. The Vikings will return to the south sideline when their new indoor stadium opens in 2016, so fans who bought tickets expecting to sit behind the bench in the new stadium won't see any change to their plans.

For now, though, the Vikings are trying to get a handle on outdoor home games for the first time since 1981, and they're hoping to gain a slight edge from the switch.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Zimmer's admission at the NFL's career-development symposium that he thought briefly about not going on a second interview with the Minnesota Vikings was a refreshing -- if surprising -- bit of candor from a coach who has seemed confident in his approach to the job ever since he became the team's coach on Jan. 15. Zimmer, according to Fox Sports, had been beaten down by enough rejections, including one that presumably came from the Tennessee Titans just before he interviewed with the Vikings, that he wondered if his time had passed him by.

Zimmer said on Wednesday he only had passing thoughts about not going on the Vikings interview. But after nearly five months on the job in Minnesota, Zimmer said, he has seen the previous rejections in a new light.

"It's probably been a blessing in disguise that I didn't get this job or that job," he said at the Vikings' annual playground build event on Wednesday. "This was the one that was right for me. Sometimes, that's just how it is: Things don't work out for whatever reason, but you get in the right situation, and it just happens to fall into place."

There is a kernel of truth in those remarks that can relate to any job seeker in any industry, as rare as it might be to hear them from an NFL coach. Both Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have talked on multiple occasions about how the fit felt right between the coach and the team, and they seemed to quickly connect on a personal and professional level. We're a long way from knowing how the relationship will pan out in the end -- it's easy for everyone to say they're happy in June, three months before there is anything significant at stake -- but Zimmer's point is a good one: Not every job is right for every candidate, and sometimes, it's just about finding a match.

"When I got up here and spent more time with people in the organization, got a chance to be around some of the players, I felt like it was a perfect fit," Zimmer said. "Since the day I walked in, I don't think there could have been a better situation for me. I think what it demonstrates, though, is you've got to keep persevering all the time, no matter how despondent you get at certain times."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings made four picks on the first two days of the NFL draft. Their first one was a running back who posted 13.5 sacks in just his second year as a defensive end, and their last one was a cornerback-turned-triple-option-quarterback who will try his hand at running back in the NFL. Their third pick of the draft added a versatile, energetic pass rusher to a defensive line that already has several of those, and their second pick staked the future of their franchise on a 22-year-old quarterback who slid from the top of the first round to the bottom of it.

If the Vikings had entered the 2014 draft merely with the idea of patching holes on their roster after a 5-10-1 season, this wouldn't necessarily have been the way to go about it. But what has been clear in the first two days of the draft is that the Vikings are after something else: a group full of young, athletically-gifted players who only need a coaching staff to unlock the potential. This draft has been a bet on the ability of Mike Zimmer's coaching staff to develop talent, as much as defensive end Everson Griffen's contract represented a $20 million wager on the same idea, and the Vikings seem plenty confident in what their new coaches will be able to get out of the group.

"That kind of really excites me anyway," Zimmer said. "I love taking guys with talent and coaching that, because those kind of guys you can take them a lot further. The guys who don’t have as much talent and are good you can make them better players. But these kind of guys [like first-round pick Anthony Barr], you know, he played two years at running back and then moved over to linebacker and had a really good year the year before and then a good year again this year. He is still learning a lot of different things and we will be able to teach him a lot."

The shift has been particularly evident on defense, where Zimmer has had the biggest impact and where the Vikings plan to shift to a more aggressive style of play. But it hasn't been confined to that side of the ball. Third-round pick Jerick McKinnon, the Georgia Southern quarterback, wowed teams at the NFL scouting combine with a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 40 1/2-inch vertical and 32 bench press repetitions at 225 pounds (or more than twice as many as Barr did). Then he performed what Spielman called one of the longest and most interesting workouts he'd ever seen, working as a running back, a punt returner and a cornerback at Georgia Southern. Spielman said offensive coordinator Norv Turner compared the 5-foot-9 McKinnon to dynamos like Brian Mitchell and Darren Sproles, and while the Vikings certainly aren't looking for someone to supplant Adrian Peterson, McKinnon could give them something they haven't had in a long time.

The Vikings' draft strategy so far has been full of gambles -- and as impressive as Teddy Bridgewater's college resume is, taking a quarterback in the first round always carries considerable risk. But on the first two days of the draft, the Vikings haven't been confined by position or convention, and the payoff could be a roster full of unique players.

"I get really intrigued if they are great kids and hard workers, but if they have athletic ability and if they're great athletes, that just intrigues me," Spielman said. "And I know it intrigues the coaches, because they love to work with guys like that."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- If there was one thing that wore the sheen off the Minnesota Vikings' pick of Christian Ponder quicker than any other, it was how the quarterback reacted when he was under pressure. It was there -- when Ponder would fixate on a pass rush, either pulling the ball down to run after his first read or forcing a throw -- where his appeal as an intelligent, engaging young quarterback dissipated, and it was there that the Vikings most needed to make sure their next young passer could be better.

So they commissioned a deep analytical study of the quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class -- true to Rick Spielman's style as a general manager -- and as they measured how this crop of passers handled pressure, they kept coming back to one name: Teddy Bridgewater.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater completed over 53 passes of his passes last season when he was under duress.
The Louisville quarterback wasn't just competent against a pass rush, he was better than anybody else in the class. He completed 53.5 percent of his passes under duress, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, throwing for 508 yards and connecting on seven touchdown passes against one interception. Only Florida State's Jameis Winston and Missouri's James Franklin were better. Bridgewater hit 70.1 percent of his throws against pass rushes of five or more; UCLA's Brett Hundley was the only FBS QB with a higher completion percentage.

"He was the best against the blitz. He's very cool and calm under pressure," Spielman said.

Bridgewater saw plenty of other pressure during the pre-draft process, following a heavily scrutinized pro day that dinged his draft stock and removed him from the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick. His decision not to wear a glove, after throwing with one during his college career, backfired, and the narrative changed to whether Bridgewater would go in the first round of the draft at all. But once offensive coordinator Norv Turner started coaching Bridgewater during a workout in Florida last month, Spielman said, "some of the flaws you may have seen during the original pro day, those things were getting corrected, and getting corrected quickly."

The quarterback said in a conference call on Thursday night that he met "four or five times" with the Vikings, and had told coach Mike Zimmer he thought Minnesota was the place for him. Zimmer talked during the pre-draft process about how important it was for a quarterback to mirror his personality, and with Bridgewater, he clicked.

"You know the thing I like the most about him? He wins," Zimmer said. "Everywhere he's ever been, he wins. Starts as a freshman in high school: wins. Starts as a freshman in college, and wins. This guy, he's got something about him. One of the reasons we had him come in [to Minnesota] was, he had another physical. He had a little thing about his heart. I said, 'How's your heart?' He said, 'Well, it was too big.'"

He impressed the Vikings with how he handled adversity off the field, but Bridgewater initially stood out because of how he managed it on the field. That was one thing the Vikings needed their next quarterback to do well, and it's what set Bridgewater apart from the rest of the group.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Since he became the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in January, Mike Zimmer has been working to remake the team's defense in his image. He needed a run-stuffing nose tackle; the Vikings signed one in Linval Joseph. Zimmer needed an upgrade at slot cornerback; the Vikings paid Captain Munnerlyn to fill that role.

But as much as the Vikings had done for the first and last layers of Zimmer's defense, they were still missing a key ingredient in the middle of the sandwich: a speedy, disruptive linebacker who could blitz from the strongside position and hunt down running backs. Zimmer wanted one badly enough in his final year in Cincinnati that the Bengals signed former 3-4 linebacker James Harrison at age 35, put him on the strong side of their 4-3 defense and asked him to perform many of the same functions he did in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

In Minnesota, Zimmer now has a younger and bigger linebacker to do that job. His name is Anthony Barr, and after the Vikings took him with the ninth pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, Barr became the clearest sign that a major shift is coming to Minnesota's defense.

He is 6-foot-4, 255 pounds -- essentially the same size as defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison -- and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. Barr has spent two years at linebacker, after he asked UCLA coach Jim Mora about switching from running back to linebacker two years ago, and he had 13 1/2 sacks in the Bruins' 3-4 defense last year. Many had projected Barr would fit best with a 3-4 team, but in Minnesota he'll be one of the keys to a defense predicated on active linebackers.

"Typically, our 'Sam' linebacker blitzes a lot more than our 'Will' linebacker, for instance," Zimmer said. "We're thinking of ways to continually try to pressure the quarterback as many times as we can, and the position he plays is a pressure position. That's why we felt good about him."

Think about how different that sounds from the way the Vikings have operated in the past. In Leslie Frazier's Cover 2 scheme, the responsibility for rushing the passer rested largely with the defensive ends, while linebackers were asked to drop into coverage and take away zones in the middle of the field. It asked linebackers to be reliable defenders, not agents of chaos. In Zimmer's defense, those expectations will change.

That's why the coach pushed for Barr, whom general manager Rick Spielman said was the second-best pass-rusher in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney, and that's why it shouldn't come as a surprise the Vikings want to feature him. Putting Barr at strongside linebacker also doesn't mean the Vikings are phasing out Chad Greenway; Zimmer pointed out that Greenway's position would actually be weakside linebacker in his defense, and added he envisions both players on the field at the same time. Spielman talked in March about how Zimmer had some different ideas for Greenway, and while the coach didn't elaborate on those ideas Thursday, he said, "Chad can play anywhere."

For the strongside linebacker position in his defense, though, Zimmer needed a specific kind of player. He got his man in Barr, and his remodel of the Vikings' defense took a significant step forward.


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