The Vikings’ free agent dormancy has left many people wondering how the team will look in 2009. Thus far, you would have to think pretty much the same as 2008, with a couple of noticeable differences.
The loss of veteran free agents Matt Birk and Darren Sharper have left something of a hole at a couple of key spots, but the Vikings are showing confidence that their youth movement has been successful and, despite having little in the way of a draft party last year (as most recall, they gave up three picks to get Jared Allen), two of the players they did take are expected to take center stage next season barring any free-agent or draft moves.
Tyrell Johnson, the Vikings’ only pick in the first three rounds, got his feet wet while Madieu Williams was sidelined for the first half of the season. While he took a subordinate role when Williams returned, he showed the Vikings enough that almost no effort was made to bring back Sharper. More than a few observers noted that, while Sharper has been one of the game’s great ball hawks for the last decade, his big-play production dropped in a huge way last year.
Some have said the same about Birk, who played at a consistent level, but not the same level that made him a regular at the Pro Bowl. While John Sullivan didn’t get a chance to show what he could do last year, the Vikings’ confidence in him is apparently on solid enough footing that they weren’t willing to match Baltimore’s offer. The team has made no attempts to bring in a veteran center to compete for the job and, barring a change in the coming weeks, they will head into the draft and minicamp season with Sully on the top of the depth chart.
Many fans viewed the 2008 draft as a complete non-factor, since the first-round pick and two third-round picks were traded away to Kansas City for Allen, but, if the current state of the depth chart holds true, the Vikings may come out of that depleted draft with two opening-day starters.
Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman was among the coaches, scouts and team executives that attended the University of Florida Pro Day Wednesday. There have been numerous mock drafts (including Viking Update’s first version) linking to Vikings to having more than a passing interest in Gators wide receiver Percy Harvin with the team’s first-round draft pick.
Harvin told the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper that he has a private workout scheduled with the Vikings. Harvin is also said to have scheduled workouts with the Buccaneers, Jets, Dolphins and Giants. The Jets and Buccaneers have their first-round picks in front of the Vikings – Nos. 17 and 19, respectively. Last week, reports out of Baltimore claimed the Vikings have invited Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey for a private workout.
One can only expect that the Vikings have an interest in somebody from the University of Georgia. Spielman spent Thursday at the Bulldogs’ Pro Day, where all eyes were on presumptive first overall pick Matthew Stafford. The Lions, who currently hold the first pick, were represented by general manager Martin Mayhew, quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton and personnel executive James Harris. The other potential first-rounder for Georgia working out was running back Knowshon Moreno, but it would seem unlikely the Vikings would be looking at him in the first round either.
There continues to be numerous reports coming out that teams are interested in trading for disgruntled Denver QB Jay Cutler. His agent, Bus Cook, said Thursday that at least four teams have contacted him claiming interest in a trade. He said the potential exists for a trade coming down at or after the owners meetings next week.
A television report out of Miami claims to have copies of the toxicology report on Cleveland wide receiver Donte Stallworth, who hit and killed a pedestrian with his vehicle last weekend. WSVN-FOX 7 reports Stallworth’s blood-alcohol content at the time of the early morning incident was .12 percent – 50 percent higher than the legal limit of .08 percent under Florida law.
As part of the meetings of the NFL’s competition committee, there will be no changes to the league’s overtime procedure this year. There has been something of a growing sentiment that the NFL should allow both teams to have the ball at least once in overtime. Currently, if the team that takes the kickoff in OT scores, the game ends. Apparently the league is fine with that prospect.
New NFL Players Association director DeMaurice Smith is scheduled to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell today. Smith was elected the new director of the players association by vote last weekend and has said he hopes to get a collective bargaining agreement done. The owners opted out of the current CBA last year and, if a new agreement isn’t reached by the start of free agency in February, 2010 will be an “uncapped year” with no salary cap. Many believe that if the salary cap goes away, it might never return. Some have cited the even playing field created by a salary cap for the ability of all 32 teams to remain competitive, unlike Major League Baseball, where the lack of a salary cap has turned organizations like the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates into annual laughingstocks and allowed large-market teams with huge cable TV revenue streams like the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers to annually have millions of dollars more to spend than the small-market teams. Under the current CBA, all revenues are shared and the salary cap is determined by a formula that sets the cap at about 60 percent of those revenues. The owners have contended that the CBA, which was rushed in 2006 to avoid such an uncapped-year scenario, is unfair to the owners and doesn’t take into account the money that is spent to build and maintain stadiums. Owners contend that should be factored into the revenues and thus reduce the salary cap accordingly.
An interesting topic of discussion at next week’s owners meetings in Los Angeles will be a potential change in the league bylaws that could change how the 12 playoff teams make their picks in the draft. Competition committee co-chair Rich McKay, team president of the Atlanta Falcons, said the committee is recommending the owners consider changing the process in which playoff teams are seeded. He cited the example of the Colts and Chargers. San Diego beat Indianapolis in the wild card round of the playoffs, but, despite that, San Diego is scheduled to pick No. 16 in the first round, while the 12-4 Colts pick at No. 27. If such a rule was in place, the Vikings would draft ahead of the Eagles at No. 21. The Eagles would fall from pick No. 21 to pick No. 29 because they advanced to the NFC Championship. Currently, the only teams re-seeded for their postseason success are the two teams in the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham continues to rehabilitate an ankle injury he suffered against the Vikings in Week 10 last year. He said the injury is progressing, but he still isn’t 100 percent. Graham missed the rest of the 2008 season following the injury, but said he will be ready to go when the Bucs begin their offseason organized team activities (OTA) program.
There are certain positions the Vikings would like to see other teams draft in the first round. Among them is running back, where the Vikings are set with Adrian Peterson as a franchise back and Chester Taylor as a solid No. 2 back. The top back in this year’s draft might be Chris Wells of Ohio State. He had a private workout with the Broncos Tuesday. Denver picks No. 12 in next month’s draft.
Another such position is tight end, where the Vikings are more than satisfied with their crop at that position. The Lions, who currently have the 20th pick (two in front of the Vikings), brought in Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew for a pre-draft visit.