Monday, March 23, 2015

All Drama

The Minnesota Vikings have reached uncharted levels of turbulence, which is an astonishing feat for an organization whose history is checkered with bizarre crisis. Adrian “AD (All Day)” Peterson was not only the face of the franchise, but he’d been the identity of Minnesota sports and entertainment for nearly a decade. In fact, many ran with the moniker “Purple Jesus,” on account of his otherworldly physical being and outspoken Christianity. Athletes should never be held up as role models, but he was surely the exception. 

Until he wasn’t

Still, a large segment of the fan base remains willing to forgive and move forward with the future Hall of Famer in purple. Insultingly, Peterson has stiff-armed said forgiveness. Instead of owning his self-imposed adversity, he’s chosen to flip the script and play the victim card

General Manager Rick Spielman, who’s earning every penny of his paychecks these days, has been left with exactly two options…

Option 1: Play Hardball 

The Pros: With Peterson under contract through 2017, the Vikings have “play for us or play for nobody” leverage. At 30, he’d be the oldest member of the starting offense, but he’s already proven the ability to bend the laws of nature. His presence in the backfield would likely make the team 2-3(?) wins better in 2015, and would be invaluable to 22-year-old QB Teddy Bridgewater. Peterson’s presence would completely change defensive game plans, forcing the opponent to respect and commit resources to the run game. Opponents could no longer pin their ears back against a shaky offensive line. With Peterson on board, the 2015 Vikings would be a playoff contender. 

The Cons: Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? Unfortunately, everything out of Peterson’s “Triangle of Authority” (Adrian, new wife Ashley and agent Ben Dogra) has screamed that he wants a fresh start somewhere else. He could choose to sit out for a second consecutive season, and forego the generous $12.75M he’s owed, but the far more likely scenario is that he’d suit up and drag the drama into the season. 

For an organization that’s building a new stadium and a fresh young foundation centered around Bridgewater, prolonging what’s becoming an irreconcilable standoff may not be worth the headache. From a business perspective, attempts to regain goodwill with fans, press and sponsors would be awkward at best. 

Option 2: Trade Him 

The Pros: The list of suitors may realistically be as shallow as Arizona and Tampa Bay. Yahoo!’s Charles Robinson has reported that the Cardinals are “one thousand percent in (on Peterson)” and would be willing to trade their R2 pick (No. 55 overall). On the surface, a late second seems like a pittance for an MVP-caliber player, but age, salary and baggage weigh heavily into Peterson’s valuation. 

The 2015 draft is deep with RB talent, so if the organization favors a committee approach (we still don’t know exactly how they view impressive 2014 rookie Jerick McKinnon), they’d have an extra bullet and numerous young, cheap options. For reference, picks 55-57 of last year’s draft were Jeremy Hill, Cody Latimer and Carlos Hyde. 

While many are opposed to “selling low,” the truth is that Peterson’s trade value will never be higher than it is now. Next season, he’ll be a year older and $2M more expensive ($14.75M). The team surely wouldn’t get anything near a R2 pick in trade a year from now. In fact, with no more dead money on his contract in 2016, Peterson would be a cut candidate even if he were healthy and happy.

The Cons: Subtracting a generational talent from the roster will undoubtedly cost the team wins, at least in the short term. There are no guarantees with draft picks, and at this stage of free agency, most of the money freed up would likely be pocketed for future use.


Even with Peterson, the Vikings wouldn’t realistically be in position to advance through the NFC playoffs, so taking the long view seems like the most logical approach. A R2 pick is a bitter pill to swallow, but I believe it’s the better of two bad options.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mocking the Vikings

1 (8) - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville | 6'2", 214 lbs.
Granted, you can't spell "April" without "liar," but what once seemed like an impossibility is shaping into a reality. In fact, the NFL's inexplicable smear campaign on Bridgewater has even elicited whispers of "second round." In my estimation, if he is indeed there at No. 8, drafting anybody else would be overthinking it, and a franchise-altering mistake. Intelligent, driven, poised and precise, Bridgewater works the pocket like a veteran, and his combination of escapability and accuracy-on-the-move will be extending drives for the next decade. Highly productive in a pro-style offense, he may already be better than 12-15 NFL starters, and it would be no surprise if he unseated Matt Cassel right out of the gate (think Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn). The Vikings have pounced on falling offensive stars in the past (Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and to a lesser degree Cordarelle Patterson), and landing what I believe to be the draft's one true franchise QB at No. 8 would be a similar fortune.

2 (40) - Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU | 6'3", 243 lbs. 
A disruptive blitzer and an opportunistic playmaker, Van Noy is, in many ways, a discounted Khalil Mack. The team addressed the defensive line and secondary in free agency, and this gives Zimmer's weak LB group an intelligent, versatile weapon who can get into the opponent's backfield with regularity.

3 (72) - Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson | 6'4", 211 lbs. 
The Vikings certainly have greater needs, but their extra 3rd rounder affords them an opportunity to take a swing for the fences. A lanky height/speed specimen (4.42 40) who's drawn Justin Hunter comparisons, Bryant gives Norv Turner the true field-stretching deep threat that this roster currently lacks. One of Bridgewater's only real film nitpicks is his deep accuracy, so a long target with a 39" vertical would be a welcome addition. He's definitely on the raw side, both physically (very skinny) and technically (routes/hands), but the trio of Bridgewater (21), Bryant (22) and Cordarrelle Patterson (23) is a strong foundation for the future of this passing game. Moreover, polished veteran Greg Jennings—who I'd expect to make sweet music with Bridgewater—buys Patterson/Bryant much-needed time for fundamental development.

3 (96) - Christian Jones, ILB, FSU | 6'3", 240 lbs. 
And just like that, the Vikings have turned an embarrassing weakness into a potential strength. Pairing Jones with Van Noy ensures that the days of special teamers playing meaningful LB snaps are over. Sure, I'm pulling hard for Michael Mauti (who currently sits atop the MLB depth chart), but I can't put my faith in a guy with three ACL tears. Jones boasts freakish athletic attributes across the board and, like Van Noy, can play multiple positions. The knock on Jones is between the ears—his mental game is too often an anchor on his physical upside. Enter Mike Zimmer. Van Noy and Jones are both so versatile that I'm not sure exactly where they fit at the next level, but I'd be incredibly intrigued to see how they'd be deployed in the Z-fense. 

4 (104) - Dion Bailey, S, USC | 6'0", 201 lbs. 
Did I say versatility? Former linebacker Dion Bailey is still learning the ins and outs of the safety position, but like Van Noy and free agent acquisition Captain Munnerlyn, Bailey has a knack for the big play. Clearly, neither Jamarca Sanford nor Mistral Raymond are the answer next to Harrison Smith, and Bailey's athleticism and versatility should make him an immediate contributor.

5 (136) - Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty | 6'1, 205 lbs. 
The Munnerlyn signing certainly helped, but Captain is small, and you can never have too many CBs in today's NFL. In terms of size, the only difference between Aikens and Xavier Rhodes is five pounds. Aikens is not truly a small-school product—he was kicked off the Illinois team for misdemeanor theft in 2012, so there are some character concerns. Again... enter Mike Zimmer. Aikens has the prototypical size and natural talent to become a starting-caliber NFL CB, he just needs to be coached up. He's not unlike Christian Jones in that way.  

6 (168) - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State | 5'11", 224 lbs. 
Crowell is so much more than just a Toby Gerhart replacement—he has the natural ability to become 29YO Adrian Peterson's successor. He might be the most naturally talented running back in this year's class, leading many to call him "this year's Christine Michael." The rub—of course there's a rub if you're getting a premium talent in R6—is that the former SEC Freshman of the Year was kicked off the Georgia team after three different weapons arrests. Despite keeping his nose clean at Alabama State, entitlement and maturity issues lingered. The only things seemingly standing between Crowell and NFL stardom are humility and desire. I can't imagine a better landing spot than behind all-time great Adrian Peterson.

7 (200) - Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State | 6'3", 218 lbs. 
I'm leaving the draft without a Charlie Johnson fix, and that sucks, but this draft quickly became about impact difference makers... words not typically associated with offensive guards. Here's hoping 2013 6th-rounder Jeff Baca or FA addition Vladimir Ducasse can at least push Johnson this season. Wenning is a personal favorite of mine. He's a prolific small-school project with a good blend of size, mechanics and arm strength—a very solid foundation to build from. I'd expect that this pick means the Vikings wash their hands of the Ponder debacle—he'd be a QB2 upgrade for most teams, in exchange for a 2015 6th-rounder (Gabbert set the market). You can never have too many good QBs, and assuming Bridgewater becomes a perennial Pro Bowler, you're suddenly blessed with a Schaub/Kolb/Flynn/Cousins situation.