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Gene Wojciechowski sheds some light on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his inability to stay out of the headlines, most recently losing the legal battle over the reinstatement timetable involving Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.

Vikings release veteran guard Charlie Johnson

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
3:15
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The Minnesota Vikings will have a new starting left guard next season.

They released veteran Charlie Johnson on Friday. The ninth-year pro had spent the last four seasons as a starter in Minnesota.

The move frees up $2.5 million in salary-cap space for the Vikings this season. Johnson was scheduled to be paid a base salary of $2.45 million plus a $50,000 workout bonus. All of that will be wiped off the Vikings’ books. Because he did not receive a signing bonus when he did his most recent contract – a two-year deal last offseason – there will be no dead money counting against the cap.

The Vikings had $17.6 million in available salary-cap space before Friday’s move, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data.

Johnson, 30, started all but three games over the last four seasons for the Vikings. He spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts, who picked him in the sixth round of the 2006 draft.

There’s no clear-cut replacement for Johnson, although Joe Berger, who started parts of last season at right guard in place of the injured Brandon Fusco could get a shot at the job. However, Berger is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month. The Vikings also have David Yankey, a fifth-round pick last season who could not get on the field as a rookie.

It all could point to the Vikings drafting Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff with the 11th overall pick and moving him to guard.

Vikings' Jennings waxes on life, golf

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
2:10
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[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsEarly in his NFL career, wide receiver Greg Jennings broke into the league with Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Now, the 31-year-old Jennings suits up for the Minnesota Vikings.

How have you been spending your offseason?

I have been spending my offseason with my kids. Being able to take them to school, pick them up from school. Engage with them in their daily activities, homework and what not. The things that I don't really have the opportunity to do during the season. And then just resting. But I am a big-time family guy, so I spend a lot of time with my kids and my wife.

With your strong family values, what do you feel is the most important aspect of maintaining a strong family unit?

I think the most important aspect is relationship and communication. In being engaging when you are around one another. I literally tell my wife this all the time, that when I am spending time with my children, that I want them to know that they have my undivided attention. That I am completely engaged in whatever it is that we are doing because I feel that I will get the most out of them and they will get the most out of me.

So it is really the quality of time and not so much the quantity. I like to have both, but the quality is definitely the most important part when raising children. Being a part and involved in what they are doing.


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The book is called Everybody Fumbles.

Published in 2014, it is the ultimate statement by Earnest Byner, the former Cleveland Browns running back involved in the play that has gone down in Browns history as merely “The Fumble.”

[+] EnlargeEarnest Byner, Brian Brennan
AP photo/Mark DuncanEarnest Byner's fumble in the 1988 AFC Championship Game haunted him for over a year until he left Cleveland.
Byner’s miscue at the goal line late in the January 1988 AFC Championship Game in Denver came as he was about to score to tie the game. It still hurts Browns fans, and it left Byner feeling like he was drowning.

But in time he recovered.

Byner now wants to make sure another player does not go through what he did for as long as he did. Byner watched the end of this season's NFC Championship Game and saw the Green Bay Packers' Brandon Bostick misplay an onside kick, helping Seattle complete an improbable comeback.

When Byner heard Bostick talk after the game and then a couple of days later, saying that he had let an entire team and fan base down, Byner knew he had to reach out -- even though he had never met Bostick and had never talked to him.

“I didn’t want him to feel like he was alone,” Byner said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Bostick made Byner’s role clear in a first-person story written on SI.com on Thursday, a story in which Bostick revealed he still lives with his mistakes and that he received death threats on Twitter.

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s the first thing on my mind,” Bostick wrote. “There are nights when I dwell on it before falling asleep. Sometimes the thought creeps up on me when I’m lifting weights, or eating dinner, or sitting on my couch at home."

"That’s one of the reasons I’m calling him and we’re talking,” Byner said. “I’m trying to make it so it’s not a difficult process for him."

Bostick was supposed to block on the kick and let teammate Jordy Nelson catch the ball. Instead, Bostick tried to catch it and lost it.

Byner heard Bostick’s anguish after the game and reached out through Packers assistant coach Sam Gash, who played for the Ravens when Byner was an assistant coach in Baltimore.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bostick
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesEarnest Byner reached out to Brandon Bostick immediately after the tight end botched the onside kick in the NFC title game.
“With the way social media is now, the weight and how much he hears it, it all happened to him a lot quicker than it did me,” Byner said. “It took me four or five months. It made me struggle after four or five months.”

Byner would hear people yell, “Hey don’t fumble.” He’d hear other barbs, snide remarks. He’d notice people looking at him, then looking away. He felt love from many Browns fans, but the weight from the negative, he said, became heavier every day.

“It was almost like a drowning,” Byner said.

Byner played for the Browns for one season after the fumble but was not himself. He said it took a trade to Washington to bring him out of his dark state.

“It took a spiritual conversation for me to actually get past the fumble,” Byner said. “I’m not preaching to [Bostick]. But to me the spiritual impact is crucial. The spirit has a way of freeing you up a lot.”

Since then, Byner has helped several players in several sports. Bostick is the latest, as the two have talked several times since the championship game. The ex-Brown feels that Bostick will benefit from being released by Green Bay. Going to Minnesota will help him start fresh.

“The next step,” Byner said, “is to get together. I need to look him in his eyes. I need to feel what he’s feeling. That way I can make a difference in the process. Not just that process, but in his life. Because the better the person, the better the player you will have.”

As Byner says when describing his book on a video on his website earnestbyner21.com: “Mistakes are critical to learning, understanding what happened and how it happened. And being able to go to the next level. Being able to ultimately become a champion, not just in sports, but also in life.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our look at the Vikings' free agent needs today with our first trip to the offensive side of the ball. The Vikings' offensive line struggled last season, even before it was decimated by injuries. And as much attention as was paid to left tackle Matt Kalil last season, the spot next to him might be more ripe for an upgrade.

Left guard

State of the position: The Vikings ensured their line would remain intact for a third consecutive season when they brought Charlie Johnson back on a two-year deal. But Johnson flailed in pass protection, allowing five sacks (according to Pro Football Focus) and frequently pressure when he and Kalil struggled to pick up blitzes. Johnson has no guaranteed money on his 2015 deal, and while the Vikings haven't indicated what they play to do with the 30-year-old, it seems reasonable to expect a change here.

Scherff
Draft vs. free agency: There are enough options in the rookie class that the Vikings might be comfortable with avoiding a big expense in the draft. Numerous mock drafts have them taking Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff, who might be able to move inside and anchor the left side of the line with Kalil. LSU tackle La'el Collins could do the same, and with as much money as the Vikings already have committed to their line, they might understandably be leery about another big expense for the group.

Cream of the crop: Denver guard Orlando Franklin figures to command lots of interest if he reaches the open market, though it's worth remembering how many offensive linemen look better with Peyton Manning orchestrating things behind them. San Francisco guard Mike Iupati's name comes up in fan questions quite often, and while Iupati would give the Vikings another mauler opposite Brandon Fusco, his flaws in pass protection might diminish how well he'd fit in Norv Turner's offense.

Other options: Cincinnati guard Clint Boling played every snap for the Bengals last season; he gave up only three sacks last season, and has shown he can handle defensive tackles in the running game. He could be a good bargain for the Vikings, compared to what it would cost to sign Franklin or Iupati, and doesn't turn 26 until May.

Growth from within: David Yankey looked like he could be a steal when the Vikings took him in the fifth round last spring, but the common reason offered for Yankey's absence as a rookie -- that he needed to get stronger -- was a bit concerning, considering his size and his reputation as a road grader at Stanford.
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Adam Schefter discusses a federal judge's ruling for Adrian Peterson, and what comes next with the NFL's decision to appeal.
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Louis Riddick and Herm Edwards discuss how they would mend the relationship between the Vikings and Adrian Peterson.
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ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling discusses the news that a federal judge has ruled against the NFL in Adrian Peterson's appeal, and the appeal of his suspension now goes back to the arbitration process for a decision.

Brandon Bostick: Death threats made

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Former Green Bay Packers tight end Brandon Bostick said he received death threats after he botched the onside kick recovery in the NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks and that a former NFL player who went through something similar has helped him deal with it.

"I knew it was a key mistake that cost us a trip to the Super Bowl," Bostick wrote in a first-person account for The MMQB website. "But, with all due respect, I think the media kind of took it and ran with it. I became the singular scapegoat. Social media didn't help, either.

"I don't know how many death threats I received, but there have been a lot. I still haven't read most of the messages that people sent me, but I want to so I can deal with the consequences and use it as motivation. But it is physically impossible for me to read every troll's comment; the volume is simply too much. So their comments sit there, untouched, maybe forever."

Bostick, a seldom-used backup, was supposed to block on the play to allow sure-handed receiver Jordy Nelson to recover the kickoff that would've given the Packers possession with a 19-14 lead and just over two minutes remaining. Instead, Bostick tried to catch the ball, and the Seahawks recovered en route to a 28-22 overtime victory on Jan. 18.

He said was surprised to receive a phone call from former NFL running back Earnest Byner, whose fumble in the 1987 AFC Championship Game cost the Cleveland Browns a trip to the Super Bowl.

"Byner called me out of the blue, and now we talk about once or twice a week," Bostick wrote. "His biggest advice: Face your mistake, don't run from it."

Less than a month later, Bostick was released by the Packers and claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Vikings


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MINNEAPOLIS -- We'll continue our look this morning at the Minnesota Vikings' needs, and some players that could fit those needs at a number of different price points. The Vikings spent plenty of time interviewing linebackers at the NFL scouting combine, and rumblings around the league had them looking at linebackers in free agency, too. They might start by attending to a long-standing hole in the middle.

Middle linebacker

McClain
State of the position: It's been in flux, to some degree, since E.J. Henderson last played for the Vikings in 2011, and this year isn't much different. Jasper Brinkley is set to hit free agency after the Vikings brought him back on a one-year deal last season. He rarely stayed on the field in passing situations, and the Vikings have stated they'd like to find a three-down player at middle linebacker. Whether they'll find one or not remains to be seen, but they certainly did their due diligence on linebackers at the scouting combine, and rumblings around the league have the Vikings on the hunt for one in free agency, too.

Draft vs. free agency: This isn't a deep draft at linebacker; a subpar combine performance might leave Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney available in the second round, and Miami's Denzel Perryman could be a good option in the second round (or with another trade back into the last half of the first round). There isn't much of a supply of three-down linebackers in free agency, either, so the Vikings could find themselves trying to piece things together with plenty of nickel coverage again next season.

Cream of the crop: It's hard to find one player who sticks out above the rest, but Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain might be the best fit if the Vikings are content with a run-stopping specialist. He had an impressive season in Dallas, leading the league in run stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus, and while he has a history of injuries, he's still only 25 and could solidify the position for the next few years if the Vikings were to keep him around.

Other options: Buffalo's Brandon Spikes is another solid tackler who spent last season in one of the league's best run defenses. Like McClain, he'd probably come off the field in passing situations, but he'd help against the run. It's also worth remembering a linebacker from coach Mike Zimmer's past: Cincinnati's Rey Maualuga, who played well in 2014 when he wasn't dealing with a hamstring injury. He spent the first five years of his career with Zimmer, and would already know the Vikings' defense if he came to Minnesota. He wouldn't be a three-down solution, either, but he'd be able to step right in to the scheme.

Growth from within: Michael Mauti plays with the violence the Vikings want in their linebackers, and had some good moments on special teams, but his ability to stay healthy is always a concern. Short of giving one of their outside linebackers a shot in the middle -- or bringing Brinkley back -- the Vikings could be looking outside their roster for a middle linebacker next season.

Vikings' free-agent needs: Safety

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Now that we're less than two weeks from the start of the new league year, we're going to spend some time looking at the Minnesota Vikings' needs, and some players that could fit those needs at a number of different price points. General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer had said they identified eight spots they want to upgrade before next season.

The word in league circles is that the safety spot next to Harrison Smith and middle linebacker are at or near the top of the Vikings' list, and a number of the other spots should be relatively easy to figure out. We'll get started today with safety, and take a look at seven other spots in the next couple weeks:

Safety

State of the position: While Harrison Smith played at a Pro Bowl level in 2014, the Vikings never seemed completely settled on a player to line up next to him. Robert Blanton won the job out of training camp and played adequately, but missed some tackles after taking poor angles, and lost the starting job to Andrew Sendejo at the end of the season. If the Vikings can find another high-end safety to put next to Smith, they'll have a dynamic foundation for their defense.

Collins
Draft vs. free agency: Alabama's Landon Collins is the top safety in the draft class, but he could turn out to be better as an in-the-box player than an open-field safety. Considering how much the Vikings like to move Smith around, they could use a safety who excels in the open field. Ole Miss' Cody Prewitt got some attention from the Vikings at the combine after impressing during Senior Bowl practices, but his coverage skills would need some refinement. Zimmer talked about his reluctance to stock the roster with free agents, but all things considered, this could be a position where it's worth spending some money.

Cream of the crop: New England's Devin McCourty is expected to be the top safety on the market, and he'd be a fantastic fit for the Vikings; he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie cornerback in 2010, is one of the best coverage safeties in the game and would be right at home as the lone deep safety in situations where Smith is playing near the line of scrimmage. He'll command big money if the Patriots let him hit the open market, but if the Vikings want to splurge, McCourty would be a great candidate.

Other options: Denver's Rahim Moore is another impressive coverage safety (his gaffe in the 2013 AFC playoffs notwithstanding). He recovered from the compartment syndrome that nearly caused him to lose a leg, and he showed impressive range as a deep safety in 2014. Louis Delmas played in the same scheme in Miami that the Vikings use in Minnesota, and while he's recovering from a torn ACL, he could be worth a gamble if the Vikings think he can return in time to contribute.

Growth from within: The Vikings drafted cornerback Antone Exum with plans to convert him to safety, and after a year mostly playing special teams, he could get a longer look during organized team activities this spring. He's got the size and range to be an intriguing option. Blanton enters a contract year after his first season as a starter, and will be fighting to keep a first-team job in 2015.

Vikings' focus on Teddy Bridgewater's backup

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
10:00
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ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling discusses the back-up quarterback situation.
Take a listen to this week's NFL Nation TV podcast as the crew breaks down the lessons it learned from last week's NFL combine in Indianapolis, as well as the latest in the push for bringing the NFL to Los Angeles.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by four other NFL Nation reporters.

Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) joins to give an idea of how feasible it would be for the Raiders and Chargers to share a stadium in Southern California. Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) discusses why he thinks Jameis Winston is all but a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) breaks down which direction the Jets will go with the No. 6 overall draft pick. Will they go with a quarterback? Defense? Receiver? Paul Kuharsky (Tennessee Titans reporter) weighs with his thoughts on where the Titans will turn at No. 2 if Winston is off the board.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on ESPN.com at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT each Tuesday, and be sure to give the show's a podcast a listen following each taping.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Any football department run by a general manager as meticulous as the Minnesota Vikings' Rick Spielman -- who rates draft prospects down to the thousandth of a point -- is going to have a fairly high view of information gathering.

Before Spielman hired Mike Zimmer in January 2014, he studied 13 different backgrounds for potential head coaches. The GM routinely charts in-game decisions, and went through a litany of scenarios with Zimmer before his first games as a head coach last fall. Spielman, Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner crisscrossed the country last spring, interviewing passers who could be the Vikings' next QB of the future. If the Vikings' front office is ever going to be accused of falling short in any one area, preparedness will not be it.

There's a difference between accumulating data and using it to shape a significant number of decisions, however. And in a league that probably still ranks among the least data-dependent of the four major U.S. sports, the Vikings ranked among the 12 teams listed as analytics "skeptics" in ESPN's Great Analytics Rankings, which attempted to measure how heavily all 122 North American major pro teams use analytics. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote, the Vikings don't have a full-time employee devoted to analytics, and it's unclear how much the team relies on data findings in its decisions. Coach Mike Zimmer leaned on the traditional side of fourth-down decisions, going for it just three times before the fourth quarter in 2014.

The Vikings made their skepticism about Pro Football Focus clear last season, particularly when the name of left tackle Matt Kalil came up, but that stemmed more from a belief that outside sources don't have all the information to thoroughly evaluate the team than it did from an inherent aversion to new schools of thought. When I covered the team for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, I talked with Spielman about his approach to analytics, and the methods the Vikings use to evaluate draft picks. Essentially, the team takes all of its combine data, in-house ratings and psychological evaluations of players and feeds them into a giant database, looking for precedents. If the Vikings can find a player with similar attributes who has since been successful in the NFL, they might be more willing to consider a prospect whose measurables would otherwise invite skepticism. But for Spielman and Zimmer, the tape still takes precedent.

When I've talked with Spielman about the Vikings' analytics use, he hasn't seemed particularly interested in standing out, so he's likely happy the team is lumped with more than one-third of the league in one of the middle quartiles of our survey. The Vikings certainly use analytics as a tool, but to say they have a deep reliance on them would probably be stretching it.

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