MINNEAPOLIS -- For years, former Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff had waited for his Pro Football Hall of Fame chance, without so much as an opportunity to be discussed by voters as a finalist. That's despite the fact Tingelhoff had in his favor a ringing endorsement from one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, whose teams played against Tingelhoff during the first six seasons of his career, routinely praised Tingelhoff, calling him one of the toughest centers he'd ever seen after the Vikings became one of the two teams to beat the 1966 Packers, winners of Super Bowl I. As Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman wrote in his 2007 book, Tingelhoff had played that game with a broken ankle.

The accolades from Lombardi -- as well as Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant -- finally have reverberated. Now, Tingelhoff is headed to Canton.

[+] EnlargeVikings' Mick Tingelhoff
AP PhotoMick Tingelhoff was selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his 32nd year of eligibility.
The 74-year-old was selected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday evening in his 32nd year of eligibility, as the lone nominee from the senior committee. Tingelhoff joins an eight-member class that officially will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Aug. 8.

Tingelhoff is the 16th former Vikings player to reach the Hall of Fame, and the 11th who spent at least a majority of his career in Minnesota. Grant, former coach Norm Van Brocklin and former general manager Jim Finks are also in the Hall of Fame.

Tingelhoff, who was the anchor of the Vikings' offensive line on four Super Bowl teams, is the fourth former Viking to reach Canton in the past six years, following defensive tackle John Randle in 2010, defensive end Chris Doleman in 2012 and wide receiver Cris Carter in 2013. He becomes the sixth player from Grant's teams -- which played in four Super Bowls from 1969 to 1976 -- to be selected.

The undrafted free agent started 240 consecutive games in 17 seasons, playing through myriad injuries that never caused him to miss so much as a practice. At the time of his retirement, Tingelhoff's consecutive starts streak was the second longest in NFL history, behind teammate Jim Marshall. In fact, the three longest streaks in NFL history were all set by players in Vikings uniforms -- Brett Favre, Marshall and Tingelhoff.

"Mick was a catalyst for our team and one of the most respected players on those teams," Grant said. "I have no doubt that had he not played center, he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker. He played center with the mentality and tenacity of a linebacker. Mick’s intangibles were the thing that made him so great. He was a captain the whole time I coached him and guys looked at him as an example of how to do things.”

Tingelhoff was named a first-team All-Pro every year from 1964 to 1970, and was selected to the Pro Bowl each season from 1965-70. Tingelhoff was part of Vikings teams that won 10 division titles in 11 years from 1968-78, played for five NFL/NFC Championships and went to three of their four Super Bowls from 1973-76.

Junior Seau headlines HOF class

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31

PHOENIX -- Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and Kansas City Chiefs guard Will Shields, both 12-time Pro Bowl selections during their NFL careers, were elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 on Saturday.

Seau, in his first year of eligibility, Shields, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and current ESPN analyst Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Tim Brown and defensive end Charles Haley were the five modern-era enshrinees selected in the meeting of the Hall's board of selectors.

The class of 2015 also will include former Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, who played 240 games in his career and was the seniors committee nominee, as well as two nominees in the contributors category -- former Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian, as well as longtime NFL executive Ron Wolf.

The board of selectors began the day with 15 modern-era finalists, which were trimmed first to 10 finalists and then to five in the daylong meeting. A finalist must receive 80 percent of the vote from the 46 selectors to be selected for enshrinement.

The class was announced during the "NFL Honors" awards show inside the Phoenix Symphony Hall. It will be formally enshrined at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in August.

Seau played 13 seasons with the Chargers, three years with the Miami Dolphins

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MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago at this time, Teddy Bridgewater hadn't been through his infamous pro day yet. He was still at the top of many draft boards, with some predicting he'd be the most NFL-ready quarterback in his draft class.

At least according to one awards ballot, nothing changed on those fronts.

Bridgewater was named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year on Friday, winning the award through a fan vote. It doesn't mean the Minnesota Vikings quarterback will win the "official" Rookie of the Year award on Saturday night -- he'll have to beat out the New York Giants' Odell Beckham, among others, for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award -- but the fact that Bridgewater won Friday's award is a vindication of some sorts.

"This award means a lot to me. I’m glad to have the fan base that I have,” Bridgewater said in a statement. “They’re the reason I was even in consideration for this award. To be able to play the game is one thing, but to also have a fan base is another and I’m very appreciative for that. Playing in The Bank this year – TCF Bank Stadium – hearing those fans chant my name, that was an amazing feeling. Also being able to go out and live out my dream, be able to complete my first season in the NFL was always a childhood dream of mine, so everything paid off.”

Bridgewater dropped to the bottom of the first round in large part because of his poor pro day workout, when he threw without his gloves and gave scouts concern by missing several throws at Louisville. But once Bridgewater worked out with Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, he assuaged whatever fears the team had about his pro day and the Vikings put him at the top of their quarterback draft board with Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

And at the end of his first season, Bridgewater looks to be at the top of his class among quarterbacks. His passer rating (85.2) was the seventh-highest by a rookie in NFL history, and his completion percentage (64.4) was the third-highest by a rookie. Bridgewater did it all at the controls of a dilapidated offense that was missing Adrian Peterson, among others, and fans across the country took notice of that performance.

Considering how much publicity Beckham earned after his sensational one-handed touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys and his prolific statistics, it says something that Bridgewater beat him out. We'll see if it's a precursor to more awards on Saturday.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're just over 48 hours from the kickoff of Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, which means the festivities leading up to Sunday's game are in their final days. For the cities that will host Super Bowls in future years, though, the preparations are already in full swing.

At the moment, there are three communities that know their turn in the national spotlight is coming, and the one with the most time still to prepare is our own. The Twin Cities will host Super Bowl LII in 2018, and Minneapolis' Super Bowl committee has been in the Phoenix area all week, taking notes about how it might want to stage its own event in three years and doing some public relations work for what could be the coldest Super Bowl host city in more than a decade.

Yes, it's going to be cold in Minneapolis and St. Paul when the Super Bowl comes to town, and there's certain to be plenty said about the lack of sand and surf available for one of the nation's largest parties. (As Minneapolis' marketing folks are sure to tell you, though, there's more shoreline in Minnesota than in California, Florida and Hawaii combined. It's just that most of it surrounds frozen lakes in the wintertime.)

Maureen Bausch, the Mall of America's executive VP of business development who's currently serving as the Minneapolis Super Bowl committee's CEO, knows there'll be work to do to sell national travelers on the Twin Cities. The attempt to reframe Super Bowl LII's chilly climate are already underway.

"I think it's all about people," Bausch said. "If we make them feel good, they're going to have a good time. Arizona's done a good job of that, even in the rain. It's about showcasing our people, our sophisticated marketplace, our innovations. It's about showcasing all that we do in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and changing what people [think]. We're not Fargo -- not that Fargo's bad, but [we're not] the movie and everything."

The NFL will visit Minneapolis' proposed Super Bowl sites in March, and review the city's plans for the event. Nicollet Mall will tentatively host the Super Bowl Central fan activities, while the NFL Experience interactive exhibit will be in the Minneapolis Convention Center. Media day could be in either the Target Center in Minneapolis or the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, though concerns about the cramped quarters of this year's media day in the U.S. Airways Center could lead the committee to consider putting the event back in the stadium, where it has traditionally been.

Bausch said the Twin Cities' Super Bowl bid included events in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, adding the Super Bowl will coincide with St. Paul's Winter Carnival, which is expected to include an ice castle for the first time since the NHL All-Star Game was in town in 2004.

On Saturday, the Minneapolis Super Bowl committee will stage an event at the Arizona Biltmore hotel, where Vikings players Teddy Bridgewater, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo will help unveil the city's Super Bowl LII logo. The group's presence at Super Bowl L next year in San Francisco, and Super Bowl LI in Houston in 2017, will be even bigger, Vikings VP of public affairs Lester Bagley said.

By 2018, the group hopes fans, sponsors and dignitaries have warmed to the Twin Cities as a host.

"Being a retailer, it's your time to buy the very best winter clothes. Come prepared -- it's going to be a fashion show of beautiful winter clothes," Bausch joked. "I feel so bad for Arizona, because in rain, you can't do anything. In snow, we have fun."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Since he was placed on the commissioner's exempt list in September, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has received a steady stream of support from teammates who've said they want to see him back on the field. In that regard, what wide receiver Greg Jennings said in a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview Friday wasn't that out of the ordinary.

But Jennings' comments caught my eye for a different reason in that they went a step further. Here's what he had to say:

“I don’t know if he’ll be back. I can’t answer that question,” Jennings said. “But what I do know is that if he does come back, he’d be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it’s a touchy subject and he’s been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can’t get him back, and that’s the nature of this business.”

That Jennings said Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, from ownership on down, is interesting to me. Without knowing whether he's spoken to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation, it's still safe to say the receiver made one of the more sweeping proclamations of support for Peterson that we've heard from the Vikings. Coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have said they want Peterson back, in so many words, but we haven't heard from ownership on Peterson's future, and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported in November that team vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer Kevin Warren had been working with the league to keep Peterson off the field in 2014.

Peterson told ESPN in December that he'd felt the support from his teammates, and that while he'd thought about the idea of getting a fresh start with another team, he had also watched each Vikings game during his absence, imagining how he'd fit in next to Teddy Bridgewater. He also said he knew the people who hadn't supported him in the Vikings organization are, "in the big scheme of things, not relevant."

"There's people in the organization that I know hands down love me," Peterson said in December. "I feel skeptical, of course, but that has been comforting."

Jennings added another layer to that Friday. Whether it reflects a unanimous sentiment in the organization is another matter, but the receiver certainly didn't mince words about the Vikings' support for Peterson.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for this week's Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can submit them at any point during the week on Twitter, using the hashtag #VikingsMail.

@GoesslingESPN: Good afternoon, everyone. Hope you're enjoying Super Bowl week and all its excesses. We'll get started here. Geoff, I think it depends on what kind of a role the Vikings can see Chad Greenway still having in their defense. He's made no secret about the fact he's willing to restructure, and when a guy is that open about his willingness to take a pay cut this far ahead of time, he's probably prepared himself for the idea that it could require significant concessions to return to the Vikings. Greenway has said he's managed his money well, and he's more concerned with playing another year in Minnesota than he is with earning big money somewhere else. If the Vikings offered him, say, $3 million guaranteed for next season, I think he'd take it -- and I don't see that being beyond the realm of possibility. It would still free up more than $5 million of cap space, and Mike Zimmer has talked about Greenway's value as a leader and mentor to a young group of linebackers. Greenway has said he wants to play, and I don't know how keen he'd be on the idea of returning as a seldom-used backup. But I also don't think the Vikings would drop his salary to the point where they'd put him on the shelf. If he's back at $3 million, he's probably getting a chance to play. If there's not a role for him, the Vikings have enough respect for him to let him know that and give him a chance to move on. In the end, if the Vikings still think Greenway can start for them -- and Zimmer said at the end of the season he believed Greenway could -- then he will be back. They'll make the money work.

@GoesslingESPN: Adam, James Felton can void his contract for 2015, and he's indicated he plans to do that. The Vikings just didn't have a big enough role for him to want to return, and even though he played at a high level when he was on the field, he doesn't fit in the Vikings' offense as well as he used to. We could see this coming last spring, and Adrian Peterson's absence only made Felton more of a miscast piece in the Vikings' offense. What if Peterson returns, you ask? Felton could be a better fit at that point, but it would still require the Vikings to use two-back sets more often than they did last season, and probably line up with Teddy Bridgewater under center. What's more, if Peterson isn't reinstated until April 15, Felton will probably have found a new team by then. As for the fullback situation? There's a reason the team kept Zach Line on its active roster all season despite putting him on the active roster for just one game. He had an impressive preseason in 2013 and looked like a fullback who could contribute in the passing game. The Vikings clearly didn't want to risk exposing him to waivers by trying to get him on the practice squad, and it appears they're grooming him to be their fullback in 2015.

@GoesslingESPN: Ooh, a nerdy cap question! I'm all over that! Here's the list:

  • Matt Cassel has a $500,000 roster bonus due on the seventh day of the league year.
  • Kyle Rudolph's $4.9 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year. He also has a $125,000 roster bonus next year.
  • Brandon Fusco has $2 million of his $2.6 million base salary currently guaranteed against injury, but it becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year.
  • Brian Robison has $2 million of his $4.15 million base salary guaranteed if he's on the roster by the third day of the league year. The other $2.15 million is fully guaranteed if he's on the roster by July 1.
  • Captain Munnerlyn currently has $1 million of his $3.45 million base salary guaranteed against injury. It becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year.

@GoesslingESPN: Andrew, I think the way the Vikings handled Robert Blanton at the end of the season tells you they're not completely sold on him as a starter. He didn't start the final two games of the season after returning from a sprained ankle, and even though he stepped in for Andrew Sendejo in Miami, he played just three snaps in the season finale against Chicago. It seemed at times like the Vikings regarded Blanton as the best of their current options, and while he played well at times, he was beaten too often in run support and made a couple big mistakes in coverage. I think they'll try to upgrade the position; I talked about this at length on 1500 ESPN's Purple Podcast the other day. As the game spreads out and teams get more comfortable running the ball out of spread formations, safeties become more and more important. That's especially true for the well-rounded ones who can cover receivers and help against the run. Look at what the Seahawks can do because of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. There's your blueprint, and if the Vikings get another top-flight guy to play next to Harrison Smith, they'll be in really good shape.

@GoesslingESPN: A week from today, federal judge David Doty will hear arguments in the NFL Players Association's lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of Peterson. The NFLPA obviously would like a ruling as soon as it can get one, especially if Doty vacates Peterson's suspension and rules he should be reinstated. But Doty can take his time, and I'd be surprised if we hear a resolution to this case within a matter of days. While we're on the subject, one programming note: I see the Peterson questions coming in from all of you, and I understand the intense interest in his future. It's obviously the biggest story of the offseason for the Vikings and one of the biggest in the league. But we've covered many aspects of the Peterson situation on this blog (check here to get a taste of what we've written), and until there are some new developments, I'm going to use this mailbag to devote some time to other topics surrounding the team. Perhaps we'll find out more about Peterson's future during the court date on Friday. If there are any developments related to Peterson's future, we'll certainly cover them in great detail.

That'll be it for this week's mailbag. Hope you all enjoy the Super Bowl; remember, even if it's a boring game, it's the last taste of football we'll get for six months. Talk to you next week.

The anchor of the Minnesota Vikings' offensive lines during the most successful seasons in team history, center Mick Tingelhoff is a finalist for the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, the only nominee from the senior committee.

Tingelhoff's durability was a legendary component of Bud Grant's teams; he started 240 consecutive games, and at the time of his retirement that streak was second in NFL history only to teammate Jim Marshall. The center played through injuries that would have sidelined many players, made six Pro Bowls and was voted a first-team All-Pro five times. He started for each of the Vikings' four Super Bowl teams and had his number retired by the team in 2001. It's been suggested that Tingelhoff, now 74, has waited this long for enshrinement because of the Vikings' four Super Bowl losses, but his chances appear to be good this time. Forty of the 54 senior candidates have been voted into the Hall of Fame, and four of the other 14 were inducted after being nominated a second time.

If Tingelhoff is selected, he would be the 16th former Vikings player to reach the Hall of Fame, along with Grant, former coach Norm Van Brocklin and former general manager Jim Finks. Kicker Morten Andersen, who spent the 2004 season with the Vikings, is a finalist, as is Tony Dungy, who was the Vikings' defensive coordinator from 1992-95.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our position-by-position look at the Minnesota Vikings' roster this morning, with a look at the prospects of a bounceback season for the Vikings' offensive line.


2015 free agents: Joe Berger, Vlad Ducasse, Mike Harris (restricted)

The good: Let's see: John Sullivan had another solid year at center. Berger stepped in at right guard and was serviceable in the second half of the season. And by the end of the year, Matt Kalil looked like he had (mostly) emerged from his early-season funk.

The bad: Overall, not much went well here. The Vikings lost their vaunted right side of the line -- Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt -- to torn pectoral muscles, and the left side of their line -- Kalil and Charlie Johnson -- just looked lost for parts of the year, with confusion on blitz pickups happening all too often. Things came to a head for Kalil in Week 12, when he was flagged for three penalties against the Packers and got into a brief altercation with a heckler outside TCF Bank Stadium. Johnson's play didn't receive as much scrutiny, but he struggled just as much as Kalil, if not more, in pass protection. Loadholt also wasn't having one of his better years before he got hurt.

The money -- 2015 salary-cap numbers: Loadholt ($6.75 million), Kalil ($6.29 million), Sullivan ($5.75 million), Fusco ($3.49 million), Johnson ($2.5 million), David Yankey ($561,725), Antonio Richardson ($513,333), Austin Wentworth ($510,000), Carter Bykowski ($510,000). In a veteran group with several players well beyond their rookie deals, the Vikings could look to save money by releasing Johnson, who isn't due any guaranteed money in 2015 and will be 31 in May. He is probably the most expendable player in the group, especially if Yankey bulks up enough to challenge for the left guard job in 2015. If they don't draft a guard, the Vikings could always let things play out at the position before making a decision on Johnson. The other looming issue here is Kalil's fifth-year option; the Vikings have to decide on it in May, and they would owe him the transition tag amount for left tackles in 2016, which should be over $10 million. It's only guaranteed for injury in 2015, and if Kalil returns to his Pro Bowl play as a rookie, he could be worth it. But considering he got off to a slow start this year after offseason knee surgery -- and he plays one of the more injury-prone positions in the game -- the option carries some risk.

Draft priority: Medium/high. The Vikings don't head into this year's draft with a gaping hole on the order of what they had at quarterback last year, but on a roster with plenty of smaller areas of concern, this one stands out. The Vikings need better line play in 2015, and while it's probably rash to suggest they should take another left tackle at No. 11, a guard like Iowa's Brandon Scherff could be a sensible pick in the first round.

IRVING, Texas -- Adrian Peterson has been hit at least 1,100 more times than DeMarco Murray.

Peterson, who turns 30 in March, is scheduled to earn $12.7 million this year, which is more than any other NFL running back. And just so you know, he has carried the ball more than 300 times only once in the past four seasons, which is important because this Dallas Cowboys offense requires a workhorse.

Oh, and Peterson still must be reinstated to the NFL by commissioner Roger Goodell after last season's child-abuse scandal forced him to the sidelines for the final 15 games.

Regardless of whether the Cowboys sign the 26-year-old Murray to a long-term deal, which should be their top priority, signing Peterson would be the kind of dumb, high-profile, headline-generating move the Cowboys used to make, when owner Jerry Jones had the loudest voice at Valley Ranch.

Now, he doesn't.

Vice president Stephen Jones, coach Jason Garrett and scouting director Will McClay just let him think he does. Hey, whatever works.

Obviously, Peterson will have a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day, but good organizations resist the temptation to fall in love with the name on the back of the jersey.

That's another mistake Jerry has made over the years. He has paid players for what they've done instead of paying them for what they will do. Good organizations focus on the future -- not the past -- and they deal in reality, not what they want reality to be.

So the 2,097 yards Murray gained two years ago isn't really part of his discussion, though it speaks to his overall talent. Neither are his 91 career touchdowns or his 5.0 career average per carry.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Well, at least we can see Adrian Peterson is healthy.

The suspended Minnesota Vikings running back tweeted a picture of himself and his wife Ashley at comedian Kevin Hart's show in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday night. After the show, Hart challenged Peterson to a race in the middle of the street. The comedian -- who was named the MVP of the 2012 NBA Celebrity All-Star Game -- got an early lead on Peterson, but the running back pulled away at the end.

Peterson could be in Minneapolis on Friday, when U.S. District Court judge David Doty will hear the NFLPA's lawsuit against the NFL on his behalf. Peterson said in December he'd been working out through his time on the commissioner's exempt list and his suspension. It's tough to take much from a late-night race in street clothes -- other than a laugh or two -- but it'll pass as visual evidence that the running back is in good shape.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' new stadium is quickly taking shape in the eastern part of downtown Minneapolis on the former site of the Metrodome. And when it opens in 2016, it will have a first-of-its-kind lighting system.

The Vikings' new stadium will be the first to install LED lighting during its initial construction, the team announced this week. The lighting system is designed to use 75 percent less energy than traditional systems and can be color-tuned to provide a clearer view of the playing field, both in the stadium and on TV.

Two other facilities -- including University of Phoenix Stadium, which will host the Super Bowl this weekend -- have installed LED lighting, but no facility has installed LED lighting during construction before the Vikings' stadium. The team will partner with Syracuse, New York-based Ephesus Lighting to install the system.

"From day one this stadium has been designed with the fan experience in mind, so it was logical to select an LED Lighting solution,” Vikings president Mark Wilf said in a press release. “We selected Ephesus after careful consideration of the other available options based upon their track record of developing innovative solutions and their ability to meet our requirements for having a positive impact on the fan experience.”

The Vikings' new stadium is scheduled to host Super Bowl LII in 2018, as well as the NCAA men's basketball Final Four in 2019. The stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2016, is already more than 35 percent complete.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're a day late on this, but here's to a very happy 55th birthday for the Minnesota Vikings.

On Jan. 28, 1960, the NFL awarded expansion franchises to two communities -- Minneapolis/St. Paul and Dallas -- with both set to take the field for the first time during the 1961 season. The Twin Cities had previously been awarded an AFL expansion franchise in August 1959, but five months later the NFL gave a franchise to the same five businessmen -- Bill Boyer, Ole Haugsrud, Bernie Ridder, H.P. Skoglund and Max Winter -- who were set to run the AFL team. The group forfeited its AFL membership and the Vikings were born.

The team became the 14th franchise in the NFL, entering the league with an emphatic 37-13 win over the Chicago Bears in 1961. The game saw a 21-year-old quarterback named Fran Tarkenton come off the bench to complete 17 of his 23 passes for 250 yards, throw for four touchdowns and run for a fifth. The Vikings wouldn't win again for nearly another two months, but before the decade was out, the team would play in the first of its four Super Bowls.

The cost to enter the league back then? Just $600,000 -- a $50,000 franchise fee and a commitment of $550,000 to fill the roster with veteran players. Even after adjusting for inflation, that works out to a franchise fee of about $396,000 and a veteran salary of roughly $4.36 million in today's dollars. How times have changed.

For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, the Vikings keep a PDF copy of the Minneapolis Tribune from 55 years ago today, detailing the news of the NFL's arrival in Minneapolis. Happy birthday, Vikings. Here's to many more.

NFL Nation TV talks Hall of Fame

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
Join us at 3 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. PT Thursday for the second special NFL Nation TV Super Bowl Week Spreecast.

Episode No. 42 will review ESPN.com's recent joint venture with Pro Football Focus, which broke down how many "above-average" players each team is from contending for the Super Bowl.

The crew will also preview the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time winner New England Patriots as well as break down how the Pro Football Hall of Fame's upcoming class may shake out Saturday.

Host Paul Gutierrez (ESPN Nation's San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, both of whom are among the Hall's 46 selectors.


MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our position-by-position look at the Vikings' roster this morning, with a look at how the team stacks up at tight end:


2015 free agents: None

The good: The Vikings were forced to delve into their depth at tight end after Kyle Rudolph sustained a sports hernia in Week 3, but they got decent contributions from Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison, who combined for 42 catches, 466 yards and two touchdowns. Ford, who played in 11 games, showed glimpses of being a solid threat over the middle, leading the group with 258 yards. Ellison excelled in his jack-of-all-trades role, catching 19 passes and performing plenty of grunt work as a run blocker.

The bad: This was supposed to be a breakout year for Rudolph, who dropped 15 pounds to get ready for Norv Turner's offense and got a five-year contract extension in August. But after an impressive preseason gave way to another injury, his durability is in question somewhat. Rudolph won't be 26 until November, and has time to make good on the contract he earned, but he's got to stay on the field. Ellison also struggled as a pass-blocker at times, when the Vikings had him deal with speed-rushers to help their tackles.

The money -- 2015 salary-cap numbers: Rudolph ($6.43 million), Ellison ($1.65 million), Ford ($585,000). Rudolph's $4.9 million base salary is guaranteed against injury, and becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year, but there's no reason to think he's going anywhere. Ellison got a raise in the final year of his rookie deal through the league's performance pay escalator clause.

Draft priority: Low. The Vikings have three tight ends, all 26 or under, and they've got their main man locked up in Rudolph. Unless injuries become an issue again for him in 2015, the Vikings are probably set here for the time being. They'll have to think at some point about the future for Ellison, who has become an underrated part of their offense.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings had one of the youngest rosters in the league in 2014, and over the last several seasons, they've made a concerted effort to establish a foundation through an aggressive draft strategy that's seen general manager Rick Spielman make seven first-round picks in the last three years.

As ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson sees it, that strategy is working.

In an ESPN Insider piece published earlier this week, Williamson ranked the Vikings' crop of 25-and-under players the fourth-best in the league, behind Indianapolis, New England and St. Louis. Four of the Vikings players Williamson highlights in the piece -- Teddy Bridgewater, Anthony Barr, Sharrif Floyd and Harrison Smith -- were taken with first-round picks. Two of those four (Bridgewater and Smith) were acquired when the Vikings traded back into the first round.

Bridgewater is, of course, the biggest piece of the Vikings' future, and if he continues to progress like he did at the end of his rookie season, the Vikings could be set for a long time. He should have a more stable supporting cast in his second year, and he fashioned the seventh-highest rookie passer rating in league history with plenty of disparate parts around him.

It's interesting to note how much young talent the Vikings seem to have in spite of the first-round picks whose futures appear more uncertain. The team will have to decide in May whether to pick up Matt Kalil's fifth-year option after a pair of disappointing seasons, and Cordarrelle Patterson is facing a pivotal offseason after catching just 33 passes in his second year. The Vikings spent big to trade up for Patterson -- New England used one of the four picks it received to take linebacker Jamie Collins, who will start in the Super Bowl this weekend after an impressive second year -- and the onus will be on Patterson to prove he was worth the investment.

Overall, though, the Vikings' aggressive draft strategy appears to have yielded some fruit. The DNA of championship-level teams almost always includes more than a few elite players. If a few of the Vikings' draft picks can reach that level, the team will be well on its way to where it wants to go.