Friday, February 27, 2009

Killing Time: Rumor Craziness & Housh

So far, the Vikings have done, well, nothing, aside from formalize the trade for Sage Rosenfels. I haven't seen or heard anything about which players are visiting Winter Park, or, really, anything new about any of their free agent targets. Negotiations continue with Matt Birk and Jim Kleinsasser, and the Purple have made offers to restricted free agents Fred Evans (a solid back up for the Williams Wall) and Naufahu Tahi (a horrible blocker who gained 37 receiving yards on 21 targets with a -77.4%DVOA and accumulated -77 DYAR). So really, no big changes except for a fun little rumor started by T.J. Houshmandzadeh who appears to enjoy flirting with every franchise's fanbase. As he said yesterday,
“I’m looking at teams I think have good coaches and good offensive lines and good running games. I have no idea if those teams are interested in me. If I can play with Adrian Peterson, can you imagine what I would do getting one-on-one coverage with Adrian Peterson? I am going to win 98.6 percent of the time with one-on-one coverage with him in the backfield.”
He's also contacted a radio station in Philly and is generally having a good time with being wanted (though I have no idea how he was able to know how often he could beat one-on-one coverage within a tenth of a percent). Would Housh (you type his name out more than once) be a good fit for the Vikings? The answer--it depends on the price.

If the Vikings can sign Housh that gives them a reasonable protection against his age 34, 35 and 36 seasons (the upcoming season is his age 32 season), he should definitely be brought in (I'm fine with them paying him for 4 or 5 years for 2 great and one good season, but not with them paying him for 6 or 7 seasons). He's averaged 1012 receiving yards a year over the last five years, and 89 catches. Last year, despite spending 13 games catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick, he still caught 92 passes for 904 yards. While he's not a deep threat (he has only 6 catches for over forty yards and 67 catches over 20 yards the last five years), he is an amazing possession receiver--he's not Randy Moss, he's Chris Carter. His worst catch percentage over the last five years is 66% and he's a first down machine, averaging 56 first down catches a year over the past five years and finishing 16th, 1st, 7th and 16th in first down catches in the last four years. He'd be the perfect fit for a West Coast offense, and the perfect complement for Bernard Berrian.

The only question mark is whether he can be signed without a Haynseworthian contract that guarantees it will ruin the Vikings' cap situation as Housh ages. If he can't, he's probably not worth it. If he can be signed for a reasonable (within the context of #1 receiver contracts), then the Vikings should do everything they can to sign him. At the very least, the Purple need to find out the answer.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Killing Time: Free Agency Eve

As you've probably heard a hundred times already, teams are able to sign free agents starting at 11pm tonight. And we all hope (and think) that the Vikings will be active in the free agency market. After some of their top targets re-signed with their current teams, its not clear who they're likely to target in the market. They have needs at offensive line, cornerback, wide receiver and kick and punt returner. While there doesn't seem to be many corners worth signing (and they re-signed Charles Gordon to play nickel back and possibly return punts), there are still some intriguing linemen and wide receivers available.

One of the best lineman is Jason Brown, who started at center for the Ravens. He'll only be 26 during this upcoming season, and he was a dominant run blocker in the middle. While the Ravens' running backs were constantly injured, they still had a very good running game, ranking 9th in DVOA. And they were the most successful when they ran up the middle, averaging 4.40 yards per carry, the 10th best in the NFL (and better than the Vikings, who were 19th with 4.15 yards). He can also play guard, which allows the Vikings to play John Sullivan at center if he earns it, upgrading two positions at once.

Another possibility for the Purple is Laveranues Coles. The Jets cut him loose yesterday in order to get under the cap, and acquiring him would add another quality target for Tarvaris (or Sage). Last year, he caught 70 passes for 836 yards and 8 touchdowns. He caught 61% of the passes thrown his way, and was 24th and 36th in DYAR and DVOA (which would have put him well ahead of Bobby Wade for second in both categories on the Vikings). He's not much of a deep threat (he only caught 2 passes over 40 yards), but he'd be a quality possession receiver and would complement Bernard Berrian well. He might end up back with the Jets, however, so I wouldn't get your hopes up about seeing him in Purple.

If you're looking for more players worth targeting, Yahoo has a list of the top 100 free agents (h/t Football Outsiders). Don't be suprised to see the Vikings try and bring in Khalif Barnes, Mark Tauscher or Jon Stinchcom to play right tackle. Niners Nation has a good breakdown of those three, and the other available free agent tackles if you want to know more. And don't forget the twelve Vikings who are unrestricted free agents this year.

  • Jason Winter compares Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels at Defensive Indifference.
  • Kevin Seifert puts Tarvaris in context. It's not pretty.
  • Football Outsiders on the one part of the Combine that may actually be predictive. (And gives us a reason to be happy the Vikings' don't need a running back)
The Williams Wall:
  • Their court date is set for June 15th. The schedule hasn't been released yet, but if the Vikings have to play four games without the Williams Wall, they're going to be starting out the season yet another hole.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Get to Know 'Em: Sage Rosenfels

It seems only fitting that as I spent my time yesterday writing about a long shot at quarterback, Pat White, the Vikings were busy getting to the brink of a deal with Houston for Sage Rosenfels. So while I'm happy to hear that the competitor for Tarvaris Jackson isn't going to be someone that Tarvaris will likely beat (I'm looking at you Gus), it just figures that the news of a trade would break right after I hit "Post" and used up what free time I had on Pat White.

Anyway (it's rough being me, isn't it?), as you probably recall, the Vikings' chased Rosenfels before this season. As I wrote then, Rosenfels is a very accurate passer (he completed 66.7% and 64.2% of his passes the last two years) who is one of the better quarterbacks at avoiding sacks:
"Another thing Rosenfels has going for himself is that he rarely gets sacked. He was only dropped once every 41 times he went back to pass, an astoundingly low rate. Rosenfels has only been sacked 10 times in his entire career and was sacked only once every 39.8 pass attempts. To put that in context, Tarvaris had about as many pass attempts (313), but was sacked 19 times last year, or once every 16.5 dropbacks, which isn't that bad of a sack rate (David Carr's sack rate is once every 9.4 drop backs)."
Rosenfels wasn't as succesful at avoiding sacks last year, going down 9 times in 183 drop backs, a rate of once every 20.3 pass plays. His sack rate wasn't helped by an offensive line that dropped from 10th to 16th in Adjusted Sack Rate last year. Of course, the Vikings were 28th in ASR last year, so he will be facing more pressure than in Houston if the Purple don't upgrade their line.

Another reason that Rosenfels may have been sacked more is that he was more willing to hang in the pocket for a deeper route to come open. His yards per attempt jumped from 6.67 YPA to 7.50YPA. He also completed 4 passes for more than 40 yards, the same as 2007 and 18 passes for more than 20 yards, which was one more than in 2007, despite running 63 fewer pass plays. He can get the ball downfield accurately and is willing to hang in the pocket to do so.

Of course, there's a reason why Rosenfels is available to the Vikings for a fourth round pick--he throws a lot of interceptions. He's thrown 22 in the past two years, which, when you consider he only had 414 pass attempt, is horrible. That's an interception rate of 5.3%, which would have lead the league last year (Frerotte was the actual leader at 5.0%). That interception rate is a big reason why he had fewer DYAR and a lower DVOA last year than Tarvaris Jackson.

His propensity to throw interceptions is the main reason Rosenfels likely isn't the best answer to the Vikings' quaterback situation. But, as I've said before, the time to find the best answer is long past. Cassel is going to be expensive and has big question marks about his ability to play under center without Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and while Garcia is probably a better answer, Childress doesn't seem to like him and he gets hurt too frequently. Rosenfels is an improvement on the "Gus and Tarvaris Traveling Sucking Spectacular" that we saw for most of last year, and that's probably enough. He's a legitimate contender for the starting job (unlike Frerotte), which means that if Tarvaris beats Rosenfels out, he'll have earned it with strong play. And at this point, that's enough for me to be happy about the Purple's quarterback situation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Get to Know 'Em: Pat White

For awhile now, I've been expecting (maybe even hoping) the Vikings would take quarterback Nate Davis out of Ball State in the second round if they decided to go the "sign a veteran and draft a future starter" route to improve at quarterback. That assumed that Davis would step up and claim a spot as a sure second round pick, something it seems he's not doing. But enough negativity (of which there is more than enough due to this threat from Brad Childress). Let's talk about a player that might actually be a long term answer to the Vikings' quarterback problems: Pat White.

Now, as I mentioned when I looked at the various quarterback prospects, the two most predictive statistics for college quarterbacks talented enough to go in the first or second round, are games started and completion percentage. And those are two stats in which Pat White did very well. He started 42 games in his college career, and completed 64.8% of his passes. And it seems that he just might have the arm to actually make the transition from Spread QB to NFL QB, which might raise his stock high enough to make the Lewin Forecaster applicable (it's only for QBs taken in the first and second rounds).

Of course, there are a couple of reasons why most teams don't see White as an NFL QB. He's only 6'1 and is under 200 lbs, likely making him the smallest quarterback in the league. The man's very breakable, and he had to sit out (or leave) games with injuries his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. And he was a run first quarterback in a spread offense--he threw less than 800 passes in his four years. If you're worried about Matt Cassel's ability to run the Vikings' offense from under center, you should definitely be worried about Pat White's ability to run an offense that isn't 80-90% shotgun formation (a problem almost every quarterback in the draft has, including Josh Freeman and Nate Davis thanks to the widespread use of the Spread).

So is Pat White the best answer to the Vikings' quarterback issues? Probably not, but I don't know if there is a "best answer" at this point. He obviously has some drawbacks, but if the scouts think he has the arm strength and the accuracy to play quarterback, he was more than productive enough in college to make him an interesting long term option, especially if the Purple put him on the same diet as Pat Williams.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nevermind about Vernon Carey

No need to get to know 'em now: he's signed a six year extension with the Dolphins worth $42 million (h/t to Chris for letting me know). Glad I spent all that time writing a post on him (and man, would he have been perfect for the Vikings). I guess I shouldn't rely on an anonymous agent's opinion (anyone want to bet that agent works with Carey's agent?) before getting too excited about a player. The Vikings still need to improve at right tackle, and with Carey off the market, how they'll try to go about doing so just became a lot less clear.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Get to Know 'Em: Vernon Carey

While the players that were likely the Vikings' top targets all ended up with their current team at the franchise deadline, a new and intriguing option just became available: Vernon Carey, the starting right tackle for the Dolphins. Most expected Carey to be franchised by Miami, but the Dolphins declined to do so, leaving him willing to test the market and as the best option available for those teams looking to upgrade their line via free agency.

Carey is a 27 year old former first round pick (made by Rick Spielman) that's big enough (6'5", 333lbs), quick enough and young enough to lock down the right tackle position for the Vikings' for years to come. Of course, the problem is that the Purple aren't the only team that needs a new tackle--the Chargers and the Bears are among those who are likely to be interested. And without Jordan Gross or Max Starks to distract them, the competitors for Carey are likely to drive his price up. Luckily, the Vikings are willing to spend the money necessary to improve their team and Carey seems to be a priority.

While they used him at left tackle in 2007, Carey is best suited for right tackle, mainly due to lacking the quickness necessary to protect the blindside. Once he moved to the right side, he showed that he's a capable pass blocker, when not matched up every down with elite pass rushers, only giving up 4.5 sacks last year, and only getting flagged for one penalty, a false start (and not a single holding penalty). He's also a very good run blocker. Last year, the Dolphins averaged 4.51 yards per run behind the right tackle, 9th overall, a huge improvement from the 3.84 yards they'd averaged in 2007. In contrast, the Vikings averaged 3.61 yards per run behind the right tackle, 28th overall. The year before, when Carey was on the left side, the Dolphins averaged 5.05 yards on runs behind Carey, 4th overall, much better than the 3.99 yards they averaged behind Jake Long.

It seems clear that signing Carey would shore up the right side of the Vikings' line. He'd allow Childress to flip his play cards over and call running plays to the right side. He'd also improve the Vikings' quarterback play, whether or not they added a new quarterback, by improving the pass protection, something the Vikings' sorely need to do (they were 28th in Adjusted Sack Rate last year). Finally, he'd allow Ryan Cook to move back to center, the position he was drafted at, and compete with John Sullivan for the starting job. It's always better to have depth when you're trying out young players at important positions, and allowing Cook and Sullivan to battle it out in training camp makes it much more likely they'll end up with a decent replacement for Birk.

Aside from signing Jeff Garcia (which might not even be their best option), it appears that Vernon Carey should be the Vikings' top target when free agency starts next week. He'd address one of their biggest needs, improve their chances at a smooth transition from Matt Birk and allow the Vikings to run the ball to the right side. If nothing else, it'd sure be nice to see defenses have to spread their nine guys in the box out evenly, instead of stacking them over Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Franchise Deadline Unkind to Vikings

Three of the best possible free agents are no longer available anymore. The best offensive tackle, Jordan Gross re-signed with Carolina and the best cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha, re-signed with Oakland. The latter was a move clearly designed by Asomugha and his agent to assure that he wouldn't be franchised by the Raiders for the rest of his career, as it includes an out clause after the 2010 season. In other, unhappy news, the second best corner on the marker, Dunta Robinson, was franchised by the Texans. He was probably the only potential target for the Vikings to be franchised (aside from Cassel, of course), though a few other players, such as RB/Returner Darren Sproles of the Chargers, OT Max Starks of the Steelers and WR Antonio Bryant of the Bucs might have been interesting signings had they not also been franchised.

While there are still some linemen worth pursuing in free agency (more on that later), the best way for the Vikings to address their need for depth at corner is now through the draft.

Killing Time: Hicks, Combine and Tackle Depth

Maurice Hicks:
The Vikings waived Maurice Hicks yesterday, ending what was a failed free agent pick up. Hicks was brought in to improve the Vikings special teams, specifically their return games, even though he hadn't shown the ability to be anything other than a mediocre returner (as I pointed out when he signed). His signing was an example of valuing experience over talent, and it came back to hurt the Vikings, as he had a key fumble on a kickoff return against Tampa Bay, had 9 returns of less than 20 yards and never once returned a kickoff more than 40 yards. For a team built on defense and the running game (i.e., field position), having a good kick returner is important, which is why Hicks' signing was so damaging to the Vikings last year.

The Combine:
The Combine started yesterday, and while it's nowhere important, it can be a useful tool in evaluating draft prospects for the teams that approach it properly. Based on this interview with Rick Speilman, I think the Vikings do it right (h/t ESPN NFC North Blog). They aren't going to give too much weight to the workouts, but they are going to use it as a way to get a handle on the people these draft prospects are. The Vikings have done a good job in the draft since the infamous 2005 draft, and their approach to the Combine has certainly contributed to that.

Tackle Depth:
One of the things that I (along with most Viking's fans) have forgotten about is the impending resolution of the Williams Wall's legal battle over their suspension. Depending on the outcome, the Vikings might be short both of their starting tackles for the first four games of the season. And, even if they aren't suspended, the Williams' backups, Fred Evans and Ellis Wyms, are both free agents this year (although Evans is only a restricted free agent). The Vikings took LaTroy Guion in the fifth round last year to help at tackle, but additional depth would be nice, especially if Guion isn't ready to contribute after spending last year adjusting to the NFL. The National Football Post has a breakdown of the available free agent defensive tackles, and someone like Ryan Boschetti or Grady Jackson would be a welcome addition to the defensive line.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Get to Know 'Em: Jeff Garcia

The second of the Vikings' two main options to replace Tarvaris Jackson (after Matt Cassel) is Jeff Garcia. He's a veteran with a proven track record coming off of three straight seasons with a quarterback rating over 90. In his ten seasons, he's had seven seasons with a completion percentage over 60%, including the last three years. Of course, it's that first number (ten seasons) that raises some big questions--is he too old, at 39, to be successful over a full season and in the playoffs?

And if he's not too old, would he fit in with the Vikings? Last year, Garcia played in 12 games for Tampa, completing 64.9% of his passes for 2712 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing only 6 interceptions. It was the sixth straight season he failed to play in 16 games. Of course, one of the reason that he's missed games is that he's lost the starting job (or didn't start with it). The other reason is that he tends to get hurt. In 2006, he replaced Donovan McNabb after McNabb was hurt and led the Eagles to the second round of the playoffs. Of course, he only played in 8 regular season games. Two years ago, (when he should have been playing for the Purple) he missed two games with injuries and sat out a meaningless Week 17 game, and last year he lost his starting job after Week 1 to Brian Griese and then missed the Bucs' Week 15 loss to Atlanta with a calf injury, returning to put up back to back sub 75 QB Ratings in the last two weeks as Tampa flamed out of the playoff hunt.

Even at 38, however, he was still a very mobile quarterback, as the Vikings' learned all too well last year. While he doesn't scramble as much as he used to (he's averaged about 10 yards per game the last three years) he has the ability to escape the pass rush and keep the play alive. His sack rate was only 5.8%, and his career sack rate is only 4.8%. In contrast, Tarvaris Jackson was sacked 8.7% of the time he dropped back last year, and has a career sack rate of 7.6%. And he's outperformed his offensive line significantly, as the Bucs line had an adjusted sack rate of 6.5% (while Adjusted Sack Rate and sack rate are not the same stat, that seems to be a large enough gap to illustrate that Garcia's good at avoiding sacks). His ability to scramble would certainly help behind a line like the Vikings that was significantly worse at preventing sacks than Tampa's (the Purple's ASR was 8.8%).

Another of the big issues that Garcia has, however, is a weak arm. He only had 5 completions for more than 40 yards last year (or one more than Tarvaris and three fewer than Gus Frerotte). He's averaged 6.64 yards per attempt over the last two years, and 6.55 YPA last year. That would have put him 10th in YPA last year as a team, which seems to show he still has the ability to make plays, but in actuality, his high YPA has more to do with a lack of negative plays than it does high yardage plays, as he was 22nd in completions for more than 20 yards. Of course, for a team like the Vikings, avoiding sacks is almost as important as big passing plays, so his mobility might actually offset his lack of an arm.

If the Vikings do decide to go with Jeff Garcia at quarterback, it would fill the position with a capable quarterback this year, and with a quarterback that Tarvaris Jackson can learn a lot from. Garcia rarely gets criticized for his decision making (his career interception rate is 2.3%). He comes with some drawbacks though--he doesn't have the arm to stretch the field, which makes it less likely that his presence would force defenses to remove defenders from the box (though I doubt the Vikings would see 9 men in the box with Garcia under center) and he's not going to make it through the season without getting hurt. Tarvaris Jackson will be playing quarterback for the Vikings if they sign Garcia to start. And, depending on when Garcia gets hurt, Tarvaris could be playing during the stretch run or the playoffs (which seems likely considering that Garcia tends to wear down rather than get hurt early). Finally, signing Garcia (to what I assume would be a one year contract) means that the Vikings would have only delayed the need to find a franchise quarterback for a year, leaving them with only John David Booty under contract at the end of the year. Basically, they'd still have to address the position in the draft (with either Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman or Nate Davis) or guarantee themselves another off season with massive questions about the position. I don't think that signing Garcia is necessarily a bad way to upgrade at quarterback, but its certainly not a great way to do so (like it would have been two years ago). The fact that he's the first or second best option (depending on how you feel about Cassel) says more about the way that the Vikings have mismanaged their roster than it does about him. Can they win the Super Bowl with Garcia under center? If Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson can win Super Bowls, so can Garcia. Is Garcia likely to be in good enough shape to lead a team through the Playoffs (or even be able to play)? Considering what happened at the end of last year and in the playoffs against the Giants the year before (when he had a 60.5 QB Rating), I doubt it. Which means that while Garcia might get the Vikings another home playoff game, it doesn't seem any more likely that he'll be able to win it at 39 years old than Tarvaris would be.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Killing Time: Contingency Plans

One of the things that makes the off season so interesting is that the Vikings can address their different needs (Quarterback, Cornerback, Offensive line) in so many different ways. What they do in the draft will depend on what they do in free agency, which will depend on whether or not they make a trade which will depend on what they do in free agency and effect how they go about their draft.

Think about it like this: If the Vikings sign Jeff Garcia to play quarterback, they've addressed that position for the season, but still need a long term solution. They also still need a corner back and bring in some help for the positions right of Steve Hutchinson. Odds are they won't have any good options for corners in free agency, but there are a few decent right tackles available. So now their first round pick is still wide open--could be Kansas St. QB Josh Freeman, could be a lineman or it could be a cornerback (with Ball St. QB Nate Davis as their second round pick). If they trade for Matt Cassel, then they're probably out a first round pick, but you know they'll be targeting cornerbacks in the second round (especially if they bring in some depth on the line). And if they can't get Cassel or Garcia, they probably have to trade up for Mark Sanchez if they want a player that has a chance of competing with Tarvaris for the starting job (please don't let this happen). Everything is contingent upon everything. Which makes any kind of mock draft just so much idle speculation until after free agency at least and why it's so hard to figure out which player the Vikings' should pick in the first round.

More on Cassel:
  • DC from Grant's Tomb breaks down Cassel after watching the rebroadcast of the Pats-Jets game.
  • Greg Cossel of NFL Films gives his thoughts on the reason for Cassel's success. If he's right, it's not a good sign for a team with a coach that has a slavish adherence to his own system. (h/t Football Outsiders)
More on the Draft:
  • The National Football Post and the Daily Norseman have new mock drafts up. The Post has the Vikings taking Josh Freeman while Gonzo has the Purple taking center Alex Mack from Oregon.
NFC North:
  • Football Outsiders has their pre-free agency breakdown of the off season for all four NFC North teams.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cornerbacks and The Window

As I've been saying, the Vikings need to do everything they can to win now, because while they have Super Bowl caliber players throughout their roster, they won't have them for long. Their window of opportunity is starting to close.

Now, I know that the Vikings have a host of young stars--Visanthe Shaincoe, Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson and Bernard Berrian turn 29 this season, Madieu Williams turns 28, and Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway and Brian Robison are all going to be 27 or younger. The Purple's roster has a young core that is supremely talented.

Here's the thing though--it's not enough to just have a good core if you want to win the Super Bowl. You need to have depth and you need to be very good at almost every position. And there are some key positions that the Vikings are not going to be good enough at if they don't act this off season, specifically cornerback. First off, if nothing is done between now and the beginning of free agency next year, the Vikings are going to lose both Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield, since both are unrestricted free agents after this year.

Secondly, while Antoine Winfield's play was clearly good enough to get him into the Pro Bowl this year, he's also turning 32 this year. While he might be the type of player that can continue to play at a high level into his thirties, he might not be, which means that committing to him long term at 33 years old is risky, especially if the Vikings are going to be counting on him to be their top corner.

Finally, I'm not even sure that losing Cedric Griffin is that big of a deal. While he played well in spurts this year, he hasn't shown that he can be counted on as the Vikings' second corner, let alone their top corner. In fact, I'd be a lot happier with the secondary if he was the nickleback, instead of a starter.

Luckily for the Purple, there are some options out there. There are two top corners who are unrestricted free agents: Nnamdi Asomugha of the Raiders, who is generally considered the best cornerback (if not the best defensive player) in the NFL and Dunta Robinson, of the Texans, who returned from knee and hamstring injuries five games into last year and proved that he was still an elite cornerback. Of course, both Asomugha and Robinson are likely to remain with their teams, with the Raiders franchising Asomugha (what, you think he'd resign with them? He's not stupid) and Robinson either signing a long term deal or getting franchised. If either of them makes it through to the free agency period, the Vikings should do what they can to bring in a young shutdown corner to pair with Winfield next year and take over from him as he gets older.

If not, they'll be in a good position to pick up a corner in the first round of the draft. D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt, Vontae Davis of Illinois and Sean Smith of Utah all look like they might be available to the Purple with their 22nd pick (and I'll be previewing all three of them in the run up to the draft). We saw what a rookie corner can do this year, as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Mike Jenkins, Antoine Cason and Aqib Talib all contributed to their teams after being picked in the first round last year. The right choice could provide the Vikings' with a shut down corner for years to come.

But no matter how they do it, the Vikings need to bring in a quality cornerback this off season, because if they don't, they'll be forced to scramble next off season to replace or resign their starters, and if they fail, they'll have allowed their young star's window of opportunity to shut through their inaction.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Killing Time: Quarterbacks, Free Agent WRs and Money Issues

I'm working on a bigger post for Jeff Garcia (who seems to be Vikings' fans other favorite choice to start at quarterback next year) similar to the one I wrote on Matt Cassel. For whatever reason, I'm not really all that excited about Garcia, despite the fact that he seems to still have it after playing well last year. More on that soon.

In other news:
  • Brett Favre is trying to trick the Jets into releasing him by retiring and then coming back and wrecking their cap number and plans for the season. Remember folks, no one loves the game more than Favre, unless, of course, he's asked to put in work in the offseason (or run an offense the way his coach wants him too).
  • Jason Winter (spelled his name right this time!) makes a case for acquiring Byron Leftwich to be the Vikings' starting quarterback next year. I don't think he's the answer though. He's too immobile (while his sack rate is only 5.4% for his career, it's been 7.7% and 9.4% the past two years in limited action), which really doesn't work well with a line that's bad at pass blocking (the Vikings were 28th in Adjusted Sack Rate) and a slow throwing motion (he had 6 fumbles in three games with Atlanta). He's also inaccurate (he only has one year where he completed 60% of his passes, and his career mark is only 58.6%), which Jason mentions in the comments.
  • Michael Lombardi breaks down the wide receiver free agent class. If he's right about the quality of this class (or lack there of), the Vikings better hope that Sidney Rice makes the leap he was supposed to make last year. And they're also going to have to look elsewhere to find a decent punt returner.
  • The Vikings are offering a lawaway plan for tickets. Pretty crazy, but if it keeps me from having to read stories about possible black outs every week, that's great.
  • Kevin Seifert breaks down the cap situation for each of the four NFC North teams. It looks like there's going to be a lot of new additions in the division this year, because every team has a ton of cap room. Which is just another reason why the Vikings have to remain aggressive this offseason and continue to improve their roster.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Get to Know 'Em: Matt Cassel

The more I look into Matt Cassel, the more unsure I become about whether or not I'd like the Vikings to trade for him. Unlike last year, when an in depth look at Derek Anderson showed his inconsistency and the unlikeliness of his continued success, Cassel's stats send a lot more mixed messages. And since I've been spending the past two days writing memos, I'm going to break this post up into reasons Cassel is the answer for the Purple at quarterback and reasons the Vikings should stay away.

Why the Vikings should trade for Cassel:
He's young (26), he's accurate enough for the West Coast Offense (he completed 63.4% of his passes) and he's been well coached. He had the 10th highest QB rating in the NFL last year, the 11th highest completion percentage and he doesn't really turn the ball over, only throwing 11 interceptions. He also had some monster games (and when I say monster games, I mean actual monster games-not the 11-17 for 163 yards and 4 touchdowns type monster games we've been used to the past few years), including two games with over 400 yards passing and another with 345 passing yards. He had seven games with a QB rating over 100 and five games with 3 or more touchdowns. While it's true that he inherited a passing game that included Randy Moss and Wes Welker, he was also behind an offensive line that finished 26th overall in adjusted sack rate and gave up the fifth most sacks in the league. He showed he can successfully lead an offense that scored 42 touchdowns when given the right pieces. And it's not like the Vikings are completely devoid of talent in their receiving corps--Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade aren't Moss and Welker (there's an understatement), but they aren't Troy Williamson either. And Sidney Rice is entering his third year, which, if he can stay healthy, is the year that many wide receivers end up breaking out. And, of course, Sammy Morris is no Adrian Peterson. (And let's all just gloss over the whole coaching comparison so we don't get too depressed).

Why the Vikings Should Stay Away:
There's a lot of evidence that Cassel isn't going to be an elite quarterback, which means that the Vikings shouldn't pay him or the Patriots like he's an elite quarterback. Here's his projection from this year's Pro Football Prospectus, which is based on quarterbacks that are similar to him (which, prior to this year did not include a lot of good quarterbacks) would do if they got to play 16 games in New England's offense against New England's schedule:
299-478, 62.5%, 3751 YDs, 27 TDs, 23 INTs, 7.5 YPA 17.0% DVOA

And here's the actual statistics he put up:
327-516, 63.4%, 3693 YDS, 21 TDs, 11 INTs, 6.2 YPA 6.4% DVOA (20th)

Pretty similar if you ask me. He threw a few more passes, completed a slightly higher percentage of them and threw a lot fewer interceptions, but his DVOA is lower than his projection, as is his yards per attempt. In fact, he had a lower DVOA than Tarvaris Jackson (though, one has to remember that while DVOA is adjusted for competition, Tarvaris Jackson didn't exactly play against a murderers row of pass defenses, and, since it's a rate state, it's easier to put a higher one in fewer games). It definitely makes it seem like Cassel was a product of the talent around him, rather than an equal part of the offense. If that was true, however, it would seem to follow that he'd do well against the bad pass defenses and struggle against the good ones. So was this a case of Cassel putting up big stats against bad defenses and struggling against good ones?

This following chart has Cassel's QB Rating per week compared with his opponent's QB Rating against.

It shows a young quarterback that had some struggles, but also had some amazing games. His best game came against Denver's awful pass defense at home, while his worst game was quite clearly, his 12th, which came against the Steelers. Not all that surprising, considering it was on the road, in the cold, against a top pass defense and the Patriots were missing Wes Welker for most of the game. He also bounced back afterward and finished strong, with a QB rating over 100 each of the last three weeks. He did only face five teams that had above average pass defenses by QB Rating against (and the Steelers were the only top five pass defense he faced). He did have some success against them, however, posting a QB Rating of 114.0 against Miami and a QB rating of 108.1 against Oakland.

Even after going this in depth, I'm not really sure whether Cassel is the long term answer for the Vikings. The problem is that I'm not sure if there's any other realistic option for the Vikings' this year. I wish I trusted Childress to evaluate quarterbacking talent (of course, if I did, I doubt I'd be writing this post about Cassel because the Vikings wouldn't have an issue at quarterback), because then I'd say that it came down to what the scouts said--were Cassel's big games due to Moss and Welker and Belichick, or were they a result of finally getting a chance to show off his talent (along with having Moss, Welker and Belichick's offense). The stats seem to support the latter, but there's enough there to think that the struggles were an inexperience thing, rather than a lack of talent, and I'm not sure if anyone can tell the difference without breaking down Cassel's tape. There isn't a clear drop off in performance as the season went on like there was with Anderson. So if the Vikings' think he's the answer, I'm not sure I disagree.

I guess that means it comes down to what the Vikings would have to give up to get him. As I've said before (and will expand on later), the window of opportunity for this team to make a run at the Super Bowl is a lot smaller than one might think. Giving up a first and third round pick for the second straight year is worth it to acquire a franchise quarterback, just like it was worth it to acquire a franchise defensive end. I'm not so sure that's Cassel, however. If they give up less than that, such as only a first rounder, or even less than that, then I think they should jump on it. Yes, they'll need to pay Cassel a big chunk of change, but I trust that the cap wizards at Winter Park can make it work (and they currently have $28 million in cap room to work with). At the very least, the Purple need to inquire about trading for Cassel and find out whether they have a similar definition of Cassel's value as New England does.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Killing Time: Cassel, Tarvaris and Easy Roads

I'm working on a long post on Matt Cassel that, I hope, will be as give as much insight into Cassel as the insight my post on Derek Anderson provided last year (yeah, I'm basically a great football mind--like Bill Walsh/Bill Belichick combined and then raised to the power of Vince Lombardi). The plan is to answer the question--is Cassel worth acquiring? Is he Derek Anderson or Tony Romo?

Two quick links to tide you over while I'm working on that:
  • Jason Winter defends Tarvaris Jackson's performance at Defensive Indifference. I'm not so sure he's wrong, but the thing is, with the way the Vikings are constructed (more on this later, but the Purple are older than you think in some key spots), the Vikings no longer have the time to try and turn Tarvaris into a Super Bowl caliber quarterback.
  • Before you start worrying about another Steelers' dynasty in the AFC, you should take into account the path the Steelers took to the Championship. According to the folks at Cold, Hard Football Facts, it was the easiest path through the postseason of any Super Bowl winner. Ever. And that includes 1982, when the season was marred by labor strife.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Cassel Franchised

The Patriots franchised Matt Cassel. So he's out (there's no way the Vikings sign him now, and I doubt they'd be willing to give up the ransom the Patriots are going to ask for). If you're looking for possible answers to the Vikings' quarterback woes, I suggest you check out yesterday's post on quarterbacks, which now includes statistics actually produced by the college quarterbacks, instead of the made up ones (shoddy research gets me again!) I had before.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Get to Know 'Em: Quarterback Prospects

[This post has been edited to reflect reality. I had Matt Stafford's, Mark Sanchez', Josh Freeman's and Nate Davis' numbers completely wrong, completely changing my conclusion. Sloppy research on my part, but in my defense, its not easy to find statistics on college players for some reason. I blame ESPN (who had some wrong numbers and don't give career stats for college players). Thanks to the Anonymous commenter who pointed it out.]

It’s quite obvious that the Vikings need to do something about the quarterback position this off season. Another year with Tarvaris (or a mediocre to bad veteran that was signed to back him up) under center isn’t going to cut it. One of the ways they might address the position is by drafting a QB (which, would, I think, probably be a lot more rational than trying to acquire Matt Cassell or wagering it all next year on an over the hill veteran like Jeff Garcia or *shudder* Brett Favre). Of course, if they’re going to draft a quarterback the need to find one that can contribute by 2010 at the latest, which likely means drafting one in the first or second round. Of course, if they’re going to draft a quarterback, they need to draft a good one. So how do you know which college quarterback is going to be good? Well, luckily for us, Dave Lewin at Football Outsiders has developed a system that’s pretty accurate at determining which quarterbacks are worth taking. In a nutshell:

Lewin found that there are only two college QB statistics that reliably, and independent of all others, predict NFL QB performance: completion percentage and games started. Completion percentage is obvious: QBs kind of have to be able to hit their target. Generally, you’re looking for a 60% completion percentage and around 35 games started in college.

Lewin’s system only applies to QBs drafted in the first two rounds because, as Lewin showed, pro scouts are good enough to separate top talent from lesser talent. Which is the more games a player started, the better (not to mention the more talented quarterbacks tend to play earlier in their career in college). The guys who go after the first 2 rounds are generally there for good reason (Tom Brady excluded). When a team ends up with a bust, it’s usually because they either reached (*cough* Tarvaris Jackson *cough*) or because the quarterback didn’t play enough for their flaws to become apparent. Or the team ignored the flaws because of other things they thought mattered more, like arm strength, which are usually vastly overrated.

So how does this year’s crop of quarterbacks look? Well, from looking at the various draft sites, I’ve come up with a list of 7 quarterbacks that might go in the first or second round. Not all of them will, but I’m trying to be comprehensive and I’ve included where most sites have them going.



Predicted Round

Games Started

Completion Percentage

Matt Stafford





Mark Sanchez





Josh Freeman

Kansas St.

Late 1st



Nate Davis

Ball State




Pat White

West Virginia




Graham Harrell

Texas Tech




Rhett Bomar

Sam Houston St.




So what does this tell us about this year’s quarterback class? Well, there isn't a quarterback that meet the two standards and will go in the 1st or 2nd round. Matt Stafford isn't close to the mark completion wise, but he hasn’t started as many games (and while 32 games is a solid amount, he platooned his first year playing). Mark Sanchez didn't start anywhere near enough games (though with USC quarterbacks, that isn't necessarily about a lack of talent) and Josh Freeman didn’t hit either mark (though his games started and completion percentage were close), which makes sense, considering he’s seen as a very raw quarterback. Nate Davis is like Matt Stafford--he started 32 games, but platooned a few more his freshman year. He was more accurate in college than Stafford was though. Pat White and Graham Harrell both hit each mark, but quarterbacks like them are why this projection system doesn’t work past the first two rounds—neither of them is seen as having the physical tools necessary to be successful in the NFL. And Rhett Bomar is an interesting case because he probably would have played 35 games for Oklahoma if he hadn’t been kicked off the team for taking money from boosters. He doesn’t seem to have the accuracy to be successful however, as he only completed 56.5% of his passes in college. Don’t be surprised to see him talked up as a big sleeper based on his arm strength and mobility, but it’s never, ever a good sign to see a quarterback completed so few of his passes in 1-AA.

So where does that leave the Vikings? Well, none of the quarterbacks made the benchmarks that predict success in the NFL. So, that makes this year's draft particularly unappetizing when it comes to quarterbacks. Which is great, because the Vikings probably need to draft one this year. Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez aren’t likely to fall to the 22nd pick. Josh Freeman might be there, but he’s a project and didn’t hit either of the marks that predict success in the NFL. Nate Davis is intriguing, however, and he might be available to the Purple in the 2nd Round, allowing them to address another one of their issues in the first, but he's a little small for a quarterback and would have to adjust from the MAC to the NFL (then again, the MAC seems to turn out very good NFL quarterbacks). I’m going to get into this a lot more (look for a breakdown of the Vikings’ needs next) and hopefully take a more in depth look at the prospects the Vikings might take in the first round, but as of right now, it doesn’t look like they should be drafting a quarterback with the 22nd pick.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Contemplating a Move

Luft Krigare left a comment on Monday that has stuck with me since:
"To add to the negativity... LA could handle two teams sharing the Ed Roski dream of a stadium just like the Giants and Jets do (and maybe the 49'ers and Raiders in the future), so both the Chargers and Jaguars have got to relocate for the Vikings not to go to LA. But LA isn't the only landing spot, I could see London getting the team and suddenly they would be in a market bigger than New York."
So what if the Vikings' move is inevitable? What if, after 50 years in Minnesota, the Purple and Gold pack up their gear and follow the original Purple and Gold west to L.A. or follow the original Vikings to England? What do we do then?

I mean, I don't live in Minnesota anymore. I've been to two home games in the past four years, and I watch most of the games at a bar. Where the Vikings play their games really shouldn't matter too much to me. I could easily pull a Lietch and just continue following the team that I've been rooting for most of my life. That seems reasonable, right? Except, it just seems so wrong. For whatever sociological reason, people root for teams they have ties too. I'm from Minnesota-I root for the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves and Gophers (most of the time-see my next sentence). I went to Georgetown, which means I root for the Hoyas, who, thankfully, finally won another game. My reasons are no different than most people's (you always have your bandwagon fans, or folks who have no geographic connection, but latched on and stayed on). So what happens when the Vikings sever my tie to them?

Now, I'll be honest-I'm a Vikings' fan first and a football fan second. I'm not going to just follow the NFL or pick a new team if I stop rooting for the Purple (mainly because I'm not going to forgive Mr. Goodell and his cronies if they move and I can't handle it). So what happens then? No more NFL?

I just don't know if I can give up watching the NFL. But I don't want to be like Leitch and just follow a team after it rips apart the basis for my relationship with it. It's almost like contemplating how you would handle a close friend or relative dying (hyperbole, I know, but still)--you just can't know ahead of time. Which means that 2011 and 2012 are going to be a boat load of fun.

That's probably enough negativity for one off season (unless the Vikings sign Favre--then all bets are off). Which means it's time to start thinking about how the Purple can improve for next year, something they need to do if they want to bring home a championship before things get ugly. Tomorrow we start with an overview of the Vikings' needs.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Killing Time: Mindsets and Carter's Future

  • The first thing I thought of when NBC flashed the statistic that the Steelers had blown one eleven point lead in the past twenty years was that it meant they were going to lose. When I mentioned that, however, the Steelers fan looked more amused then "Oh-my-God-you're-right-I'm-going-to-vomit", which is the look that kind of comment would get from a Vikings fan in such an important game (as opposed to the resigned understanding "Yup" that would be the response from a Vikings fan during your average regular season game). Of course, when your team has blown only one lead of more than eleven points in two decades, a lack of fear is probably not all that unreasonable. And I think that difference in reaction, in and of itself, is more than enough to demonstrate the differences in the success of the two franchises.
  • Chris Carter is going to continue to get screwed by the Hall of Fame voters, according to Michael David Smith. That's awesome. The man had 171 catches over 20 yards in his career (which means he's a possession reciever, obviously), retired with the second most receiving yards, had the best hands in the game and caught touchdowns like they were going out of style. So it makes perfect sense to keep him out of the Hall for a decade or so of his eligibility . I mean, that's why it took Mickey Mantle 10 yecars to get in to baseball's Hall of Fame, right? He was only the second or third best center fielder ever, so he had to languish. Oh wait- he got in on the first ballot. You know you're doing something wrong when baseball's Hall of Fame, which has an electorate that has never elected a player unanimously, changed its mind on Jim Rice after 10 years and doesn't understand that Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Famer, looks reasonable and well thought out in comparison.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Thoughts from a Super Bowl Weekend

  • I think it was fitting that the touchdown that beat the Cardinals came on a pass caught in the right corner of the end zone by a receiver falling out of bounds. I hope their radio guy started screaming "Noooooooooooo" the second he saw the ref's hands go up. (And I was rooting for the Cardinals too--ahhh bitterness, my old friend.)
  • There isn't a receiver in the league that could make the catch Larry Fitzgerald made for his first touchdown, nor is there a receiver on the Vikings that could have made the catch Santonio? Holmes made to win the game. Sidney Rice has the potential to be that kind of presence in the end zone, but he didn't make the step he was supposed to this year, due to injuries. He'll also have a lot of opportunities to catch passes that are poorly thrown if the Purple don't bring in a real quarterback (and no, Brett Favre is not an option, as Gonzo so clearly articulated at the Daily Norseman).
  • Every time Ben Roethlisburger dropped back, it seemed like he was going to get sacked. I can't count the number of times I'd shift forward in my seat, unconsciously anticipating the Cardinals getting to him, only to see him move to the on spot in the pocket he could go (or break out of the pocket). Roethlisburger isn't exactly fast, quick or any of those other words that imply speed either, which, usually isn't as big a deal for him because he uses his size and strength to get away. But last night it was all about his mobility and being able to sense where he had to move to avoid the rush. Its a tired cliche to say that a team couldn't have done what it did without a certain player, but I think its true of this year's Steelers, whose line was a sieve. Roethlisburger was the only quarterback that could have had the success he did with this team, because while some quarterbacks have that pocket mobility (like Peyton Manning) and others have the ability to throw on the run, no other quarterback I've seen had the strength, size accuracy while moving and pocket presence to handle the pressure the Steelers line allowed. Basically, what I'm saying is that I want a quarterback like that in Purple.
  • If those were the best officials the NFL has, this league is in trouble, because the officiating was about as bad as it could be shy of blatant physical errors (like an inadvertent whistle) or making up rules (like when Matt Hasselbeck got called for an illegal hit below the knee while trying to tackle the Steeler who had intercepted him in Super Bowl XL). I still can't believe Kurt Warner's fumble that ended the game wasn't, at the very least, reviewed (and I'm mad we were denied what could have been a ridiculous ending with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Bolden and Troy Polamalu all going for a jump ball Hail Mary). Most of the penalties seemed to be touch penalties (although the holding penalties were usually spot on), including a 15 yard face mask on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (one of these days, I'd like to see a player with the ball get called for a face mask) and a 15 yard roughing the passer penalty on the Cardinals in the third quarter that was the kind of penalty that leads to a pass rusher not tackling the quarterback because he's worried that the quarterback has already thrown the ball. Take away 30 yards of penalties on that drive, and who knows if the Steelers actually get in field goal range.
  • I'm happy Randall McDaniel got in, but if you're looking for a reason why few people care about football history in the way that people care about baseball history, its the fact that Chris Carter has now been passed over twice for the Hall of Fame. If the second best person to ever play a position was on the ballot in baseball, the controversy would be over why 5% of the electorate didn't vote for them, instead of why they got passed over twice while two players (who are likely Hall of Famers, but weren't as good) that played the same position got in instead. Chris Carter retired with the 3rd most receiving yards, the 2nd most receptions and the 2nd most touchdowns. He accomplished all of that with Rich Gannon, Jim McMahon, a 39 and 40 year old Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George and Daunte Culpepper as the Vikings' quarterbacks.
  • And, because I wouldn't be a Vikings fan if I didn't end a Super Bowl post with negativity, I think its become clear that Vikings fans should probably just accept the fact that the only way the Purple will still be in Minnesota after their lease with the Metrodome runs out is if the Chargers or Jaguars beat them to L.A. There's no way they're getting public funding for a new stadium any time soon (nor should they when the state is laying off thousands of workers to balance its budget), and since Zygi's not going to pay for it himself (and Roger Goodall is clearly against his teams paying for their own stadiums) that means that unless another team moves to L.A., the Vikings are going to. So they really need to find a good quarterback in the next year or two so they can actually having a shot at winning a Super Bowl before they move.
  • And one last bit of negativity--I'd be willing to bet that the Purple are the only team to have three former coordinators win Super Bowls without the head coach they worked under taking a team to the Super Bowl.