The Vikings have officially released veteran offensive guard Charlie Johnson.
The 30-year-old spent the past four seasons with the Vikings, starting 61 of 64 games. In 2014, he struggled at left guard before missing two games late in the season with an ankle injury. Johnson returned for the season finale, and it will likely end up being his final game in a Vikings uniform.
Johnson signed a two-year deal with the Vikings last offseason to stay with the team. By releasing Johnson, the team cleared $2.5 million in cap space without any dead money staying on the cap.
Johnson is now an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team.
Johnson’s release was not a surprise. The Vikings are expected to prioritize improving the offensive line this offseason after that group disappointed last season. With the other four starters from the 2014 season opener expected to return, the team could add a veteran guard in free agency, select one in April’s NFL draft or both.
Veteran backups Joe Berger and Vlad Ducasse are scheduled to join Johnson in unrestricted free agency on March 10. Backup tackle Mike Harris is a restricted free agent.
It was about time for head coach Mike Zimmer to wrap up his official NFL scouting combine press conference last Thursday. All of the pressing questions, like the ones about Adrian Peterson and the team’s plans for free agency, had already been asked when a reporter slipped in a question about defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who thrived under Zimmer when healthy enough to play.
“Sharrif, I thought he had a good year,” Zimmer said. “He improved quite a bit. Losing weight at the beginning of the season helped him quite a bit. He changed his diet. And he’s a very conscientious hard-working kid who has a chance to be a very good three technique.”
That wasn’t all Zimmer had to say about Floyd, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
In his second NFL season, Floyd made 42 tackles, recorded 4.5 sacks and had 30 total quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, which was tied with Tom Johnson for the team lead among defensive tackles. PFF, by the way, graded him as one of the league’s best at his position.
Injuries were an issue, though, as Floyd missed two games and got knocked out of a couple others. As a result, he only played 52.5 percent of the defensive snaps in 2014.
Floyd’s level of durability was on Zimmer’s mind as he wrapped up his answer to that question.
“He’s got to continue to stay healthy,” Zimmer continued. “That will be a big thing for him. He’s got to understand that the NFL is a big man’s game. You have to go out and play all the time. But he’s a young developing player and I think he’ll get that figured out too.’’
I’ll let you read between the lines on that one.
Wednesday was one of those all-too-rare feel-good days in Minnesota sports, with Kevin Garnett not just coming back and playing with the Wolves but also helping them win by 20 in front of a raucous Target Center crowd.
Thursday, then, had the feeling of a classic letdown. We’re not used to having nice things around here, so with the Wild at Nashville … the Gophers men’s basketball team at Michigan State … and the Gophers men’s hockey team at home against Michigan State … well, one win out of three would have been the expectation.
Instead, improbably, it was a clean Minnesota sweep — with all three teams providing impressive responses to adversity in their own ways.
The Wild was center-of-the-sun hot coming out of the All-Star break, but a bad home loss to Edmonton threatened to undo some of that good work and potentially start a cold stretch the team can ill afford. Playing at NHL-leading Nashville did not figure to be the antidote to stop the bleeding, but in a strange way maybe it was the perfect opponent. Whereas another soft opponent at home wouldn’t have forced the Wild to focus like it did Thursday, Nashville gets everyone’s attention. The Wild gave a classic road performance in dispatching the Predators and reaffirming that it is a legitimate threat to not just make the playoffs but do damage once there.
The Gophers men’s basketball team is at the point of its season where you learn about character. Minnesota was 5-10 in the Big Ten going into East Lansing, where the Gophers hadn’t won since 1997. This season, through a combination of some poor luck, some close losses, some bad chemistry and some underachieving, hasn’t met anyone’s expectations. It would have been very easy for the Gophers to sleepwalk through a 15-point loss. That, frankly, is what we expected. Instead, of course, they pulled out an overtime victory that while probably too little, too late when it comes to the NCAA tournament, at least shows the team has not quit on second-year coach Richard Pitino.
The Gophers men’s hockey team, meanwhile, fell behind 3-0 at home to Michigan State in a game it could ill-afford to lose … only to come storming back for a 5-3 victory to keep pace in the Big Ten (and more importantly avoid a damaging loss in the PairWise Rankings).
It’s hard to know, really, what to make of all these positive developments heaped atop the KG game on Wednesday. The pessimistic Minnesota sports fan would fear a massive comeuppance over the weekend.
Maybe we should just make like a cliche and take this one game at a time?