The Gophers women’s basketball teams’ mid-year swoon, which included four losses in five games to drop their Big Ten record to 6-5, has given way to a torrid stretch as Minnesota heads down the stretch run of its regular season.
The Gophers have won five consecutive games — scoring at least 85 points in every victory (and allowing at least 77 in every game, too) — to sit at 11-5 in conference play, tied for third in the standings.
As a result, Minnesota has moved up in the NCAA tournament bracket projections as well. The Gophers were still teetering a week ago as a No. 10 seed in ESPN’s projections; this week, after big wins over Iowa and Michigan, they’re a much firmer No. 7 seed.
With two more games to go — at likely NCAA tourney teams Nebraska and Iowa — Minnesota figures to be locked into the NCAA field.
The big question now is whether the Gophers can finish in the top four in the Big Ten and make their conference tournament path easier. That will be difficult considering their two tough road games to finish the year, but the Gophers have also shown all year that — in spite of losing Rachel Banham — they can’t be counted out.
The NFL scouting combine is over, and the GMs, coaches, scouts, agents and pesky reporters have vacated Lucas Oil Field, the fancy hotels and expensive steakhouses where their business is done.
So what did we learn? Who helped themselves? Who hurt themselves?
Here is a quick wrap-up of the week in Indianapolis, with a Vikings slant:
FIVE VIKINGS TAKEAWAYS:
1. The relationship between the Vikings and Adrian Peterson is rockier than they had been making it seem. The team embarked on a media campaign to voice its support for the suspended running back and GM Rick Spielman said Wednesday that he expected Peterson to be back. A day later, Peterson pumped the breaks in an interview with ESPN, saying that he feels “uneasy” about a return. And then there was that reported dust-up between Peterson’s agent and a key Vikings exec. While I’m sure Peterson means what he said about feeling betrayed by the team’s decision to get him placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, this conflict will probably come down to money. Both sides will dig in their heels and it’s too soon to say how this saga will end up playing out.
2. There is a 99 percent chance that the Vikings are going to take a running back in this draft. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday that the team won’t have much interest in free-agent backs, so Peterson being suspended until April 15 won’t really impact their offseason plan at the position. Spielman likes the top-end talent and depth of this running back class, and while I don’t think he will like Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley enough to use the 11th overall pick on one of them, I do think the Vikings will come away with a running back they like. Yes, even if Peterson does return.
3. The Vikings are doing their due diligence on some of the top linebackers. We shouldn’t obsess too much over who the Vikings did and didn’t speak with at the combine. After all, they get 60 formal interviews there and had informal talks with other prospects. But still, it was noteworthy that they chatted with a number of linebackers who could go in the first round. That list included Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, two of the top middle linebackers in Miami’s Denzel Perryman and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney, and a pair of edge rushers in Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Florida’s Dante Fowler. Which prospects they bring in for workouts will be more significant, but it seems the Vikings are open to drafting a linebacker early for a second straight year.
4. If the Vikings were hoping Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White would drop to them at No. 11, they left Indianapolis disappointed. Both of those wide receivers likely solidified themselves as top-10 selections with strong workouts. Cooper ran well and, as expected, looked good in receiver drills. White showed off 4.35 speed and athleticism to go with his 6-foot-3 frame, and now draft analysts are saying he has more upside than Cooper, the more polished player right now. If the Vikings want one of those guys, Trader Rick will probably have to do his thing again.
5. The Vikings probably aren’t going to go crazy in free agency. Zimmer admitted as much last week, saying the team isn’t likely to sign a top-tier free agent and stating his preference to sign lower-level free-agents and coach them up as best as he can. Organizationally, that makes sense, not just because few, if any, teams that “win the offseason” ended up winning the Super Bowl. Remember how the Vikings have gotten praise for drafting Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Teddy Bridgewater and four other young guys in the first round the past three years? Well, those guys aren’t going to be young for much longer, meaning they will be up for contract extensions soon. The Vikings, who prefer to give big bucks to their own players, will be conscious of that as they enter free agency.
FIVE WINNERS (IN NO ORDER):
1. Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback did his thing in throwing drills and reportedly fared well in team interviews, too. He is the clear favorite to go first overall to the Buccaneers.
2. Top-12 teams that don’t need a quarterback. With Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota both answering the bell in Indy, they will go early, pushing two talented non-passers down in the draft.
3. Trae Waynes. The Michigan State cornerback might have locked himself in as the top corner in this class with a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash. Could he be of interest to the Vikings at No. 11 overall?
4. Cooper and White. See above. Louisville’s DeVante Parker did well, too. They’re all top-20 picks.
5. Edge rushers. Prospects such as Fowler, Beasley, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree and UCLA’s Owa Odighizuwa had strong workouts. This looks like a good year for teams in need of an impact rusher.
FIVE LOSERS (IN NO ORDER):
1. Running backs. While this is a deep class, their times, outside of a few exceptions, weren’t exactly eye-popping. But will that prompt teams to maybe check out some tape again? Maybe. Maybe not.
2. Tight ends. Maxx Williams fared OK with a 4.77 in the 40-yard dash, but beyond him, this looks to be an underwhelming tight end class, which actually makes Williams a winner. He seems likely to go in the top 30 picks at this point, and he could even sneak up into the teens with a strong pro day.
3. Devin Funchess and Shaq Thompson. These two guys entered the combine as two of the most versatile players in the draft. But they might have left as prospects without a position. Funchess, the Michigan wide receiver, ran like a tight end. And Thompson did not run as well as hoped.
4. My offseason diet. I had been doing so well, but scouts left town disappointed with my physique.
5. The Vikings and Adrian Peterson. With Peterson sounding off on the Vikings and his agent and a team exec getting into a public spat, this week was not a good one for either side as the extent of their frayed relationship became public. This does not mean this relationship cannot be repaired. But as my colleague Mark Craig wrote a couple hours ago, it is going to take some compromise.
A guide to surviving the Adrian Peterson saga that might be helpful for fans, media, front office personnel, emotional agents and a certain former NFL MVP …
Step 1: Breathe.
Decisions, conclusions and reactions are so much better when made with a calm brain, not a hyper heart. It’s why Teddy Bridgewater seems to have a future and Christian Ponder does not.
Just when everyone appeared to be thinking that Peterson will definitely be returning to the Vikings, Peterson told ESPN.com that he was “uneasy” about returning to the Vikings. Then CBSSports.com reported that Peterson’s agent got into a spat with Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings’ lead contract negotiator and salary cap wizard, and concluded said spat by saying Peterson will never play for the Vikings again.
That reported statement seems to be all that was needed for everybody to now assume that Peterson will definitely never, ever return to the Vikings.
I’d caution people against assuming that a decision of this magnitude became final in the heat of an argument at the scouting combine. I’ve been through enough of these kinds of things to know that there is always an out for the team and the agent when a definitive statement like this is made or, in this case, reportedly made: BLAME THE MEDIA.
If the two sides patch things up, the media will be blamed for blowing things out of proportion. Unfortunately, that’s become an all-too easy sell.
So don’t get stuck on statements or reported statements during a situation as fluid as this one. How many times have we seen one side say one thing and then the opposite happens.
I remember the Vikings telling us that reports of Randy Moss being traded in 2004 were ludicrous. I also seem to remember that they told us that about a month before they traded Randy Moss.
2, Pay the man
If the Vikings want Peterson, they should just pay him what his contract states. Give him his $12 million. Take the $15 million cap hit. If Jared Allen was worth $17 million at the end of his contract, Peterson is worth at least $15 million.
If the Vikings didn’t want to pay Peterson that much, they should have released him last year. Why pay the down payment and then not move into the house?
And let’s all stop trying to shoehorn Peterson into the box where all the other 30-year-old running backs reside. The last time we jammed him in a box built for the typical human being, he ran for 2,097 yards the year after his left leg essentially fell off at the knee.
He’s not normal. Yes, he’d be the highest paid running back in the league. Well, why shouldn’t he be? He’s the best running back in the league and he’d be running “angry,” as Vikings GM Rick Spielman has said.
Yeah, the running back position has been de-valued. But greatness hasn’t been. Peterson came into the league in 2007. There have been eight MVPs awarded since then. Only one time did a quarterback not win the award. That was in 2012 when Peterson won it. When healthy, he’s as valuable as any non-QB in the league and more valuable than a lot of the QBs.
Pay the man.
3, Stay humble, Adrian
When Peterson says he’s “uneasy” about returning to the Vikings, he should try to view the situation from the other side as well. The Vikings were uneasy with him last year. Heck, even his staunchest supporters were uneasy with what he did. Even the people who believe in corporal punishment as a way to raise children were uneasy with Peterson going too far with his 4-year-old son.
To say it was uneasy all the way around would be an understatement. The Vikings had every right to sit down as an organization and talk this thing through before taking a public stance. And if you’ve ever been in a meeting at work, you know there are differing views before the ultimate direction is chosen.
And, frankly, in the team’s defense, it tried to bring him back a week after his indictment, but all heck broke loose. If you think the NFL didn’t play a major role in putting Peterson on the commissioner’s exempt list, you’re wrong.
The bottom line all these months later should be:
1, The Vikings want Peterson back, so pay him. 2, Fans, sponsors, governors and critics of what Peterson did should stand down because the man admitted his mistake and has now paid dearly for it. And, finally, 3, Peterson should stay humble, be thankful that he’ll get the second chance he deserves and, most of all, remember that he is responsible for all of this, including his own unease.
There is a nagging suspicion that Adrian Peterson, even as he approaches 30 in a month, is primed for a strong 2015 season. Peterson has always been best when motivated (see: his rookie year of 2007 after getting passed over in the draft and 2012, coming off the major knee injury), and this year he has the added benefit of rest.
(The counter-argument is that rest=rust and Peterson might not be in prime shape, but it’s a long time between now and September).
The practical Vikings fan might think, “If Peterson has 1 or 2 more good-to-great years left in him, it sure would be nice if they were in purple instead of another uniform.” With Teddy Bridgewater on a rookie contract, the Vikings aren’t paying their QB much and could theoretically afford to keep a running back with a very high cap number.
Another bit of logic — and history, since it happened with Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper and Percy Harvin — suggests that once a relationship sours between the Vikings and a player, the next course of action is to part ways.
This might be a relationship damaged beyond repair on both sides. The Vikings are probably still uneasy about some of the public relations battle that would ensue by bringing Peterson back. Peterson — who brought all of this on himself, let’s not forget — is battling through a perceived slight from the Vikings because they apparently didn’t stand by him 100 percent as he faced scrutiny for whipping his young son.
Right and wrong is not hard to discern here, but it doesn’t matter much. Peterson’s stance gives the Vikings the “out” they quite possibly wanted anyway. It might make trading him a little harder, but it could make their decision even easier.
And maybe, as crazy as this would have sounded at this time last year, the two sides are simply better off moving on from each other.
P.S.: KG is with the Wolves, Torii Hunter is with the Twins and Peterson could soon be gone from the Vikings. Just another reminder to never say never.