Last year, through 25 games of Richard Pitino’s first season with the Gophers, Minnesota was 16-9 and 5-7 in the Big Ten.
Pitino was often praised for his work with the Gophers, primarily because of a 4-3 conference start boosted by a home win over rival Wisconsin.
This year, through 25 games of Pitino’s second season with the Gophers, Minnesota is 16-9 and 5-7 in the Big Ten.
Pitino has often been criticized for his work with the Gophers, primarily because of an 0-5 start that included many close losses down the stretch.
Point being: The perception of a season has more to do with the order of how things happen than we might realize. These Gophers seasons are remarkably similar overall, but Minnesota had an easier schedule early last year and took advantage — thus creating the impression of overachieving.
This year, Minnesota started with a tough haul: three road games in the first four. The Gophers faded down the stretch in a couple of those games and lost two close home games. Suddenly the expectations created by last year’s season — based mostly off that good start, since Minnesota struggled down the stretch — were seemingly unmet.
And yes, expectations were deservedly greater this year because last year’s team won the NIT and had senior guards returning. Maybe in that regard, the team’s standing right now is still a disappointment.
But compared to last year? It’s exactly the same, just arranged differently.
There are few, and yet still fleeting, breaks in the NFL calendar, and I know the minds of Vikings fans never grind to a halt (the mentions section on my Twitter account are proof of that). So periodically throughout the offseason, I plan to tackle a few reader questions in the form of a mailbag.
Predictably but understandably, Adrian Peterson continues to be a hot topic. It seems I get asked a few times a week if Peterson will be back in 2015 (if I knew the answer to that one, it would get printed in boldface font on the front page of the sports section immediately). Alas, his situation is still unclear, but I do feel comfortable answering a question about his trade value — or lack thereof.
Also in this mailbag are questions about Teddy Bridgewater’s infamous pro day, whether Harrison Smith will get an extension this offseason, what would be on my offseason to-do list if I were in Rick Spielman’s shoes (a Vikings spokesman declined my request for them to lend me a pair of Rick’s shoes for the purposes of this mailbag), and how high the Vikings defense can climb in 2015.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the mailbag (watch out for virtual paper cuts).
@mattvensel What is the “realistic” range of Peterson’s trade value.
— Josh (@Luckydragon84) February 12, 2015
I get this question a lot, too, with Peterson still in limbo. I wouldn’t get your hopes up about Peterson’s trade value should the Vikings, who have publicly been voicing their support for his return, try to trade him. There are a few things working against him. For starters, Peterson will be 30 when the 2015 season opens, and few running backs are still going strong once they hit 30 (Frank Gore and Fred Jackson are two that come to mind). Now, I know what you’re thinking: the address on Peterson’s birth certificate is from the planet Krypton. But while Peterson is still a freak on the football field, he has shown glimpses of mortality by requiring offseason surgery after the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons. Then there is his contract. He is scheduled to have a base salary of $12.75 million this season. A new team would have to fit that under their salary cap or give him a new deal, and he has made it clear that he feels he is still well within his prime as a runner. Meanwhile, the 2015 draft has a deep, talented class of potential lead running backs. So add all of that up, and it’s a tough sell at a position that has been devalued in recent years — and that’s not even including the potential PR backlash of that new team trading for a player who was just suspended a year for whooping his 4-year-old son. It seems unlikely that the Vikings could get anything more than a late pick for Peterson’s services. Maybe, maybe, maybe, a team in win-now mode — just speculating but the Colts, Patriots and, yes, Cowboys come to mind — could up the ante to a mid-round pick. But getting fair on-field value for Peterson probably isn’t happening.
@mattvensel Lots of holes on our team, what are your top 3 that need to be filled this offseason?
— Kylę DęRïdęr (@Big_Sex_MN) February 11, 2015
Last month, Spielman, the General Manager, said that he and head coach Mike Zimmer feel the Vikings have eight specific needs that must be addressed in the offseason. I won’t get into all of those here — I will in my scouting combine preview ticketed for Wednesday’s Star Tribune — but I will pinpoint the three areas I feel should be the highest priorities. These are in no particular order. One need is at left guard. Charlie Johnson did not play well in 2014 and will be replaced. I know some readers are hopeful that the Vikings will sign Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati, formerly of the 49ers, but he will command a lot of cash and the team already has significant money tied up in the offensive line. They might be better off signing a second-tier guard or addressing this need in the draft. Another need is wide receiver. Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Charles Johnson all have question marks and Jarius Wright will be a free agent next offseason. They didn’t dive into a deep, talented pool of wide receivers a year ago, but I believe they will this year. This wide-out class isn’t as good as the epic 2014 class, but it’s supposed to be pretty good. And the final need I would address is at cornerback. Xavier Rhodes had a heck of a second half and looks to be an emerging star. But Captain Munnerlyn might be better off as a third cornerback and Josh Robinson as a valuable reserve. The Vikings should try to find a cover guy in free agency or the draft to push those guys hard for snaps. Note that if the team does decide to cut ties with Peterson, I’d maybe bump running back up my list.
@mattvensel Does Teddys rookie season devalue NFL pro days?
— Bradley Roeder (@B_rad2428) February 12, 2015
With the NFL scouting combine taking place next week and the NFL draft a couple of months ago, the silly season of the pre-draft process is about to get under way. And during the lead-up to last year’s draft, no moment in the silly season was sillier than the reaction to Bridgewater’s poor pro day. Bridgewater, who made a mistake by not wearing his now signature #TeddyTwoGloves, was erratic while throwing against air. That led many draft analysts, none more notable than Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, to declare that Bridgewater’s stock was rapidly falling. I’m sure a number of teams might have nudged Bridgewater down their boards some. After all, that day was the first that many NFL coaches got to see him throw in person, which is important. But many teams, especially the smart ones, didn’t let it alter their evaluation of Bridgewater, who excelled as an efficient three-year starter in Louisville’s pro-style offense. Bridgewater, of course, overcame a couple of shaky early starts for the Vikings to finish an encouraging rookie season as one of the most accurate rookie QBs of all time. So does what Bridgewater accomplished devalue pro days? Nah. But it should serve as a reminder to teams to not put too much stock in one scripted workout.
@mattvensel Think the Vikings lock Harrison Smith up long-term this offseason?
— Aman (@Sidhu6_) February 12, 2015
I think the Vikings will try to sign Smith to an extension, though time will be on their side if they, as expected, pick up their fifth-year option for him in May. Doing so will add a fifth year to his contract for 2016 — and at a reasonable salary. The Vikings can begin negotiations with the young safety this offseason, and I’m sure they will explore a deal. In recent years, it has been their preference to pay young, ascending players instead of free agents coming from other teams. Everson Griffen, Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco are all examples from the past 12 months. Smith appears to be a rising star while playing an important role in Zimmer’s scheme. And he told me last weekend he’d like to remain in Minnesota long-term, so getting something done could make sense for both sides.
@mattvensel is it realistic to think the D will jump as much next year as it did this year with Zim. Top 10? Top 5?
— Rocco Russo (@rocrusso) February 11, 2015
Sure, a top-10 defense is certainly not a stretch and a top-five defense is a definite possibility after the Vikings ranked 14th last season. Take a look at Zimmer’s stints as a defensive coordinator in Dallas and Cincinnati. Both the Cowboys and the Bengals in Zimmer’s second season climbed into the top five in yards allowed per game. And in Cincinnati, his Bengals went from 19th in scoring defense in his first season to sixth the following season. Zimmer has playmakers at every level in Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Smith, and if he can improve the depth in the secondary, find a middle linebacker who can cover and fix the team’s leaky run defense, they will be in position to be one of the league’s better defenses in 2015 — and maybe one of the top five.
If you’ve got a question, too, hit me up at email@example.com or @mattvensel on Twitter.