Those who like to read between the lines can find some very interesting fodder from a Twin Cities soccer event that took place Monday.
Members of the Dark Clouds — a die-hard fan supporter group for the local Minnesota United soccer club — held their “Supporters Summit” at the new Surly complex in Minneapolis. Interestingly, both the owner of United (Dr. Bill McGuire) and the team president (Nick Rogers) were also in attendance. And most interesting of all is what McGuire and Rogers were wearing as well as what McGuire reportedly said.
The backdrop for this, in case you did not know, is that United and the Vikings have been vying for an MLS franchise in Minnesota. The Vikings would have the team play in their new stadium; the United group would build a new soccer-specific stadium. Minneapolis is considered a frontrunner, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber spoke very highly recently of United.
But United folks have been very quiet about their pursuit of a franchise, so a report from last night’s event is quite interesting.
Dr. Bill McGuire and team president Nick Rogers were each wearing two scarves that night – one for their team Minnesota United, and a second scarf from last year’s MLS Cup. At the end of the evening Dr. McGuire addressed the room full of Dark Clouds by sharing his vision for soccer in Minnesota:
“What we’re trying to do, and as you know we are pretty quiet about this, is fairly straightforward. We’re trying to do something that will bring soccer to the community at an increasingly higher professional level and make your bus trips from the Nomad (a soccer bar located just East of Downtown Minneapolis) shorter.”
It’s a bit cryptic, to be sure, and it’s not a victory speech indicating United — which currently plays in the second-tier North American Soccer League — has won the right to have the franchise. But even if McGuire didn’t specifically say MLS, he’s clearly alluding to the league, while the reference to a shorter bus trip is a clear reference to a new stadium in Minneapolis as opposed to United’s current home in suburban Blaine.
Saying even that much could be an indication that we are getting closer to an announcement that MLS is, indeed, coming to Minneapolis and that the United group will be the one bringing in the team. That would be consistent with rumblings we’ve heard in recent weeks.
Did Dr. Bill Mcguire just say “We believe we’ve saved you from watching soccer on football plastic.” ?!?!? pic.twitter.com/lev8sAoRtC
— Two United Fans (@TwoUnitedFans) March 3, 2015
General Manager Rick Spielman probably rained on the parade of Vikings fans who are hoping for a splash this offseason when he said yesterday that he expects the team to be patient in free agency.
“Once free agency starts we’ll probably lay in the weeds a little bit and see what happens,” he said.
Now, it’s understandable to be a little suspicious of general managers like Spielman this time a year. And after all, Spielman did leave himself a little wiggle room by saying the Vikings could open up the checkbook if “something unique pops up,” as they felt was the case with Greg Jennings in 2013.
But the Vikings are trying to build the foundation of a championship team through the NFL draft, as evidenced by the seven players they took in the first round the past three years. And while they are hoping for a return to the playoffs in 2015, I am sure that Spielman and the Vikings are aware that they aren’t one or two marquee players away from seriously competing for the Lombardi Trophy.
They also realize that overpaying for unknowns in free agency will make it trickier to keep core players like Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Teddy Bridgewater when their rookie deals are up.
“Not only are you planning for this year, but you also have to look into the future,” Spielman said.
So while the Vikings may surprise by pouncing on a top-dollar free agent next week, it seems more likely they target lower-tier guys, like they did last year with Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn.
In the spirit of that, let’s take a look at some of the top free agents that Vikings fans are clamoring for on Twitter and cheaper options who probably fit more in line with what the Vikings want to do.
Top-dollar free agent: Mike Iupati, G, 49ers
Lower-tier alternative: Clint Boling, G, Bengals
Someone is going to pay Iupati, a former first-round pick and a three-time Pro Bowler for the 49ers, a ton of money. But paying big bucks for a guard is tricky business (with a generational talent like Steve Hutchinson being an obvious exception). Instead, the Vikings could pursue Boling if they are looking for a physical guard who can help them get their power running game going again in 2015.
Top-dollar free agent: Byron Maxwell, CB, Seahawks
Lower-tier alternative: Davon House, CB, Packers
There was a lot of buzz about Maxwell at the NFL scouting combine. The Ringo Starr of the Legion of Boom, Maxwell is expected to have plenty of suitors and he could score a salary of more than $8 million per season. House, who was drafted a couple of rounds before Maxwell in 2011, was a part-time starter for the Packers, but he is young, he can run and he has some size, too.
Top-dollar free agent: Devin McCourty, S, Patriots
Lower-tier alternative: Ron Parker, S, Chiefs
Many NFL insiders thought it would be a formality that the Patriots would slap their franchise tag on McCourty. There is still a chance that he could return to the Patriots, but either way, he is getting paid. A cheaper gamble worth taking might be Parker, who like McCourty was a cornerback before being converted to safety. He doesn’t have the production of McCourty, but he has some potential.
Top-dollar free agent: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
Lower-tier alternative: Kenny Britt, WR, Rams
Yes, the Broncos used the franchise tag on Thomas, but it’s the non-exclusive tag, meaning another team can sign him away if they are willing to cough up a pair of first-round picks, too. This ain’t fantasy football, so chances are that’s not happening. While Britt is nowhere near as explosive as Thomas, he is also 6-foot-3 with a similar build and would also bring value inside the red zone.
Top-dollar free agent: Rey Maualuga, MLB, Bengals
Lower-tier alternative: Jasper Brinkley, MLB, Vikings
I understand why I get asked about Maualuga all the time. He’s a name player who has ties to Mike Zimmer with the Bengals. With all due respect to Maualuga, he is a solid run defender but is nothing special. There don’t appear to be many, if any, quality do-it-all middle linebackers in free agency. So if you’re settling for a two-down thumper there, why not just keep Brinkley around on the cheap?
One of our generation’s foremost philosophers once said, “If you want to get some, you’d better bring some.”
The philosopher, of course, is former Gophers football coach Tim Brewster. And like any good philosophy, the phrase can be applied to many facets of life.
We will apply it here to the Minnesota Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher, who for the third consecutive year have made the decision late in the season to given up pieces of the future to acquire what they hope is a better present day.
The question, then, is simple: Fletcher wants to get some players; did he bring too much to other teams, sacrificing a chunk of the Wild’s future in the process?
Much of how we answer that question depends on what you think of the Wild and how it is currently constructed. We know Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville will be here for a very long time. But we also know that a lot of their young players will reach payday age in the coming years, and the Wild presumably won’t be able to keep all of them. Rather, they will need to replenish the roster with more young talent.
That said, you can’t always worry about three or four years from now. The Wild is playing in a manner that suggests it could do some damage in this year’s playoffs. To get better, Minnesota again has had to give up players. You are not, after all, going to slay a bear with a pellet gun.
Big-picture, though, it feels as though Fletcher has given up an awful lot the past three years leading up to the trading deadline. Some of the moves listed below came a little earlier than the deadline, but all were in the middle of seasons. The principal players and picks are listed:
*The Wild dealt a 2013 first-round pick and 2014 second (but got a 2014 fourth-round pick back) for Pominville.
*Traded 2014 and 2016 second-round picks for Moulson and Cody McCormick.
*Traded a 2014 fourth-round pick for Ilya Bryzgalov.
*Traded a 2015 third-round pick for Devan Dubnyk.
*Traded a 2016 third-round pick for Sean Bergenheim (and also got a seventh-round pick back).
*Traded a 2015 fifth-round pick (and Justin Falk) for Jordan Leopold.
*Traded a 2017 second-round pick for Chris Stewart.
*Received 1 sixth and 1 seventh round pick in minor mid-year trades in 2013.
If the fourth-rounder the Wild got back in the Pominville deal cancels out the fourth-rounder it traded for Bryz, the sum total the past three years one first-round pick, four second-round picks, two third-round picks and a fifth-round pick between 2013 and 2017 traded away. They have received two seventh-rounders and a sixth-rounder.
If we consider “premium” picks to be those in the first three rounds, the Wild has traded seven of those mid-season in the past three years.
This is not to say the trades have been bad, at least short-term. Dubnyk has been wonderful. Minnesota probably doesn’t make the playoffs without Bryzgalov last year. Pominville is a very good forward. And the deadline moves Monday could very well help fuel playoff victories. Overall, one would say Fletcher’s trade ledger looks pretty good, with a method to the madness.
But it is fair to wonder if the Wild will face a talent deficit in the long run even if it has a surplus in the short-term. That’s a price Minnesota appears willing to pay, putting even more pressure on this year’s team.