Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is a no-nonsense guy who doesn’t look for a lot of excuses when it comes to winning and losing. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Zimmer — when asked Wednesday at the Senior Bowl about the ball deflation controversy that has emerged in the wake of the Patriots’ AFC title game thrashing of the Colts — wasn’t buying it.
“I think it was like 41-7, right?” Zimmer said, according to NFL.com. “I don’t think the balls had a lot to do with it.”
Well, 45-7, but point taken. That said, the Vikings were EMBROILED IN CONTROVERSY over a somewhat similar ball situation earlier this season (and by that we mean it passed with barely a whimper aside from a warning and reminder from the league), when sideline attendants were shown heating footballs against league rules during Minnesota’s freezing 31-13 win over the Panthers.
Forbes Magazine annually compiles sports franchise value data, and the numbers for the NBA came out this week. The league — which announced a massive new TV deal in October, jumping from less than $1 billion per year to more than $2.6 billion per year — figured to see some large gains in franchise values.
But the numbers that came out Wednesday are eye-opening even when accounting for expectations. The average value of franchises jumped a whopping 72 percent from last year to this year, per Forbes.
The Timberwolves’ increase wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it is still quite sharp: a 45 percent increase, from $430 million in 2014 to $625 million in 2015. While that value puts Minnesota 29th among the 30 NBA franchises (only the Bucks are valued lower), it is the continuation of a sharp upward trend for the Wolves.
For most of the mid-to-late-2000s, the Wolves hovered around a $300 million value mark. The recession and NBA work stoppage dropped the Wolves to down to $264 million in 2011 (their lowest value since 2004) and it increased only modestly to $272 million in 2012.
From there, though, it jumped to $364 million in 2013, $430 in 2014 and now $625 million. That’s a 130 percent increase in just three years, which certainly brings a smile to the face of team owner Glen Taylor (who also owns the Star Tribune).
Of course, the valuation doesn’t mean much unless it moves the needle on a potential sale price for the team. Kevin Garnett better start saving his money.
It appears that the Vikings’ coaching staff will remain mostly intact for the upcoming season.
The Jaguars, who had interviewed Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson for their offensive coordinator opening, hired Greg Olson instead, meaning that Wilson will remain with the Vikings.
And head coach Mike Zimmer told reporters at the Senior Bowl that the team would elevate Drew Petzing to assistant wide receiver coach, replacing Klint Kubiak, who took a job at Kansas. Petzing served as a coaching assistant for the Vikings last season, his first in Minnesota.
Zimmer also said that the Vikings will extend the contracts for holdovers from Leslie Frazier’s staff, so that means wide receivers coach George Stewart and offensive line Jeff Davidson will return.
That continuity for the coaching staff should be a plus as the second year of the Zimmer era begins.
Over the next two weeks, we will take a position-by-position look at where the Vikings stand heading into the offseason after their 7-9 season in 2014. Today, we’re going to focus on the wide receivers.
How unproductive were the Vikings’ wide receivers this past season? Across the NFL, there were 57 players — including two running backs and nine tight ends — who had more receiving yards than veteran Greg Jennings, who led the team with 742 yards on 59 catches.
Jennings had a salary cap hit of $7 million, and while he did frequent the end zone down the stretch, he didn’t perform like one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the league, which he was.
But Jennings wasn’t the only Vikings wide-out who underwhelmed. Cordarrelle Patterson, a 2013 first-round pick, failed to build on his impressive rookie year. He lost his starting job midway through the season and finished fourth on the team with just 384 receiving yards on 33 receptions.
In the second half of the season, though, the Vikings did get production from a pair of lesser-known wide receivers. Jarius Wright had 588 receiving yards and his 87-yard catch-and-run in OT gave them a thrilling win over the Jets. And Charles Johnson came out of nowhere — aka Cleveland, and the Browns’ practice squad no less — to become rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater’s top target.
Heading into 2015, there are plenty of question marks at wide receiver, a position the Vikings must address this offseason to help Bridgewater take that next step in his development.
ONE REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The Vikings in recent years have spent significant resources at the wide receiver position — big bucks for Jennings and a high pick for Patterson — but it was Johnson, nabbed from the Browns’ practice squad in September, who ended up being the most productive once Patterson’s struggles created an opportunity for him. In the final seven games of the season, Johnson caught 25 passes for 415 yards and two touchdowns. Was Johnson just a flash in the pan? We don’t know. But yes, there is a chance the Vikings found a diamond in the rough with this kid.
ONE REASON FOR CONCERN: After scoring nine total touchdowns as a rookie, Patterson was hyped as a breakout candidate by national websites and publications — including this one — for 2014. In Week 1, that hype seemed well-placed as Patterson scored on a 67-yard run in a win over the Rams. It turned out to be a mirage, as Patterson didn’t appear to make much progress, if any, as a receiver from his first season to his second. Unable to get open in large part due to a lack of attention to detail when running routes, Patterson was benched and couldn’t play his way back into a significant role. Head coach Mike Zimmer says he has an offseason plan for Patterson, which includes working with a mystery man picked by the team, but it’s on Patterson to get his career back on track.
GRADES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT: Since the Vikings (understandably) won’t make their player grades public, we turn to Pro Football Focus, whom some players and coaches have been critical of. For context with these grades, a grade of 0.0 is considered average. Positive grades are good. Negative grades are not. Adam Thielen, who was at the bottom of the depth chart, had the highest grade at plus-1.7 overall (mostly for his run blocking, though). Jennings was merely average at 0.0. And Wright was a negative-1.9, Johnson a negative-2.7 and Patterson a negative-3.5.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT: 46.9 — passer rating for Vikings quarterbacks when throwing to Patterson, which ranked last among 90 qualifying receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. Patterson had just one touchdown catch and quarterbacks threw five picks when targeting him.
POTENTIAL DEPARTURES: All five Vikings wide receivers are under contract for 2015. The only player who could potentially be gone is Jennings, though he will probably be back after scoring four touchdowns in the final six games of the season. Jennings will have a cap number of $11 million in 2015. If the team were to cut or release him, they could free up $5 million in cap space, but they would have to eat $6 million in dead money to do it. The Vikings should at least approach him about restructuring his deal to fall in line with his declining production, but would he be receptive?
OFFSEASON LEVEL OF NEED: High. Jennings’ best days are behind him, and it’s unlikely he will get to the end of that big contract. It’s too early to give up on Patterson, but I also don’t think you can assume he is going to take a big leap forward. Likewise, I don’t think you can assume that Johnson is the real deal, though he certainly could end up having staying power. Look for the Vikings to use a draft pick — potentially one in the first couple days of the draft — to add another receiver for Bridgewater. And if, say, Larry Fitzgerald is cut by the Cardinals, count on his hometown team showing interest.
Richard Pitino was hired as Gophers men’s baskeball coach in April of 2013, a couple weeks after Tubby Smith was fired. Smith was jettisoned right after leading Minnesota to its first NCAA tournament victory since 1997 and its first non-vacated NCAA tourney win since 1990. The sentiment — which still seems like the proper one — is that Smith had taken the program as far as he was going to take it. There was a level of stagnation with the players and apathy in the Barn.
Pitino was brought in, and the presumption was it would take some time for him to bring in players to fit his style — that the program might need to take a short-term step back in order to take a larger step forward in the long-term.
Last year’s Gophers team went 8-10 in the Big Ten and was probably one win away from making the NCAA tourney. Instead, Minnesota went to the NIT and won that tournament for a 25-win season that fueled all sorts of optimism going into this year. Instead, the year has descended into a 1-6 Big Ten start — one punctuated by as ugly a game as you might want to watch Tuesday, a 52-49 loss at Nebraska that our own Amelia Rayno aptly described for the Gophers as playing “only a little bit worse than their opponent.”
Earlier this week, before that loss, Pitino suggested last year’s team had overachieved and re-asserted that he wasn’t the one who set expectations for this year’s team. On the first point: maybe so, though Pitino still had some nice leftover pieces (namely Andre and Austin Hollins) left over from Smith’s NCAA tourney team.
This year’s problems are myriad. The Gophers have had eligibility issues, a transfer kicked off the team, a current player transfer and still another get in trouble with the law. The core of the team, though, has remained intact and reasonably healthy. If last year’s team overachieved, this year’s bunch has underachieved.
All the close losses and ugly stretches have served to test the patience of the Gophers faithful, particularly when it comes to the second-year head coach. The grumbling starts with this: if the Gophers are 1-6 this year, what are they going to be like next year when they lose their two most established guards (Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu) and their two most established big men (Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason) to graduation.
The counter to that is those players have faltered in key situations this year and perhaps the next wave will be better. More likely, though, is that this rebuild won’t start to really take off until Year 4, when Pitino has a roster full of his players, and they have a measure of Big Ten experience.
That’s a long time to be patient — fans and administration alike — and it will offer plenty of time to compare Pitino to his predecessor. Pitino’s Big Ten regular-season record stands at 9-16 (.360) as of now. Conference record was one of the biggest knocks on Tubby, who finished at 46-62 (.426).
It’s fair for Pitino to preach patience because this will take time, but it’s also fair to start looking at his tenure through a more critical eye as we measure whether true progress is being made.