Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Minnesota Vikings interested in two quarterbacks?

For the next couple of months, you’re going to hear a lot of speculation/hearsay/rumors leading up to the 2011 NFL draft. Teams will rave about players, players will rave about teams and agents will do all of the above. Players and agents do it for leverage, while teams do it to create a smokescreen. During this time of year in the NFL, you can’t believe everything you hear.

It’s no secret the Minnesota Vikings need a quarterback and they’ve made it clear they want to draft one this year. During the Senior Bowl last month, Vikings team reps were seen talking to Washington quarterback Jake Locker. The meeting set off a series of tweets, articles and blog posts – all with similar headlines – Locker the next Vikings QB?

It is very possible Locker will be the Vikings quarterback, but he’s not the quarterback they’re the most interested in. According to a person I consider to be a reliable source, the Vikings are very interested in two quarterbacks in this year’s draft. The first player is Blaine Gabbert. He’s a big, strong-armed quarterback from Missouri, who many believe will be gone before the Vikings pick at #12. The other quarterback is Iowa senior Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi is considered a second- or third-round pick, and many scouts believe he has the highest football I.Q. of any quarterback in the draft.

If the Vikings are truly interested in Gabbert, they will more than likely need to trade up in the first-round to draft him. As for Stanzi, he’s not worth a high second-round pick, so the Vikings will either need to trade down or hope he slides to the fourth round (Vikings don’t have a third round pick—traded to New England in Randy Moss deal).

Again, this time of year in the NFL is filled with speculation and rumors. But I believe, as of right now, these two quarterbacks are on the Vikings short list of potential quarterbacks.

The NFL combine is next week in Indianapolis, so look for more misinformation and manufactured hype. The NFL draft is April 28-30, 2011.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

2011 NFL free agents by position

Without a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the 2011 NFL free agency period is very much in jeopardy. The NFL free agency period is scheduled to begin at midnight on March 5, 2011, but a lockout would push that date back. Teams would not be allowed to sign free agents (including their own players) until a new CBA is reached between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

For players who are free agents this offseason, they are left waiting and wondering when their next contract is going to come.

Here is a complete list of 2011 NFL free agents by position:

Minnesota Vikings 2011 -- Free agents, trades and the next quarterback

The Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl champions, the Chicago Bears fell one game short of the Super Bowl and the Detroit Lions didn’t finish in last place in the NFC North. All those things tell me the Minnesota Vikings have a lot of ground to make up if they want to be competitive next year.

The Vikings did the right thing by keeping Leslie Frazier on as head coach. The former defensive coordinator brings the right kind of approach to this franchise. He is transparent, willing to listen to his players and most importantly – he has the player's respect.

But all that stuff doesn’t mean anything unless the Vikings move some moves to get them competitive again. Here are five things that will make the Vikings a better football team next season.

Nnamdi Asomugha to Vikings
A loophole in Asomugha’s contract will allow him to test the free agent market this offseason. The former Oakland Raider is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and at age 29 (turns 30 in July), he’s still has some years left.

If the Vikings sign Asomugha, their entire defensive backfield would improve - simply by adding one player. A dynamic cornerback like Asomugha can change a defense. Look at how much impact Charles Woodson and Darrelle Revis have had on their respective defenses. A player like Asomugha takes away half the field by himself, which takes a ton of pressure off the other defensive backs. The Vikings could fix that mess in the defensive backfield with one player, Nnamdi Asomugha.

Trade Toby Gerhart
With one of the best running backs in football in Adrian Peterson, the Vikings don’t need Gerhart. At age 23 (turns 24 in March), Gerhart is still very young and would be an upgrade for a lot of teams looking for a running back.

Gerhart doesn’t add much value to the Vikings offense. He’s an average receiver, below average pass blocker and he’s had fumble issues. Essentially, he’s a poor man’s Adrian Peterson.
I could see a team giving up a third round pick for Gerhart, which if I were the Vikings, I’d jump at in a second.

Trade for Kyle Orton
Maybe the Denver Broncos would be interested in swapping Gerhart for Orton. The Broncos showed last season they weren’t satisfied with their running back situation and traded for Laurence Maroney during the year. That failed miserably and after getting arrested this offseason, Maroney may be done in Denver.

Orton has turned out to be a very good NFL quarterback, despite being run out of Chicago and benched for Tim Tebow in Denver. At age 28 (turns 29 in November), Orton still has plenty of years left in him. Over the past three seasons, Orton’s numbers have improved and he’s become a reliable starter. While his record as a starter doesn’t reflect his improvement (he’s played on teams with bad defenses), his stats tell a different tale.

In the past three years, Orton has started 44 games – 15 with the Bears in 2008 and 29 with the Broncos from 2009-2010. In those three seasons, he has passed for 10,427 yards, 59 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. I think it’s time for the Altoona, Iowa native to come back to the Midwest.

Franchise tag Sidney Rice
After missing much of last season because of hip surgery, Rice returned to the line-up and showed a glimpse of what we show two years ago. The verdict is still out on Rice and the questions linger about is ability to stay healthy for a full season. Before rewarding him with a multi-year contract, the Vikings might be better served to place the franchise tag on Rice and let him prove he’s worth the long-term investment.

The Linebackers
If the playoffs taught us anything it’s teams need playmakers at the linebacker position. OLB Chad Greenway has emerged as pro bowl caliber player and is a must “re-sign player” for the Vikings. Greenway is coming off a 144 tackle season and has a knack for always being around the ball. He should be the first player the Vikings sign this offseason.

Joining Greenway on the free agent market is OLB Ben Leber, who is coming off a very average year. At 32, Leber is nearing the end of his career and the Vikings should let him go. The Vikings need to find a more dynamic player to play opposite Greenway. The Vikings don’t have a player like that on their roster and they should target someone in free agency or the draft.

E.J. Henderson still has one year left on his contract and should be back in the middle for the Vikings next season.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: 6 games to a superstar

At this point and time in history – as you read this – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. That could change next season, but as of right now, it’s hard to argue that anyone is better.

Rodgers, who is 27-years-old, just finished off what was one of the best six game stretches I’ve ever seen. He took the Packers from the brink of elimination to Super Bowl champions. Along the way Rodgers has made Packers fans forget about Brett Favre and established himself as an elite quarterback.

The biggest knock on Rodgers has been his inability to win close games (2-12 in games decided by four points or less). And before this season the Packers had failed to win a playoff game with Rodgers at quarterback (0-1 in two seasons). Rodgers now has a playoff record of 4-1, a Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl MVP trophy.

To truly appreciate what Rodgers and the Packers accomplished this season, I broke down Green Bay’s final six games of the season. Two of the games were must-win regular season games, the other four were playoff games, including Super Bowl XLV. They are the six games that made Rodgers an elite quaterback.

Week 16 – New York Giants at Green Bay
After losing two straight games on the road (Detroit and New England), the Packers returned to Lambeau Field to face the New York Giants. Rodgers sat out the previous game against New England after suffering a concession against Detroit. In a game the Packers needed to keep their playoff hopes alive, Rodgers was spectacular. The Packers dismantled the Giants 45-17 behind Rodgers' monster performance. Rodgers completed 25 of 37 passes for 404 yards and 4 touchdowns with zero interceptions. Rodgers’ near flawless performance got the Packers back on track and one game away from clinching the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs.

Week 17 – Chicago Bears at Green Bay
With the number two seed in the NFC playoffs already in their grasp, the Bears had nothing to play for in the season finale against the Packers. Bears head coach Lovie Smith said he wouldn’t rest his players and stood by his word once the game kicked off. With everything on the line for the Packers, Rodgers was not the same quarterback he was a week earlier. He completed 19 of 28 passes, managing just 229 yards passing and one interception. But a late touchdown pass to tight end Donald Lee was the difference. The Packers would win the season finale 10-3 on Rodgers’ late touchdown pass, securing them a spot in the postseason.

Wild Card round – Green Bay at Philadelphia Eagles
If the sixth seeded Packers were going to win the Super Bowl, they were going to have to do it on the road. Their first stop was a trip out East to Philadelphia for a match-up with the third-seeded Eagles, who the Packers beat in week one. Rodgers and the Packers offense jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, with Rodgers tossing two first half touchdowns. He finished 18 of 27 with 180 yards passing, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Packers advance, beating the Eagles 21-16.

Divisional round – Green Bay at Atlanta
With one playoff win under his belt, Rodgers looked relaxed and locked in against Atlanta. After a sluggish start by the Packers, Rodgers and the offense exploded in the second quarter. Rodgers threw two touchdowns in the quarter and had the Packers off to an early lead. In the second half, Rodgers would add two more scores, one passing and one running. The Packers destroyed the Falcons 48-21 behind Rodgers’ 366 yards passing and 4 total touchdowns. Rodgers missed just five passes during the game going 31 of 36 and zero interceptions.

NFC Championship – Green Bay at Chicago
For the third time this season the Packers and Bears were matched up on the gridiron, but this time a trip to the Super Bowl was on the line. Rodgers struggled against the Bears defense, throwing for 244 yards on 17 of 30 passing. Rodgers did manage to score a rushing touchdown, but he also made two bad throws that were intercepted. This was by far the worst game for Rodgers during the six game stretch. But it didn’t matter, the Packers beat the Bears 21-14 and they were headed to Super Bowl XLV.

Super Bowl XLV – Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh
Before the game, everyone talked about the Packers youth vs. the Steelers experience. At the age of 28, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had already won two Super Bowls, while Rodgers was new to the big game. Once the game kicked off, Rodgers and the Packers settled into a familiar spot – playing with the lead. Two touchdown passes by Rodgers in the first half had the Packers up 21-10 at the intermission. In the second half, Rodgers struggled for a stretch during the third quarter, but snapped out of it with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter when he threw a 31-yard pass to Greg Jennings on 3rd and 10. To me, that throw was the biggest throw of Rodgers’ career. If the Packers don’t convert that third down, the Steelers would have gotten the ball back with just under six minutes to go. That conversion helped the Packers take an additional four minutes off the clock before kicking a field goal that gave them a six point lead. Rodgers was the clear choice for MVP in this game, throwing for 304 yards on 24 of 39 passes. He also protected the football extremely well, throwing three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

In Closing
I believe the best way to rate a quarterback is how well they perform in big games. During the six games I mentioned above, Rodgers was 134 of 197 (68%) for 1,727 yards, 16 total touchdowns (14 passing, 2 rushing) and three interceptions (all against the Bears). Rodgers has clearly proven he can win the big game and I expect him to continue to get better, which is a scary thought.

Report: Chicago Bears to cut Chester Taylor

After just one uneventful season in Chicago, it appears the Bears are ready to part ways with running back Chester Taylor. Taylor signed a 4-year, $12.5 million dollar contract with the Bears last offseason, after spending the previous four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
The move makes sense for the Bears considering how little Taylor was used, and how well third-year running back Matt Forte played this season.
Forte, who turns 26 in December, is in for a big pay day. Forte finished the season with over 1,500 total yards and nine touchdowns.
As for a landing spot for Taylor, don’t count out his former team the Vikings. The Vikings struggled last season to find a replacement for Taylor on third down.
Other teams that I believe may be interested in Taylor are Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Denver.
Taylor will turn 32-years-old in September.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

2012 NFL Super Bowl XLVI Odds

With the 2010-2011 NFL season now history, it’s time to start looking ahead to next season. Assuming there is a season this fall, it’s never too soon to start handicapping the race for next Super Bowl champion.
Less than 24 hours after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the 2012 Super Bowl odds have been released. And much to my surprise, the Packers are not the early favorites.
Here is the first look at the odds from
New England -- 5:1
Green Bay -- 6:1
Pittsburgh -- 8:1
Baltimore -- 12:1
New York Jets-- 12:1
San Diego -- 12:1
Atlanta -- 15:1
New York Giants -- 15:1
New Orleans -- 15:1
Philadelphia -- 15:1
Indianapolis -- 18:1
Dallas -- 18:1
Chicago -- 18:1  

Family rivalry at a newsstand near you

I had a surreal moment this morning while driving down Main Street in River Falls, Wisconsin. Every Pioneer Press newspaper box I passed, I saw my face.

From there we met my in-laws at a family restaurant in the Western Wisconsin city, where in the booth next to us, a guy was looking at the article. I wanted to ask him what he thought, but considering he was wearing a Packers jacket, I already knew the answer -- so I didn't ask him.

If you haven't seen the Pioneer Press article, it's online now and on newsstands every where. Read the full article here. I suggest you leave a comment, that section could use some intelligent insight.

If you're not familiar with this article, here's the back story.