The NFL offseason is already heating up — we’ve had two big trades, and Blake Bortles has been taken off the quarterback market — but March 14 is when the real fun begins. That’s when free agency kicks off (4 p.m. ET), and it’s when the trades involving Alex Smith and Marcus Peters become official.
Over the next two weeks, our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders is taking a closer look at the upcoming free-agent market, answering questions on the biggest topics in the league.
We’re starting Monday with a deeper look at the Vikings, whose top three quarterbacks from 2017 — Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford — are all free agents. Minnesota also might be in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes.
Which quarterback will take the most snaps for Minnesota in 2018?
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Keenum. We’ll have to see whether Bridgewater can make it through a full offseason, training camp and preseason and win the job. Once he does those things, he will have to do what might be the hardest thing for him to do, which is play the most snaps. So, while I think Bridgewater could be the most likely quarterback to re-sign with Minnesota, I’ll lean toward Keenum as more likely to play the most snaps, at least until we have more information.
Courtney Cronin, ESPN Vikings reporter: Bridgewater. I predict the Vikings will end up getting outbid in the Cousins sweepstakes, thus leading them to re-sign two of their pending free-agent quarterbacks. Though Minnesota might franchise tag Keenum, it would make sense to use its cap space to work out deals with Keenum and Bridgewater. The Vikings typically don’t have quarterback competitions in training camp, but given the unique nature of their situation, both Bridgewater and Keenum will have a chance to duke it out in camp. It might not be in the beginning of the season, but by some point in 2018, I believe Bridgewater will emerge as the starter.
Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Bridgewater. I expect the Vikings to explore the market for Cousins. But with the Jets, Broncos and possibly more teams jumping into the mix, the price tag is going to rise quickly. That’s why I’m looking at a situation in which coach Mike Zimmer & Co. attempt to bring back both Bridgewater and Keenum. With Bridgewater healthy and prepped to go through the entire offseason program, the former first-round pick will edge out Keenum in a daily camp battle for the starting spot.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Keenum. Part of the Vikings’ public ambivalence could be related to leverage. Declaring a quarterback your guy means you have to pay him that way. There is no doubt that Zimmer loves Bridgewater, but the Vikings know how rarely in their history they have gotten a performance like the one Keenum gave them in 2017. We have no information at the moment that would allow us to project Bridgewater as the superior quarterback.
Field Yates, NFL Insider: Cousins. The Vikings were publicly reticent throughout much of the 2017 regular season to fully and entirely commit to Keenum as the guy, which suggests to me that the team won’t overextend to keep him. Cousins, meanwhile, is the rare available quarterback who can shift the winds of a franchise, helping Minnesota — armed with the financial resources to acquire him — elevate to another level.
Mina Kimes, senior writer: Bridgewater. The Vikings have enough cap space to make a run at Cousins, but I think they’ll back off when his price tag reaches uncharted territory; Cousins is better than Keenum and Bridgewater, but he’s not that much better. It’s hard to forecast when Bridgewater will take Keenum’s job (I expect the team to keep both quarterbacks), but I still think Bridgewater is Minnesota’s long-term plan.
Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Bridgewater. My projected scenario is one in which the Vikings bring back Keenum and Bridgewater, and Bridgewater eventually takes the job away from Keenum — either in a training camp competition or after Keenum struggles during the regular season. All of this, of course, assumes the Vikings don’t sign Cousins. If they break the bank for a quarterback, I’d change my answer to Cousins.
Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Keenum. My guess is that other teams will look at Keenum and say, “Yes, he had one fantastic year, but what is his regression going to look like in our system?” The Vikings are the one team that can look at Keenum and know they have seen evidence he can play well for them. In the same system with the same teammates, there’s a better chance he can continue to play at 2017’s high level.
Gardner Minshew’s mullet is no more
Mondays are heavy days historically, but this one is particularly so because Gardner Minshew II‘s mullet is no more.
Yeah, Minshew may have gotten a hair cut yesterday, but this is the first I’m learning about it. So the pain is as fresh as if the stylist had just swept the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ backup quarterback’s fallen locks from the floor.
In what feels like the last remnant of a phenomenon once known as “Minshew Mania,” the former pride of Duval County chopped off his power source:
At the risk of sounding rash, it seems to me Trevor Lawrence came to town and basically told his new QB2 that there wasn’t enough room for both of their glorious heads of hair in that town and, well, we know who won that battle.
To be fair, I sort of knew this was going to happen as soon as Tim Tebow signed with the Jags.
Tebow, Lawrence’s mane AND one of the defining mullets of our generation? That’s just too much juice for one team.
Now, let us take one last look at Minshew’s former masterpiece for posterity:
In the haunting words of Michelle Branch: “Goodbye to you, goodbye to everything that I knew.”
Minnesota Vikings expect DE Danielle Hunter at mandatory minicamp, source says
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings expect to have defensive end Danielle Hunter back in the fold this week during mandatory minicamp, a source told ESPN, after the Pro Bowl defensive end missed the team’s entire voluntary offseason program.
Hunter, 26, sat out the 2020 NFL season with a herniated disk that required surgery last October. At the time of his surgery, it was reported that the defensive end was unhappy with the state of his contract and wanted a reworked deal ahead of the 2021 season.
NFL Network, which first reported that Hunter planned to attend minicamp, is reporting that the Vikings and Hunter have agreed to terms on a reworked deal that will give the defensive end $5.6 million of the $12.75 million he is set to make in 2021 as a signing bonus. Hunter now has an $18 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the 2022 league year.
With $14.272 million in cap space, the Vikings moved up a significant amount of money to satisfy Hunter’s desire for more compensation in the short term while allowing both parties the time to work out a long-term extension following the 2021 season, NFL Network reported. The Vikings will need to make a decision on Hunter’s future by the fifth day of the 2022 league year.
CB Stephon Gilmore doesn’t report for New England Patriots’ mandatory minicamp, source says
Gilmore could be making a statement about his contract, as he is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2021.
The Patriots had advanced $4.5 million of Gilmore’s 2021 salary to him last year, leading to this year’s low figure.
Gilmore, who turns 31 in September, is in the final year of the five-year, $65 million pact he signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. The deal included $40 million in injury guarantees and $31 million fully guaranteed at signing.
At the time, a contract with those guarantees and an average of $13 million per season was viewed as a strong deal. The cornerback market has since exploded, with Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams topping it with a contract averaging $20 million per season.
Acknowledging they didn’t have specifics of the situation, teammates noted Gilmore’s absence in the locker room Monday, as well as on the practice field.
“I support my brother. I wish he was here, but I support him all the same,” veteran safety Adrian Phillips said. “What he has going, whenever he gets back here, he’ll let you know how it went.”
Longtime captain Matthew Slater added: “That’s a situation I don’t want to get too far into, because it’s frankly none of my business. Obviously you support all your teammates, whether they are here or not.”
Head coach Bill Belichick deflected questions on Gilmore earlier Monday and wouldn’t reveal whether he has given him (or any player) an excused absence. Players who don’t report for mandatory minicamp can be fined up to $93,085 — which breaks down to $15,515 for the first missed day, $31,030 for the second missed day and $46,540 for the third missed day.
Gilmore partially tore his quad in a Week 15 loss last season, landing on injured reserve.
The Boston Globe first reported Gilmore’s absence.
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