- The Vikings have signed two fourth-rounders – defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson (Iowa) and linebacker Ben Gedeon (Michigan) – as well as fifth-round offensive lineman Danny Isidora (Miami), writes Lindsay Young of the team’s website. Johnson became a full-time player with the Hawkeyes in 2015 and combined for 15.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks over the past two years, and could develop into a pass-rushing threat in the pros. Geodeon was quite productive with the Wolverines last season, recording 94 tackles (15 for loss) and 4.5 sacks, though Zierlein contends that he’s not fast enough to become an impact defender at the highest level. Isidora, a three-year starter at right guard as a Hurricane, earned second-team all-ACC honors in 2016. Although Isidora was a late-round pick, he has the potential to start in the NFL, per Zierlein.
- The Vikings have finally gotten to work on signing their 11 picks, having come to terms with fifth-round receiver Rodney Adams (No. 170 overall) and seventh-round defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo (No. 220), per Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune. Formerly with both Toledo and South Florida, the speedy Adams is likely to make an impact as a kick returner and/or a fourth or fifth receiver early in his career, according to Zierlein. Odenigbo, meanwhile, was a prolific sack artist at Northwestern, where he took down opposing quarterbacks 23 times over four seasons – including a personal-best 10 in 2016.
- There is no guaranteed money in Michael Floyd‘s one-year, $1.41MM deal with the Vikings, Ben Goessling of ESPN.com tweets. In theory, Minnesota could cut Floyd before the season without financial penalty. On the flipside, Floyd’s deal could reportedly pay as much as $6MM if he reaches all of his incentives.
- Like Quessenberry, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took to the practice field for the first time in a while on Tuesday (a devastating knee injury had kept Bridgewater completely out of action since last August). The 24-year-old then ventured to Dallas on Wednesday for a medical checkup that yielded positive news, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Edward Lewis of NFL.com). Bridgewater’s doctor told him that “he’s making progress in his rehab and lateral movement,” writes Lewis.
- The Packers are working out former Texas Southern wide receiver Derrick Griffin today, tweets Mark Berman of FOX 26. Griffin was a two-sport athlete during his collegiate days, but was dismissed from the football team and left the basketball in order to prepare for the NFL draft, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reported earlier this year. Griffin, who stands 6’6″, 240 pounds, auditioned for the Texans during their local prospect day and also landed a tryout at the Vikings’ rookie minicamp. Green Bay drafted two wideouts — Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey and LSU’s Malachi Dupre — and also added two undrafted pass-catchers.
- The NFLPA is advising members of the Vikings‘ rookie class to not sign their contract until certain procedural language is cleared up, reports Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. While Minnesota maintains that it’s offering standard rookie deals with no changes from years prior, the players’ union is concerned with language dealing with offsets and anti-tampering. None of the 11-member Vikings class is under contract, but they’re each participating in offseason activities after signing protective waivers.
In what is extremely uplifting news, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returned to the practice field today, as documented in a short video posted on the club’s website. Bridgewater, of course, hasn’t been able to participate in football activities since tearing his ACL and dislocating his knee joint last August.
While the video is concise and doesn’t show much, Bridgewater is seen moving about, taking snaps, and throwing passes with a large brace on his left leg. Technically, Bridgewater didn’t “return to practice,” according to Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune (Twitter link), as the throws were part of Bridgewater’s recovery process. Still, as Vensel notes, simply witnessing Bridgewater able to perform some sort of football task is very encouraging.
Given that today marks the first we’ve seen of Bridgewater since last fall, it’s entirely unclear how far along he is in his rehabilitation, or what possibility exists of the 24-year-old playing during the 2017 campaign. Head coach Mike Zimmer admitted earlier this year that he has “no idea” when Bridgewater will fully return to action. With that in mind, the Viking signed veteran Case Keenum in March to back up starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
If Bridgewater doesn’t play next year, and spends the season on the reserve/PUP list, his contract could toll, meaning the Vikings would again hold his rights in 2018. However, Bridgewater and his representation could push back against any attempt by Minnesota to hold onto him for an additional year.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Gary Barnidge was a relative no-name until the 2015 season, when — at age 30 — the 6’5″ tight end broke out for 79 receptions, 1,043 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. Each of those totals were career-highs for Barnidge, and his yardage figure was the eight-highest single-season total for a tight end since 2010. The 2016 campaign wasn’t quite as fruitful for Barnidge, but he still managed 55 catches for 612 yards, solid numbers for a tight end in a weak Browns offense.
There are certainly question marks that could lead a team to not pursue Barnidge. Chief among them is probably his age, as Barnidge is set to enter his age-32 season. That could conceivably make him an injury risk, although he’s appeared in all 32 possible games over the past two years. Bardidge’s blocking prowess is also a concern, as he ranked 50th out of 63 qualified tight ends in run blocking efficiency last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Still, Barnidge offers excellent receiving ability and should come relatively cheap. It’s tough to see Barnidge topping the $5MM and $5.3MM annual salaries earned by fellow tight ends Vernon Davis and Jared Cook respectively, and he likely won’t command a multi-year deal. So which NFL teams could possibly employ Barnidge in his 10th pro season? Let’s take a look…
Austin Hooper, the Falcons’ third-round pick in 2016, posted 271 receiving yards during his rookie campaign. That lowly figure was somehow the second-highest yardage total by an Atlanta tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired at the end of the 2013 season. Yes, the Falcons’ offense was the best in the NFL by a wide margin last year, but the unit could continue its dominance by adding another element at tight end. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has never worked with an elite tight end (not counting his one-game stint as O.J. Howard‘s OC at Alabama, Sarkisian’s best TE pupil was Austin Seferian-Jenkins), so it’s unclear if he can develop young options such as Hooper and 2017 fifth-rounder Eric Saubert. A veteran such as Barnidge would allow those youthful players to grow by lessening their responsibilities, at least for the upcoming season.
The Bills were the first stop on Barnidge’s free agent tour following his release by the Browns, so Buffalo clearly has some level of interest. Charles Clay is currently atop the Bills’ tight end depth chart, but he hasn’t been worth the five-year, $38MM deal Buffalo gave him prior to the 2015 season. Despite being the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league, Clay has finished just 12th in approximate value since joining the Bills. Buffalo is stuck with him through at least 2018, as a 2016 contract restructure makes release unpalatable. Clay is a much better run blocker than Barnidge, so the latter would be able to play as a move tight end in the Bills’ offense. Given that Buffalo is fielding one of the league’s worst wide receiving groups, the club needs all the weapons it can get.
After visiting with the Bills, Barnidge indicated he might take a meeting with the Panthers, and although it’s unclear if that visit ever took place, it stands to reason Carolina is still eyeing a tight end addition. Greg Olsen, clearly, is the No. 1 option for the Panthers, but the team’s depth at the position is shockingly sparse. Linked to a number of tight ends during the predraft process, Carolina ultimately stood pat, leaving only Ed Dickson and Chris Manhertz behind Olsen. Dickson, for his part, is essentially a non-factor in the receiving game and isn’t a great blocker — the Panthers could release him with a minimal dead cap charge. Barnidge spent the first four years of his career in Carolina, and a homecoming would make a lot of sense.
Unquestionably one of the league’s more talented tight ends when healthy, Tyler Eifert just can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s never appeared in all 16 games, and has missed more than eight games in two of the past three seasons. Eifert’s 52-reception, 13-touchdown 2015 campaign showed him at his best, but he simply can’t be relied on. And the Bengals’ backup options are lackluster, as well, as C.J. Uzomah (25 catches, 234 yards) and Tyler Kroft (10, 92) struggled when asked to fill in for Eifert last season. Cincinnati has already bolstered its offense this offseason by adding wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon, and Barnidge would give the club another target and (much-needed) depth.
Denver has reached out to Barnidge in recent days, and the Broncos have a level of familiarity with Barnidge given that many of their coaches — notably offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and tight ends coach Jeff Davidson — worked with Barnidge in Carolina. While the tight end position isn’t quite the integral position in McCoy’s offense that it was in former head coach Gary Kubiak‘s, Denver still needs an infusion of talent at the position. The selection Jake Butt, of course, marked the initial step in the Broncos’ tight end revamp, but the former Michigan Wolverine may not be ready for Week 1 as he recovers from a torn ACL. Barnidge would instantly become Denver’s No. 1 tight end if signed, although head coach Vance Joseph said he’s currently pleased with the Broncos’ tight end group, tweets Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.
Like the Panthers, the Jaguars may try to set up a visit with Barnidge, and Barnidge confirmed that he has in fact heard from the Jacksonville staff. The Jaguars parted ways with free agent bust Julius Thomas this offseason, shipping him to Miami for a late-round pick, but the club’s only addition at the position was the signing of former Raider Mychal Rivera, who hasn’t topped 300 yards receiving since 2014. Incumbent Marcedes Lewis continues to strike new deals with the Jaguars (the latest a three-year, $12MM pact) despite last being productive at the turn of the decade, so Barnidge would represent an immediate upgrade for quarterback Blake Bortles & Co.
The Vikings may have landed a draft steal in Virginia Tech Bucky Hodges, who was projected to come off the board on Day 2 but lasted until the sixth round. Still, Hodges is more an oversized wideout than a typical tight end, as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote in Hodges’ predraft profile. No. 1 tight end Kyle Rudolph posted the best season of his career in 2016, as he hauled in 83 passes for 840 yards, so Barnidge would clearly be the No. 2 in Minnesota. Given quarterback Sam Bradford‘s proclivity for the short passing game, adding another tight end who can play over the middle wouldn’t be a bad idea.
After releasing Ladarius Green last week, the Steelers appear set to roll with Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and TE/FB David Johnson at tight end for the 2017 season. Pittsburgh didn’t address the position during the draft, which could mean the club is content with its current options. James, specifically, posted a nice season last year (39 receptions, 338 yards), but it’s hard to argue that he’s true No. 1 tight end for a contending team. Clearly, with Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and (hopefully) Martavis Bryant in the fold, the Steelers don’t exactly need a dynamic weapon at tight end, but Barnidge would give the Steelers a veteran option for at least one year.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer will be taking some time off to recovery from eye surgery, the team announced today. He’ll miss the start of OTA practices, but the hope is that he will be “back on the field in a few weeks.”
- Mike Zimmer underwent an eighth right eye operation this week, Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. All of these procedures have occurred since November of last year. The fourth-year Vikings coach said he’s unsure if this will be the last one. Zimmer missed Week 13 of last season due to eye troubles and acknowledges he will experience vision problems in his left eye at some point.