Pat Elflein

North Notes: Griffen, Robinson, Bengals

Everson Griffen is one of the top two pass rushers still on the market, and we heard last month that he would probably not re-sign with the Vikings. However, Minnesota did not do much to add to its pass rushing corps in the draft, with South Carolina DE D.J. Wonnum representing the most notable addition. And while GM Rick Spielman acknowledged that his team’s cap space makes it difficult to bring Griffen back, he did not rule it out.

“It is hard to say right now where everything is at and where we are at, [but] until things become more normalized I will never say never on a player,” Spielman recently said on the #PFTPM podcast (via PFT’s Mike Florio). “[Y]our roster is never set.”

Griffen has expressed an interest in joining the Seahawks, but Seattle is still open to bringing back Jadeveon Clowney. If Clowney returns to the ‘Hawks, perhaps Griffen will settle for a one-year deal on a Minnesota defense that he will not have to learn on the fly.

Now for more from the league’s north divisions:

  • Of the three OTs the Vikings added in this year’s draft, only second-rounder Ezra Cleveland profiles as an immediate threat to incumbent LT Riley Reiff. The team could again entertain the notion of kicking Reiff inside to LG, but that’s only if Cleveland proves himself ready for starting left tackle duties, which would be a tall order given the COVID-19 restrictions. So as Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune suggests, Reiff will likely stay at LT for the time being, and 2019 fourth-rounder Dru Samia will compete with Pat Elflein for the starting LG slot. The team could also target a free agent for that role, including Josh Kline, whom the Vikings released in a cost-cutting move in March.
  • Bears WR Allen Robinson said towards the end of last season that he is interested in an extension with Chicago, but the two sides do not appear to be close to a new deal, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Robinson is ticketed for free agency after the 2020 campaign, and Biggs suggests that the franchise tag could be in play if there is no extension in place by the second month of the season.
  • Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic says both A.J. Green and the Bengals have interest in getting a long-term deal done, but it’s unclear exactly how much interest. He expects that nothing will come together prior to the July 15 deadline, which means Green will have to play out the 2020 season on his franchise tender. While there’s a better chance Cincinnati comes to terms with RB Joe Mixon on a new contract, that will not happen before a decision on Green is made. The Bengals are reportedly bracing themselves for a Mixon holdout.
  • In the same piece linked above, Dehner says the Bengals are unlikely to make any free agent additions to the O-line at this point. In a separate piece, he notes that Cincinnati made a free agent splash on cornerbacks in free agency because it did not like this year’s CB draft class. The team did not take a defensive back with any of its seven selections.

Latest On Vikings’ Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein

The Vikings are right up against the salary cap at the moment, but there are some moves they could make to open up some much-needed breathing room. For example, Minnesota is likely to release CB Xavier Rhodes, and Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune also names offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein as potential cap casualties.

Reiff remained at left tackle in 2019 despite some chatter that he could be moved inside to left guard. The Vikings instead elected to shift former center Elflein to LG after drafting Garrett Bradbury, and while Elflein did not perform poorly, he was not exactly a standout. But because of the league’s proven performance escalator, Elflein’s 2020 salary will increase from $960K to $2.147MM, so cutting the Ohio State product would save the Vikings about $2MM against the cap. Even if Minnesota hangs on to him, he could be relegated to a reserve role.

As for Reiff, the 31-year-old is due to earn a $10.9MM salary in 2020, but the Vikings would save nearly $9MM against the cap by releasing him, a huge amount for a club with Minnesota’s financial outlook. That would then allow the Vikings to select an offensive tackle in a draft that is deep at the position.

In addition to a potential O-line overhaul, the Vikings will also have a lot of work to do at cornerback. Rhodes will probably be cut and free agents Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander may not be re-signed, and head coach Mike Zimmer conceded that his team would need to address the position in the draft. Luckily for him, this year’s crop of collegiate CBs is also quite strong.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Dolphins, Tua, 49ers, Vikings

There’s been a lot of buzz about former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa going to the Dolphins in the draft. We heard recently that the southpaw’s family wanted Miami to nab him, and there’s been a connection there for a while. Tagovailoa is obviously dealing with a serious hip injury, and it’s clearly a concern for the Dolphins. Miami’s owner Stephen Ross spoke to reporters earlier today and said “he’s a great player. I just worry about his health,” per Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com (Twitter link). That would seem to indicate Tagovailoa to the ‘Phins is far from a done deal. We heard a couple of weeks ago that Miami wanted Joe Burrow, and that they were willing trade up to go get him. Of course, this all could be some gamesmanship from Ross to throw other teams off the scent. Despite the injury, Tagovailoa will reportedly throw for scouts in a private workout at some point before the draft. That workout will go a long way toward determining where he goes in the draft.

Here’s more from the football world as the Super Bowl approaches:

  • We heard earlier today that the 49ers were considering former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to fill the secondary coach role that is about to become vacant when Joe Woods officially becomes Cleveland’s next defensive coordinator. Richard apparently isn’t the only candidate though, and San Francisco is also considering former Miami secondary coach Tony Oden for the position, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Oden has also coached DBs for the Saints, Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Lions in recent years.
  • Vikings guard Pat Elflein is getting a big raise. His base salary for 2020 was set to be $960K, but that will be bumped all the way up to $2.147MM now due to the NFL’s proven performance escalator, per Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune (Twitter link). The program is for players drafted in the 3rd-7th round that are headed into the final year of their rookie contracts, who have received a lot of playing time during their first three years. That certainly is the case for Elflein, who has started at least 13 games in each of his first three seasons. A third-round pick from Ohio State, he was Minnesota’s starting center in 2017-18 before kicking over to left guard last year after the team drafted Garrett Bradbury.
  • In case you missed it, Sammy Watkins isn’t ruling out taking a pay-cut.

NFC North Notes: LaFleur, Vikings, Burton

Matt LaFleur‘s hands-on approach in his first year as Packers HC will have to be tabled for a while. The torn Achilles LaFleur suffered this week will require immediate surgery, with Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reporting he will go under the knife Sunday. The 39-year-old coach was active in his first weeks leading the Packers, taking on an “enormous” load. But with the recovery from this surgery necessitating a potential six-month timetable, LaFleur’s methods will have to change. The coach was overseeing practice from a golf cart this week. This will certainly mark an interesting period for the Packers, LaFleur managing Achilles rehab while going through his first year as a head coach.

A couple weeks ago I kind of tweaked my calf on the other side,” LaFleur said, via Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But this one, I knew immediately. It was way more forceful. I thought somebody hit me in the leg. I looked around and nobody’s by me. It’s just one of those deals. We’ll rebound. We’ll be back.”

Shifting to some of the players in the NFC North, here is the latest out of the division:

  • Kirk Cousins does not have any early retirement plans. In discussing the arrival of rookie center Garrett Bradbury, the second-year Vikings quarterback said he would like to play well into the 2020s. “I told him, ‘I’d like to work together for about the next decade,’ ” Cousins said, via Dane Mizutani of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I just tried to set that vision for him and say, ‘You be the guy here for the next decade and let’s not have to worry about having anybody else snap for the quarterback.” While it is uncertain if Cousins will be in Minnesota beyond 2020, the final year of his fully guaranteed deal, the soon-to-be 31-year-old passer would prefer he stay in the Twin Cities on what would be multiple additional contracts.
  • With Bradbury sliding in at center, Minnesota’s incumbent snapper will slide to guard. Pat Elflein has started 28 games at center since beginning his NFL career, but he said (via Mizutani) he is now working at left guard. Elflein last played guard at Ohio State. Elflein lining up on the left side would put free agent addition Josh Kline in line to start at right guard. Both will be adjusting to the Gary KubiakRick Dennison zone-blocking scheme.
  • Trey Burton will not participate in the Bears‘ final OTA sessions next week or their mid-June minicamp. Chicago’s top tight end underwent sports hernia surgery, Matt Nagy said (via NBC 5’s Mike Berman, on Twitter). The Bears hope he will be ready by training camp. Burton played all 16 games for the Bears last season, reaching career-high marks in receptions, yards and touchdowns (54/569/6).

Extra Points: Wilson, Vikings, McLeod, AAF

More details of Russell Wilson‘s landmark extension are emerging. Wilson’s 2020 and ’21 base salaries — $19MM apiece — will become fully guaranteed if he is on the Seahawks roster five days after Super Bowls LIV and LV, respectively. With that a near-certainty, Wilson’s $107MM in total guarantees are practically full guarantees. Wilson will earn a $19MM base salary in 2022 and ’23, according to OverTheCap. This deal leaves Wilson with cap numbers of $26.29MM (2019), $31MM (2020), $32MM (’21), $37MM (’22) and $39MM (’23). The eighth-year quarterback’s base salary was slated to be $17MM this year; the new deal converted much of that money into a signing bonus, with Wilson now attached to a $5MM base in 2019. The new contract raised Wilson’s 2019 cap number by just $1MM. Additionally, the contract includes a $6MM escalator clause — which would bring the total dollar figure up to $146MM — for Wilson’s 2023 salary, per CBS Sports’ Joel Corry (on Twitter). Unspecified performance-based incentives from 2020-22 can bump the Pro Bowler’s $21MM salary in 2023 to $27MM.

Here is the latest from around the American football landscape:

  • The Vikings are considering moving left tackle Riley Reiff to left guard, but it appears that is contingent on how the draft goes. Reiff will likely only move inside if Minnesota selects a first-round tackle, per Dave Campbell of the Associated Press. Reiff has only played tackle in the NFL. The Vikings “wouldn’t hesitate” to move center Pat Elflein to guard, Campbell adds, but that will also be contingent on the draft. Minnesota failing to add a center worth relocating Elflein would presumably nix that move. Either way, the Vikings’ embattled line will likely look a bit different post-draft.
  • Rodney McLeod will not participate in the Eagles‘ offseason program. The veteran safety, who tore his ACL in Week 3 of last season, is aiming for a training camp return, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Les Bowen notes. McLeod took a major pay cut this offseason, slashing his 2019 salary from $7.5MM to $1.5MM. That can become $4MM, should McLeod play in all 16 Eagles games, Bowen adds. He played in 16 games in each season from 2012-16 and had missed just two in his career prior to the 2018 injury. McLeod signed a five-year deal in 2016, but the contract is now a four-year pact. The restructure voided the 2020 season.
  • No last-ditch effort will save the Alliance of American Football. The league filed for bankruptcy this week. “Pursuant to the bankruptcy laws, a trustee will be empowered to resolve all matters related to the AAF’s remaining assets and liabilities, including ongoing matters related to player contracts,” the league said in a statement. The AAF abruptly halted operations earlier this month, leaving a messy trail of financial turmoil after an eight-game season.

Injury Notes: Elflein, DeCastro, Mosley

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said today that starting center Pat Elflein will be returning to the field “pretty soon.” However, the coach wasn’t able to give a definite return date, which probably indicates that the offensive lineman won’t be ready for this weekend’s matchup against the Packers.

“It’s way too early,” Zimmer said (via Chris Tomasson of TwinCities.com). “I’m not going to make any determinations like that yet.”

The offensive lineman missed the preseason and the first week of the season as he recovered from shoulder and ankle ailments, but he’s still found ways to contribute to the team. As Tomasson writes, the second-year pro has been tutoring replacement Brett Jones, who was acquired from the Giants in late August.

“Pat’s been a lot of help so far, and it’s been good,” Jones said. “We’re trying to get on the same page with me being new, and he’s made the transition easier. He’s played lots of these defenses, just being in the (NFC North), so he can help me out with what to expect.”

Let’s take a look at some more injury notes from around the NFL…

  • Steelers All-Pro guard David DeCastro fractured his hand during last weekend’s game, and he acknowledged that the injury was worse than he initially thought. The offensive lineman has sat out the past few days of practice, and he’s set to be fitted for a brace. While he may have to wait another few days for swelling to go down, DeCastro indicated that it wouldn’t be missed practice time that forces him to miss a game. “I’m old enough now,” he told Joe Rutter of TribLive.com. “We’ll see how the swelling goes.” The 28-year-old has only missed a single regular season game over the past three seasons, and he’s earned three Pro Bowl nods during that span.
  • C.J. Mosley was carted off the field during the Ravens‘ game against the Bengals tonight, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that the linebacker is being evaluated for a knee injury (Mosley has since been diagnosed with a bone bruise). His absence was felt right away; after forcing a three-and-out on Cincy’s first drive, the Ravens defense allowed touchdowns on the next three series. Much of this could be attributed to Baltimore’s lack of depth and experience at middle linebacker, as the team is only rostering Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, and Bam Bradley (currently on the PUP) behind Mosley.
  • Leonard Fournette is feeling better, but the Jaguars running back said it will be a “game time decision” on whether he’ll play this weekend against the Patriots.

Vikings Trim Roster To 53

The Vikings have announced all of their cuts, getting their roster down to 53. Here are the moves:

Waived:

Placed on Reserve/Retired:

Placed on Reserve/Suspended:

Activated from Physically Unable to Perform:

Vikings’ Pat Elflein To Miss Week 1

Shelved on the Vikings’ PUP list throughout training camp and during the preseason slate, Pat Elflein will make his way back to practice on Sunday, Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

However, Minnesota will not have its starting center back in Week 1. He’s spent the offseason recovering from shoulder and ankle injuries and will not be ready by the time the Vikings play the 49ers next week, Tomasson adds.

Although the Vikings traded for former Giants starter Brett Jones, Tomasson points to Cornelius Edison being Minnesota’s Week 1 center. The Vikes are already without guard starter Nick Easton, who is out for the season.

It’s unknown if Elflein will be back for Week 2, but his return to practice suggests that will be in play.

Injury Notes: Ravens, Vernon, Elflein, Jets

The Ravens were expecting big things from defensive tackle Willie Henry this season, but they may have to wait a few weeks to see him contribute. Head coach John Harbaugh said on Saturday that the 24-year-old recently underwent surgery to repair an umbilical hernia.

“It’s not football related, but maybe had been there and just kind of opened up on him a little bit. He had surgery for that, so he’ll be a few weeks,” Harbaugh said (via Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com).

After sitting out his entire rookie campaign, the 2016 fourth-round pick showed some promise in 2017 after sitting out his entire rookie campaign. In 14 games (three starts), Henry compiled 33 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and five passes defended. With Henry out of the starting lineup, the Ravens will likely turn to Chris Wormley or rookie Zach Sieler.

Henry won’t be the only Ravens player forced out of the lineup. Harbaugh also said tight end Hayden Hurst recently had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot, and recovery could take three to four weeks.

Let’s check out some more injury updates from around the NFL…

  • Olivier Vernon was carted off the Giants practice field today after suffering a left ankle injury. However, it sounds like the talented outside linebacker will be alright, as ESPN’s Josina Anderson reports (via Twitter) that Vernon’s x-rays came back negative. If the 27-year-old is forced to miss any time, it’d be a big loss for the Giants. The linebacker has compiled 15 sacks in two seasons with the team, including a 2017 campaign when he collected 37 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 12 games.
  • Vikings center Pat Elflein is currently dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries, but head coach Mike Zimmer recently said that the lineman wouldn’t begin the season on the PUP list. However, that might not end up being the case. Chris Tomasson of St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets that the organization is set to get a medical update on Elflein tomorrow. According to the reporter, the team now isn’t expecting the lineman to be ready for the start of the regular season. The center started all 14 games as a rookie last season. The Vikings recently traded for Brett Jones for some reinforcement at the position.
  • Jets running back Elijah McGuire won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, tweets Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. Head coach Todd Bowles acknowledged that the team is considering placing the 24-year-old on the short-term injured reserve to start the year. McGuire looked solid during his rookie season, compiling 315 rushing yards and one touchdown on 88 carries (he also hauled in 17 catches for 177 yards and one score). The running back’s injury may allow the team to hold onto another player at the position behind Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, and Thomas Rawls.

Vikings Acquire C Brett Jones From Giants

The Giants have traded center Brett Jones to the Vikings in exchange for a 2019 draft pick, New York announced. New York will acquire a 2019 seventh-round choice, tweets Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.

Minnesota is in desperate need of help on the interior of its offensive line, as projected starting guard Nick Easton is already done for the season after undergoing neck surgery, while center Pat Elflein has been on the physically unable to perform list for the duration of training camp. Elflein is dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer says Elflein won’t begin the regular season on the PUP list, according to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

A former undrafted free agent, Jones started 13 games in place of the injured Weston Richburg a season ago. Jones, who joined the Giants in 2015 after spending time in the Canadian Football League, graded as the NFL’s No. 18 center among 37 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus. However, the 26-year-old was expected to lose New York’s starting center job to Jon Halapio, making him expendable in the Giants’ view.

The Giants re-signed Jones this offseason on a one-year, $2.941MM second-round restricted free agent tender, and the Vikings will now assume the entirety of that contract. At last check, New York possessed only ~$1.5MM in cap space, so moving Jones and his salary off its books will give the club a little financial breathing room.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.