Despite the Land of 10,000 Lakes losing the second-winningest NBA franchise to a place with roughly as many lakes as Lakers in uniform, Minnesota has managed to become a mini-Mecca of American sports entertainment. In the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., you can see the Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints play professional baseball, watch one of the best women’s professional basketball teams, see one of the best American football teams and catch the Loons playing Major League Soccer—all in a three-day weekend. The same cannot be said for a much larger and more diverse market in Miami, and their respective histories of stadium funding and construction might have everything to do with it.

Minnesota’s Mini-Mecca of American Sports Entertainment

In April of 2018, Minnesota had four professional sports teams in action for the first time ever, two of which were in the playoffs. The “Minneapolis Miracle” at U.S. Bank Stadium on Jan. 14 served as a coming out party for Minnesota sports on the national stage. Relative to the “big four” sports leagues, the Minnesota Lynx quietly collected Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) championships in four of the past eight years. Despite it being the top league of its kind in the world, a dynastic WNBA team hardly nudged the needle gauging national interest.

However, adding a team from MLS, widely considered the fifth-best soccer league in the world, was such a good idea Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf got written permission to pursue the opportunity when seeking approval for construction of U.S. Bank Stadium. The bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature in May 2012 included a clause allowing the Wilf’s to pursue an MLS franchise to play in their new stadium for up to five years. That’s not how it went down, but the Minnesota United Football Club (MNUFC) group fast-tracked its way to an MLS franchise regardless, while a larger, more soccer-friendly population in Miami is still waiting.

The addition of MNUFC makes the Twin Cities one of just 10 markets with franchises in all five of the major, American, professional sports leagues—the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and MLS. Minneapolis-St. Paul is just the sixth market featuring teams in each of the five major, American, professional sports leagues while also supporting a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) franchise.

You might be wondering how the roughly 3.5 million residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and the modest reach of its 15th-ranked media market manage to support seven professional sports teams including the independent league St. Paul Saints baseball team. But what makes it possible now has a lot to do with what’s happened in the past.

When the roof of the Metrodome collapsed for a fifth time in 2010, its deflation left Minnesotans deflated. The amount of air Minnesotans collectively sighed over the thought of paying for another stadium would have raised the roof of the Metrodome. The residents and visitors of Hennepin County had just contributed $350 million, or 63 percent of the funding for Target Field’s construction through a county-wide, 0.15-percent sales tax hike. The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Wilfs, but at least the Twins didn’t give Twin Cities’ residents a reason to resist stadium construction like Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria did in Miami.

Jeffrey Loria’s Wake is Drowning Miami’s MLS Hopes

Miami, a city with almost twice the population as the Twin Cities and a diverse population prime for MLS action, has a worse media market ranking than Minneapolis-St. Paul (16th-ranked). But the proximity of sports media competitors in Tampa-St. Petersburg (13th-ranked) and Orlando (18th-ranked) isn’t the reason for the struggles of David Beckham’s MLS investment group in Miami.

Like the Metrodome, the Marlins former home was an all-purpose stadium not meant for baseball. And like Target Field, Marlins Park had support of Miamians—as long as they didn’t have to pay for it. Despite both of these teams being guilty of fielding uncompetitive rosters for years, they both had two, relatively recent World Series Championships to ease the pain somewhat. The Marlins’ 2003 championship spurred the City of Miami to propose the construction of a baseball-only stadium next to the Miami Orange Bowl.

Miami-Dade County was more forthcoming with funding than the City of Miami, proposing a $420-plus million stadium at the Orange Bowl location. But the State of Florida and City of Miami resisted, sparking rumors of the Marlins relocating just as Loria’s last team, the Montreal Expos, did prior to Loria receiving (he didn’t put a dime down) ownership of the Marlins from then-commissioner Bud Selig to replace Loria’s failed business. This didn’t help soothe the anxiety of fans who saw their championship roster disappear over the course of two very bad seasons.

On Feb. 21, 2008, MLB COO Bob DuPuy threatened that if a decision wasn’t made with regards to funding a stadium for the Marlins that very night, it would be “the death knell for baseball in Miami.” Hours later funding was approved by the City of Miami and the County Commissioners for a $525 million home for the Marlins. The plan called for Miami-Dade County residents to flip just $50 million of the bill, with $297 million coming from tourist taxes. The City of Miami would incur $127 million in stadium-related costs.

The finalized deal, however, was for a $634-million stadium, 80 percent of which would be publicly funded. With interest compounding over 40 years, the actual cost to the county to repay the $409 million in bonds would be roughly $2.4 billion. The combined expenses incurred by the city and county for the construction of Marlins Park total $2.61 billion through 2049. Loria just sold the team for $1.2 billion, claiming a loss of $141 million, which would not only allow him to avoid paying the five percent of the sale's proceeds to the public that was agreed upon, but entitle him to the $50 million held in escrow for the city and county.

https://twitter.com/SuttaCBSMiami/status/959488388155035648

Like Loria’s Expos, the Twins were an alleged target for contraction for low revenue generation and the inability to get a new stadium built. But Govornor Jesse Ventura and the Minnesota Legislature did manage to agree on a ballpark funding proposal, and the Twins played the 2003 season and six more in the Metrodome. Target Field construction didn’t begin until May 2007, but Hennepin County taxpayers hardly noticed the 0.15 sales tax increase and probably thought it was worth it upon seeing the completed structure. It showed in the sixth-ranked attendance during Target Field’s inaugural season.

The same cannot be said for Marlins Park, where despite its shiny new digs and dancing marlin statue, the Marlins christened their new ballpark by finishing 18th in attendance.

When it comes to the Wilfs building the best stadium experience in sports, they have the Pohlads and Target Field to thank. Had the Twins saddled the county with billion-dollar debts or built a lemon, U.S. Bank Stadium might have been built for the Las Vegas Vikings. The environment the Pohlads left the Wilfs was as squeaky clean and inviting as the windows that had to be replaced on U.S. Bank Stadium because birds kept flying into them.

The Wilfs didn’t build U.S. Bank Stadium quite as clean and easy as the Pohlads did Target Field. Through infrastructure expenditures and other stadium-related spending, both the state and city have exceeded their respective $348-million and $150-million contribution limits that are called for in the state law governing the stadium deal. Also, Minnesota House Republicans want to spend $26 million in the stadium’s reserve fund, reserved in case the state is unable to pay its share of the stadium debt, to build veterans homes. But the Wilfs didn’t leave a wake like Loria’s.

While Beckham and his investors must now convince Miami voters to let them build a billion-dollar MLS soccer and commercial complex before the midterm elections despite it costing taxpayers nothing, MNUFC will move into its new, privately-funded stadium in St. Paul next season, it's third in MLS. Again, Loria’s wake has altered all boats in its path, regardless of the boat’s size or the size of its passengers’ pocketbooks.

MNUFC’s Allianz Field cost just $190 million, so not only did the MNUFC ownership group bring MLS to Minnesota swiftly but thriftly. The MNUFC group didn’t even have to put out any golf cart fires.

In December 2013, Miami-Dade County commissioners voted unanimously to allow Mayor Carlos A. Giménez to negotiate with David Beckham’s group of investors looking to bring MLS to Miami. Almost five years later, the hopes and dreams of David Beckham’s Miami MLS investment group are in the hands of understandably skeptical Miami voters, and they have to spend $35 million to clean up toxic soil and another $25 million to the city for park and walkway projects.

People don't easily forget when they've been swindled by billionaire owners of sports teams to pay for the construction of stadiums. Just ask anyone living in Cincinnati. They were swindled twice, and Miamians aren't going to let that happen. Beckham's group might be promising a privately-funded stadium, but everything, from taxes to fast food, gets more expensive when there's a new stadium to fill.

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Solving Football's Place-kicking Problem

I, thankfully, didn’t watch all of the Week 2 matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers on Sunday. That’s the case more and more these days, when in the past I’d hardly miss a second of a Vikings game. Rookie kicker Daniel Carlson, who the Vikings selected in the fifth round of the draft five months prior to waiving him Monday, missed three field goals to waste a valiant, 13-point comeback led by new quarterback Kirk Cousins in Green Bay. I stopped watching after the first two series of the second half with the Vikings down 20–7, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision given the resulting tie.

The Problem with Place-kicking in Football

It bothers me that games featuring more than 100 athletes too big to be able to run as fast as they do repeatedly colliding into each other to obtain property like they’re at war are often decided by the least athletic of the 53 players on National Football League (NFL) rosters. NFL kickers are like generals sitting a comfortable distance from enemy lines sipping on Gatorade awaiting a request for an air strike from their foot soldiers taking heavy fire only to bomb their own troops on occasion.

Last season, 22.5 percent of all NFL games (including the postseason) were either decided by three or fewer points or featured scoring exclusively by kickers. Almost a quarter of regular season games played in 2016 were decided by three or fewer points. Between 2003 and 2015, 27.9 percent of games were decided by three or fewer points. As of this writing, 25 percent of 2018 NFL games have been decided by a field goal or less, and the average margin of victory in the NFL continues to fall. Whether it’s one in five or one in four games decided by kickers, one game decided by the least athletic player and the player seeing the least playing time is one game too many.

There were more field goals attempted and made last season than in any other time in the history of professional football, according to Pro Football Reference. The result was 3,664 points scored by kickers in 2017, or almost an even third (32.96 percent) of all NFL scoring. That’s an increase in kicker-exclusive scoring of 5.65 percent over the last 50 years.

Kickers have been ruining the game of football at all levels, especially youth levels, since the game’s inception. Finding someone who could kick and punt the ball were always the hardest positions to fill on our youth teams, and while kickers have gotten better over the years according to FiveThirtyEight, the problem of kickers over-influencing outcomes and under-entertaining fans has worsened with the implementation of longer point-after attempts and uneventful kickoffs.

Instead of stand-still kickoffs that were implemented this year, punters should simply punt the ball as they would on a free kick after a safety. Their teammates wouldn’t get a running start to protect players’ health, but free kicks would result in fewer touchbacks and a higher potential for kick return touchdowns — once the most exciting play in the sport now all but extinct. Most importantly, though, free kicks would make place-kickers entirely unnecessary.

My research found kickers were the exclusive scorers in six NFL games last year, and the touchdown-to-field-goal ratio has declined by almost an entire touchdown per successful field goal since 1975. While these ridiculous roughing-the-passer penalties will assuredly increase the touchdown-to-field-goal ratio, achieving the all-time high of 2.5 touchdowns scored per successful field goal converted is not probable unless kickers are removed from the game.

Solving Football’s Place-Kicking Problem

The more fourth-down plays there are in games, the more intriguing those games will be. Games’ outcomes need to swing on one play every series instead of one play every half. Football is not providing enough moments of perceived momentum shifting from one team to the other. Without place-kicking, fans would be on the edge of their seats more often, as the Dan Bailey bailout would be unavailable to the Vikings or anyone else, forcing coaches to utilize more forward passes — the play that saved American football from extinction and made it the behemoth it is today. There would also be fewer breaks in the action for commercials, but what’s the best option for solving football’s place-kicking problem?

Removing place-kickers from the game doesn’t necessarily mean field goals have to go away. While I think goal posts unnecessarily obstruct the views of fans, we don’t have to tear them down (although it’d be cool if they were moved behind the fans so they could go home with souvenir footballs). They are a symbol of the sport after all, and what would college students do on Saturdays after a big win if they couldn’t tear down the goalposts? They’d probably be at higher risk for alcohol poisoning if they didn’t exert that effort.

If the NFL wanted to continue employing place-kickers and make games more exciting, it could simply make field goals worth two points instead of three. How a field goal is worth more than a safety is disrespectful to defenses everywhere, even though your offense gets the ball back after the defense scores a safety. While kicking was highly emphasized when the game was conceived, the field goal’s point value decreased from five in 1883, to four in 1904 and three points in 1909, three years after what many believe to be the first legally completed forward pass.

After more than 100 years without a change to the field goal’s point value, I’d say we’re long overdue. But lowering the point value of a field goal does not affect the risk in attempting a field goal, which is the actual problem. Kicking is a bailout in football. Both punts and field goal attempts bail out an offense incapable of scoring touchdowns. I’ve got no problem with punters. I’ve seen punters make plays, but I’d prefer to watch the NFL’s place-kickers play soccer if they’re capable of running and kicking a moving ball. Removing place-kickers from football would enhance the intrigue of games by forcing coaches to be more creative and take more chances on both sides of the ball. That brings me to Rule 1 of football re-imagined without kickers.

“All teams must attempt a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown.”

That’s where games should be won and lost — in the trenches between lineman at the goal lines. The men risking the most should determine the outcomes of games, but field goals wouldn’t necessarily have to disappear. They could just be altered. The NFL simply needs to make the field goal attempt a less enticing option for coaches — make the bailout riskier.

I recommend the NFL adopt something like the drop goal in rugby, where a player can drop the ball on the ground and kick it through the uprights on any down. The quarterback could avoid a sack and dropkick the ball through the uprights on second down for three points. That might be a big enough change to eliminate field goals altogether, but punters would eventually get the hang of drop-kicking to make it a less riskier option. It’s not as though they have much else to do during practice.

To up the ante even further, the ball’s placement on the field should depend on how close you get to the goal line. The closer a team gets to scoring, the more difficult a drop goal attempt should become. That’s why I recommend the hash marks running down the middle of a football field get wider and wider as they get closer and closer to the goal line. This might even be enough to keep place-kicking in the sport while minimizing kickers’ control over games’ outcomes.

The new football field in a post-place-kicking NFL.

An American football field is 160 feet wide. NFL hash marks are 70 feet, nine inches from the sidelines. That’s where they’d remain between the 40-yard lines on each side of the field because 50-plus-yard field goals are hard enough. At the 39-yard line, however, the ball would be placed on the hash mark 69 feet, nine inches from the sideline closest to the completion of the previous play. At the 38, the ball would be spotted on the hash mark 68 feet, nine inches from the nearest sideline, and so on. At the one-yard line, the ball would be snapped 31 feet, nine inches from the sideline nearest the last completed play. This would result in some new, creative formations, more fourth down plays as well as some drop goals attempted from truly amazing angles. This would make “four-down territory” even larger, increasing excitement even if it results in less scoring.

Counteracting a Potential Decrease in Scoring

While we’re not eliminating a third of all scoring in football, points will be harder to come by in the game without kickers. A point-after attempt and two-point attempt have almost the exact same expected value, so forcing teams to go for two would result in almost the exact number of points as point-after attempts. But field goals alone accounted for 23.37 percent of points scored in 2017, and teams won’t be trading those field goals for drop goals or touchdowns at a 1:1 or even 1:2 ratio. That said, an effort should be made to counteract a potential decrease in scoring by providing more scoring opportunities.

Football and rugby are unique in that they offer multiple means of scoring points. You only score in baseball when you touch home plate. You only score in basketball when you put the ball through the hoop, and you only score in soccer and hockey by putting the ball or puck in the net. Scoring in football involves either kicking the ball through goal posts or taking it across a goal line (or downing it there in the case of a safety). But why stop at two means of scoring points? That brings me to Rule 2 of football re-imagined without kickers.

“Award one point for each sack or tackle for loss.”

Awarding one point for sacks and tackles for loss would almost replace every point scored by NFL kickers. Based on 2016 totals, there were 1,118 sacks and 2,218 tackles for loss, totalling 3,336 potential points. Kickers accounted for 3,669 points in 2016, and spreading those points around to players playing and sacrificing most makes for a more democratic game. And frankly, defensive players deserve to score more.

Defensive players seldom score, especially big defensive players. An offensive lineman can at least declare himself eligible and catch a touchdown pass. Defensive players have to either force a fumble, pick it up and run into the end zone, grab an interception and run into the end zone or tackle the ball carrier in their own end zone for a safety. And now that defensive players have to defy physics and somehow stop more than half of their body weight from falling on the quarterback during a sack, their team should at least get a point if it’s likely the sack will result in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down for the offense.

While this rule might result in more coaches challenging the spot of the ball, I’d rather watch a replay of a quarterback sack or tackle for loss to determine if the ball carrier reached the line of scrimmage than watch a kicker come on the field and make or miss a kick sandwiched between commercials. And the NFL is far past due for placing sensors on the ends of the football and on the players’ knees and elbows to determine the exact location of the ball when the ball carrier is down by contact. But that’s another Grandstand Central story for another day.

Imagine the Vikings just scored a touchdown to tie the Packers with no time left on the clock and only the two-point conversion left to be played. With this rule, either team could win or lose the game right there at the goal line. The Vikings could either convert the two-point attempt to win or take a sack or tackle for loss to give the Packers the win. Green Bay could also intercept the ball or recover a fumble and return it for two points as well. That’s a whole lot more exciting than bringing a kicker onto the field to attempt an extra point converted 94 percent of the time in 2017. It’s also more indicative of which is the better team.

Unless the NFL takes place-kicking out of the game, I’m boycotting the league upon the end of Cousins’s tenure with the Vikings or if the Vikings win the Super Bowl — whichever happens first. And I’m not just saying that because of the Vikings’ rich history of kicking woes in big games. They are the franchise who had a kicker who shall not be named go an entire season without missing a kick only to miss one that would have sent them to the Super Bowl. More recently, they had a kicker who shall also go unnamed miss a 27-yard field goal that would have extended their playoff run in 2016. I just can’t bring myself to pay attention to the game of football anymore. The kickers keep kicking my attention elsewhere.

Published in Sports

Had you been living under a rock the last month you’d still somehow know the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round was deep with quarterbacks. The fact five quarterbacks were taken in Thursday’s first round shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but, as always, there were surprises throughout the draft’s first round, starting with the very first pick.

The Best: The Cleveland Browns got their franchise quarterback, probably

Many “experts,” including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., predicted Cleveland would take quarterback Sam Darnold, but Baker Mayfield is the next potential savior of the Browns franchise. I don’t know if Mayfield is a franchise quarterback. I’m no expert, but even the experts can’t predict who will go where and how good they will be in the NFL. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson as the 25th best player on his big board in 2001 and promised in 2010 to retire if Jimmy Clausen wasn’t a successful NFL quarterback.

 

The Cleveland Browns struggling to draft the right quarterback since Vinny Testaverde went 16-15 over the 1994 and 1995 seasons shouldn’t be such a surprise. All teams miss more than they hit when it comes to drafting players at any position let alone the most important position. The Browns missed on quarterback Tim Couch with the first overall pick in 1999, but they did worse in the following draft, selecting pass rusher Courtney Brown with the first overall pick. He finished his career with 19 sacks.

The Browns managed to miss in this draft, too, albeit not as badly as they did 1999 or 2000. Baker Mayfield will be better than Tim Couch. I’m almost sure of that, but they might have passed on the best player on the board to fill an immediate need, which is almost always a mistake.

The Worst: The Cleveland Browns passed on the best player available

The Browns wasted little time in surprising everyone, as they seem to do annually, selecting Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick. Cornerback was an immediate need for Cleveland, but they could have traded down to draft Ward if they weren’t interested in the draft’s best pass rusher, Bradley Chubb. The next cornerback selected was Louisville’s Jaire Alexander at 18th overall by Green Bay, who moved up to get him.

The Browns probably had Ward atop their board and liked him enough to not risk losing him to the Broncos, who actually have a need at corner with Aqib Talib being traded to the Los Angeles Rams. But the Browns’ immediate needs, or any team’s immediate needs for that matter, shouldn’t influence how players are ranked, with quarterbacks being the obvious exception.

KFAN Radio’s Paul Allen made a valid point immediately after Cleveland’s selection of Ward had the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium gasping in shock during the annual Draft Party, Thursday night. Allen said Chubb could have addressed the Browns’ defensive secondary issues by forcing quarterbacks to get rid of the football faster, in turn, requiring less of defensive backs, who wouldn’t have to lock down receivers in coverage for as long. He’s right, but again, no franchise in all of sports is under more pressure to win than the Cleveland Browns, and new general manager John Dorsey has just four years (or less) to build the Browns into a winner. He’s plugged the two biggest holes thus far. The last quarterback to win a game for the Browns on a Sunday was Johnny Manziel, and Cleveland allowed a league-worst 68.6 completion percentage last season.

Ward will have an immediate impact for the Browns, but will forever be compared to Chubb. He can mitigate the frequency and relevance of those comparisons by helping the Browns win games. And with the additions of wide receiver Jarvis Landry, quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back Carlos Hyde, the Browns are going to win four or five games this season.

The Best: The Denver Broncos got an unexpected gift from the Browns

The Broncos didn’t have an immediate need for a pass rusher with the league’s second-best pass rusher according to Pro Football Focus in Vonn Miller. But John Elway did as every general manager should do when given a gift: accept it graciously and unwrap it hastily.

After the draft, Elway said “none” of their mock drafts had Chubb falling to fifth overall, so Elway ought to be elated. His team got a better player than expected, albeit at a position of depth, but Denver’s defense won’t require a cornerback of Ward’s caliber anymore. The average amount of time opposing quarterbacks will have to find an open receiver will be considerably less than it was against last year’s defense with Chubb and Miller rushing the passer, requiring less of the secondary in coverage downfield.

The Worst of the Worst: The Bills gave up way too much for a project quarterback

The Buffalo Bills give up way too much to move up and draft who “experts” saw as the least-prepared quarterback with the highest upside and biggest bust potential. And I’m not just talking about the twelfth overall pick and two second-round picks -- numbers 53 and 56 -- Buffalo sent to Tampa Bay to move up five spots and select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen eighth overall. The trade was lopsided in Tampa’s favor, but the Bills’ buffoonery leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round is even more disturbing.

Seth Walder with ESPN Analytics reports that according to ESPN's draft pick calculator, the picks Tampa Bay received from the Bills carry an expected Approximate Value (AV) of 12.2, while the picks the Bills received were only worth 7.3 AV. He does add that the calculation is made independent of players’ positions, and since quarterbacks have a higher upside than other positions, “it is probably more justifiable to trade up in this situation if the target is a QB.”

The lopsidedness of the Bills/Bucs trade pales in comparison to, say, the San Diego Chargers trading two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and two players, one of whom was Eric Metcalf, to move up one spot in the 1998 draft. Everyone remembers the storyline the sports media used to sell that year’s draft as dramatic television -- and it was indeed dramatic. Would it be Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf going first overall?

The “experts” said both quarterbacks would be successful in the NFL. President of the Indianapolis Colts at the time, Bill Polian, still sweats when asked about that draft. Had he picked Leaf, he wouldn’t likely have a job as an ESPN analyst and would be remembered for building teams that failed to win the big one. His Buffalo Bills lost four consecutive Super Bowls, and his Carolina Panthers -- in just their second season, however -- lost the 1996 NFC Championship Game. Manning is why Polian remains employed and relevant, and why I had no idea who Bobby Beathard was until just now.

Beathard was the Chargers’ general manager at the time. Unlike Polian, though, Beathard had already constructed a championship team in Washington, where he won two of his four Super Bowls. Despite giving the Arizona Cardinals so much to move up one spot in the draft, Beathard’s sterling reputation must have mitigated criticism from San Diego sports columnists and NFL analysts because I struggled to find any criticism of the trade after Beathard made it. There had to be someone out there who knew the Chargers had given the Cardinals too much even if the “experts” were right about both Manning and Leaf, but I couldn’t find them on the Internet. Nothing short of a Hall of Fame career and a San Diego Super Bowl win would justify trading five players who would all end up logging at least some time in the NFL to move up a single spot in the draft.

But the Chargers and their fans were desperate for a franchise quarterback they knew they wouldn’t get with their third overall pick. The experts were right about that. There weren’t any Tom Bradys hidden in the 1998 NFL Draft. Matt Hasselbeck was the third-best quarterback drafted and was the second-to-last quarterback selected, going to Green Bay as the 187th overall pick in the second-to-last round.

The one Sports Illustrated column I did find that was critical of Beathard was because prior to the 1998 season, he traded San Diego’s “only proven receiver, Tony Martin, to the Falcons for a second-round draft choice in 1999.” SI’s Michael Silver wasn’t concerned with the two first-round picks, second-round pick, and two players Beathard traded to draft Leaf, nor was he concerned with the Chargers being unable to surround Leaf with help because of all the draft picks Beathard traded away. He wasn’t concerned with Leaf’s athletic ability or even his mental state while transitioning from a small town life and a quaint college in Pullman, Wash. to the life of a millionaire, NFL star quarterback in sunny and seductive Southern California at the age of 22. Silver was concerned that the Chargers’ new franchise quarterback wouldn’t have any open receivers to whom he could throw the football. Silver, like everyone else, was assuming Manning and Leaf were equals because that’s what the “experts” kept saying. The Bills are guilty of applying this same groupthink to the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round.

The Bills believed the first round of this draft would be deep with franchise quarterbacks or they wouldn’t have traded the quarterback who led them to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Before the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft even started, the Bills had blown it like Beathard did. They subscribed to the “expert” opinion that the 2018 NFL Draft would be a quarterback draft. They adopted that doctrine, and proved their devotion to that dogma by trading the aforementioned Tyrod Taylor, who only threw for nearly 2,800 yards, ran for another 427 yards, including four rushing touchdowns, and finished with 14 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. All the Bills managed to get for the leader of their playoff team was the 65th pick in this year’s draft -- which they also traded.

The Bills enter the 2018 season with former Cincinnati backup quarterback AJ McCarron expected to start. He’s signed for two years, which gives Allen the time he needs to hone his skills. But is a backup quarterback getting his first opportunity to be the regular starter the best mentor for a project quarterback like Allen? Who knows? Certainly not the “experts.”

All I know is if I were a Bills fan I’d be livid. Buffalo should be building on its 2017 success by using this draft to give Taylor the weapons he needs to make the Bills a contender. He finally got the pass protection that the Bills lacked during Taylor’s early years. The offensive line improved from 11th in 2016 to seventh in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus.

Taylor might have gotten out of Buffalo just in time, though. Four Bills’ offensive linemen will be free agents at the end of this season, according to Sportrac. So not only did Buffalo jettison a quarterback they painstakingly groomed into a capable, playoff-caliber quarterback for a third-round draft pick, but they drafted an even younger, more inexperienced quarterback who, like Taylor in his early years, won’t have the luxury of pass protection. But Allen doesn’t have Taylor’s running ability to avoid hits and extend plays, either.

The Bills were the absolute worst before and during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. They’ve consciously decided to go from their first playoff berth in almost 20 years to grooming a quarterback prospect mentored by a man getting his first opportunity to be a starting quarterback in the league. Sorry, Bills fans. It’s going to be a few more years of pain and suffering with nothing but hope to stave off disappointment.

The Best: The Arizona Cardinals got the quarterback they need

The Cardinals have a good quarterback in Sam Bradford. He’s accurate, has a great arm and will pick defenses apart when given time in the pocket. But he might be the slowest starting quarterback in the game, which doesn’t bode well for him or the Cardinals given his injury history. Bradford will miss games, and Mike Glennon won’t inspire much of anything in his absence. Enter Josh Rosen.

Rosen is ready to start in the NFL and the “experts” say he’s the best pocket passer in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’ll have a great mentor in Bradford, who is almost strictly a pocket passer. Unless Bradford stays upright all season and plays to his potential, Rosen will start for the Cardinals at some point this season. He’s got the competitive mentality to thrive as an NFL starting quarterback, but some “experts” say his mouth will get him into trouble and might be why he wasn’t the first quarterback drafted. I wish all quarterbacks were as outspoken and confident as Rosen. He sounds like a human being instead of an NFL android. After the draft’s first round, he said, “There were nine mistakes made ahead of me, and I will make sure over the next decade or so that they know they made a mistake.” Randy Moss said something like that upon being drafted, and he followed through. I think Rosen will do the same.

Again, I’m no expert, but I only needed to see one highlight of Randy Moss against the University of Montana to know he was the best non-quarterback in the 1998 NFL Draft, which included the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy, Charles Woodson. Moss leaped over a Montana defender, which was against NCAA rules at the time but not called. I imagine the officials were too awestruck to remember the rule. The best part wasn’t how much clearance he had over the defender, but despite his momentum being slowed while floating through the air, he was at top speed in two steps, pulling away from everyone in pursuit. I’d never seen anything like him and knew he would be a star if he could stay out of trouble. I remember analysts predicting Moss would fall in the draft due to off-field concerns, of which I was aware. In fact, I hoped teams passed on him so he fell to my Vikings.

I was shocked 19 NFL teams passed on Moss. Cincinnati did so twice in favor of Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons. General managers were afraid Moss wouldn’t be able to stay on the field let alone out of prison, which allowed the Minnesota Vikings to give me what remains to this day as my most joyous occasion associated with my Minnesota Vikings fandom. Stefon Diggs’s “Minnesota Miracle” catch to win the 2018 NFC Divisional Playoff Game over New Orleans didn’t even come close to matching the emotions that came over me the moment Randy Moss was drafted 21st overall on Apr. 18, 1998. I ran through my house screaming with joy as tears ran down my face. Sadly, it’s the happiest and proudest the Vikings have ever made me.  

Moss didn’t wait long to make me and the Vikings look like geniuses. He just had the best rookie season ever by a wide receiver, catching deep bombs from 35-year-old Randall Cunningham, who set career highs in net yards per pass attempt, touchdown percentage and quarterback rating. In fact, it was the only season Cunningham recorded a quarterback rating over 100.

Moss is the best wide receiver of all time, according to the statistical gurus at FiveThirtyEight, because he made his quarterbacks better than any other receiver in history. Moss remains the sole Hall of Famer from the 1998 NFL Draft class. Manning will be eligible for induction in 2021. I didn’t see anyone in the 2018 NFL Draft who screamed Hall of Famer like Moss did in 1998, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there.

The Best of the Best: The Baltimore Ravens traded down for value, up for the best quarterback

Heisman Trophy winners were selected at the top and bottom of the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round, and if my franchise needed a quarterback, I would have selected the quarterback taken last in the first round over the first quarterback selected.

I would have traded down to draft Lamar Jackson after Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen came off the board. In fact, just before my franchise was on the clock with the 30th pick and Kirk Cousins entrenched at quarterback for the next three years, I publicly hoped Jackson would fall to the Vikings and they would select him. I think he’s a better version of Teddy Bridgewater, and I enjoy watching quarterbacks who can extend plays with their legs.

NFL scouts and general managers don’t like their quarterbacks to be athletes, however. It’s too dangerous outside the pocket, which is probably why Jackson fell all the way to the bottom of the first round -- just like fellow Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did in 2014. Bridgewater entered his pro day considered by many as the top quarterback available in the draft, but his pro day was a disaster because he decided to do something he never had -- throw without wearing gloves.

While the decision cost Bridgewater in the draft, it worked out pretty well for the Vikings despite the career-threatening injury that resulted in the Vikings losing Bridgewater for almost two full seasons. Minnesota still got a competent starting quarterback who played at an All-Pro level and led his team to the playoffs in just his second NFL season. Despite the injury, Bridgewater ended up being a steal in more than one way.

With Bridgewater dropping on “experts” draft boards because of a hilariously small sample size of errant passes for which there was a reasonable explanation, the Vikings didn’t have to trade up for Bridgewater. They didn’t even have to use their first first-round pick. Instead, Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman waited for every other team to reach for a quarterback in another draft “experts” called deep with franchise quarterback potential.

Spielman let Jacksonville make the mistake of drafting Blake Bortles third overall. He let the Browns do their thing and trade up for Johnny Manziel at 22nd overall. But when Bridgewater was still on the board as Seattle was on the clock with the last pick in the first round, Spielman pounced, sending the Vikings’ 40th and 108th overall picks to the Seahawks to select Bridgewater, knowing that drafting Bridgewater in the first round instead of the second would allow the Vikings to retain Bridgewater on a rookie contract for five years instead of four.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome must have taken notes on Spielman’s moves in 2014, because he made almost the same exact draft day trade as Spielman for yet another Louisville quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round. Newsome was even more creative than Spielman was in the first round, though, culminating in Newsome’s best work in his final NFL Draft with Baltimore.

Instead of the Ravens using their first-round pick like the Vikings did selecting linebacker Anthony Barr ninth overall in 2014, Baltimore traded down twice. The Vikings had an immediate need at linebacker, however. The Ravens immediate needs entering the draft’s first round were wide receiver, quarterback and tight end. Four of the five quarterbacks “experts” considered to have franchise potential were already off the board, and the top wide receivers and tight ends weren’t expected to be drafted until around pick 20. So the Ravens didn’t necessarily need to make a selection with their 16th overall pick.

As if on cue, Buffalo came calling with another one of their generous trade proposals to move up and snag the 12th overall draft prospect according to “experts.” Baltimore got Buffalo’s 22nd and 65th overall picks for its 16th and 154th overall picks, turning its pick in the middle of the fifth round into a pick at the top of the third round, where an immediate contributor can still be drafted.

The Ravens weren’t done turning their willingness to wait into valuable draft picks. When they were on the clock at 22, there still hadn’t been a wide receiver drafted. So Newsome flipped that pick and their 215th overall pick in the sixth round for Tennessee’s 25th overall pick and the 125th pick in the fourth round. Newsome turned Baltimore’s late sixth-round pick into a selection in the heart of the fourth round -- just for the willingness to drop three spots in the draft.

Newsome and the Ravens were rewarded for their patience. By the time Baltimore finally made a selection, the top-ranked wide receiver, tight end and fifth-ranked quarterback were still available. D.J. Moore, the second-ranked wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft, was selected by Carolina just before Baltimore’s pick at 25, so the Ravens took the top tight end in the draft, Hayden Hurst. Hurst can stretch the middle of the field for Flacco and the Ravens, whose current tight end is more of a blocking specialist than route runner or receiver. Hurst isn’t going to be a game changer, but he’ll have an immediate impact.

Hurst isn’t the Ravens’ pick that’s getting all the attention, but it should be. The value Newsome got in return for trading down to draft Hurst is shocking. For the willingness to wait and drop nine spots in the NFL Draft’s first round, the Ravens were rewarded a pick atop the third round and another in the fourth round, all while sacrificing draft picks that seldom provide value to NFL teams.

According to Kevin Meers of The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, the 65th overall pick the Ravens got from Buffalo is more than twice as valuable as the 154th overall pick they sent in return -- an increase in value of nearly 108 percent. The 125th pick Baltimore plucked from Tennessee is 1.8 times more valuable than the 215th pick they sent back to the Titans, or an 80-percent increase in value.

Newsome didn’t sacrifice much value by trading down, either. Baltimore’s 16th overall pick was only 1.17 times more valuable than the 25th overall pick -- a 15 percent sacrifice in value. So Newsome’s trades to move down the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round actually increased the overall value of the Ravens’ draft picks by 173 percent.

Newsome thought he was done flipping picks on Day 1 of the draft until the final selection of the first round put Philadelphia on the clock with Jackson still available. Like Spielman, Newsome knew drafting Jackson in the first round would allow the Ravens to retain Jackson on a rookie contract for five years instead of four. So he sent Baltimore’s 52nd and 125th overall picks to Philadelphia for the 32nd and 132nd overall picks.

Newsome might have gotten an even better deal trading up for Jackson than the Vikings got trading up for Bridgewater, and I think they got a better quarterback, too. But the real beauty in Newsome’s work during the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round is all the value he created for Baltimore in the draft’s middle rounds by trading down in the first round to where he expected the players he desired would start coming off the board.

The Vikings’ Spielman made similar moves in the middle rounds of last year’s draft, scoring a starting center in the third round, and another rookie contributor in the fourth round. That’s why I called him the funnest general manager to watch on draft day. So far, Newsome has the Ravens setup for similar success, with a pick in round two and two picks in both the third and fourth rounds. In his final NFL Draft, Newsome has employed his experience and patience to leave a lasting legacy and a competitive Ravens roster for his replacement.


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Why the Vikings should sign Kirk Cousins

The only quarterback the Minnesota Vikings have under contract is 24-year-old Kyle Sloter out of Northern Colorado. Case Keenum is a free agent. Sam Bradford is a free agent. Teddy Bridgewater is a free agent. And Kirk Cousins is a free agent. Here’s the case for the Vikings to sign Kirk Cousins.

1) Cousins is better than Keenum

The numbers from this season aren’t on Cousins’ side, but he is the better quarterback. Keenum had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio this season (3.14 to 2.07). Keenum completed more of his passes (67.6 to 64.3 percent), and while Cousins threw for more yards starting two more games (4,093 to 3,547), he took almost twice as many sacks behind an injury-plagued offensive line, leading the league with 342 yards lost due to sacks. That wouldn’t happen behind the offensive line of the Vikings, if healthy. Similarly, Keenum wouldn’t be the same behind the offensive line of say, Arizona.

While Keenum excelled more than any other quarterback against the blitz this season, his decision-making deficiencies were on display in the playoffs. Cian Fahey of Pre-snap Reads wrote about this. Keenum had a fantastic regular season, but fell apart in the biggest game of the year and turned the ball over in both playoff games. Even his walk-off, touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to lift the Vikings over the New Orleans Saints was the result of his inaccuracy. That pass was supposed to be on the sideline so Diggs could get out of bounds, and Saints’ safety Marcus Williams defended the play assuming Keenum threw an accurate ball. Sure, he should have played the ball instead of going for a game-ending tackle, but the Vikings went on to the NFC Championship Game thanks to their own quarterback’s mistake.

Cousins’ 94 total touchdowns to 47 turnovers is sixth amongst all quarterbacks over the past three seasons. His yards-per-play average over those same three seasons is fourth overall, and he’s fourth in total yardage. Cousins knows what to do with the football in dire situations. He knows taking a sack is better than throwing an interception. Keenum displayed that he didn’t realize that in both playoff games, throwing an ill-advised pass into double coverage when hurried against the Saints that was picked off by the same young safety who blew the tackle of Diggs on the play that decided the game.

When brushed by Philadelphia’s Chris Long up 7-0, he threw this pick-six instead of holding the ball and taking a sack on 3rd-and-8.

2) Keenum will be overvalued

Keenum’s big-game mistakes aren’t the only reason the Vikings shouldn’t retain him. The reason they shouldn’t retain him is the market for quarterbacks. There are at least five teams who would love Keenum’s services: the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets, the Arizona Cardinals, the Buffalo Bills and the Denver Broncos.

According to Sportrac, the Browns have more than $110 million in salary cap space for 2018, but ESPN’s Todd McShay has them taking USC quarterback Sam Darnold at number one overall in the NFL Draft.

The Jets have more than $79 million to spend, and are the most likely suitor for Cousins. They are paying less than $3 million to the three quarterbacks on their roster (27th in the league), and neither Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg is the answer at quarterback for the Jets. But McShay also has the Jets drafting a quarterback -- Wyoming’s Josh Allen -- at number six overall.

The Cardinals are in the same boat as the Vikings. They have no one captaining their ship. They also have only $23 million to offer a quarterback in free agency. That’s more than half as much as the Vikings have in cap space, and won’t be enough to land Cousins, but could be enough to sign Keenum.

Buffalo and Denver are working with over $29 million and $26 million, respectively, which makes a Cousins signing improbable. The Vikings are the logical landing spot, and Cousins has said the Vikings are at the top of his list.

3) Bradford won’t stay healthy

Sam Bradford is a fine quarterback when he’s available and well-protected. But he hasn’t played a full season since 2012, has two bum knees and is an injury waiting to happen. Despite all that, Bradford will be overpaid by some team desperate for a competent quarterback. But you can’t just put him behind any offensive line. Bradford needs protection similar to that provided by the Vikings much of the year, and even that wasn’t good enough to keep him upright.

4) Bridgewater will be undervalued

The Vikings could sign Kirk Cousins and retain Teddy Bridgewater at a reasonable rate. Bridgewater threw the ball once this season for an interception after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury. No team knows Bridgewater’s body and readiness better than the Vikings, and teams will be sceptical, for good reason. But Bridgewater is beloved in Minnesota, and many would like to see him get an opportunity to return to his All-Pro form as the Vikings starter. Playing behind the veteran Cousins for a few years could be a good learning experience for Bridgewater, and he will inevitably get a chance to step in given how often quarterbacks are injured in the league (although, Cousins has started every game for the last three seasons).

Bridgewater is just 25, so even playing three seasons behind Cousins, who will be 30 in August, would have him in his theoretical prime. But Bridgewater is unlikely to settle for a backup role given the need for quarterbacks.

5) The Vikings are a quarterback away

The Vikings are a quarterback away from winning a Super Bowl, and Case Keenum is not that quarterback. Sure, Nick Foles did it, but he did it behind the best offensive line in football. Minnesota now has a competent offensive line, but it wasn’t the most healthy offensive line entering the playoffs, and Keenum didn’t change his game to accommodate the changes on said offensive line. He still played like a wild gunslinger even though he had even less time to throw the football, which resulted in more turnovers.

Sam Bradford could be that quarterback, but again, the Minnesota offensive line is good -- not great. Whoever quarterbacks the Vikings needs to be able to take some hits, of which Keenum is capable. He just doesn’t make great decisions in those moments. Kirk Cousins does.


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A local take on the Super Bowl

While I’ve only been a Minnesotan for about a year, the state has been my second home since I was a kid fishing the Land of 10,000 Lakes with my dad and uncles. I’m now a Minneapolis resident and homeowner. I drive home from work on South 11th Street to avoid the backed-up Interstate 94 West at least three times per week. I attend Minnesota Timberwolves games regularly and Minnesota Twins games even more regularly. So my take on the Super Bowl is this: I’m ready for it to end and never come back.

1) You don’t get to complain about the cold

If you have tickets to the big game, you probably have enough money to invest in warm outerwear. If you refuse to do so, you still don’t have to subject yourself to the elements. I walked nearly a mile from the Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center on 2nd Ave South and South 12th Street to Target Center on 1st Avenue North and North 7th Street -- without going outside. The skyway system should allow you to get from just about any downtown hotel to U.S. Bank Stadium without going outside, so you don’t get to complain about the cold. You knew this game would be played in Minneapolis in the winter, so you had ample time to prepare. The Super Bowl doesn’t sneak up on anyone, except The Dan LeBatard Show.

2) Bicycling is the best way to get around Minneapolis

Whether you’re a local or not, you don’t want to be driving around downtown Minneapolis. Army National Guard members in armored Humvees are serving as extra traffic cops and some four-lane streets are cut down to just two lanes to account for increased pedestrian traffic. Even bike lanes are being sacrificed to accommodate increased foot traffic, but at the speed of downtown traffic, bicycles will blow by cars on the crowded streets. Bicycle parking isn’t much of an issue either given the weather. I had no problem finding a place to lock up my bike just a block away from the Verizon Up stage for the free Morris Day and the Time concert on Monday night, which brings me to my next point…

3) Perhaps putting a sledding hill on Nicollet Mall wasn’t such a great idea

Getting to the Verizon Up stage was a nightmare because of a giant, man made snow hill parked on Nicollet Mall. You couldn’t move for minutes at times because it was so packed with people. Nicollet Mall was just remodeled to better accommodate foot traffic, and the first opportunity we have to test it a sledding hill is installed instead. While streets around the stage were closed, pop-up tents selling overpriced food and drinks minimized the added area for foot traffic. So the sidewalks are basically the only means of entrance or exit to the Verizon Up stage despite the ample increase in foot traffic.

4) The Super Bowl Experience is a children’s playground

If you have children, they’ll love the Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and at $25 per child 12 years of age or under, it’s a bargain. There are tons of games to keep them busy all day, including actual NFL combine competitions against pro football players. There’s even a mini-football field in the basement that looked to be setup for a field goal kicking contest. There’s a punt, pass and kick competition, and, of course, there’s plenty of people selling stuff.

The Super Bowl Experience might not be too attractive to adults, though. There are lounges throughout the convention center where you can play pool and get some food or a drink. There are Super Bowl rings on display as well as the Lombardi Trophy. Even some Hall of Fame busts made the trip to Minneapolis, including Vikings’ Cris Carter’s and Brett Favre’s. The most interesting thing I found at the Super Bowl Experience, though, were the tiles chronicling the game’s history. I’m betting there’s a bunch you didn’t know about football, like a touchdown used to be worth four points prior to 1898, which was less than a field goal’s five points until it was changed to four points in 1904, and then three points in 1909. A touchdown wasn’t worth six points until 1912.

I bet you didn’t know baseball’s Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies formed professional football teams in 1902. Ace pitcher Christy Mathewson played fullback for Pittsburgh, and the first World Series of pro football was a five-team tournament featuring a team made up of players from both the A’s and Phillies. I never knew the St. Paul Ideals and Duluth Eskimos existed, with Duluth having the coolest uniforms ever.

5) Radio Row is a circus

I couldn’t imagine standing around the Mall of America watching people do radio with celebrities, but plenty of fans did it with hopes of getting a picture with their favorite players. It took me about 15 minutes to realize my media pass actually granted me access to Radio Row, so upon entering I broke the only rule posted at the area: I asked Allyson Turner of The Dan LeBatard Show to autograph my headphones, and she obliged. Had I not had access, I would have gone into the office to write this immediately after my short conversation with her. Instead, I literally bumped into Drew Brees, met local, comedy legend Louie Anderson, and told Busta Rhymes how much I appreciated his music. He patted me on the shoulder with a hand the size and weight of a prize fighter’s while he said, “I appreciate you, too, man.” The highlight of my Super Bowl week was meeting Busta Rhymes. I wanted to thank Rod Carew for being such a damn fine human being, but he was the busiest person at Radio Row -- and for good reason.

So there’s a local take on the Super Bowl I’m sure my fellow Minneapolites can appreciate. Had the Vikings made the Super Bowl my take might not be so harsh, but that would be an even more biased opinion based on elation brought on by lust and desire. Do yourself a favor and heed the advice offered. We can only be “Minnesota Nice” for so long.


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You could say the Minnesota Vikings had no business playing in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia after needing a Minneapolis Miracle to get there. But they entered play as the NFL’s best defense in points and yardage allowed and were three-point favorites on the road. They left Philly 31-point losers.

Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich picked apart the best third-down defense in football -- getting first downs on 10 of 14 third-down tries. Shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes summed it up succinctly, saying the Vikings’ defense played like “trash.”

The defense wasn’t the only problem on Sunday, though. Quarterback Case Keenum finally turned into the pumpkin everyone expected this Cinderella season, and Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman should not ignore the result when addressing the Vikings’ roster at quarterback -- or lack thereof.

Who Should be the Vikings’ Quarterback in 2018?

With 23-year-old Kyle Sloter out of Northern Colorado the only quarterback on the roster going into next season, the Vikings will once again have to answer the quarterback question this offseason. Some would say Keenum has earned the starting job, but given his latest performance, the Vikings should let him test the free agent market.

Upon throwing a pick-six after his arm was hit by Cameron Graham, who beat right tackle Rashod Hill on just about every play, Keenum fell apart. Before the pick-six, Keenum completed four of six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Afterward, he completed just 57.1 percent of his 42 passes, gaining just five yards per attempt on average, with no more touchdowns and another interception. That is not the performance of a quarterback worth $21.3 million per year. That was the franchise tag salary for quarterbacks in 2017, and the least the Vikings could pay Keenum to return next season.

With Sam Bradford’s $18 million coming off the books along with 13 other players entering free agency, the Vikings have a little over $60 million in cap space next season. That’s enough to do more than just retain two of their three quarterbacks, and with Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees potentially available in free agency, the answer to the quarterback question is even more difficult.

The Vikings should be pretty confident in allowing Keenum, Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater to test free agency. Bradford and Bridgewater haven’t proven they can stay healthy as starters, and while there are plenty of NFL teams who would love to have either, Bradford and Bridgwater couldn’t be entering free agency at a worse time for them.

Keenum, on the other hand, will be considerably over-valued on the free agent market, and will likely be overpaid by a desperate team. The Vikings would be smart to let him go elsewhere and pay the undervalued Bradford and Bridgewater to return. But if Spielman does intend to bring back Bradford to start and Bridgewater to back him up, he best protect his injury-prone investments.

Vikings’ Offensive Line Needs Improving, Again

The additions of tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers vastly improved the offensive line play of the Vikings. As of Week 5, Pro Football Focus ranked the healthy Vikings’ O-line 20th overall and 15th in pass-blocking, after finishing last season ranked 23rd in pass-blocking. But the Vikings’ offensive line wasn’t healthy going into the NFC Championship Game, and the Eagles showed the value of having the league’s top offensive line, keeping Nick Foles upright and, at times, allowing him seven seconds to throw the football against the Vikings’ four-man, pass rush.

While the Vikings offensive line improved in pass protection, run blocking was still an issue, which isn’t something Spielman must address with running back Dalvin Cook coming back from injury. But if Bradford and Bridgewater are his quarterbacks, he’ll want to add some depth to the offensive line if he hopes to keep either of them healthy. Playing Remmers out of position at left guard in the NFC Championship Game and forcing backup Sharod Hill to take on the Eagles’ sacks leader probably wasn’t how Spielman drew it up prior to the season.

Spielman will likely have another hole to fill on the offensive line, too. Right guard Joe Berger has hinted that he intends to retire. With a lack of interior, offensive lineman available through free agency, it’s likely Spielman and the Vikings will address the offensive line through the draft. R.J. White and Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports think Spielman will target the former college teammate of Pat Elflein, Billy Price. But if Spielman can save some money by retaining the undervalued Bradford and Bridgewater, he could potentially sign the best guard in football.

Carolina’s Andrew Norwell, 26, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and lining him up next to the second-year center Elflein and the veteran Reiff (or Remmers) would certainly increase the chances of Bradford and Bridgewater staying healthy and effective. Spielman could then address the issue of depth through the draft, even selecting Price and easing him into a starting role so he’s ready when Nick Easton becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season.

The Rest of the Vikings’ Roster

It’s time to let the soon-to-be-40 Terrance Newman ride off into the sunset, while 33-year-old run-stuffer Tom Johnson should probably be retained given the lack of availability at his position in free agency. There’s no one on the depth chart behind him at left defensive tackle, and he could be retained at a reasonable price.

Marcus Sherels made $2 million to catch kicks this season, and at 30, averaged just 9.5 yards per punt return -- down from a career high of 13.9 yards per return last season. That position is better filled by a young draftee and likely will be.

Jerick McKinnon wants a bigger role running the ball and has likely played his last game in purple and gold, while kicker Kai Forbath probably earned a raise with his play in the Divisional Playoff Game against New Orleans.

The Vikings are so close to contending for a championship, and adding a guy like Norwell should put their offensive line in the top third of the league and protect the brittle Bradford and Bridgewater. Depth is the biggest concern, and given Spielman's success using the draft to add talent, the Vikings should enter next season even better than this season.


 

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For the first time in a long time, the Minnesota Vikings gave fans joy instead of pain in January. Immediately dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle” by KFAN play-by-play broadcaster Paul Allen,  Stefon Diggs soared for Case Keenum’s Hail Mary pass on a play called “Seven Heaven” and ran it in for a 61-yard touchdown with no time left on the clock to beat New Orleans and advance to the NFC Championship Game. But the Vikings weren’t the only team in Minnesota playing big games in January. Both the Wild and Timberwolves were in action on Sunday, and both are in contention.

The Futile History of Minnesota Professional Sports

Minnesotans aren’t used to their professional sports teams being competitive. Hell, they aren’t used to their professional sports teams staying in Minnesota. Minnesota has never had a football, hockey and basketball team (and baseball team, technically) in contention this far into their respective seasons as it has in 2018. With the Wild on a five-day bye and the Wolves just a half game behind San Antonio for third place in the Western Conference, Minnesota will be making history every day the Vikings survive. For the first time ever, Minnesota has championship caliber teams contending in all four major, American sports.

Minnesota had two sports teams in contention in January of 2005, and if it weren’t for the NHL strike that cost us all the 2004-05 season, Minnesota would have likely had three contenders at once. The Vikings advanced out of the Wild Card round by winning in Green Bay, but lost in Philadelphia in the Divisional Round on Jan. 16. The Timberwolves entered that day 18-17 and second in the Northwest Division. The Wild were 30-29-20-3 the previous season and then 38-36-8 in 2005-06.

On the same day the Vikings were shutout by the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game in 2001, and the Timberwolves were running fifth in the Midwest Division with a record of 21-17. The Wild, however, entered Jan. 14, 2001 with a record of 14-19-8-2 -- last in the Northwest Division and tied for second to last in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves went onto the playoffs; the Wild did not.

In January of 1988, the North Stars were bringing up the rear in the Norris Division and sitting second to last in the Clarence Campbell Conference while the Vikings were going into the NFC Championship Game they’d lose to Washington. The Timberwolves didn’t exist.

On Jan. 11, 1970, the Minnesota Vikings were blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl while the North Stars entered play with a record of 9-15-13, good for third in the West Division but worse than every East team. The Minneapolis Lakers, though, had already been the Los Angeles Lakers for a decade. They were 21-22 at that point in the season, en route to the playoffs.

Exactly How Futile have Minnesota Professional Sports Teams Been?

The last time any local fan base had contenders in all four major, American, professional sports in January was just last year. As the New England Patriots marched toward another Super Bowl win, the Boston Celtics were running third in the Eastern Conference and the Bruins were second in the Atlantic Division. Both the Celtics and Bruins went onto the playoffs. The Red Sox went on to the playoffs, too, and as of April 23, Boston still had a chance to win all four major, American, professional sports championships in the same calendar year.

Before that, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins won their respective championships in 2009, but didn’t and still don’t have a professional basketball team to continue the Steel City’s dominance.

All four of Philadelphia's major professional sports teams played in a championship game or series in their respective sports, but not in a calendar year. The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in October, but the Philadelphia Eagles lost Super Bowl XV in 1981. The 1979-80 Philadelphia 76ers lost the NBA Finals, and the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Finals.

The last and only time a local fan base enjoyed winning championships in three of the major, American, professional sports was in 1935, when the Detroit Lions, Red Wings and Tigers all won their respective championships. The Detroit Pistons didn’t exist.

No local fan base has enjoyed winning championships in all four of the major, American, professional sports in the same calendar year. But things are lining up well for Minnesota, as Minneapolis hosts the Super Bowl this year, and the Vikings opened as 3.5-point favorites on the road at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game.

If the Timberwolves can secure the three seed in the Western Conference, they could avoid playing Oklahoma City and Golden State in the NBA Playoffs, increasing their chances of winning an NBA Championship against a less competitive Eastern Conference.

The Minnesota Wild aren’t even in a bad position with the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They’d visit nearby Winnipeg in the first round of the playoffs and just beat them 4-1 on Saturday.

The Twins are also gearing up for a run at a championship by bolstering their bullpen. The addition of Fernando Rodney and, surprisingly, Addison Reed, to the backend of the bullpen will push guys like Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey and Ryan Pressly into lower leverage situations. If they can land the top free agent starter on the market, Yu Darvish, to go along with Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana, they’d be legitimate contenders, regardless of Miguel Sano’s status given sexual assault allegations against him.

As it stands, Minnesotans are enjoying the best days in the history of Minnesota sports and will continue doing so for as long as the Vikings allow.


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NFL playoff picture emerging

This year there were three Thanksgiving NFL games (up from the traditional two) and the playoff picture is starting to clearly emerge. This late in the season two of the games were a bit inconsequential but there was a good battle in the NFC Central - the MN Vikings vs. the Detroit Lions.  

 

It was no surprise to many that the MN Vikings outpowered the Lions, despite a really strong 4th quarter comeback by Detroit’s QB Matthew Stafford. The Vikings look unstoppable in the NFC except for perhaps, the other dominant team in the division (more on that in a minute).  The NFL is really starting to see that the Vikings have a super star receiver in Adam Thielen who already has 1000 yards receiving with another five games to play. Despite losing rookie sensation Dalvin Cook in game 4 the Vikings remain strong in the running game and have a top five defense. The 9-2 Vikings remain dominant on top of the Black and Blue division (NFC Central) and are legitimate contenders this year.

 

That being said, the 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles remain the team to beat in the NFC. Skeptics say the Eagles (who were 7-9 last season) had an easy schedule this year but beating winless teams (like they did vs. the 49ers) and beating teams that you should beat is all part of the NFL. There is a reason “any given Sunday” is a known colloquialism. Winning is hard in the NFL and you just never know if this is the game that winless opponent you are going up against has an amazing game and puts up 45 points. So if you make mistakes and lose to teams you should not lose to -- you won’t make the playoffs. And the Eagles are just not making mistakes like that. Much of the credit needs to go to greatly improved Eagles QB Carson Wentz. He’s spreading the ball around, avoiding pressure and is blindsiding defenses with pinpoint accurate throws.

 

The wild card here is the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is on fire and just won't stop throwing TD's. But -- much like the Packers, the Saints only have Brees. If Brees has a single bad or mediocre game the Saints lose big time. They don't have a deep bench (as folks say in basketball) which is why I expect them to easily make the playoffs and then not make it past the divisional round. This is a bit pessimistic of me as many are picking the Saints to be a true contender. Fair enough. I just don't buy it. 

 

The 7-3 Rams are good but -- well, not good enough to beat the Vikings or the Eagles. The Vikings have already crushed the Rams once this season 28-7 and the Eagles will beat them in the upcoming match up in December. So, I fully expect the Rams to make the playoffs and lose in the divisional round. 

 

The Cowboys and the Packers were expected to be in the playoff running this year but Dallas has had a string of lackluster offensive games and I think will miss the playoffs with an 8-8 record and the Packers season ended the moment Aaron Rodgers was injured. Sorry Green Bay fans. Even as a MN Vikings fan I actually really like Aaron Rodgers and am happy to see him succeed but if he goes down, your team loses. A lot.

 

As for the Carolina Panthers, as long as Cam Newton remains healthy the Panthers (7-3) should make the playoffs but nothing about their team screams "true Super Bowl contenders." I know they went 15-1 two seasons ago, made it to the super bowl and lost but even that team was generally acknowledged to be the worst team to ever start at 11-0. I kind of feel the same way about the Panthers this season. Their decent record will take them to the playoffs but they’ll have an early exit.

 

Finally, rounding out the NFC contenders - the Seahawks, the Atlanta Falcons both at 6-4 and the Detroit Lions at 6-5 but all of them have been playing too inconsistent to be a deep playoff threat. Similar to the Panthers, I can see any or maybe all three teams making it to the wild card match ups if things suddenly turn sour for the Rams and the Saints but don’t believe any of them will make it to the championship game.

 

NFC Championship game:  MN Vikings vs. The Philadelphia Eagles

 

Who wins: Even chances. I suspect this will come down to who has the healthiest team. The Eagles have a much better offense. The Vikings have a slightly better defense. As the saying go, “Defense wins Championships.”

 

That may be true. But offense wins Super Bowls.

 

As for the AFC, that’s even easier. The Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) and the Tennessee Titans (6-4) have all shown moments of extremely exciting, smart football. But similar to the Seahawks and the Falcons - consistency is the problem. Really good but inconsistent teams usually make it to the playoffs and rarely advance to the championship game.  

 

The Chargers, Ravens and Buffalo Bills are all begging for scraps at the table and I could see any one of those teams pulling out three or four more wins and making it to the postseason. But - again - consistency.

 

And it all comes down to the fact I don’t see any of the AFC teams beating the two big boys on the block - The New England Patriots (8-2) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2).

 

I feel like the Steelers are good this year, but not as good as their 8-2 record implies. And I feel the opposite about the Patriots. New England should probably be 9-1 or maybe even 10-0. A few lucky breaks for opposing teams and NE ended up with two loses. I just don’t see anyone in the AFC beating Tom Brady’s Patriots.

 

AFC Championship game: New England Patriots vs. The Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Who will win: The Patriots in a blowout win over the Steelers.

 

Which brings us to:

 

Unless something goes spectacularly wrong, which can always happen in the NFL, I expect Super Bowl 52 to be the NE Patriots vs. either the Vikings or the Eagles.

 

The Super Bowl is actually in Minneapolis, MN this year. As a Vikings fan I would love to see them play the Super Bowl in their home town.  But - alas - I suspect it will be the Patriots and the Eagles with Tom Brady and winning his sixth ring.

 

But I hope not.  

 

I hope it’s the Vikings! Unless, of course, they get waylaid by that silly Vikings curse that always waylays them!  

 

Skol!  

 

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I’ve been to plenty of stadiums. I’ve been to Miller Park -- a dump in a bad part of Milwaukee. I’ve been to the Metrodome -- a terrible place to watch baseball but loud and fun nonetheless. I’ve been to Safeco Field -- a beautiful, quaint place to watch baseball as long as the roof is open. I’ve been to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City -- a beautifully vast stadium. I’ve been to Fenway Park, which makes me feel spoiled every time I visit Target Field. But even Target Field nor the newly renovated Target Center compares to the decadence that is U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Bathrooms

The most important aspect of any stadium experience is the bathroom experience. Long lines are bad, but dirty, smelly bathrooms are worse. Both the Metrodome and Target Center had urinal troughs omitting a smell no number of fresh urinal cakes could mask. The U.S. Bank Stadium bathroom I used was as clean at the end of the third quarter as it was prior to kickoff of Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Rams.

Not only are the U.S. Bank Stadium bathrooms fresh, they’re smartly located and designed to limit time spent in line. I didn’t spend any time in line for the bathroom, but had I, I wouldn’t have been that disappointed. In our section (C7 of the second level), there’s a lounge with televisions and comfortable seating so you can watch the Vikings game or any other game for that matter.

The Seats

While we didn’t spend much time in them, the padded seats at U.S. Bank Stadium were plush and relatively roomy. The addition of padded seats in Target Center was the second biggest reason for my purchase of a 10-game season ticket package this season (the addition of Jimmy Butler being the first). Baseball stadiums need to start installing more padded seats because a comfortable seat can make people forget about the length of your game. There are a lot of breaks in NFL action, so the fact our butts were comfortable made the inaction slightly more tolerable.

The Atmosphere

Before the Vikings (specifically, Detroit Lakes’ Adam Thielen) started running away from a pretty good Los Angeles Rams’ defense, U.S. Bank Stadium was rocking. It’s certainly comparable to the Metrodome when it comes to crowd noise. During the 1987 and 1991 World Series, the crowd noise at the Metrodome was measured at 125 and 118 decibels, respectively -- the equivalent of a jet airliner and on the threshold of causing physical pain. The decibels at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday were repeatedly measured above 118 -- during a regular season game.

The Vikings do a fantastic job getting the crowd revved up, too. I nearly leaked tears of joy as the Vikings ran onto the field as if exiting a Viking ship that breathes fire to the sound of a blaring Viking horn while former Vikings like John Randle and Randy Moss narrate. As far as player introductions go, it’s a very distant second to the introduction of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, which still gives me goosebumps.

The Eats and Drinks

While eats and drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, were severely overpriced, there is a diverse menu of both available at U.S. Bank Stadium. The only downside is you can’t find a Coca-Cola product in the building, and a cocktail and a domestic beer will cost you $20. A plate of salmon and lobster with chips will cost you $18, but looked delicious, as did a mushroom Swiss burger that was enjoyed by a fan in the row in front of us. If you can afford it, I highly recommend eating a meal at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Product

The stadium experience is also dependent on having a good product inside the stadium, and the Vikings took a big step in securing a first-round bye and a home game in the NFL playoffs with a win over the contending Rams. If the Philadelphia Eagles ever stumble, the Vikings could stay at home throughout the playoffs and have a chance to win their first championship in their own building. Only the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX and Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV have ever played for a championship in their home market. The Niners won and Rams lost. Regardless of who represents the NFC and AFC in Super Bowl LII, U.S. Bank Stadium will quite possibly provide the best stadium experience for fans ever.

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On Wednesday the MN Vikings activated Teddy Bridgewater and placed Sam Bradford on injured reserve (IR).

 

Bridgewater has not played in almost two full seasons after suffering a noncontact injury in practice early into the 2016 season. The Vikings then acquired Sam Bradford via trade who took over as QB1 and brought the Vikings to a mediocre 8-8 season.

 

While it’s true that Sam Bradford has his best pro season in 2016 -- passing for 3877  yards and a NFL record 71.6% completion rate but a struggling offensive line led to too many hurries, knockdowns, sacks and a dismal running game.

 

But still Bradford was the go to guy at the beginning of the 2017 season and had a career high day in the Vikings opening game vs. the Saints. But it was just not to be. A knee injury, or perhaps The Curse of the MN Vikings, forced him out and backup Case Keenum took over and quietly led the Vikings to the top of the NFC North going 4-2 as a starter.

 

BUT THEN -- a miracle recovery from Teddy Bridgewater has brought him back to the Vikings roster and he is suiting up for the first time in more than a season. What’s a head coach to do? Force Teddy in and hope he can bring back his magic or stay with the dependable backup Keenum? The Vikings are currently 6-2 and lead the division.

 

After all, if it ain’t broke …

 

It really was a no brainer for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Teddy needs to slowly warm up back into football. Keenum starts. Bridgewater backs up.  

 

It’s a wise decision. As for Bradford. Well, I’m almost one hundred percent positive that Bradford is done as a Viking, maybe done in the NFL. His two year contract is up at the end of the season and he is currently on his third knee injury. If Bridgewater remains healthy I suspect the Vikings will offer Teddy a monster contract to remain with the Vikings and start again in 2018.

 

Which is great news for Vikings fans. By all accounts Teddy Bridgewater is the real deal -- young, handsome, talented, intelligent and an extremely warm and friendly person. When asked by reporters about being back on the field after such a long injury absence, Bridgewater had this to say,

 

“It’s always hard when the guys are going to work, and you have to go in the opposite direction. It’s like when all the kids are going to P.E. and you have to go to detention or something like that. I’m not saying what I was doing was detention, but it was hard, especially being a competitor and knowing how much these guys mean to me and knowing that I couldn’t be out there with those guys … (when asked about the possibility he might not return to the NFL) I never had any doubt, and that’s a credit to the people around me. They never once let me get down. They never counted me out. So getting back out there, this is not only about me. This is about the people who counted me in. There are a bunch of people who counted me out, outside this building and things like that, but at the end of the day it’s about going out there and competing for these guys in this locker room and all of the people that counted me in. So once I get out there, there’s no regrets, no holding back. Whatever’s meant to happen, happens. I trust God’s plan for me, and I’m going to go with that.”

 

I’m glad to hear The Curse (of the Vikings) didn’t strike Bridgewater low.

 

Then again, maybe -- just maybe -- there isn’t a curse, after all.  

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