How the Minnesota Vikings play this season will determine what they’ll do in 2023.
If new coach Kevin O’Connell can turn around a team that has missed the playoffs the past two seasons and win, say, 10 games and a playoff berth, owners Zygi and Mark Wilf should feel good about building for the immediate future.
But just six or seven victories could cause ownership to decide it’s finally time to rebuild, as are the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears in the division. That could mean ushering out high-paid veterans and replacing them with younger players. That could also mean trying to unload QB Kirk Cousins, 34, and his $36 million contract, if he’s still marketable, and gambling on a QB in the first round of next April’s draft.
Barring an unforeseen collapse, O’Connell and first-year GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will get at least three years to make the Vikings a contender. The Vikings are still paying fired coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman this year and next year. Those deals total about $11 million a year.
Since the 2010 season, an EmpireStakes.com analysis of 49 first-year NFL head coaches (without any previous NFL head coaching experience) shows an average first-season won-loss record of 6-10, with just 22.4 percent making the playoffs.
The Packers in Sunday afternoon’s season opener against the Vikings will emphasize running the ball with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. That should make it interesting for the Vikings’ new three-man defensive line.
Despite the offensive-minded O’Connell, the strength of the Vikings is still going to be running the ball to loosen the defense to pass to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Dalvin Cook remains among the top five running backs in the NFL.
New wideout Jalen Reagor, 23, signed for two years, if the Vikings can unlock his potential, could be the eventual replacement for Thielen, 32. But his short-term role is punt returns.
It’s imperative that Vikings pass rushers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith remain healthy — they have no reliable backups. The Vikings also remain thin on size in the defensive line, and it’s still surprising they didn’t try to re-sign Sheldon Richardson or another large body.
Cheapest tickets available for Sunday’s Vikings-Packers game are $118; most expensive $1,046, per gametime.com.
Average Vikings home ticket price this season is $108.79. The Packers’ average, $128.93, per olbg.com.
Vikings followers will spend an average of $51.70 per person on food during games this season, regardless of where they’re viewed, with pizza the favorite purchase, per a survey by usbetting.org. Miami Dolphins fans spend the most, an average of $79.80 per game.
The Packers’ Lambeau Field ranks No. 1 among fan reviews of the world’s most iconic sports stadiums. The Twins’ Target Field is No. 10, per betsperts.com. The Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field is No. 6, the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park No. 15.
The Packers, by the way, recently reported record revenue of nearly $600 million for the previous 12 months.
Erin Andrews, Greg Olsen, Kevin Burkhardt and Tom Rinaldi make the call for Fox’s Vikings-Packers 3:25 p.m. telecast, with Jay Alter and Kirk Morrison doing the ESPN radio broadcast.
Fifty-two percent of bettors via BetOnline.ag have wagered the Vikings will win their division ahead of the Packers, who have received 29 percent of bets.
Unsigned former Vikings defensive end Everson Griffin’s NFL career almost certainly has ended at age 34.
Former Vikings first-round draft pick QB Teddy Bridgewater, 29, has ended up with the Dolphins after turns with the Broncos, Panthers and Saints.
Louie Varland, 24, who pitched exceptionally well in his major league debut Wednesday for the Twins in Yankee Stadium, is the second North St. Paul grad to make it to the big leagues. The other is Don Arlich, now 79, another strong-arm who pitched briefly for the Houston Colt .45s in 1965-66.
Mahtomedi’s 6-foot-11 Sean Hjelle struck out six in five innings for the San Francisco Giants against Milwaukee on Thursday.
Mike Baumann, 26, the former Mahtomedi star, last week pitched five innings for the Baltimore Orioles against Toronto.
Varland, Hjelle and Baumann are former Metro East Conference pitchers.
The Tigers have released Logan Shore, 27, the former Coon Rapids pitcher and Minnesota prep player of the year who received a $1.5 million signing bonus from the Oakland Athletics seven years ago.
Woodbury’s Max Meyer, 23, the hard-throwing former Gopher who made his major league debut with the Miami Marlins two months ago, is rehabbing in Jupiter, Fla., after successful Tommy John surgery on his right arm in Los Angeles last month. Meyer had a ligament taken out of his right wrist and wrapped around his injured elbow.There’s a chance he could pitch late in 2023, but it probably won’t be until 2024 spring training.
Former Twins manager of the year Paul Molitor left last week to work with Twins prospects in Fort Myers, Fla.
Joe Alt, the highly driven 6-8, 317-pound former Totino Grace tight end who made seven All-America freshman teams as an offensive lineman last year, is starting at left tackle for Notre Dame.
Alt’s older brother, Mark, 30, the 6-4, 201-pound former Gophers, NHL and minor league defenseman, has had nearly a dozen lucrative offers to play in Europe this season.
Alt’s father, John, 60, was a Pro Bowl offensive tackle during a 13-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Best advice he gave his kids: “Focus on your job no matter what’s happening during the game or your career. Don’t look too far down line, and take care of here and now. Stay in your moment.”
John Alt was a 6-8 basketball star at Columbia Heights before choosing to play football at Iowa.
“I actually liked basketball better in high school and had offers to play it in college, but my coach (Ron Raveling) said six-foot-eight basketball players are a dime a dozen, and six-foot-eight football players are a rare jewel. I listened to him.”
Quarterback Brandon Alt, no known relation to John Alt, is a six-year senior at Bemidji State via Park-Cottage Grove and leads the Division II Northern Sun Conference in passing with 29 completions in 48 throws.
Michael Floyd, the former Cretin-Derham Hall, Notre Dame, Arizona Cardinals and Vikings wideout, is wide receivers coach for Concordia-St. Paul.
It’s a baby boy named Bear Weber for former Gophers record-setting QB Adam Weber and wife Jazmin.
“He’s definitely fitting of the name — he’a little animal,” Adam said.
Weber and Jazmin reside in Dayton, Minn. On Monday, Weber, 35, will join former Gophers basketball star Blake Hoffarber to begin a career at the Marsh McLennan insurance agency.
Of his alma mater Gophers, Weber said, “This is a big year with the six-year crew coming back. The real test will be once the Big Ten starts.”
Ex-Gophers wideout Drew Wolitarsky, 27, has 30 receptions and a TD for for the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who have him signed through 2023. Also in the CFL are ex-Gophers Steven Richardson, 26, with the British Columbia Lions, and Simoni Lawrence, 33, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Gophers junior punter Mark Crawford from Australia is 28 years old.
James Laurinaitis, the former Wayzata football star, is a first-year graduate assistant for Notre Dame, which lost its season opener to Laurinaitis’ alma mater Ohio State last week.
Ball State athletics director Beth Goetz, the former Gophers interim a.d., leaves Sept. 23 to become deputy a.d.-chief operating officer at lowa. Goetz next month will be named College Sports Executive of the Year by Women Leaders.
Cretin-Derham Hall grad Tre Holloman, a freshman point guard at Michigan State, scored 25 second-half points, including three straight three-point field goals, in a summer pro-am game in Holt, Mich.
St. Thomas Academy grad Danny McFadden is a sophomore running back at Stanford, where brothers Conor and Pat also played football.
Caledonia’s Isaac Fruechte, who was a wide receiver and captain for coach Jerry Kill’s Gophers, has become offensive coordinator at Winona State.
Simley High’s 2022 Hall of Fame class to be inducted at halftime of Saturday’s football game against Hastings: Jim Richgels, Colleen Sweeney, Angie Garin, Steve Rohlf, Mike Cadwell, Tom Begich, Jim Newman and Russ Hanson.
Tickets for Saturday’s Gophers-Western Illinois football game in Minneapolis could be had over-the-counter for $15.
Former Twin Jim Kaat will be celebrity host for the Pathfinder Village-Baseball Hall of Fame golf invitational at the Leatherstocking course on Sept. 19 in Cooperstown, N.Y., then will join Tony Oliva, Lindsay Whalen, Tony Sanneh and Jeff Munneke to receive Minnesota Sports Icons Awards from Edina-based At The Turn on Sept. 20. The next day, there will be a celebrity golf tournament at Olympic Hills.
DON’T PRINT THAT
Former Vikings cornerback and assistant coach Terence Newman, on fired coach Mike Zimmer, to GoLongTD.com via profootballtalk.nbcsports.com: “He was never in a good mood. … Young guys didn’t want to play for the guy.”
Meanwhile, one prominent Vikings player, privately, termed the team toward the end of last season as “totally dysfunctional.”
It’s clear that Zimmer, 66, never again will get a head coaching job in the NFL, which has become a players, not coaches, league.
With Zimmer gone, it’s unclear whether the Vikings will be any better this season. “But,” one knowledgeable source said, “they’ll be happier.”
Seven months later, it remains puzzling — perhaps it was a ruse — as to why the Vikings brought Jim Harbaugh in for a brief coaching interview. The only other coaching candidate the Vikings seriously considered besides Kevin O’Connell is believed to be Nathaniel Hackett, who was hired by the Denver Broncos.
Russell Wilson’s new contract with the Broncos, averaging $49 million a year, drops the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins and his $35 million per annum to No. 10 among NFL highest-paid QBs this season. The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is No. 1 at $50.3 million.
Pssst: Wild GM Billy Guerin had an influential connection help expedite star Kirill Kaprizov’s delicate return from Russia to Minnesota.
The Wild are getting $5.65 million from TRIA on a per-season deal for having the orthopedic sports medical firm on a jersey patch.
The Twins, with twice as many games, more annual attendance and stronger TV viewership, could end up getting nearly $15 million next year from a jersey sponsorship patch.
The Twins took shortstop Royce Lewis with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 major league draft. With the No. 5 overall pick, the Atlanta Braves took pitcher Kyle Wright, who is 17-5 with a 3.23 earned-run average this season.
Shortstop Keoni Cavaco, 21, the Twins’ first-round draft pick (No. 13 overall) in 2019 who received a $4.05 million signing bonus, is batting .228 in 388 at-bats for the
Class A Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. Cavaco’s composite batting average over three minor league seasons is .223.
The Twins’ first-round draft pick (No. 27 overall) in 2020, first baseman Aaron Sabato, 23, who received a $2.75 million signing bonus, batted .179 in 98 plate appearances for Double-A Wichita, then .226 in 348 PAs for Class A Cedar Rapids. Over two minor league seasons, Sabato is batting .209.
The Triple-A Sacramento baseball team is about to be sold for $90 million, including the ballpark. The St. Paul Saints Triple-A club is worth nearly $50 million.
Ex-Viking Anthony Barr’s five-year contract with the Vikings signed in 2019 was $68 million. Now with the Dallas Cowboys, the 30-year-old linebacker has an incentive deal that could be worth $3 million.
Ex-Viking Rashad Hill signed with Washington for the veteran minimum of $66,000 per week.
The North Carolina basketball team that 6-11 former Prior Lake star Dawson Garcia, 20, left last season and subsequently signed with the Gophers, is No. 1 preseason ranked by ESPN. Gonzaga, despite having lost former Minnehaha Academy stars Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren to the NBA the past two years, is No. 2.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, on the benefit of having versatility with young players such as Luis Arraez, Alex Kirilloff, Jose Miranda and Nick Gordon, among others: “These guys are going to move around, all of them. It’s not like we’re trying to find a permanent spot for one, then the other. It actually helps us to make a lineup every day knowing that each one of those guys can play different spots on the field.”
Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle, in an email to friends of the university’s athletics programs, has invited them to view two upcoming name, image and likeness (NIL) Zoom sessions.
It took some diligence, but St. Paul Central’s C Club Hall of Fame plaques that were inexplicably removed from hallways by a former administrator are going to be reinstalled.
Wild owner Craig Leipold, on the recent return of star left winger Kirill Kaprizov to Minnesota from Russia: “Fantastic. We had some moments that we were a little worried.”