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There's hurt reverberating in the hearts of generations of football fans with the passing of Minnesota icon Bud Grant on Saturday morning.
I'm there because I understand just how unique he was and how irreplaceable he will be.
View photos of Vikings head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bud Grant.
He accomplished so much, and despite him being 95, the notion of this day arriving somehow seemed farfetched.
But alas, while coping with the harsh reality, we have begun honoring Coach Grant's legacy, an effort that will remain ongoing.
Grant's influence will continue to be felt by everyone in the building, including General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell. Grant had remained a consultant over the years, and the Vikings created a special office in Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
O'Connell made sure his children knew the significance of Grant attending their father's introductory press conference last year. His first season as the 10th head coach in team history included weekly conversations with Grant about football and life on Thursday's during lunch.
"I will forever cherish those conversations because they made me a better coach, a better husband and father and a better person," O'Connell said Saturday. "It is an honor to lead the same organization he once did, and there is no question Bud's positive influence will have a lasting impact on me moving forward."
View photos of Vikings Legend Bud Grant during his time with the team following his career as head coach.
We all can help honor Coach Grant's legacy by passing along stories to future generations, which many of you already have been doing for decades. I have not received many emails regarding Coach Grant's passing yet — maybe everyone else is still trying to wish away the news or hasn't found the words yet?
If you would like to send thoughts to the Mailbag, we'll work on compiling them.
One of my favorite Vikings.com content series was the "Letters to Bud" by colleague Lindsey Young. Grant had kept letters sent to him when he retired from coaching and provided them for the series. I'm including links below to the chapter explanations (on the left) and the Adobe Spark features (on the right).
Personally, I'm so grateful for the interviews and interactions Coach Grant granted to me over the years, including for a feature on he and Sid Hartman in the Super Bowl LII official game program. I hope we effectively honor his legacy for generations that will follow.
Grant's death was the ending of an incredibly tough week that began with Minnesota releasing Eric Kendricks last Monday and continued with the release of Adam Thielen on Friday morning. The team is working to get under the salary cap by Wednesday when the New League Year begins.
We'll start with reactions to the Thielen and Kendricks news that were sent before Coach Grant passed away.
I am incredibly sad and heartbroken about this. This is the part of the game that I hate. I live in North Dakota right on the Minnesota border, so I have been a fan since early childhood. I feel like my family member died, and I can't even say goodbye. I pray that somehow, some way he can work for the Vikings again in the future.
— Sherrie Schaefer
Dear Coach, I understand you have a budget. I loved watching your locker room videos, the team pride and support, but releasing the hometown boy does not show Minnesota support to fans. Big mistake on your loyalty. Many broken hearts today!
— Penny Thorpe
I usually don't submit comments, but I have to get this off my chest. I have been a Vikings fan since the day I was born 51 years ago. I bleed purple and gold. I know that there are decisions that every team has to make during the offseason to improve their team and stay within the salary cap. However, the decision to release Adam Thielen after 10 years with us is heartbreaking. He is the heart of this team and a true leader. It's a very sad day for all Vikings fans. I wish all the best to Adam and his family. He will be sorely missed, and the Vikings management has a huge hole to fill not only on the field, but in the locker room.
— Jonathan Dittmer
Two of my favorite players, Kendricks and Thielen, are now history. Thank you, Adam and Eric, for your service and professionalism. You could see this coming. A lot of money for players who are diminishing. The NFL is a business, and the salary cap limits create tough decisions. I would have hoped to keep them at a cheaper contract. Someone with cap space will pick them up for one or two years.
— Gerald Goblirsch
You may not believe me, but I understand the emotions relayed by Sherrie, Penny and Jonathan.
My first day with the Vikings fell on Week 4 of 2014 — Teddy Bridgewater's impressive first start in a 41-28 victory at the University of Minnesota.
Unfortunately, Bridgewater was hurt that game and not able to return on short rest for Minnesota's trip to Green Bay on Thursday Night Football.
The only good part of that night was Thielen recording the first four catches of his career. I got to write about those and the 530 that followed as he ascended from everyone's underdog to an actual "dog" — just ask Cincy's DBs who disrespected him in joint practices in 2016.
Kendricks was the second player the Vikings picked in my first draft with the team, and I can remember Anthony Barr's excitement during a phone interview that night. I've written about all 919 tackles he's made since, as well as three highly memorable defensive touchdowns, nine interceptions, 51 passes defensed and 54 tackles for loss.
Thielen was 24 in 2014, and Kendricks was 23 the following year. Beyond the stats, it's been incredible to have a glimpse at the way they've worked and developed themselves into their 30s.
It's incredibly rare for a player to spend his entire career with one team, but it doesn't make bidding farewell to players who have enriched the Vikings the way Thielen and Kendricks have since 2013 and 2015, respectively, any easier. The release of the former Vikings Community Men of the Year (Kendricks in 2020 and Thielen in 2022) creates tangible and intangible voids for the team to replace.
I've been fortunate enough to have a close view of the work each has done in this community and what they've meant to the team's on-field success.
But the contracts of Kendricks (the move saved $9.5 million against the salary cap) and Thielen (cleared more than $6 million) reached the point where the Vikings had to make difficult decisions after having conversations with those players.
The timing of Minnesota's releases gave Kendricks and Thielen a jump on free agency, which is set to open Wednesday.
I'll hope for none but the best for Kendricks and Thielen — and to be on the welcome back committee for years to come when either returns for Vikings Legends events.
I was sad to see that the Vikings released Adam Thielen. He was one of my favorite players because of his story. It is understandable, though. I will be watching a second NFL team next year. This prompts me to ask:
1) What is your opinion that the Vikings would retire his jersey number?
2) Are there any certain rules that need to followed to retire a jersey?
3) Why was Randy Moss' jersey never retired?
— Paula in Mankato, Minnesota
I wanted to separate Paula's questions from the previous collection because they are a bit different.
1) The decision on whether to retire a player's jersey is way above my status, but here's a little bit about the NFL landscape as it relates to jersey retirements.
2) There's a general decline across the NFL in teams retiring a player's jersey, but I'm not aware of any leaguewide rules. It's more of a team-by-team and owner-by-owner policy.
According to pro-football-reference.com, the Bears and Giants have retired jerseys of 14 players, although two Giants (Y.A. Tittle and Ward Cuff are both represented by No. 14). Those are two of the oldest franchises, and it was more common when several of those retirements were made.
View the best photos of WR Adam Thielen from the 2022 season.
As roster sizes have increased over the years, having that many jerseys retired can be problematic and lead to a shortage of numbers.
Position groups have restrictions on which numbers can be used (some limits were lifted in 2021).
The Vikings have retired six jerseys: Fran Tarkenton's 10, Jim Marshall's 70, Mick Tingelhoff's 53, Alan Page's 88, Cris Carter's 80 and Korey Stringer's 77.
Having two numbers in the 80s retired, for instance, limited numbers available for wide receivers, but that group can also now pick from 1-49 and 80-89 (before 2021, the group was limited to 10-19 and 80-89).
The Ravens, Jaguars, Texans, Raiders, Cowboys and Saints don't have any jerseys officially retired. The Bengals and the Panthers have each retired just one jersey.
Four of those eight teams (Ravens, Jaguars, Texans and Panthers) began play in 1995 or later.
The Titans, which began as the Houston Oilers 1960-96 and played as the Tennessee Oilers from 1997-98, kept their franchise records and have retired eight jerseys. Bruce Matthews, Steve McNair and Eddie George wore Titans jerseys but only after beginning their careers as Oilers.
View the best photos of LB Eric Kendricks from the 2022 season.
As you can see, there's a wide variance with how teams have treated jersey retirements.
One thing I have noticed is it seems like newcomers to the Vikings in recent years have avoided No. 28 on their own. They probably grew up watching Adrian Peterson dominate in Purple 28 and have a bit of reverence for that. The only time in Latavius Murray's professional career that he has not worn 28 was with Minnesota from 2017-2018. He opted for 25.
Teams usually go with a Ring of Honor or Hall of Fame to bestow a significant distinction that a player has earned with the franchise — I prefer Ring of Honor because it is distinct from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
3) I've seen a drumbeat by fans over the years for Moss' jersey to be retired. He is a member of the Vikings Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's been cool to see Moss reconnect with the Vikings franchise in recent years.
I personally unofficially retire jerseys in my mind. I'm not offended when there's another player in the jersey. If anything, it brings back some fond memories of players who previously did well in those particular numbers.
The moves on the roster seem like the Vikings [aren't focusing] on the 2023 season and will prepare for the 2024 or 2025 season. Will we be a contender for this season? I don't think so. … Do you think we draft a QB this year to learn one season under Cousins? Maybe we trade for Zach Wilson.
Greetings from Germany,
It's likely that some of the moves that have happened so far will position the Vikings better against the salary cap in 2024 and 2025, but they've also been needed just to get to 2023.
Just because moves now might open more dollars in future seasons, I would not expect the team to scrap 2023 with a woe-is-me outlook. There will be several players returning who were part of the 17-point comeback win at Buffalo and the 33-point record-setter against the Colts that clinched the NFC North.
While having that kind of fight does not singularly make an NFL team a Super Bowl contender, it can help. There's quite a few moving parts around the NFL this offseason.
As for drafting a quarterback, Cousins is the only QB currently under contract, so a backup needs to come from somewhere, if it's the draft or re-signing Nick Mullens or adding someone through free agency.
I know you're unable to discuss players with other teams, but I was just wondering what your take is on how the recent QB extensions/situations across the league might affect the QB position in Minnesota. Based off performance, I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination that Cousins deserves as much if not more than the most recent QB that received an extension but also knowing there is a QB sitting on the nonexclusive franchise tag that many would consider a better player at the position, I feel puts Cousins in a unique situation. If he asks for too much on a new extension what would keep Minnesota from pursuing a better player for what might not end up being that much bigger of a salary cap commitment? The obvious answer would be Cousins' no trade clause, but with Kwesi's roster building philosophy still not fully known do you think it might factor into Cousins taking a team friendly deal?
— Todd J.
First off, I appreciate Todd understanding why I can't weigh-in much on players who are under contract with other teams.
I think we've all seen the reported numbers of players like Daniel Jones, whose statistical production has not matched Cousins, but New York determined Jones' value to be what it awarded him, and I'm sure they considered multiple factors.
Cousins is entering the final year of his contract, and it could be a situation where he and the team let it ride this year and see where they're at this time a year from now. Another option would be signing to an extension to relieve more cap stress for this year.
Realistically what are the chances of getting a high-quality D.C., i.e. one with another offer? They have demonstrated a one-and-done mindset toward scapegoating D.C., although [Ed] Donatell deserves a lot of blame for trying to force fit a 4-3 roster into a 3-4 scheme. They have seven defensive starters either unsigned or part of the cap hell problem ([Patrick] Peterson, both Smiths [Harrison and Za'Darius], [Danielle] Hunter, [Eric] Kendricks, [Dalvin] Tomlinson, and [Jordan] Hicks). A couple more essential pieces, [Chandon] Sullivan and [Duke] Shelley, are also unsigned. Free agency isn't too promising given the cap hell and only four picks in the draft. The jury's still out on [Lewis] Cine, but [Andrew Booth, Jr.] didn't show that he even belongs on an NFL roster. It would seem like quality D.C. candidates will go where they a) have a chance to succeed and b) have some confidence in HC/GM support.
By the way, I've been a Viking fan since '61, although some time back I began to feel the name Disappointments is more appropriate.
— David Sinclair in Rio Rancho, New Mexico
Respectfully, I think there's been a consensus across the board that the Vikings did get a high-quality defensive coordinator in hiring Brian Flores.
Everyone's undefeated in March, but there's been widespread kudos for that hire. He's also planning on a 3-4 base, but I expect things to look a bit different than they did under Donatell.
In case you missed it, I put together free agency outlooks for the Vikings defense/special teams and the offense last week.
Peterson, Tomlinson, Sullivan and Shelley are scheduled to become free agents. It seems there's been a general openness in wanting to return to the Vikings by each of those four players.
Harrison and Za'Darius Smith, Hunter and Hicks are under contract. The Vikings must continue to make moves to get under the salary cap.
Note: David's email was sent a day before the NFL announced the Vikings were awarded a sixth-round compensatory pick to increase their current number of picks to five.
After spending a first- and second-draft choice last year on defensive backs and have to use a first round on another one this year, it tells me we had a lousy draft last year.
— Gene Draper in Clear Lake, Iowa
We did relay some positive news regarding Cine and Booth (and Brian O'Neill) from O'Connell and Executive Director of Health and Performance Tyler Williams last week.
It's simply to early to judge last year's class. I know the people who hype the draft (Vikings.com included) sell hope, optimism and instant success, but draft classes can show their value at different times.
While multiple projections have the Vikings taking a corner this year, I'm still on the wait-and-see a bit longer.
I know football is a business and the players know and accept that fact, but I was surprised about the Vikes cutting Eric Kendricks, especially since he has been a great player on the field and a great man off the field. When I read all the accolades about him from ownership down to the coaches, I had to ask myself why would they cut someone who they have such love, respect, and admiration for? He has done EVERYTHING the organization says they want their players to do yet they cut him. If I'm a player on that team I'm going to start having second thoughts about the Kool-Aid I'm drinking.
My first sentence referred to the "business" of all this, and I know it's all about the money of course. Maybe the team approached him and asked him to take a pay cut and he refused, and this is the result of his choice? I just wish we could have heard a few words from Eric in the article in order to balance things out a bit. I would feel better if I heard his take on all this. The article sounded like a thank you for your service but just leave already because you're not on our team anymore. It's a cruel business.
— Mike Schuffenhauer (fan since 1969 now living in Oklahoma)
There's no shortage of people in the building who appreciate Kendricks for the player and person he is.
I tried to convey that in my story, and I'm grateful that the Vikings are an organization that allows our VEN team the opportunity to convey gratitude to players who have been here so long and done so much. It is, however, rare for teams to interview players who have just been released.
The Vikings were unable to keep everyone because of cap hits, and Kendricks' contract enabled Minnesota to save $9.5 million with one of multiple necessary moves to get under the limit this year.
Adofo-Mensah was asked at the combine about pending difficult decisions. Here's what he said:
"First and foremost, I want to communicate to them my appreciation and again, it's always going to be solutions-oriented. 'Can we find a way to work together within our time horizon? If not the case, we might not be together, but I hope three years, four years down the line we'll be able to laugh and enjoy these moments we had together and appreciate them and just know that sometimes business comes and there's different solutions that need to happen and we'll go from there. It will be draining. It will be tough.
"These are hard decisions, great people, great humans," Adofo-Mensah said. "We're having those conversations ongoing right now and we'll see what we come up with."
The Athletic's Alec Lewis posted this screenshot from a post by Kendricks.
He can still be well-respected, have a great heart, be able to play at a high level and be too expensive for the Vikings to keep.
I'll miss seeing him in the locker room and on the field for sure, and I want him to do well in everything he does.
Kirk Cousins is well beyond the "generational wealth" discussion as he has made over $231 million dollars in his career. It would stand to reason at this point he would be on the, 'I'll give a discount so I can win a championship' train but it appears he isn't. It is well known Kirk is a man of strong faith and, with that, usually, comes a high dollar amount of charitable contributions. In my opinion, maybe Kirk isn't as obsessed with winning as most NFL quarterbacks but is rather focused on how much money he can make so he can give more away but still maintain his generational wealth. Short of that, I don't get it.
— Jim in New York
If Cousins and the Vikings let this year ride out, we'll see where both are at.
He has spoken in public before about wanting to maximize his effectiveness as someone who can fund philanthropy, and the Julie and Kirk Cousins Foundation has done some great work. Cousins was presented the Bart Starr Award last month in recognition of his character and leadership.
Any player agreeing to take less money can't be guaranteed that a championship will follow.
I think Cousins is one of the most highly competitive people in the NFL. If you need an example, please check back to how serious he was in this year's Pro Bowl Games. There are numerous better examples than that flag football performance, including all the behind-the-scenes work Cousins puts in to try to play his best each week.
Oh, I get it now. This is the Vikings déjà vu competitive rebuild plan for QB:
1) Aaron Rodgers gets traded to the Jets.
2) Kirk Cousins plays out his contract.
3) After one year, Rodgers signs with Vikes for two tumultuous years, including the defeat of Green Bay with Jordan Love at QB.
4) Rodgers retires after abysmal final season.
5) Vikings fans sigh and roll their eyes.
6) etc. etc. etc. déjà vu all over again.
Howard the Doc Doc
With the reporting of Rodgers and the Jets having discussions, there's probably quite a familiar feeling, given that Brett Favre joined the Jets after wrapping his time in Green Bay and before joining Minnesota.
Who knows beyond a couple of days or this month? I do love the "déjà vu all over again" reference — not sure if it was in homage to Yogi Berra, but I'll chalk it up that way.
Vikings fan ever since I was 8 years old, now 63. What will it take to emulate that defensive front that we had in that era of the Purple People Eaters? Do we have men on our roster that have the mentality and the physical abilities to be the heart and soul on our team's defense?
Next question, are we gonna move up and draft a young quarterback and let him sit behind Kirk or just trade Kirk and keep rebuilding?
— "Old School Viking" in Memphis, Tennessee
Alan Page and Carl Eller are Pro Football Hall of Famers. Jim Marshall should be, and their running mates Gary Larsen and Doug Sutherland were also really darn good. That's an incredible collection of difference makers that's hard to duplicate.
I do love the way O'Connell (and previously Mike Zimmer — they're the only two head coaches I've covered here) have emphasized the great history of the franchise to current players.
Your second question might come down to draft night and how the board is taking shape, the potential cost for a move like that vs. what other areas of need could be addressed in that moment.
Love the Mailbag. Read it every Monday. That being said, I haven't heard any talk of trading Danielle for more picks. I love the guy, but if we could get another 2023 early round pick for a perennial edge rusher and more picks that would be a great long-term plan. What would be his potential trade value?
— G. Smitty from Idaho
First off, appreciate the consistent readership.
Many could consider Hunter as one of the most alluring players on the Vikings roster. He's another player and person that has been a joy to cover during his time here.
Trade value can range because of multiple factors, but for this exercise, we'll take a quick look at an edge rusher who has been traded twice since 2018.
The Bears acquired Khalil Mack at age 27 from the Raiders, along with a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional pick that year, in exchange for first- and sixth-round picks in 2019 and first- and third-round picks in 2020.
The Chargers acquired Mack at age 31 from the Bears last year for a 2022 second-round pick and a sixth-rounder this year.
Mack recorded 40.5 sacks for the Raiders (2014-17) and 36 for the Bears (2018-21) before tallying 8.0 last season.
Hunter won't turn 29 until the end of October and has 71 career sacks, so maybe the best approximation is between what was exchanged each time in the deals involving Mack?
My question is why is it so hard for this franchise to draft a quarterback, someone new and fresh that could possibly be a franchise quarterback and hopefully take us to the next level?
— Judie Bell from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, deep in enemy territory
Appreciate the support from across the border.
I think the first part of the question is it's hard for anyone to draft/find a franchise quarterback. Scarcity enters the equation and drives up the price for moving up the board or signing one to multiple contracts.
In the years that Cousins has had multiple years on his contract, perhaps leadership decided the best use of high picks was trying to address other positions.