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Monday Morning Mailbag: Remembering Bud Grant Ceremony & Finding A Defensive Boost

Remembering Bud Grant: “He Did It His Way” tribute ceremony - May 21, 2023
Remembering Bud Grant: “He Did It His Way” tribute ceremony - May 21, 2023

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It was so nice to see generations of Vikings fans come out to U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday for the Remembering Bud Grant: "He Did It His Way" tribute ceremony.

I was at a table on the concourse inviting attendees to write notes to Bud Grant. Some might be published on down the line, but we'll also deliver each note to the family. Normally, most of my game-day work is sitting in the press box, so I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak with fans and thank them for attending.

I spoke with the daughter of Isabelle Montgomery, a 103-year-old we mentioned in a March Mailbag after Bud passed away. Isabelle had met Bud at the Minnesota Vikings Museum before he passed away. She attended Sunday and helped the age range from her all the way to an infant I saw riding with a parent in a baby carrier.

That's a truly incredible span and a testament to Bud's everlasting legacy, which we'll continue to honor at the Vikings.

View photos from the public celebration of life for Vikings Legend Bud Grant at U.S. Bank Stadium on May 21, 2023.

Tip of the hat to Mark Rosen, who served as emcee and led conversations with Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell.

Klobuchar recalled answering her house phone at age 7 when Bud called to speak to her father, Jim Klobuchar. Sen. Klobuchar said her answer of the phone was followed by silence before Bud simply said, "Jim." Bud wasn't one to waste words, she humorously reminded the crowd.

O'Connell spoke about the impact Bud made on him through weekly lunch conversations during the season. The relationship started fast with Bud attending O'Connell's introduction as the 10th head coach in franchise history and meeting O'Connell's wife and three oldest children. A fourth child born during the season received a plush duck from Bud at her birth that she was holding before he left to attend the ceremony.

Rosen also hosted panels that featured Mike Grant, Ron Schara and Paul Wiggin, who spoke about Bud off the field.

Schara enjoyed numerous outdoors adventures with Bud, introducing him to turkey hunting. Wiggin was presented the Bud Grant Distinguished Minnesotan Award from the National Football Foundation in January.

A media panel featured Mike Max, Chad Hartman, Patrick Reusse and Dan Barreiro, and a Vikings Legends panel included Carl Eller, Chuck Foreman, Scott Studwell and Stu Voigt.

Video messages featuring comments Fran Tarkenton, Jim Marshall and Ahmad Rashad explained Bud's greatness and significance to their distinguished careers.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also sent a video message to convey his appreciation for Bud.

We'll have more content from the ceremony, but I do appreciate the opportunity for initial coverage in this space.

NFL Owners are converging on Minnesota this week for the NFL Spring Meeting, so we'll keep an eye on votes that take place.

The current team is also reaching Phase 3 of its voluntary offseason workout program this as it works toward a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

On to the questions…

I was a bit underwhelmed by our defensive plans at the start of last season. Passing on S [Kyle] Hamilton or NT Jordan Davis for S [Lewis] Cine and CB [Andrew Booth, Jr.] aside, I didn't like the scheme. It was old and predictable and unfortunately proved me right.

Unlike last year, I am very optimistic about this year. Although Brian Flores runs a similar 3-4 defense, he also likes to mix it up a lot more, and he is good at keeping offenses guessing. And while we lost some good players like [Eric] Kendricks, [Patrick] Peterson, [Dalvin] Tomlinson [and Za'Darius] Smith, we still have [Harrison] Smith, [Cam] Bynum, [Akayleb] Evans, [Jordan] Hicks, [Danielle] Hunter, [D.J.] Wonnum, and a bevy of OK DLs. I like the additions of [Byron Murphy], [Marcus] Davenport and [Dean] Lowry. I also really like this draft. CB [Mekhi] Blackmon, DL [Jaquelin] Roy and [OLB] Andre Carter all were on my draft list. Carter could be the steal of this draft. This may not be a top 10 defense yet, but it won't be 31st. A middle-of-the-pack defense may be all this team needs if the offense plays like it can.

What do you think?

— Jerry Carrier in Lakeville, Minnesota

Thanks for the help in laying out the multiple reasons people can believe the defense will deliver better results in 2023, even if some incredibly talented players were cap casualties/unable to be re-signed because of financial limits. Or, in the case of Za'Darius Smith, traded to Cleveland for picks.

Minnesota took a surgical, strategic approach to free agency with Murphy, Davenport and Lowry, who have each had productive seasons during their time with the teams that drafted them.

Blackmon adds versatility at corner, and Roy adds oomph to the defensive line.

Carter was signed as an undrafted free agent and is a prospect the Vikings will look forward to developing.

There's a significant chance that the 2022 draft class has more opportunities to contribute this year, and we'll have a more complete grade on that group if that happens.

I think Jerry is right in that the Vikings may not need to or be equipped to vault into the top 10 defensively, but there might be a translatable difference between ranking 31st in yards allowed and 28th in points against to one that ranks in the lower 20s.

To all those people saying we should move on from Dalvin Cook, I say, be careful what you wish for. He is still one of the fastest, nimblest running backs in the NFL. He can catch the ball. The Vikings are a better football team with Dalvin Cook on the roster. The Vikings are not going to fix their salary cap this year. I say give Dalvin a thank you deal. We have seen what the lack of a running game that can produce explosive plays does to your overall offense. It absolutely kills it.

Pay the man.

— Gary Lipsey

Cook has cemented his place as one of the top running backs in team history with 5,993 rushing yards and 47 scores on the ground. He's carried the football at least 249 times in each of the past four seasons after his promising rookie season ended in just its fourth game. Cook also missed some time in 2018 when he was in a throw-first scheme coordinated by John DeFilippo.

After that season, former Head Coach Mike Zimmer doubled down on the ground game with Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak, and Cook responded with more than 2,600 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns from 2019-20.

When he signed his current contract, which was a five-year extension before the 2020 season, the offense ran through Cook. Even though Cook ranked sixth in the NFL with 1,173 rushing yards and tied for 12th with eight touchdowns last season, the Vikings offense under O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips seems to flow first through the passing game and Justin Jefferson and for plenty of good reasons.

Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell both were hired in 2022, inheriting multiple existing contracts that pinched Minnesota's salary cap wiggle room. They have ongoing talks and communications with multiple players and their agents about long-term plans for the organization.

In recent years, we've seen teams across the league devalue the running back position, either through the percentage of their salary caps that they want going toward the position or shifting from a feature back to a committee approach.

I'm happy to hear all the draft picks have signed their rookie contracts, but I'm curious what happens to players that get cut. Only 53 players make the team, so what happens to the contracts of all remaining players?

Looking forward to the new season!

— JD in Surprise, Arizona

So far, the Vikings have signed five of their six picks from the 2023 NFL Draft.

View photos of members of the Vikings 2023 Draft Class who signed their rookie contracts at the TCO Performance Center.

Cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, defensive back Jay Ward, defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy and quarterback Jaren Hall were the first four to ink their pro deals ahead of rookie minicamp, and receiver Jordan Addison signed his last week. That leaves seventh-round pick, running back DeWayne McBride, left to sign at the time of this post.

Draft position affects the total dollars for contracts and the potential guarantees a particular player will receive.

Some players who receive guarantees might not make the roster and have the rest of their contract voided, but they keep the guaranteed amount. Some might not make the active roster but will join the practice squad, which doesn't pay as much as having a spot on the 53. It does, however, position players to develop in their careers with an NFL team. Practice squad players can be called up to the active roster multiple times and earn game checks that way.

Will NaJee Thompson be the Vikings Matthew Slater? He is a similar size. I read he really likes special teams and sees it as a way to make an NFL roster. What are the chances?


You always have to let the dust settle after the draft. Mekhi Blackmon is going for a Master's. Jacky Chen is a graduate student. One of Jordan Addison's interviews shows me he is a student of the game. How important are academics and intelligence in the draft process?

— Gerald Goblirsch

NaJee Thompson is one of the dozen-plus undrafted free agents the Vikings signed. He played college football at Georgia Southern after growing up in South Carolina. Once upon a time, yours truly covered some really good high school football in Thompson's home county (Spartanburg) as a freelancer before I joined the Herald-Journal's news staff full-time for a couple of career-formative years.

View exclusive black-and-white photos from rookie minicamp, shot by Vikings Team Photographer Andy Kenutis.

I was able to have a quick informal conversation about the current state of prep football with Thompson.

He smartly knows how important special teams will be for his chance as an undrafted rookie cornerback to make the 53-man roster or practice squad.

I'm always in favor of a success story — there are some great ones every year in sports — but it's a little early and maybe unfair to try to project him as Matthew Slater, who has appeared in 223 regular-season games (three starts) and earned 10 Pro Bowl selections while dazzling on special teams. O'Connell and Slater were in the same Patriots draft class back in 2008 (when I was back in Thompson's home area), and the coach spoke glowingly about his former teammate last year before the Vikings hosted the Patriots and their special teams ace who will turn 38 in September.

As for the second question, there's so many different types of intelligences, from the classroom to the gridiron. Teams try to be as thorough as possible in their evaluations, but they always start with the game film and go from there to paint the most complete picture of a prospect.

View exclusive photos of the Vikings rookies participating in rookie minicamp shot by Vikings Team Photographer Andy Kenutis.

A player's ability to maintain football commitments, as well as a high GPA can illustrate that player is capable of balancing multiple tasks. Teams can evaluate how much a particular player has optimized opportunities.

Are the Vikes even thinking about getting rid of Cousins?

— John Mich

Kirk remains under contract for 2023, and he has been working with teammates and coaches on the upcoming season.

He and the Vikings still have the option of working out a deal for what follows 2023, but both parties seem content to direct their efforts on enabling the most success for the Minnesota Vikings this season.

I'm looking forward to seeing Cousins participating in Phase 3 and the minicamp.