MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two of the Minnesota Vikings’ biggest priorities this offseason were to bolster a thin receiver corps and get a quality veteran to backup quarterback Christian Ponder.
One down, one to go.
The Vikings agreed to terms with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel on Thursday, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it had not been officially announced. It’s been a busy day for the Vikings, who also were hosting Green Bay Packers free agent receiver Greg Jennings for a visit.
The agent for Jennings, Eugene Parker, told the AP his client was visiting Green Bay’s NFC North rival. ESPN first reported the trip.
Cassel agreed to terms with the Vikings, a deal first reported by Fox Sports, on the same day he was formally released by the Chiefs with two years left on his contract. He spent the last four years in Kansas City, making the Pro Bowl in 2010 after throwing for 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. But he has struggled the last two years, with 16 TDs and 21 interceptions. He completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,796 yards with six touchdowns and 12 interceptions in nine games last year.
Cassel will replace Joe Webb as Christian Ponder’s backup. Ponder has been inconsistent his first two seasons, but GM Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier have expressed strong support for their young quarterback and labeled him as the definitive starter when the team starts preparations for 2013.
The 29-year-old Jennings played in only eight games for the Packers in 2012, plus two in the playoffs, because of a torn lower abdominal muscle and finished with a career-low 366 yards receiving with an average of 10.2 yards per catch, also his worst NFL total. In 2011, he missed three games with a sprained left knee.
But as the Vikings well know, Jennings has been one of the best in the league since he was drafted in the second round in 2006 out of Western Michigan. He has three years of at least 1,100 yards receiving and two 12-touchdown seasons. In 14 career games against the Vikings, Jennings racked up 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Packers won 10 times.
The Vikings sure haven’t been shy about signing players from their fiercest intra-division competitor.
They brought in safety Darren Sharper in 2005, kicker Ryan Longwell in 2006 and wide receiver Robert Ferguson in 2007. They’ve tried to woo others in recent years, too: fullback William Henderson, defensive end Aaron Kampman and wide receiver James Jones.
Then, of course, there was Brett Favre, whose embittered departure from the Packers in 2008 paved the way for him joining the Vikings in 2009 and nearly taking them to the Super Bowl.
More important to the Vikings than nabbing a popular, productive player from the Packers, though, is upgrading their perilously thin group of wide receivers. After trading Percy Harvin, cutting Michael Jenkins and letting Devin Aromashodu become a free agent, the Vikings currently have only three players at the position with any NFL experience: Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton. Wright has played in seven career games. Burton has seven career catches.
Spielman has repeatedly stated the organization’s preference to focus on drafting and developing players rather than relying on free agency to fill gaps on the roster, but they’ll likely need to add at least one veteran to the group even if they draft a handful of them.
Ponder said in an interview this week he doesn’t think it’s paramount to add more experience but acknowledged he wouldn’t mind throwing to a polished, versatile wide receiver like Jennings.
“He’s as great player. He’s been doing great things in Green Bay, and he’d bring leadership to that position,” Ponder said. “Kind of a dynamic guy you can put in the slot and outside. I’ve always admired his work in Green Bay, and he seems like a great guy to have on a team.”
Plenty of money has been flying around the NFL the last few days for wide receivers, beginning with Mike Wallace’s big contract with Miami. Wes Welker went to Denver, and Danny Amendola replaced him in New England. Donnie Avery signed with Kansas City. By waiting during the initial wave, the Vikings ought to get a lower price for Jennings if he’s willing to come to a team with a still-developing quarterback in Ponder.
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