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The Minnesota Vikings are one of 12 teams around the NFL to have never ended a season by raising the Vince Lombardi trophy in a sea of confetti.
Since their very first season in 1961, the Minnesota Vikings have been lucky enough to appear in a total of four Super Bowls. Unfortunately, the Vikings were never on the winning end of these games and the franchise is still searching for their very first Super Bowl victory.

Minnesota is actually one of 12 teams around the NFL to have never won a Super Bowl. This group, that accounts for 37.5 percent of the teams in the league, includes the Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, and Tennessee Titans.

Of this group, The Draft Network’s Brad Kelly believes that Minnesota has the best chance to come out of the upcoming 2019 NFL season with their first-ever Super Bowl victory.

“(Minnesota’s) success will seemingly come down to the play of Kirk Cousins, but he should become more comfortable in his second year with the franchise. Their path to a top seed is more clear than the others, as the NFC North winning Bears seemed destined to regress next season.

With added depth to the offensive line, Minnesota’s roster seemingly has no clear weakness. That could be just enough to finally put them over the top.”

While this is a glowing endorsement of the Vikings heading into 2019, let’s not pretend like the offensive line is automatically fixed because the team added some players during the offseason who could potentially improve the performance of the unit.

As Minnesota has learned in the past (see Matt Kalil, Alex Boone, T.J. Clemmings, etc.), more offensive line depth doesn’t always translate into better offensive line play. So to say that the Vikings have no clear weaknesses going into 2019 seems a bit far fetched.

Still, Minnesota does appear to have as good a shot to win the Super Bowl next season as any of the other teams who have yet to get a win in the big game.

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Does this mean the Vikings are being viewed as a Super Bowl contender in 2019? Not necessarily, but it does indicate that not many would be surprised if Minnesota actually did end next season with a championship.

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MINNEAPOLIS – Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen has agreed to a four-year contract extension with the Minnesota Vikings, the team announced on Friday afternoon.

The details of Thielen’s new deal were revealed in an Instagram post by Team IFA, the agency that represents the 28-year-old receiver. Thielen is set to make $64 million with the extension on a deal worth up to $73 million with incentives. NFL Network is reporting that Thielen received $35 million in guaranteed money.

The Vikings’ front office continued their tendency of rewarding players with lucrative extensions years before their contracts are up. Thielen, who had two years remaining on the four-year extension he signed in March 2017, had outplayed his current contract — which was set to pay him around $8 million in 2019. He will now be making an average of $16 million per year.

Thielen is one of eight players under contract in Minnesota through the 2022 season, a list that also includes Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes.

Adam Thielen has plenty to celebrate as the Vikings wide receiver will see his average annual salary double from a scheduled $8 million in 2019 to $16 million. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
Thielen’s rise from an undrafted free agent who joined the Vikings after a rookie tryout in May 2013 has been well documented. The Pro Bowler is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, marking a career-high 1,373 yards (fourth most in franchise history) and 113 receptions (third most in franchise history) and nine receiving touchdowns in 2018.

Last season, the former Division II product became the first player in NFL history to record eight consecutive games with 100-plus receiving yards to start a season.

According to the NFL Players Association public salary-cap report, the Vikings have just over $2 million in cap space. Before Thielen signed his extension, the wide receiver was on the books with an $8.1 million cap hit for 2019. It’s possible that his number remains close to that, even with the extension, but it could be lowered, allowing the Vikings the flexibility to make other offseason moves and pay their draft class later this month.

With Thielen’s new deal expected to keep him in Minnesota through the 2024 season, the Vikings get to retain one of the league’s best receiving duos. Both Thielen and Diggs were the first Minnesota wideouts to both reach 1,000 yards receiving in the same season in 2018 since Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Cris Carter achieved the same feat in 2000.

Diggs signed a five-year extension last offseason. Both Diggs and Thielen can earn $9 million in incentives over the course of their respective contracts.

Despite finances being tight in Minnesota as it pertains to the salary cap, the idea of a contract extension for one of the league’s most productive receivers has been on the table for a while. Blake Baratz, Thielen’s agent, spoke about the situation on Purple Daily on ESPN affiliate SKOR North in February, and remained hopeful that a deal would get done this offseason.

“No one’s being greedy,” Baratz said. “Everyone understands the situation and it’s really in their court. He has a couple of years left on his deal but he’s earned a significant pay raise. Not to mention what he’s done on the field, he might be one of the best people in the entire National Football League and represents the city and the organization and state and, frankly, the entire region unbelievably.”

The extension will make Thielen one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers, tied with Kansas City Chiefs wideout Sammy Watkins as the sixth highest paid at his position based on average yearly salary.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Sloppy play, penalties and injuries hurt the Vikings in a 14-10 preseason loss to the Jaguars on Saturday, and the injuries might have a lasting effect as the team prepares for Week 1.

Minnesota had six players leave the game with injuries and not return. Three players were carted off: defensive end Ade Aruna (knee), offensive lineman Cedrick Lang (lower leg) and fullback Johnny Stanton (lower leg).

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and was listed as questionable to return. Center Josh Andrews injured his ankle at the beginning of the third quarter on an incomplete pass and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. After rookie Jeff Badet caught a 13-yard pass from Kyle Sloter in the fourth quarter, the receiver took a vicious hit to the head that put him in the concussion protocol.

A handful of these injuries appear to be serious, as coach Mike Zimmer said he expects that several players will be lost for the season. He noted postgame that Lang will undergo surgery.

“The list was so long I don’t remember the exact number, so I’ll just wait until we put them on IR,” Zimmer said.

Outside of Alexander, many of the players injured Saturday were fighting for a roster spot.

“Yeah I feel bad for those guys because they come in here and work their rear ends off,” Zimmer said. “We had a huge number of injuries today, you never want your guys to get injured and it was kind of freaky things; we get rolled up on, it was unfortunate things today opposed to, you know [Jeff] Badet got hit in the head.”

Minnesota entered Saturday down four starters on the offensive line: Mike Remmers (ankle), Rashod Hill (ankle), Pat Elflein (PUP) and Nick Easton (IR — neck).

Aviante Collins started in place of Hill before moving to left tackle and subsequently left guard. Cornelius Edison, who started the game at center, had to come back in after Andrews got hurt and played almost a full game.

Players have cited the “next man up” mentality throughout training camp, as injuries have forced the Vikings to continue to shuffle personnel across all positions except left tackle. Building continuity while continually adjusting for new personnel has proved to be the most challenging part of the process.

“We have to get on the stick here pretty quick,” Zimmer said. “I think Remmers will be back next week, which will be good. I think Elflein has a chance to get back here pretty soon. That will help. I don’t know about Rashod yet, so we’ll see. It’s tough, but we’re not the only ones in the league to be having these issues, I’m sure. We just have a few more than we should have at this point in time. That’s life.”

Playing behind a rotating offensive line is something quarterback Kirk Cousins has grown used to over the years. Injuries in Washington in 2017 forced the Redskins to use 36 offensive line combinations.

“You learn to roll with the punches in this league,” Cousins said. “You can’t start to say, ‘Well, that’s not how we drew it up, so now we’re not going to plan on doing great things,’ so you just play and take whatever’s thrown at you, and that’s the only way you have a chance to have success. I think that the players who have come in in place of some of our starting offensive linemen have done a good job and have been ready to play. Coach Flip is doing a really good job with the game plan and playcalling to accentuate our strengths and try to protect us from some of our weaknesses, and that’s what a great playcaller does.”

In his second game with Minnesota, Cousins went 3-of-8 for 12 yards and finished with a 45.8 passer rating. A far cry from his crisp performance in Minnesota’s preseason opener in Denver, Cousins played four series to start the game, with his closest drive ending at Jacksonville’s 27-yard line, which forced the Vikings to settle for a 44-yard field goal.

Cousins had his day end after one series to open the second quarter following an incomplete pass to Stefon Diggs on third down. As a team, Minnesota’s offense finished Saturday 0-for-12 on third down.

“I think he can play a lot better,” Zimmer said of Cousins.

Added Cousins: “Probably not the worst thing in the long run to realize we’ve got a lot of work to do. If you want to call it a wake-up call, that’s fine, but it’ll get us ready to go when we get back on Monday.”

Running back Latavius Murray’s struggles with ball security were uncharacteristic for a player who fumbled eight times over the first four years of his career and lost only two. Murray fumbled two times on his first five carries.

The lone bright spot on offense centered around the competition for the No. 3 running back spot. Mike Boone rushed 13 times for 91 yards and a touchdown, rebounding after an up-and-down outing last week in Denver.

“To be honest with you, I’m glad we didn’t win that game today because we didn’t deserve to win,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t play well enough, and we’re going to get back to work and get going here.”

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EAGAN, Minn. — Brett Jones changed teams in the blink of an eye.

The new Vikings center was at practice Sunday with the New York Giants when he received word that he had been traded. Jones was promptly pulled from the field and made plans to head to Minnesota.

“It’s been a whirlwind, just getting on the plane yesterday and coming here,” Jones said. “I’m really excited and really happy to be here with the Minnesota Vikings.

“I was at practice … they came out and got me and right after that they said, ‘The Vikings are going to call you to set up the travel.’ The rest is history,” Jones added. “They told me right on the field that it was going to happen. I was pretty surprised but excited at the same time.”

Jones has started 14 of the 30 games he’s played for the Giants in the past two seasons, including 13 of 16 games in 2017.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer offered his assessment of the 27-year-old who is listed at 6-foot-2.

“On the tape, he’s pretty good,” Zimmer said. “He’s stout, strong, real gritty, good in pass protection, solid on the double teams.

“He’s about 315, so he’s short but he’s thick,” Zimmer also added.

Zimmer said he expects Jones to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Tennessee, and the lineman said he’s fine at both guard and center.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo said Monday morning that Jones could have an easier transition than most. He has been in an offensive system under Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, who was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator in 2017.

“He’s going to be an interior guy. We’ll see what he knows,” DeFilippo said. “There should be some carryover coming from the Giants with Coach [Pat] Shurmur, I would think.

“His learning curve will hopefully be a little bit quicker than somebody coming from another team that has no idea of kind of what we’re trying to do offensively. It’s going to be a little bit different; some of the protections are going to be a little bit different and the way we’re calling things,” DeFilippo said. “From a run game standpoint, I think that it’s going to be very similar to what he was exposed to in New York. But we’re going to, obviously, work him in to the interior both at center and at guard.”

Said Jones: “One of the things Coach Shurmur told me is that the offense would be pretty similar. There is definitely a lot of similarities, and it’s been a good transition so far for me to catch on to the plays and words and things like that.”

Jones said he’s trying to get up to speed while also not overwhelming himself.

“You try to take it one day at a time and one play at a time in practice,” Jones said. “If you worry about the whole picture, it can get blurry.

“If you take little bites each and every day and just work hard, the rest will take care of itself,” Jones added. “I’m just excited to get with the coaches and keep learning the playbook and get out there and perform. It’s what I was brought here to do.”

Jones hails from Canada, as his hometown of Weyburn is about 700 miles northwest of Minneapolis and is in the province of Saskatchewan.

Jones played at the University of Regina before transitioning to the Canadian Football League for two seasons. He spent the past three seasons with the Giants before heading back north.

But the newest Viking had some Minnesota ties before joining the Vikings.
Jones said Monday that his first-ever NFL game was in December of 2009 when he watched the Vikings get a 30-10 win over the Bengals at the Metrodome.

“I think there’s a lot of Purple up there [in Saskatchewan]. This is probably the closest stadium you could get to,” Jones said. “The first [NFL] game I saw was at the Metrodome … the Bengals at the Vikings.

“I wore a Phil Loadholt jersey,” Jones added, mentioning the former tackle who made 89 starts for the Vikings from 2009-2014. “I was a big NCAA fan on Xbox, so he was a good player coming out [of Oklahoma]. Nobody else had it. I just liked offensive linemen and didn’t think anyone would have that jersey.”

Here are 4 plays of @DHunt94_TX vs Jags in 1 drive! Imagine a whole game like this. #beastmaster pic.twitter.com/rE3VCvpOJG

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Double trouble

Danielle Hunter has been one of the standouts on the Vikings defense in preseason play, as the 23-year-old has prepared for his fourth season.

The defensive end has a sack and racked up numerous additional pressures, but likely won’t play Thursday against the Titans.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said Monday that Hunter benefits from the fact that he can rush from both sides of the defensive line.

Edwards said Hunter has to adjust his footwork and rushing lane depending on which side he is one, but added the former third-round pick is a quick learner.
“I really think he has made a big jump, feeling comfortable systematically as well as technique and fundamental wise of what we’re asking him to do,” Edwards said “He’s not thinking nearly as much.

“You can really see his athleticism as we go through the preseason,” Edwards added. “He’s really gotten off of the ball and affected the quarterback, getting him off of the spot, those kinds of things, but he’s also very good versus the run.”

Hunter has 25.5 career sacks, which leads all players taken in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Bring on the blitz

The Vikings offense has seen a myriad of blitzes through the first three preseason games against Denver, Jacksonville and Seattle.

Bring it on, DeFilippo said.

DeFilippo said Monday that he actually embraces teams who blitz in the preseason, as it helps an offense get up to speed once the real action rolls around.

“Yeah, absolutely,” DeFilippo said. “I think if you’re up against a vanilla defense every day, I do think during the season it can shock you if you open up against a team that does like to pressure a lot.

“The teams that we’ve played so far this preseason [have blitzed], and every day in practice we’re lucky enough to have plenty of blitz looks,” DeFilippo added. “And not only blitz looks but really, really difficult blitzes.”

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All the scouting reports were similar. When the Minnesota Vikings selected Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O’Neill with the 62nd overall pick earlier this spring, they knew they were gaining one of the most athletic linemen in the draft whose upside appeared limitless.

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His measureables were off the charts: 98th percentile in the 40-yard dash, 98th percentile in the 3-cone drill, 91st percentile in the 20-yard shuttle run. O’Neill’s 4.82-second 40 time was the fastest among all offensive linemen at the NFL scouting combine. He even tied the time of (an albeit slow) quarterback Jared Goff of the Rams from two years prior.

As the uncertainty surrounding Minnesota’s offensive line mounts throughout the offseason, questions are often raised about the likelihood that the 6-foot-7, 297-pound O’Neill will be ready to take over at right tackle this season if needed.

Everyone from general manager Rick Spielman to coach Mike Zimmer to O’Neill himself has said the same thing: The rookie needs to get stronger if he’s going to play tackle in the NFL. Handling speed off the edge has long been one of O’Neill’s strong suits. Doing it against elite edge rushers will require greater strength.

Just over a month into his tenure as a Viking, O’Neill is starting to notice his body changing as he gets into an NFL strength, conditioning and nutrition program. O’Neill said he hopes to be around 305 pounds by the end of spring workouts. In the coming months, that number may increase.
The Vikings like Brian O’Neill’s athletic ability but believe he has to get stronger to play offensive tackle in the NFL. Jim Mone/AP Photo
It may sound like fun, but adding mass to one’s frame in a short amount of time doesn’t boil down to a quick fix of binging on pizza and chips every night. Putting on healthy weight while learning an NFL playbook is no cakewalk.

The good news for Minnesota? This isn’t O’Neill’s first time having to transform his mind and body to meet the demands of playing tackle. And having to do so quickly.

O’Neill hasn’t played tackle that long. He excelled as a tight end (33 receptions for 614 yards and eight touchdowns) and as a defensive end (45 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles) as a senior in high school. He was rated the fifth-best tight end prospect from his native Delaware when Pitt recruited him.

O’Neill, who weighed 235 pounds when he started college, redshirted in 2014. He moved to tackle before the 2015 season. An offseason injury to former Panthers tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith left Pitt scrambling to find help for their offensive line. O’Neill, a big, blocking tight end who occasionally went out for a pass, was the perfect candidate to fill the void.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had little doubt that O’Neill could seamlessly make the transition. Less than three years before O’Neill would be drafted in the second round, Narduzzi foreshadowed just how far his ceiling would rise by moving inside.

“We talked about how many first-round draft choice tight ends there were compared to offensive tackles and where he had the ability to be a part of that,” Narduzzi said. “I think that’s something that played into the whole puzzle there.”

But this wasn’t Narduzzi’s decision to make.

“I didn’t tell him he had to move to tackle,” he said. “Just because a guy got hurt doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice everything you’ve worked for and wanted your entire life. I told him to take a day or two to decide, but if you make that move you have to be all in and want to do it.”

Narduzzi’s phone rang the next day. O’Neill was ready to make the switch. Time was of the essence.
Brian O’Neill was 235 pounds when he entered college in 2014 and moved to tackle before the 2015 season at Pitt. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics
‘See food, eat food’

Six weeks stood between O’Neill and the start of training camp ahead of the 2015 season. Once he decided to change positions, he immediately started to work on changing his body.

From late June until early August 2015, O’Neill went from what he called a “skin and bones” 250 pounds to 285 pounds. Doing so required an immense buy-in from O’Neill at the guiding hand of Pitt head strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews.

While working at the University of Cincinnati earlier in his career, Andrews aided Jason Kelce’s transformation from a 230-pound walk-on linebacker to a 280-pound center by the time he left college. Like O’Neill, the Super Bowl champion Kelce ran the fastest 40-yard dash among all offensive linemen at the combine in 2011.

Andrews had about a month-and-a-half to install a system for O’Neill to gain upwards of 35 pounds so he could hold his anchor on the offensive line. In theory, the plan was simple: There was no set number of calories O’Neill had to consume each day nor specific foods he needed to prioritize over others. All that mattered was that the tackle was putting enough in his body to gain weight. If the scale wasn’t moving upwards, he needed to eat more.

“I called it the ‘see food diet,'” Andrews said. “He’s like, ‘I don’t like seafood.’ I said, ‘No, you’re going to see food and eat it.'”

Playing the calorie game became a full-time job for O’Neill that summer. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were an important staple in his diet, in which he didn’t allow himself to go more than 30 minutes without eating and often set his alarm for a 3 a.m. middle-of-the-night snack.

“It made for some fun 100-degree camp practices in Pittsburgh when you’re putting that many calories in your body,” O’Neill joked.
Brian O’Neill played tight end and defensive end in high school before going to Pitt. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics
Gaining weight might have been the easiest part of his transition. Keeping that weight on with the demands of training camp was difficult.

“It takes an awful lot of discipline,” Andrews said. “We did daily and weekly weigh-ins. Body weight is an attitude as well. I’d tell him I want to see him up a pound tomorrow, regardless of whether it was water weight or true fat gain, true muscle gain. At that point, I just wanted to see something change on the scale. You’re talking about a 35-pound difference in a six-week period. That’s about a pound a day. Not all good weight, but the main emphasis was to get him to a point where he could anchor down at 285.”

In gaining a large amount of mass, coaches never saw O’Neill lose his athletic edge. Andrews’ plan for the weight room was to put his foot on the pedal and develop as much “absolute strength” as possible. Those six weeks were about helping O’Neill reach the strength needed to play tackle. Refining that strength came later.

“Basically we went into it with nothing to lose,” Andrews said. “Any time you have a young man that is gaining weight, it’s very easy to get them a little bit stronger. … I stressed him to the point where we could check metrics by vertical leap just to make sure we weren’t overtraining the young man.”

To the delight of his coaches, the opposite happened. Possibly the most noteworthy part of his transition can be traced back to one critical measureable.

At 250 pounds, O’Neill reached a 28.5 inch vertical. Some 47 pounds heavier at the combine, he jumped 29.5 inches.

“He is definitely one of the elite guys who you will see test that way,” Andrews said. “With a 40- to 50-pound gain, his performance numbers didn’t change. That’s a testament to what this kid has done, how he’s gone about his recovery and how he’s gone about preparing.”

‘Just touching the surface’

Getting through training camp that season was a major hurdle crossed for O’Neill. Then came his biggest test: putting it all together on the field.

“The first couple of games things were flying fast and you can only prepare for so many different looks,” O’Neill said. “Once you kind of get an eye for everything conceptually in terms of play structure and why we do things it comes quicker.”

O’Neill mastered how to adapt to his new position while managing the changes that came under four different offensive coordinators during his career at Pitt. Going from a pro-set offense to a system that mixed in spread and power concepts provided O’Neill an opportunity to learn a variety of blocking schemes. His athleticism is what makes him such an intriguing addition to the Vikings’ outside zone-blocking scheme predicated on movement and the ability of its linemen to get to the second level.
Putting on healthy weight while learning the playbook is no cakewalk, but Brian O’Neill — the Vikings’ second-round pick — has been here before. Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire
From 2015 to 2017, O’Neill notched 37 starts at tackle. In 817 snaps during his redshirt junior season, he allowed one sack, two QB hits and six hurries. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 98.3 in pass-block efficiency, the third highest among draft-eligible tackles.

As the Vikings work toward wrapping up their spring offseason program, O’Neill is fully immersed in his next transition from a college to professional offensive tackle. The physical difference between the rookie and his right tackle counterparts Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill is understandably noticeable. O’Neill aims to stay on the level of his teammates in terms of the knowledge and skill to play the position.
“At offensive tackle that is the biggest difference, if you don’t do your job the play is over,” he said. “And especially left tackle and even right tackle, protecting the quarterback is the No. 1 priority, at least for an offensive lineman. Being able to do your techniques consistently every time, that’s kind of the biggest difference because you might be able to get away with some stuff at tight end. At least I did when I played. At tackle, you’re out there on an island.”

Whether O’Neill will be ready to step in as a rookie will be determined by how quickly he picks up the playbook and the rate at which his body responds to an intense next few months. Having gone through such an extreme transition three years ago set him up for his current situation. Now it’s time to take the next step.

“I think he’s just touching the surface,” Narduzzi said. “He’s still a tight end playing tackle and his best years are ahead of him, for sure.”