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NFL Expert Predicts Big Pay for Cousins

January 13, 2021 - (0) comments


A former NFL executive told Sports Headliners the Vikings are certain to pay quarterback Kirk Cousins $35 million in guaranteed money for the 2022 season.

The organization and Cousins have until late March of this year to make that decision but the source is sure the veteran quarterback will be rewarded with a big pay day even though the club will have to make salary cap adjustments to accommodate the $35 million. “He will be here,” the source said about 2022. “He’s still a top 10 or 12 quarterback in the league.”

The NFL salary cap (nearly $200 million per team in 2020) will decline this year after league teams saw revenues take a hard hit because of the pandemic. That will only add to the Vikings’ need for belt tightening because of the $21 million due Cousins in 2021 and the $35 million next year.

The former front office executive, who asked to speak anonymously, predicted several Vikings are likely not to return for 2021 including 31-year-old tight end Kyle Rudolph. He said Rudolph will be gone for sure, with the Vikings dumping his estimated $7.6 million salary and replacing him with a younger and less expensive combo of talents in Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin.

Veteran offensive tackle Riley Reiff has a base salary for 2021 of $11.6 million, per Spotrac.com. At 32, Reiff doesn’t play at a high enough level to justify that kind of money, the ex-NFL decision maker said. Reiff’s compensation is among the highest on the team.

Others turning in their Vikings uniforms could include safety Anthony Harris, a good player but not at more than $11 million. Perhaps management and Harris can restructure his contract. Corner Mike Hughes isn’t making big money “but has missed a ton of time” with injuries and the Vikings could make a decision to part ways, the source said.

Linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the top paid Vikings and will likely draw offseason salary cap scrutiny, although he is a coach Mike Zimmer favorite, according to the authority. Savings from not having Barr on the payroll could be used for a new deal with emerging linebacker Eric Wilson.

Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen has a salary approaching $4 million, didn’t have an impressive 2020 season and could be expendable. The Vikings are expecting defensive tackle Michael Pierce to return after opting out because of the pandemic, and he plays for similar money.

The source quoted here had front office leadership experiences with a couple of league teams, and said he would want to know which Dan Bailey is returning to the Vikings in 2021. The kicker will make over $2.5 million next season, but he had a back injury and performance problems last year after being impressive in 2019.

The source said if he were making decisions for the Vikings and the 2021 NFL Draft he wouldn’t prioritize finding a quarterback with the club’s No. 14 pick in the first round. He would be looking for a guard to replace Dakota Dozier, or defensive tackle to rush the passer and “stop the run.”

He said exceptional quarterbacks have sometimes been found in the later draft rounds including Russell Wilson who the Seahawks selected in the third round. “With 11 picks (in 2021), the Vikings have the luxury of looking for a quarterback,” he added.

Worth Noting

The Wild announced this morning the training camp roster has been reduced to 22 players, with the placement of forwards Luke Johnson and Kyle Rau, defensemen Matt Bartkowski, Louie Belpedio and Dakota Mermis, and goaltender Andrew Hammond on its taxi squad. The Wild designated forwards Marco Rossi and Mats Zuccarello and goaltender Alex Stalock as injured non-roster players.

Coach Juwan Howard and his undefeated Michigan basketball team, ranked No. 7 in the AP top 25, plays the Gophers Saturday in Minneapolis. As a coveted high school player Howard was recruited hard by Bloomington, Minnesota native Brian Dutcher, then an assistant coach at Michigan who helped put together the famous “Fab Five” of which Howard was a key player. The two have remained friends with Dutcher part of Howard’s wedding party in Turks and Caicos years ago.

John Anderson

U.S. Bank Stadium will be converted to a baseball setup February 1, with coach John Anderson’s Gophers expected to have the most playing dates. With “bubbles” being in vogue during the pandemic, you wonder if the Big Ten would move the baseball schedules of many league teams to the centralized site of U.S. Bank Stadium.

With a list of events cancelled or rescheduled, the stadium is in cost containment mode and has reduced staffing.

A local radio source said a start-up of WCCO Radio’s long airing and popular “Sports Huddle” show remains indefinite. The Sunday morning program stopped airing last year because of the pandemic and program originator Sid Hartman has since passed away.

With the Timberwolves off to one of the worst starts among NBA teams, have to believe Gersson Rosas, president of basketball operations, is on the phone regarding trades including with former boss Daryl Morey of the Sixers. The two worked extensively together in Houston with the Rockets.

Among the issues for the 3-7 Wolves is guard D’Angelo Russell’s domination of the ball late in games. Instead of involving others, he too often tries to be scoring champion James Harden when results more resemble Isaiah Rider.

Former Twins Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat frequently receive first mention as potential Hall of Famers but Johan Santana and manager Tom Kelly deserve consideration for Cooperstown, too.

The list goes all the way back to a showdown with Texas in 1936, but in the most recent games against the following nonconference opponents the Gophers have emerged the winner: Alabama, Oregon, Auburn, Arkansas, Clemson, Texas, Army, Navy, Air Force, Stanford, Arizona, SMU, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Oregon State, Vanderbilt, Washington State, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, Baylor, Houston, Tulane and Colorado State. Credit sports trivia authority Dave Mona with the research.

For the first time ever the Big Ten has 12 of its 14 wrestling teams ranked in the top 25 of the NWCA coaches poll—led by No. 1 Iowa, followed by No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Penn State, No. 6 Nebraska, No. 7 Ohio State, No. 14 Minnesota, No. 15 Rutgers, No. 16 Purdue, No. 21 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Illinois, No. 25 Michigan State.

John Schneider, the University of St. Thomas alum and Seahawks GM, has a new five-year contract extension, according to a report yesterday from the Seattle Times Sports Alert. His name had been rumored with the Lions opening.


Gopher Road Woes Mark Pitino Era

January 11, 2021 - 2 Comments


Coach Richard Pitino’s Golden Gophers basketball team lost 86-71 at Iowa yesterday and has dropped six consecutive Big Ten regular season road games dating back to last season. Pitino, now in his eighth season as Minnesota’s coach, has been unable to find success on the road in conference games except for the 2016-2017 season when the Gophers were 5-4.

Pitino’s career record in Big Ten regular season road games is 14-55, a 20 percent winning percentage. Most years the Gophers have won only a couple games away from Minneapolis and that goes a long way toward explaining the season-ending conference finishes of Pitino teams. In seven full seasons he has a fourth place finish in the conference standings (2017), with the next best results two years (2014 and 2019) when the Gophers placed seventh.

Big Ten title contenders win on the road, as history shows. When the Gophers won conference championships in 1982 and 1997, they lost two away games each season. Despite highly competitive road competition in the Big Ten last year, Wisconsin managed a 5-4 record on the way to a share of the conference title.

The Gophers are 10-4 overall and 3-4 in Big Ten games. Their four losses (all on the road) against Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin have been double-digit defeats. Minnesota has been way behind in road games and often because of poor defense and undisciplined offense. The Gophers have also been unable to match the energy of opponents on the road.

Pitino gave his team higher marks for its effort yesterday against Iowa than the other three road losses. “I thought this game was totally different than the other three losses. I thought we did a great job fighting back. We just took some bad shots down the stretch and weren’t able to get stops.”

Iowa quickly increased a 39-37 halftime lead to double digits for most of the second half but the Gophers were down by five points with about five minutes to play. Then Minnesota didn’t show enough patience on offense, rushed shots and got three-point happy. After the game Minnesota forward Brandon Johnson acknowledged the Gophers can “fall in love” with three-point shots at the expense of running an efficient offense. “It’s something we gotta fix as a group for sure,” he said.

Richard Pitino

In less than a month the Gophers have played seven consecutive conference games against nationally ranked opponents, including home wins against Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa. Pitino said on his KFAN postgame radio show yesterday the stretch has been a grind. “We wore these guys down. That schedule was as hard a schedule as you’re going to see. …”

The Gophers will take three days off to rest before preparing for Michigan at home Saturday. This is one of Pitino’s more talented teams and has been ranked among the top programs in the country but the road failures have been glaring. Even the team’s most talented players have struggled away from home including preseason All-Big Ten guard Marcus Carr, and center Liam Robbins who was out played in the last two games by national player of the year candidates Hunter Dickinson of Michigan and Luka Garza from Iowa.

“Obviously you got an undefeated (10-0) Michigan coming up, but these guys (the Gophers) got better,” Pitino said on the postgame show. “We need a little break and get back to work.”

Worth Noting

Minnesota native Brian Dutcher, the San Diego State coach who has a special opt out in his contract that would allow him to coach the Gophers if the job opened, has won 13 consecutive regular season road games dating back to 2019.

Scott Ellison, the personable Gophers senior associate athletics director in charge of facilities and capital projects, retires at the end of this week after more than 32 years at the U. Ellison has worked on about $600 million in capital projects including the construction of TCF Bank Stadium and the Athletes Village. Long time assistant Jeff Seifriz will succeed Ellison.

Gophers’ offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. might have been a candidate for the head coaching job at Boise State filled last week with the hiring of Andy Avalos. If Sanford, who has Boise State ties as a former Bronco OC, had been hired that may have opened the door for the return of long time P.J. Fleck OC coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. He left Minnesota after the 2019 season for Penn State but was dismissed last week.

Sanford’s offense had its struggles last season, showing inconsistency and veteran quarterback Tanner Morgan regressing. Sanford came to Minnesota after career moves that included only two years as head coach at Western Kentucky before he was fired, and serving as offensive coordinator at Utah State in 2019 where quarterback Jordan Love went from 32 touchdown passes and six interceptions in 2018 to 20 TD throws and 17 interceptions.

Morgan, a redshirt junior, was being mentioned a year ago as a future late first round or second round NFL Draft choice but for now that looks unlikely and he is expected to return as the Gopher starter in 2021.

If the Vikings were going to part ways with head coach Mike Zimmer it almost certainly would have happened by now. Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters wrote this on Sunday: “But next year is clearly make or break for the 64-year-old grump.”

Local connection: 1983 Waseca High School grad Mike Larson was the advance scout for Tommy Lasorda’s 2000 U.S. Olympic baseball team. Lasorda, who died last week, managed that team to a surprise gold medal and was the long time colorful manager of the Dodgers.

Doug Mientkiewicz, the former Twin, played on the 2000 Olympic team and credited the experience with giving him confidence. John Manuel, now a Twins scout and once editor-in-chief of Baseball America, wrote about that American team who many observers thought would lose out to Cuba.

Versatile calendar: the men’s Gopher hockey team, now 11-1-0 after splitting a weekend series with the Badgers, has played games every day of the week because of TV programming.

John Drum, the newly named general manager of U.S. Bank Stadium, is the latest “Behind the Game” guest with co-hosts Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson. Drum, who talks on the show about the post-pandemic future for the stadium, worked with Robertson in the mid-1990s as part of the Angels organization in Anaheim. The program is available for viewing on the “Behind the Game” YouTube Channel and via cable access throughout the state.

Hoping for the best of transitions for Susan Wilkinson who has moved into a Bloomington long-term care facility. Susan is the terrific wife of Mike Wilkinson, author of the Murray Warmath biography, The Autumn Warrior.

Rob Hunegs, the popular owner of Twin Cites Sports Cards in Golden Valley, is home after a 12-day battle with COVID-19 in the hospital.

Thoughts of friends are with former Gophers football player Joe Pung who was diagnosed in 2019 with stage 3 melanoma and is undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic.


Nanne Pumped to See Wild Rookie

January 06, 2021 - (0) comments


The Wild started training camp this week and the team opens its NHL season next week, debuting prize rookie Kirill Kaprizov. Minnesota hockey legend Lou Nanne, 79, is excited to watch the native of Novokuznetsk, Russia who is known for his offensive efficiency including game-winning goals.

“I can’t wait to see him,” Nanne told Sports Headliners. “I am like everybody else, wildly anticipating what he can do. I enjoyed watching him in the World Juniors…but now he’s in the NHL and we can see what he can do.”

What does the former Gopher, North Star defenseman and team president like about the 5-9, 195-pound forward? “Everything. The way he skates. The presence he’s got on the ice. The way he can shoot the puck. The way he can score goals. Stability on his skates—he’s built like a little fire truck…and he’s got magnificent hands.”

It appears based on past performance the Wild will struggle with goal scoring and Nanne emphasizes the importance of goaltending if Minnesota is to become a playoff team in 2021. “You don’t make the playoffs without goaltending if you’re not going to score a lot of goals, and I don’t see the Wild being a great goal scoring team. They’ll score enough to win (sometimes) but they don’t have an excess of scoring.

“They should be improved with Kaprizov coming because he can score goals, and (Kevin) Fiala coming into his own. So those two (Fiala led the team in points last season) give you some hope for a consistent scoring team. But they have to play tight defensively and they definitely have to have good goaltending.”

A playoff prediction for Minnesota? “Well, they’re going to have to battle to make a playoff position because they’re in a division where you’ve got Colorado, Vegas and St. Louis which are three teams that should be in the playoffs,” Nanne said.

Nanne, who thinks the Stanley Cup finalists could be Colorado and Tampa Bay, is one of six players on the 1960s WCHA All-Decade team announced Monday. The former Gopher All-American defenseman was named one of the WCHA’s 50 greatest players in 2002.

Nanne is looking forward to his 57th year of providing TV commentary for the boys state hockey tournament. Speculation is the tournament could be played in April, the latest dates in memory. It’s unknown, too, whether the boys basketball tournament will still follow the hockey tourney.

Worth Noting

It will be an interesting trio of games just ahead for Gopher center Liam Robbins who is emerging as one of college basketball’s best at his position. Tonight Minnesota plays Michigan, with freshman center standout Hunter Dickinson, and again on January 16. In between those dates (Sunday) is Iowa center Luka Garza, the favorite for college player of the year honors.

When the Gophers upset Iowa last month in a 102-95 home overtime win, Garza had the better stats with 32 points and 17 rebounds but Minnesota’s junior center, who transferred from Drake last year, was also effective with totals of 18 and five. Minnesota, 10-2, and Michigan, 9-0, play for the first time this season in Ann Arbor and the Wolverines are led in scoring by Dickinson at 16.9 points per game.

Robbins, who needs to avoid early foul trouble in his upcoming tests, is averaging 14.2 points per game and coming on strong as of late. His last three games include the first double-double of his Gopher career, scoring 27 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in Minnesota’s win over Ohio State Sunday.

Robbins’ value to the Gophers includes defense where the presence of the 7-foot Iowa native is a deterrent to potential scorers. He leads the Big Ten in blocked shots averaging 2.8 per game.

Dick Jonckowski

Former Gophers basketball public address announcer Dick Jonckowski has been diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The popular emcee and comic has been told the cancer is “not very aggressive.” He will have a series of eight rounds of chemo treatments. Several years ago he beat stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Ex-Gopher guard Andre Hollins is doing graduate work at the Carlson School of Management and serving as a graduate manager on the men’s basketball team.

The St. Thomas football program, headed to Division I status next fall, is looking for three nonconference games to balance out its Pioneer Football League schedule.

It’s not known whether WCCO Radio, the longtime broadcast home of Tommies football, will be airing games next fall.

Historic numbers: The Gopher hockey program, celebrating 100 seasons, boasts a 10-0 team for the first time in more than 80 years.

The CBSsports.com 2021 NFL Mock Draft out Tuesday has the Vikings using the No. 14 pick in the first round to select edge rusher Gregory Rousseau from the University of Miami. Marshall, Minnesota native Trey Lance, the quarterback from NDSU, is predicted to go at No. 8 to the Panthers. Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman isn’t included among the 32 mock picks in the first round.

If Gary Kubiak decides to leave the Vikings as offensive coordinator, that’s one fewer father-son connection on the team. Clint Kubiak is quarterbacks coach, while head coach Mike Zimmer’s son Adam Zimmer is co-defensive coordinator with Andre Patterson, whose son AC Patterson is an offensive quality control coach.

Former Vikings head coach Jerry Burns, who has spent part of his retirement years in Jamaica, will be 94 January 27.

It was 60 years ago last week that the Golden Gophers football team played in its first Rose Bowl, losing 17-7 to Washington. The Gophers returned to the Rose Bowl in January of 1962 and defeated UCLA, 21-3.

Anonymous basketball authority talking about the Timberwolves who are 2-5 and have lost five consecutive mostly one-sided games: “They’re hard to watch.”


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