Charley Walters: Vikings’ owners facing tough financial decisions

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During the 17 years that Zygi and Mark Wilf have owned the Vikings, the team has made the playoffs seven times. A loss on Sunday to the favored Detroit Lions would make the postseason unlikely. Going forward, the Wilfs face difficult spending decisions.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) loosens up during warm ups before the start of a NFL Wildcard Round game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2022. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Foremost will be quarterback. It’s unclear whether the underwhelming play of Vikings backups will improve Kirk Cousins’ free agency market, which could reach $40 million next spring.

It seems likely that had Cousins not been lost for the remaining nine games due to Achilles surgery, the Vikings would have won a couple more games and been a legitimate NFC North contender with the Lions.

But Cousins isn’t expected to be fully recovered in March when free agency begins. The draft isn’t until April, and there’s no guarantee the Vikings could get an elite QB. There’s also the risk that Cousins, 36 next year, could reinjure the Achilles. That risk will affect how much money the Vikings would be willing to guarantee in a contract.

The Vikings can’t go into next season with Nick Mullens, Josh Dobbs or Jaren Hall as their starter.

It’s unclear whether the Wilfs are willing to pay Justin Jefferson the mega-deal he wants (anticipated $150 million for five years). Will they re-sign free agent Danielle Hunter ($65 million or so for three years)? Hunter turns 30 next season.

With Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson signed, would the Vikings dare trade Jefferson for draft picks to take a quarterback?

Going forward, there are multiple intertwined pieces to the Vikings’ puzzle for the Wilfs to try to figure out.

—Best free agent bet for Cousins, if the Vikings don’t re-sign him, seems to be the Atlanta Falcons, who could have $50 million in salary cap space after some anticipated player cuts, including QB Taylor Heinicke, the ex-Viking.

—If the Lions (10-4) have already clinched the division and don’t have a lot to play for in the final game against the Vikings in Detroit on Jan. 7, they could rest some starters to protect against injury and prepare for the playoffs.

—The Vikings this season are the 17th-oldest team in the NFL. The Packers are the youngest. The Lions rank No. 11.

—Joe Mauer needs 75 percent from among nearly 400 baseball writers for Hall of Fame election in the former Twin’s first year of eligibility. With nearly 10 percent of ballots this month known, tracked unofficially by Ryan Thiboudaux, Mauer on Saturday was trending at 76.3 percent.

The 2024 Baseball Hall of Fame class will be inducted on July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

—A children’s book centered on Joe Mauer, “The Right Thing To Do” about the Twins great’s kindness off the field by KSTP-TV’s Joe Schmidt, will be launched at a party at Target Field on Jan. 20.

—Defenseman Brock Faber, the ex-Gopher who is a rookie with the Minnesota Wild, is on pace to receive a maximum $1 million in incentive bonuses this season. That would be more than his salary.

Faber, from Maple Grove, has four contract levels of production worth $250,000 apiece: top-four Wild defenseman in ice time; 10 goals or 25 assists; all-NHL rookie team, and top-two defenseman in blocked shots. He also is among the top-three team defensemen in plus-minus on ice, but only four categories count toward the $1 million in bonuses.

Faber, 21, has an entry-level contract with a base salary of $832,000.The Wild acquired Faber in the Kevin Fiala trade with the Los Angeles Kings. A left winger, Fiala, 27, has 29 points in 29 games this season.

—That was ex-Gophers men’s basketball coach Dan Monson leading Long Beach State to its recent 84-79 victory over Southern California, which featured the college debut of LeBron James’ son, Bronny. That made Long Beach State the only team in the country this season with road victories against teams in the Big East (DePaul), Big Ten (Michigan) and Pac-12 (USC).

—Max Shikenjanski, the former Stillwater QB star who suddenly as a Gophers freshman is backup to Cole Kramer for Tuesday’s Quick Lane Bowl game against Bowling Green, is unfazed that Minnesota has three incoming QBs in its 2024 recruiting class and couldn’t be more excited about his status.

—Deephaven’s Tim Herron of the Champions Tour underwent Dupuytren’s contracture hand surgery the other day so he can practice without pain, which has limited his play.

—Some Target Center courtside seats for Timberwolves games are $1,500 per ticket. In Los Angeles for Lakers and New YOrk for Knicks games, courtside seats approach $4,000 apiece.

—The Timberwolves are 17th in the 30-team NBA in attendance, averaging 18,024 per game.

—Coach Chris Finch considers Karl-Anthony Towns the Timberwolves’ best shooter and said he’s also among the best in the NBA.

—A 2005-06 game-used Timberwolves No. 21 Kevin Garnett jersey has received a $1,500 bid on a VSA national auction. A 1991 Kirby Puckett autographed 1991 No. 34 jersey has fetched a $5,000 bid.

—Minnehaha Academy grad Chet Holmgren of Oklahoma City ranks No. 9 on NBA Social’s top-10 most viewed players. No Timberwolves are among the top 10.

—Late Vikings-San Antonio Spurs owner Red McCombs’ grandson, Joseph
Shields, is buying into the Spurs as a limited partner, per

—The Minnesota Myth — the latest local Arena Football League team — begins training camp on April 1, with the first game later in the month at Target Center. An open tryout camp will be Jan. 20 at the University of Minnesota, where the coach, Rickey Foggie, starred under Lou Holtz (1984-85).

Foggie, who played quarterback for eight seasons for AFL teams and coached for five seasons in the AFL besides coaching at Park Center, Red Wing, St. Thomas Academy and DeLaSalle high schools, said the new 16-team league will play 10 games.

“The first year is always hard in any sport, so we’re just looking to coach the young men up and put a good product on the field and see what happens,” Foggie said.

Foggie, 57, who resides in Burnsville, said he’s working on finding a quarterback.

“Can’t find anyone better than me yet,” he said with a laugh.

Foggie said the interesting part of the team is that it has a woman owner, attorney Diana Hutton, who is wife of Lee Hutton, also a lawyer and a former Gopher who is the league’s commissioner.

“Diana wants to do a lot of stuff in the community off the field, and the good part of it is that she’s going to let me run the football side,” Foggie said. “So it couldn’t be any better than that.”

—In five seasons coaching football at St. Thomas Academy, Dan O’Brien’s teams were 49-5 with five straight state tournament appearances. A year ago, O’Brien left for a new challenge, Holy Family, which had lost its previous 25 games.

This year, with a hall of fame staff, O’Brien’s team finished 7-4, losing to Minneapolis North for a chance to advance to the state tournament.

“To be honest, if someone had said before the season, would you take 7-4, I would have taken that in a second,” O’Brien said. “The kids worked hard — I was happy for them. It’s been a nice turnaround.”

O’Brien, 59, and his staff will return to Holy Family next season.

“I’ve got the two legends — Jeff Ferguson and Dave Nelson — locked in for another year and they are fantastic,” he said. “I learned a lot from them. Nellie called the offense and Fergs helped on defense with Jeff Moritko.”

O’Brien’s son Casey coaches quarterbacks. Casey, 24, the celebrated former Gopher who has courageously fought back from osteosarcoma — a rare bone cancer — has undergone three lung-related surgeries the last four weeks but is cancer free. Casey has had more than 30 overall surgeries.

“The good news is there’s no cancer,” his dad said.

—Daniel Oturu, the former Gopher from Cretin-Derham Hall, has been dominant playing basketball in Istanbul, Turkey, and could get another chance in the NBA by the all-star break in February.

—Top infield prospect in the L.A. Dodgers system is second baseman Michael Busch, 26, from Simley. He’s also the No. 5 overall prospect combined as an outfielder.

Busch, who hit .167 with two home runs in 27 games for the Dodgers last season and is spending the offseason working out in Minneapolis, is naturally excited about the Dodgers’ signing of Shohei Ohtani, who received an astounding $700 million contract.

“Quite a bit of money there; it’s awesome that he’s part of the organization,” Busch said. “Pretty cool.”

Excited to be a teammate?

“Who wouldn’t be,” he said.

—Dallas Mavericks’ top assistant Sean Sweeney, the former Cretin-Derham Hall and University of St. Thomas basketball star, led Dallas to a 130-106 victory over Houston as acting head coach when Jason Kidd was out for sickness last month.

—Stars for the Providence Academy girls basketball team are Maddie Greenway, sophomore daughter of ex-Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, and eighth grader Ari Peterson, daughter of ex-Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

—Former Minneapolis North basketball star Khalid El-Amin has Anoka-Ramsey off to a 6-5 start in his first season as the Golden Rams’ men’s coach.

—Most popular jersey at the Vikings Locker Room store at Mall of America is Justin Jefferson. T.J. Hockenson is No. 2.

—High-energy 5-foot-8 former Stillwater outfielder-pitcher Brayden Hellum is transferring from Kirkwood JC in Iowa to the Gophers.

—Sports power lunch at Yard House in St. Louis Park last week: Bob Hagan, Dave Lee, Patrick Klinger, Dan O’Brien, Pete Eckerline, Jeff Munneke and Randy Handel.

—State golfers posted nearly 90,000 more rounds played in 2023 than in 2002, per the Minnesota Golf Association.

Don’t print that

—Some Gophers boosters the other day came forward with some substantive name, image and likeness packages for football. Meanwhile, six Big Ten men’s basketball teams this season have raised at least $1 million for NIL deals. The Gophers are not among them.

—The 15th player on the No. 1 Purdue’s basketball roster is getting $100,000 this season, with 7-4 center Zach Edey collecting $1.1 million.

—A new NIL deal for Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark, who plays the Gophers on Feb. 28 before a sellout at Williams Arena, is a multi-year endorsement with Gatorade. Other Clark NIL deals, which total in excess of $1 million: Nike, Buick, Topps and H&R Block.

—The Gophers say 85 percent of NIL contributions actually go to their athletes. The rest is operating expenses.

—Gophers football has the 38th-best 2024 recruiting class, per 247sports. Wisconsin is No. 22, Iowa No. 33.

New Big Ten 2024 teams recruiting rankings: Oregon No. 6, USC No. 18, Washington No. 36 and UCLA No. 62.

—The Twins have released VP-assistant GM Rob Antony, 58, after 35 years with the organization. Antony was an invaluable talent evaluator and contract negotiator for younger players.

—There would be a tremendous backlash from alumni who have financially supported the Gophers baseball program (including a major upgrade of Siebert Field) if the university dared discontinue the sport following the retirement of hall of fame coach John Anderson at the end of next season.

For several years, Bethel coach Brian Raabe, the former Gopher-Twin, has been considered Anderson’s successor-in-waiting, provided there would be adequate support from administration, which Anderson has never received. Dan Wilson, the former Gopher-Mariner, is a name mentioned in past years.

Although Anderson is the all-time leader in Big Ten victories, he is paid half of what Ohio State’s Bill Mosiello and Michigan’s Tracy Smith receive.

—There are 41 football bowl games. The worst, No. 41, is the Quick Lane Bowl featuring the Gophers (5-7) vs. Bowling Green (7-5) in Detroit on Tuesday, per assorted rankings. Minnesota is the only bowl participant with a losing record. Still, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck gets a $100,000 bonus for making the bowl.

Among Quick Lane Bowl player gifts: $175 Amazon gift cards and Harman wireless headphones (value $100).

—Pending Timberwolves-Lynx co-owner Alex Rodriguez has had trouble finding a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) with which to merge, per the “Hustle,” but as the Pioneer Press reported this month, the sale of the teams to Rodriguez and Marc Lore is now on track to soon become official despite Glen Taylor offering a second deadline extension.

—Rodriguez, 48, on his business approach, per Sports Illustrated: “Any business that we own, we think about owning it for 100 years.”

—Joe Rossi, 44, gone as Gophers defensive coordinator for the same job at Michigan State, owes Minnesota $330,000 via a buyout. But the Spartans, not Rossi, are expected to pay.

—There’s whispering that the University of St. Thomas is interested in having its basketball, hockey and football games in a broadcast package on WCCO-AM. The school has had its football games aired on KSTP-AM since 2021.

—There’s little doubt that the University of St. Thomas men’s basketball team, which came within six points of upsetting No. 7 Marquette in Milwaukee the other day and scored 104 against Wisconsin-River Falls, would be a legitimate challenge for the Gophers.

—People close to the Gophers will be surprised if sophomore basketball guard Braeden Carrington from Brooklyn Park doesn’t enter the NCAA transfer portal.

—It wouldn’t be surprising if Mike Zimmer, 67, fired as Vikings coach two years ago, returns to the NFL as defensive coordinator after his contract expires this year to work for Arizona coach Jonathon Gannon.

Fired with Zimmer, ex-Vikings GM Rick Spielman is a NFL draft evaluator via the X social platform.

—Gersson Rosas, fired two years ago as Timberwolves basketball president, has ended up as senior VP with the N.Y. Knicks.

—The University of Minnesota, conceptually, has considered either renovating Williams Arena or building a new arena in the parking lots north of the arena.


—Fast-working Twins pitcher Louie Varland, on baseball’s pitch clock: “I pride myself on a fast pace. It turned into a strategy because the players behind me love it, the coaches love it, the fans love it. Everybody loves the fast pace except for the batter — they don’t have time to think.”

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