Archive for HJ Sports

Minnesota Vikings Continue to Work Cap Magic

We were all told the same thing over and over again. The Minnesota Vikings are going to have to sacrifice the ability to re-sign some players in order to make this work. That was simply going to be the price that they would have to pay in order to get the guy they wanted.

On March 15th, 2018, the Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a deal that was unprecedented at the time. That deal was for three years with $84 million guaranteed, which made him the highest paid QB.

This deal was supposed to spark a period where Minnesota would have to let some key pieces walk away. Since then, the Vikings have made the following moves.

In 2018, the Vikings extended linebacker Eric Kendricks to a five year, $25 million guaranteed deal worth up to $50 million. They also extended both defensive end Danielle Hunter and receiver Stefon Diggs to five year deals worth $40 million guaranteed with the ability to get about $72 million.

In 2019, Minnesota continued locking down key pieces. After getting cold feet about joining the Jets (which is always the right decision), the Vikings locked down linebacker Anthony Barr to a five year deal with $33 million guaranteed, worth up to $67.5 million. In the same week, the Vikings renegotiated with defensive end Everson Griffen to get his salary down to $8 million for this year, creating more cap space.

More recently, the Vikings renegotiated with two more offensive weapons as well. They were able to rework Adam Thielen’s deal to better match his output, agreeing to a five year deal worth $33 million guaranteed along with a $64.2 million ceiling.

This week, the final piece was locked up as tight end Kyle Rudolph restructured his deal to extend him for four years, getting him $9.25 million guaranteed and a potential $36 million max.

This move was essential for the Vikings as their cap space for this season jumped from an impossible to work with $600,000 to over $4 million.

I’m not a salary capologist, so I’m not exactly sure how this was arranged or what this means for the team in future years. However, not a single key piece has been shown the door due to Kirk Cousins’ contract.

Now, you certainly could argue the quarterback was overpaid for his services. However, only a year and a half later, Cousins has fallen to the 5th highest paid player at his position.

Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan all make more than Kirk while Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck are all within $3 million annually.

The nature of the NFL is that as each year passes, each quarterback that needs to be signed will either break or come close to breaking the highest salary record. Just a few weeks ago Carson Wentz signed a four year deal with $107 million guaranteed.

All that is to say that each season Kirk’s cap number, although still probably higher than his skill level, becomes more reasonable and more comparable to similarly talented quarterbacks.

Although the salary cap finagling has maintained the roster, it has not given any flexibility to improve it, specifically on the offensive line. The Vikings are bringing back essentially the same roster of core guys who finished 8-7-1 last season and missed the playoffs.

Is the current roster talented enough to make a deep playoff run? Probably. Is Kirk the kind of quarterback that can lead this type of team? He has yet to show it in his career, so there isn’t a ton of evidence to be overly optimistic about.

But at a minimum, despite Kirk’s big cap number, the Vikings have been able to surround him with talented offensive weapons and a deep and elite defensive unit. I guess time will tell if Kirk knows how to use it.

 

GOLD FOR GILBERT: Watertown-Mayer’s Ailsa Gilbert wraps up stellar career with state title in the 100-meter hurdles

ST. PAUL – When Watertown-Mayer’s Ailsa Gilbert crossed the finish line of the 100-meter hurdles, there was nothing but a smile. The senior, who was competing in her final meet of her impressive career, added another state title to her long list of achievements as she won the Class A 100-meter hurdles state title at Hamline University June 8.

“It feels amazing,” Gilbert said. “Crossing the finish line with no one in front of me today was the best feeling. It was awesome.”

Gilbert’s time of 15.09 seconds was good enough for first place in the 100-meter hurdles, which earned her the second state title she’s won in the past two seasons. In the preliminaries, Gilbert also set a new personal record with a time of 14.98 seconds.

The hurdles wasn’t the only event Gilbert was chasing gold in. She took fifth place in long jump Friday, and Saturday, she battled Maple Lake’s Maggie Larson in the triple jump. Gilbert won the state title in the triple jump last year, and the two battled it out once again.

This time, it was Larson who topped Gilbert in the triple jump, despite Gilbert setting a new personal record. She finished with a best jump of 37-10.25, a new personal best in her final meet of her high school career. Larson took home the gold with a jump of 38 feet, 7 inches.

“Maggie gave me a run for my money on the triple jump, and I passed the torch off to her,” Gilbert said. “I still got a (personal record), so it was a good day.”

Larson and Gilbert are no strangers. Along with Rockford’s Sara Byers, the trio have been competing against each other for the past two years, and a friendship has evolved in the process.

After Gilbert’s last attempt in triple jump put a bow on her career, she made sure to stick around the pit and hang out one last time with Larson and Byers as competitors for the final time.

“They are so much fun,” Gilbert said. “They’re great jumpers. They’re great people. I just look forward to every meet jumping against them. It’s sad that now it’s over, but they’re both great and going to do good things in the future.”

Gilbert admitted that her focus wasn’t entirely on triple jump to start. With triple jump and the 100-meter hurdles scheduled for the same time, Gilbert had to balance her focus between the two. Her first jump in triple jump was her personal record, but her thoughts were with the 100-meter hurdles finals coming up shortly.

“Honestly, I was thinking about hurdling during that first jump,” Gilbert said, with a laugh. “It felt really good. The stress kind of lifted off my shoulders at that point. I was just about having fun.”

That stress allowed Gilbert to pick up her second state title as she won the 100-meter hurdles just minutes after getting two of her jumps in.

“It feels really cool,” Gilbert said. “It was a goal of mine to get a first-place finish on the track, and I was able to accomplish that today. It’s a little different winning a field event than a track event. I feel like everyone’s eyes are on the track events, so it felt cool that the whole crowd got to watch me finish the race.”

Gilbert’s high school career comes to an end with a pair of state titles attached to her name. While those mean the world to her, the memories and friendships that came along with them are just as special.

“It’s sad that it’s over, but it was a good time,” Gilbert said. “I made a lot of memories. I’ve accomplished a lot of goals. It’s set me up for my future, and I’m just really thankful I was able to be a Royal and were given these opportunities by my coaches and by my school.”

Track and field isn’t the only place Gilbert has found success. She was also one of the top athletes on the gymnastics team her high school career. Beginning even before her freshman season, Gilbert saw how her gymnastics abilities could translate to track and field.

“Honestly, when I was younger, I just thought about having fun,” Gilbert said. “Then, my gymnastics abilities kind of transferred over to track. I figured that I can do two sports. I just started drilling on track and gymnastics. It just kind of clicked. It was kind of my home – the track and the gym.”

Gilbert’s track and field career will continue as she will head to the University of Montana to continue her athletic career. After picking up two state titles in her high school career, Gilbert’s excited to set some new goals and make even more memories going forward.

“I’m really excited,” Gilbert said. “It’s a whole new playing field and new athletes. With that comes new goals, and I’m excited to have the chance to compete at that higher level.”

Gilbert leaves a legacy behind her at Watertown-Mayer in both track and field and gymnastics, but she knows it wouldn’t have been possible without all the support she’s gotten along the way.

“It feels amazing to have their support,” Gilbert said about her family, who was out in full force both days. “They’ve been supporting me my whole entire high school career. Having them here at my last meet as a Royal, it’s just the greatest feeling. I couldn’t do it without them.”

 

Durant: A Misunderstood Superstar

A championship is something every athlete dreams about. For some of us, it ends at the high school level. For less of us, it might be an NCAA championship. For the fewest of us, a professional championship is the pinnacle of athletic success.

The Golden State Warriors found themselves down 3-1 in the NBA Finals this past Monday night. They faced a hostile environment in Toronto needing a win to stay alive.

The road to their third straight title has not been as easy as their past two. They’ve been tested many times over the years by the Thunder, Rockets and Cavaliers, but nothing can quite compare to the difficulty Golden State was facing in game 5 on Tuesday.

The Warriors needed to win three straight games with much of their roster ailing. Klay Thompson was still recovering from a hamstring injury and Kevon Looney was playing through a chest injury (and left the game early with a reaggravation), but superstar Kevin Durant was planning on returning after a month out with a calf injury.

This decision created quite a stir in the NBA community. Questions about the level of Durant’s health, his character and his commitment were floating around. Some questioned whether he was purposely sitting out to manage his health, which honestly wouldn’t even be that insane of a decision.

Durant was poised to enter the summer as a free agent. Expectations were that Durant would be able to sign a long term deal, likely with the Knicks, for hundreds of millions of dollars. Who wouldn’t want to make sure they were 100% healthy before risking this kind of deal?

After 11 points in 12 minutes of play, everything seemed to be going well for Durant and the Warriors until Kevin started to drive on the Raptors Serge Ibaka. After a step, Durant came up hobbled, dropped the ball and fell to the ground. He held his achilles while grimacing.

Teammates immediately went to console him, to help him and support him. Kevin limped off the floor with teammates holding him up and it was clear that something major was wrong. Raptors fans seemed to cheer Durant’s injury until Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and others motioned for the crowd to stop.

On Wednesday, Durant confirmed that he suffered a ruptured achilles and had a successful surgery.

In an attempt to help his teammates win a championship, Durant potentially lost his chance at not only deciding his future along with a lot of money, but his career may never be the same. The recovery statistics are not favorable for 30 year old professional athletes who tear their achilles and there is no guarantee that he returns to the level he was at before.

Durant deserved some flak for originally picking the Warriors. He left the Thunder after they were one game from the finals to join Golden State and it was fair that he was criticized. An alpha-dog joined a team that was already on the top.

However, Monday proved exactly the kind of player and person that Durant is. He chose to put his health, his contract and his future on the line when he wasn’t close to 100% healthy in an effort to be there for his teammates. Simply put, he put the team above himself in an attempt to win a championship. Luck just wasn’t on his side.

After the game, Warriors GM Bob Myers was almost in tears when he offered the following quote.

The people that questioned whether he wanted to get back and play were wrong. He’s one of the most misunderstood people. He’s a good teammate, he’s a good person, it’s not fair. I’m lucky to know him.

You simply don’t cry over losing a player to injury unless they are genuine. I admittedly was tired of the Golden State dynasty and was cheering for the Raptors. But after watching the gutty win on Monday and their reaction for Durant, it’s impossible not to jump on the Warriors bandwagon.

 

The Perfect Teammate

The NBA is not typically the gold standard for good teammates and selfless play. The league has historically been riddled with selfish players who don’t pass and don’t work well with others. These players are focused on getting their own stats and as accumulating as much money as possible. Often times, winning can take a backseat to these selfish desires.

However, this week I’d like to highlight one NBA player who has been the polar opposite of this NBA stereotype.

Andre Iguodala is a forward for the Golden State Warriors. In the first nine years of his career while playing for the 76ers and Nuggets, Iguodala had a moderately successful career. Andre was a one time all-star, averaged 14.9 points per game, was an elite defensive stopper and was the best player on a perennial playoff team.

When Iguodala hit free agency in 2013 at the age of 30, he was at a crossroads in his career. He could sign one more contract with a team that wanted him to be their main player as he neared the end of the prime of his career. He could continue putting up good stats each season on a low-end playoff team. This path would also guarantee him a lot of money.

Instead, he decided to join a rising team of youthful stars-in-the-making to take on a leadership role. He sacrificed his stats, money and his starting position to try to help a young team get over the hump to win a championship.

The Warriors were coming off a 47-35 season, a second round playoff exit and were not quite the established dynasty they are today when Iggy joined the fold. They had a 25 year old Stephen Curry leading the way, a 23 year old Klay Thompson finding his role as a shooter and a very raw 23 year old Draymond Green.

They lost in the first round of the playoffs that season.

The Warriors brought back essentially the same roster in 2014/15 and went 67-15. Stephen Curry won his first MVP trophy and the Golden State dynasty officially began. Meanwhile, Iggy continued to be a valuable role player, leader and mentor to the young guns on the team.

Curry, Thompson and especially Green all had great seasons and certainly were clearly the best players on the team. However, when the 2015 Finals came around and the Warriors found themselves face to face with LeBron James, it was Iguodala who showed up in a big way.

Iggy finished the series averaging 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4 assists all while guarding LeBron James in a 4-3 series victory. Andre was recognized for his efforts by being awarded the 2015 NBA Finals MVP.

The reason Iguodala has been in the news recently is because he hit a dagger 3-pointer this past Sunday afternoon. With the Warriors up 106-104 on the Raptors, Iggy nailed a three with 5.9 seconds left in the game to even the series 1-1.

The now 35 year old has been playing through a leg injury while trying to hold one of the best scorers in the entire NBA, Kawhi Leonard, in check defensively. He’s also been playing bigger minutes than usual as Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney are all out with injuries.

Why is Andre playing through his own injury? He offered the following reason: “I like Steph. He’s a good dude, good guy to be around. That’s really the only reason why I like playing basketball. That’s the only reason why I play… I’m trying to do whatever it takes to protect his legacy. I’m all for it.”

Is that an answer that would come from your stereotypical selfish and delusional NBA player? Or does it sound like the answer of someone who truly understands what it means to be a part of a team?

Through his individual sacrifice, Andre Iguodala ended up being a leader on a team that has made it to five straight NBA Finals. His trophy case is filled with a Finals MVP trophy to go along with three NBA Title rings and his team is only three wins away from a 4th… All because he has been a perfect teammate.

 

Twins Best in Baseball

We’ve crossed that point. The point that we expect the Minnesota Twins to win every game and are surprised when they don’t. The MLB season is about a third of the way through being played, and Minnesota has shown no signs of slowing down.

Through the first two months of the season, the Twins have the best record in the entire league at 37-17 and have won 12 of their past 14 games. They also have the largest division lead, which is currently 9.5 games over the 28-27 Cleveland Indians.

Minnesota also has the best run differential at +112, an impressive 20 runs more than the second best Houston Astros and a staggering 118 runs better than the Indians. They also have the most home runs at 106 and are on pace to set the MLB record for team home runs in a season.

Add in the fact that they are second in batting average, second in doubles and third in fewest strikeouts, and it is safe to say this is the best hitting team the Minnesota Twins have ever fielded statistically.

There are plenty of individuals that are worth highlighting. Most prominently would be a couple of Twins that are towards the top of the rankings. First, Jorge Polanco has been steady all season and is currently second in the AL in batting average at .335. Second, Eddie Rosario is tied for first in the AL in home runs with 17 and leads the AL in RBI’s with 47.

To be 37-17, obviously there needs to be more than just hitting. The Twins pitching staff has been equally impressive, especially considering their recent history.

For starting pitchers, Jake Odorizzi, Martin Perez and Jose Berrios all have seven wins. No other team in the league has two pitchers with more than six wins. On top of that, Odorizzi leads the AL with a 2.16 ERA while Perez and Berrios are in the top 15.

For some perspective, from 2008 to 2018 the Twins ranked 29th in the MLB in ERA for starting pitchers. This season, the Twins starters rank 3rd as a unit.

More recently, the Twins got some help from an unlikely hero. After putting Michael Pineda on the 10-day Injured List, the Twins called up left-handed pitcher Devin Smeltzer from their Triple-A roster.

Smeltzer started on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers and had a debut to remember. After being diagnosed with cancer at the age of nine, pitching in the MLB was a dream come true. The 23-year-old was able to pitch six shutout innings while only surrendering three hits. Pair that with seven strikeouts and zero walks and it was a pretty good day for the rookie.

Although attendance overall has been lower on average this year, (24,489 in 2018 to 22,079 in 2019), I expect those numbers to rise over the next few months. The Twins have one of the best pitching staffs in the league, the best hitting lineup in franchise history and look like a viable threat to still be playing baseball in October.

Get your homer hankies ready – playoff baseball will be back in Minnesota.

 

BACK AND LOOKING FOR MORE: Gilbert returns to Class A State Meet in final season

COLLEGEVILLE – It’s only fitting that Watertown-Mayer High School senior Ailsa Gilbert will have her high school career come to an end on the state’s biggest stage. A standout athlete the past four years, Gilbert will close out her high school career at the Class A State Track and Field Meet after sealing her spot by winning the 100-meter hurdles and the triple jump at the Section 5A Meet Wednesday at St. John’s University.

“It feels really good,” Gilbert said. “I’m excited to get back to the state meet. It’s definitely my favorite meet because there’s really good kids there, and it’s just fun to go out there and compete.”

It was an eventful day for the senior, competing in her final section meet. Gilbert qualified for four different events (long jump, triple jump, 100-meter hurdles, and 300-meter hurdles), keeping her busy throughout the day. Although competing against some of the best competition around is hard work, Gilbert enjoys how hard it is, both mentally and physically.

“You definitely have to isolate each event,” Gilbert said. “They’re so special in their own ways. I’m constantly preparing days before to be ready to switch between events. It takes a toll on the mental part, but it’s good. I like it. I like keeping busy.”

Gilbert’s day started with long jump, where she took second place, earning a spot at the state meet, but between the first round and final round of jumps, she clinched her first of three spots in the state meet. She blew away her competition in the 100-meter hurdles, taking first place with a time of 15.21 seconds.

“It’s pretty hard,” Gilbert said about moving between two events. “It’s constantly moving. You never really get to sit down. In the end, it’s rewarding, and I’m really proud of my performance. I’m glad that I just got to come here and compete today.”

Following a first-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles, Gilbert was back at it again in the triple jump. After reaching the finals with an impressive jump, she once again had to switch mindsets as she was set to compete in the 300-meter hurdles.

While Gilbert just missed making the state meet in the 300-meter hurdles with a third-place finish, she didn’t let that bother her. Gilbert finished off the triple jump by taking first place with a jump of 36 feet, 6 inches, adding another event to her state meet schedule. It was a narrow gap for first placefor Gilbert as she edged Maple Lake’s Maggie Larson by just half an inch.

With Gilbert finally done competing after a grueling day in four events, it was time to reflect a bit for the senior who completed her final section meet of her career.

“It hasn’t soaked in yet,” Gilbert said. “A couple of the girls and I were joking before the 100 hurdles that this is our last sections. and that this is our last time running against each other. It’s soaking in now, though. It’s sad, but I’m excited to go to the state meet and see them all again.”

It’s been an impressive ride for Gilbert throughout her career at W-M. While the accolades are certainly something she will always cherish, it’s the familiarity between the competitiors that she loves almost as much.

“It’s so much fun,” Gilbert said. “We just expect to see each other. It’s just fun to go out and compete because we know that each person has their event. We know that this is the person that we have to go after. It just keeps competing more interesting and way more fun and rewarding.”

There’s no doubt that Gilbert has had a lot of fun in her career in a Royals’ uniform. It all comes full circle one last time for the senior Friday, June 7 and Saturday, June 8 at Hamline University in the Class A State Track and Field Meet. While she’ll look to defend her state title in triple jump, and perhaps add a new title in the 100-meter hurdles, having fun and enjoying her last high school career meet will be the focus for her. That won’t be a problem for the University of Montana commit as that’s what she does best.

“I’m ready to go and have fun,” Gilbert said. “I do my best when I’m having fun. I want to hit some (new personal records) and have a good time.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports