Notebook: Vikings go from Gophers Pro Day to tour TCF Bank Stadium
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MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings arrived at Gophers Pro Day on Monday with a contingent more than 10 coaches deep, but the day was just getting started.
Vikings' public relations and coaching staff members were escorted by some Gophers staff to TCF Bank Stadium, where the Vikings will play the next two seasons' worth of home games, to continue adjustments to their temporary home field.
"Eighty percent of what we do is completely transferable [to NFL games]," said Derek Hillestad, the Gophers' director of operations at TCF Bank Stadium. "[Monday's tours] are just to continue showing structure, room allocation. The rest of it is small, little coordination items - like we don't do injury review for college football, so we have to find a space for that and make sure there's dedicated infrastructure."
The Vikings announced last month that they'd finalized a $6.6 million set of upgrades for the University of Minnesota's relatively new college football stadium, where the Vikings will play host in 2014 and 2015 before the new stadium is set to open in 2016. Among other upgrades, the most important to game play will be the addition of a heating element to prevent a frozen turf.
The Vikings played one home game at the Gophers' stadium, after the Metrodome roof collapsed, on Dec. 20, 2010 - when then-quarterback Brett Favre played the last snaps of his career after suffering a concussion when he was slammed onto the unheated turf by a Chicago Bears defender.
The money for all of the upgrades - including increased storage space, additional heating elements throughout the stadium and upgraded concessions - will be allocated out of the team's $975 million budget for the new stadium. The Vikings will also add 2,000 temporary bleachers to the current 50,805-seat stadium to further accommodate a NFL-sized audience.
Construction of the upgrades is expected to begin this month.
Outlook is 'optimistic'
As a Rochester, Minn. native, a former walk-on to the University of Minnesota program and an undrafted free agent to the Vikings in 2010, Marcus Sherels only knows Minnesota football.
Sherels is a restricted free agent this offseason, meaning if he were to accept an offer sheet from a team, the Vikings have the 'right of first refusal,' which grants the team a five-day period to match the offer and retain him or not match and they'd get a draft pick.
Sherels' agent, Chris Murray, said at Gophers Pro Day on Monday that he spoke with the Vikings at the NFL Scouting Combine and initial talks were 'optimistic.' The new league year officially begins on March 11 with the opening of free agency.
Sherels, 26, was a reserve cornerback for the Vikings last year, but finished second in the NFL with 15.2 yards per punt return on 22 attempts, including his second career return for a touchdown.
Spielman talks cap increase
Per multiple reports, the NFL notified teams last week that 2014's salary cap will make nearly a $10 million jump to $133 million.
The Vikings have 16 unrestricted free agents and pricey positions to fill at quarterback and defensive end. Free agents like defensive ends Jared Allen and Everson Griffen could command a costly price tag, while a quarterback like Matt Cassel may need a little more than the $3.7 million he opted out of to test free agency this spring.
At a salary cap of $133 million, the Vikings reportedly have about $30 million to work with, but general manager Rick Spielman is leery about using that money just because it's there.
"It doesn't affect us; we still want to do what we do, what's best for our football team," Spielman said. "I think you have to be careful not to overvalue players and overpay players just because the cap is increased. You have to know what their value is and what you think it is and try to stay within that market."
"There's always going to be that first wave, a bunch of high-priced guys," Spielman said. "It'll be interesting to see where that second-tier market goes [with the increased cap]."
• The Vikings have already begun one of the most active months for NFL front offices and coaching staffs as they prepare for recruiting trips and free agency dealings, said Spielman: "I think we're scheduled to nine to 10 trips just this spring and month of March, so it's going to be hopping, but [we need] to make sure we're here to take care of free agency when that starts."
• Spielman said the Vikings' staff was impressed by Mankato St. quarterback Jon Wolf's numbers at Gophers Pro Day: "It opens your eyes on some of these guys. The Mankato state quarterback had very outstanding athletic numbers [Monday], but you go back and look at him to see if he can play quarterback. But our [coaches, scouts] right away threw him out there and did some receiver stuff. They have to have some specific physical measurements to play at our level. But then you always have to look back at the tape and see who they are as football players."
In the past, Spielman said they've found 'hidden talent' at the Gophers Pro Day such as former Mankato St. receiver Adam Thielen, who spent 2013 on the Vikings' practice squad, as well as former Gopher Marcus Sherels.
• Spielman added that Gophers Pro Day is also an opportunity to finally see his new coaching staff with players on the field: "All I know is they can watch tape, I haven't seen them coach yet. So they were all excited they got an opportunity to come up here and get on the field a little bit."
• As @GopherFootball counted up, there were 19 NFL teams represented at the 'U' Pro Day
19 NFL teams at #Gophers pro day: Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Colts, Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Cowboys, Eagles, Bears, Packers cont.— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) March 3, 2014
... Vikings, Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Cardinals, 49ers and Seahawks.— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) March 3, 2014