Vikings GM Rick Spielman says John Carlson has 'lot of football' left
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John Carlson's first season with the Minnesota Vikings hasn't gone quite the way anybody hoped.
But Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said on Sunday he's not second-guessing the decision to make Carlson one of the NFL's higher-paid tight ends.
"I know what you see out in practice and how he works in practice and the types of catches that he does make in practice," Spielman said during an appearance on 1500 ESPN.
"That he got hurt and missed all that part of that training camp (with a knee injury) kind of set him back, especially when you're trying to learn a new scheme. But sometimes, some of these veterans don't work out as well until maybe their second year."
Carlson, 28, sat out all of last season in Seattle after suffering a torn labrum in one of his shoulders that required surgery. But the Vikings cleared him medically in March and signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract in hopes of forming a two-headed tight end monster with starter Kyle Rudolph.
On July 31, Carlson suffered a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee, costing him the entire preseason at a time he needed all the reps he could get. He returned for the regular-season opener but had only three catches for 8 yards in seven games before suffering a concussion on Oct. 21 against Arizona.
After sitting out two weeks, Carlson did appear to be moving better in last Sunday's win over Detroit than he had at any point since hurting the knee. But he was on the field for only a dozen snaps against the Lions, catching one pass for 11 yards, and has played only 141 snaps total -- 26.1% in the eight games for which he has dressed.
"John looked healthy (on Sunday)," Spielman said. "I know he caught that one (slide) route and you saw that burst that we have seen in the past when he sprinted up afterwards.
"The one thing that he's done that he doesn't get enough credit for is he's done an incredible job blocking for us. I think that whole tight end group is the key to the way Adrian (Peterson)'s had so much success on the field as well, along with our offensive line. But just haven't seemed to be able to get John going (as a receiver)."
A second-round draft pick (38th overall) by the Seahawks out of Notre Dame in 2008, Carlson has been productive in the past. He had 137 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in the three seasons he played for Seattle.
Scouts think highly of Carlson's hands and ability to find soft spots in zones. There was surprise the Vikings signed him primarily because of the money involved and the fact they already had Rudolph, who has taken over as the strongside tight end and plays almost every snap.
Carlson's contract ranks 14th among all NFL tight ends in average per year, but only $7.9 million is fully guaranteed -- a $5 million signing bonus and a $2.9 million base salary for 2012. Another $1.2 million in 2013 base salary is guaranteed for injury only unless Carlson is on the roster as of the first day of the 2013 league year.
In other words, if the Vikings decide they made a bad investment, they could cut Carlson after the season without owing him any future salary, provided he isn't hurt and they're willing to take a $4 million cap hit.
Spielman said on Sunday he "wouldn't second-guess anything at this point," though, and he gave no indication he's ready to bail on Carlson yet.
"I think John Carlson has a lot of football (left) and is a very good football player for us and will be a good football player in the future," Spielman said.