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Updated: August 31st, 2013 10:04pm
Zulgad: In the end, Vikings' decisions weren't all that difficult

Zulgad: In the end, Vikings' decisions weren't all that difficult

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

A few thoughts on a busy day on the local sports scene:

Sifting through the Minnesota Vikings' 19 roster cuts on Saturday, one thought came to mind: There were several NFL teams that had to make far more difficult decisions.

Yes, the Vikings jettisoned five players whom they had drafted, including three picks from 2011 and two from 2013, but there was no name that stood out among the cuts.

Perhaps the biggest talker among the cuts was wide receiver Stephen Burton, who looked good early in training camp and the preseason but did not continue to make the progress the Vikings wanted to see.

Burton was the second of two seventh-round picks by the Vikings in 2011. The first of the two selections, defensive end D'Aundre Reed, also was let go on Saturday.

The highest draft pick to be released was cornerback Brandon Burton, a fifth-round selection out of Utah in 2011. The Vikings also let go of two of their three seventh-round choices from last April, saying goodbye to offensive lineman Travis Bond and defensive tackle Everett Dawkins.

Bond and Dawkins could end up being signed to the Vikings' practice squad, if they clear waivers.

One interesting sidebar is what Saturday's cuts mean to the 2011 draft class. The Vikings had 10 picks in that draft and six of them remain.

Quarterback Christian Ponder, tight end Kyle Rudolph and right guard Brandon Fusco play key roles.

But defensive tackle Christian Ballard, a third-round pick, left the team during training camp and there is no indication when or if he will return. Offensive tackle DeMarcus Love, taken in the sixth round, will open the season serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy.

Safety Mistral Raymond, another sixth-round pick, is a backup. A third sixth-round selection, linebacker Ross Homan, is long gone.

As far as roster moves, the Vikings are far from done. They spent Saturday evening looking through the pool of players that hit the market and could make a few more moves on Sunday.

Long term, the Vikings are going to have to make decisions when fullback Jerome Felton and Love are eligible to return from their NFL suspensions. At some point, the team also is going to have to tell everyone what's going on with Ballard.

Given the Vikings injury issues at defensive tackle, Ballard could have played an important role on this team. Instead, his absence has become a mystery.

CALLING IT QUITS

When it was reported Saturday that Antoine Winfield was not going to make Seattle's roster, the obvious thought was that the Vikings would be crazy if they did not try to get the cornerback in a trade with the Seahawks.

The prospect of having Josh Robinson starting at the left corner and sliding inside in the nickel defense can't have anyone at Winter Park resting easy. Robinson is trying to take over for Winfield and he's not as good as Winfield.

So why not bring back the veteran?

Winfield, though, didn't give the Vikings, or anyone else, the chance to acquire him. Instead, the 36-year-old decided to retire.

Winfield had been released by the Vikings during the offseason, in part to make salary cap room to sign right tackle Phil Loadholt to a four-year, $25 million deal.

The Vikings made every attempt to bring back Winfield at that time but, with his pride hurt, he decided to go elsewhere. Winfield, though, had a sweetheart deal with the Vikings last season.

Coach Leslie Frazier knew Winfield was extremely well prepared and thus gave him tons of practice time off and trusted he would be ready on game day. Winfield did not disappoint.

The thinking from this corner was that if the Vikings went back to Winfield at this point, general manager Rick Spielman could play the bad cop role, but Frazier, the good cop, would again offer Winfield the chance to rest during the week.

This made a ton of sense. But, evidently, Winfield felt the time was right to walk away.

LITTLE IN RETURN

Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan must have decided it would be better to get something for Justin Morneau rather than nothing.

So instead of keeping Morneau for the rest of the season and then seeing him walk as a free agent this winter, Ryan dealt the first baseman to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday for outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named or cash.

While some expressed disappointment with the return, this is the reality of what the Twins were going to get for Morneau in 2013.

Presley is 28 years old and has bounced back-and-forth between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the minor leagues since first being called up in 2010. He has never played in more than 104 games in a big-league season.

Presley appeared in only 29 games for the Pirates this season, hitting .264 (19-for-72) with one double, one triple, two home runs and four RBI.

Morneau showed class in departing Minnesota, sending an open letter to Twins fans. That was fantastic. What would have been better is if Morneau could have stayed healthy.

Years from now, when you're having beers with your buddies and talking about Morneau, this question is going to come up: Who was the guy with the Blue Jays whose knee Morneau's head collided with in 2010?

The answer would be John McDonald.

At the time that happened, in July 2010, Morneau was hitting .345 and many believed he looked better than the guy who won the AL MVP in 2006. But he missed the final 78 games of that season because of a concussion and, in reality, was never the same player again.

The pre-concussion Morneau and post-concussion Morneau were two very different players. There were other injuries that also slowed Morneau but the head injury is the one everyone in Minnesota will remember.

The fact Morneau's tenure in Minnesota had to end like this is too bad, but getting something for him was better than the alternative. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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