Sep 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end John Carlson (89) during the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Minnesota won 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE

John Carlson: The $9.1 Million Bust


I’m going to write an article about John Carlson.



That’s the most in-depth conversation I’ve had with anyone about John Carlson this season. And quite frankly, it may have gone on too long.

That’s how off the radar Johnny C is on this Vikings team—he’s so far removed from the football field that we don’t even complain about his lack of production. He’s just forgotten.

But it’s time to face it, John Carlson is a bust.

For, just, so many reasons.


The Contract

Carlson’s contract is a five-year deal that can essentially turn into a two-year deal (without any recourse) and might even turn into a one-year deal (without much recourse, a $1.2 million cap penalty) if Carlson doesn’t start producing soon. As originally signed, it’s a $25 million contract that ties the Vikings to Carlson for $9.1 million guaranteed.

The $9.1 million is the only number that really matters. At this rate, there’s no way the Vikings will be keeping Carlson for five years, so that $25 million is about as significant as, well, John Carlson this season.

Frankly, barring a massive turnaround this season that would undoubtedly require a big injury to Kyle Rudolph (and maybe even Rhett Ellison), there’s very little chance Carlson makes the 2013 roster.


The (lack of) Production

Through six games, Carlson has been targeted six times. With those six targets, he has brought in three catches for eight yards.

To put that in perspective, Kyle Rudolph’s stat line through six games: 41 targets, 25 catches, 225 yards, 5 TDs. Rudolph has a four-year, $3.9 million contract and, with guarantees, is making about $2.5 million this year.

Now, Kyle Rudolph is obviously outperforming his contract, but in the same sense, John Carlson is drastically underperforming his.

How about Rhett Ellison, the Jim Kleinsasser replacement and fourth-round draft pick who didn’t even expect to be drafted? Ellison’s stat line through six games: four targets, three catches, 51 yards. Ellison has a four-year, $2.4 million contract and, with his signing bonus, is making about $1 million this season.

So with Carlson’s $5 million signing bonus and his $2.9 million base salary for this season and the $1.2 million guaranteed for the 2013 season, the Vikings will have paid $9.1 million to a player who has produced eight yards on three catches and six targets through six games, on pace for nine catches and 25 yards this season.

The Vikings paid around $3.5 million this year (far less than half of Carlson’s guaranteed salary) for two players, Rudolph and Ellison, who are exceeding Carlson’s production by more than 10-fold.



The Offensive Mentality

The Vikings have one of the league’s best running backs in Adrian Peterson and possibly the NFL’s best playmaker in Percy Harvin. Those two guys are going to be first options when it comes to running and passing the ball. Behind those two, you have Kyle Rudolph who is second on the team in passing targets through Week 6. After the big three, the offense gets a little…unreliable.

Percy Harvin, by near definition, will get at least 10-15 looks per game between running the ball and passing targets. This year, Christian Ponder is averaging 35 passing attempts per game. That leaves around 15-20 passes split between Rudolph, Jerome Simpson, Peterson, Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, Toby Gerhart, Ellison and, the man at the bottom of the list, John Carlson. Rudolph will swallow up 7-8 targets per game. Simpson, when he plays, will get 6-7 throws his way, when he doesn’t, those throws end up in the hands of Jenkins and Aromashodu. With Simpson in, Jenkins and Aromashodu will get 2-3 targets combined. Peterson and Gerhart can account for 3-5 checkdowns per game at least. Add all that up, and you have about 18-25 passes, not counting Harvin’s 10-15 targets, already accounted for on any given day, for a total of 28-40 of Ponder’s passes already taken by receivers not named Carlson.

Carlson’s priority level—based on skill or scheme or whatever else—is at the bottom. He’s the runt of this purple litter. On the best day, that runt will get three targets. On the average day, he can’t even be considered for more than one, and he hasn’t been.

So what can the Vikings do? Well, that’s not really the right question. It’s actually:


Do the Vikings want to do anything to change this, AND even if they did, is there anything they could realistically do?

No, no.

No, they don’t want to change it. Well, maybe the front office guys would appreciate a few more tosses down Carlson Way to save face on that contract, but no football mind is going to force passes to Johnny One-Catch when there are better options on the field.

The Vikings’ offense consists of two elites, Harvin and Peterson, and nine other guys. The elites will get their touches because that’s essentially the Vikings offense right there—1A, 1B. After that, you’ve got some second-level guys, Rudolph and Simpson, who will get their targets to spread it around and keep a defense honest and because Percy Harvin will die if we try to give him 1,000 touches in one season. Then you’ve got safety-valve checkdowns, Peterson and Gerhart, that a quarterback needs when he is feeling the rush.

And no, there’s nothing the Vikings could do to change this pattern, even if they wanted to.

You’re not taking away any of those targets, they exist out of necessity and are all a better option than Carlson. And forget about taking away Jenkins’ targets, it’s clear Ponder trusts him.

This offense, the Vikings, we just don’t throw enough or have a quarterback skilled enough to support two pass-catching tight ends. And we’re not even talking about players as elite as Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in New England. Rudolph could be in that discussion one day, but not yet. And Carlson? He had two okay years in Seattle when you thought, “hey, maybe this kid could do something.” But he’s been nothing more than a name on an injury report ever since.

Barring an injury to a better player, John Carlson as a Viking is never going to be more than a grossly overpaid backup tight end who gets 0-3 targets per game.

No matter if the John Carlson conversation is between fans at a bar or the Vikings front office and coaching staff, the result is not going to change—it can’t.

John Carlson is a bust.


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Tags: John Carlson Minnesota Vikings

  • Casey Schletz

    I wish Google didn’t give me this article as a search result.

    Such a dumb article I had to stop reading it half way through and go straight to bashing the author.

    John Carlson was drafted 38th overall….That’s pretty good. He led the Seahawks in receptions (55) and receiving yards (627) his rookie season. (Rudolph 43rd pick, 26 receptions and 249 receiving yards rookie season). And Carlson’s second season he recorded 51 receptions, 574 yards and 7 TD’s.


    More like the Vikings offense features Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and if you watch closely Ponder Hardly looks for anyone in the end zone but Kyle Rudolph.

    The author is doing nothing in this article but trying to get traffic. If he were smart he’d tell it like it is…..

    “Carlson unfortunately missed most of the offseason with injuries and was unable to get valuable time to work with the new playbook and quarterback and we should see his production pick up as the season progresses. I can’t wait for the vikings to utilize his talents and see him and Kyle Rudolph frustrate opposing defenses with mismatches.”

    Authors who use unjust “negativity” to draw in views does nothing positive for the fans.

    • Lance Boyle

      Well said, Casey. At the end of his first two years as a Seahawk, where Carlson set all-time franchise records for tight ends and was the leading receiver and scorer one year, he was voted by Seahawks fans as the top tight end in Seattle’s 35-year history. After just two years! He’s had a couple of injuries since then in his young career which is all most Minnesotans now about, but the Vikings haven’t begun to tap what this guy can do.

      • Lance Boyle

        Carlson scored two of the touchdowns that caused the huge upset against New Orleans putting the Seahawks into the playoffs a couple years ago.

  • daniel0227

    I agree he is a bust, although I do feel he should have been used more VS the skins. With all the talk about Bowe wanting out of KC, why not trade Carlson and a pick to KC for Bowe and give us that Deep threat we so desperatly need. Bowe is a great talent and has good years left, even if he is 28.

  • wwp35

    They never should have signed him in the first place if they planned on drafting a TE.

  • Greg Jensen

    I agree that he’s been a disappointment to this point so far…but how many snaps does the guy take? Are they using him primarily as a run-blocker to this point? I’m just not sure, and I think those are the two questions you have to answer before calling him a complete bust. Targets never tell the whole story.

    • Levi Satterlee

      Okay, here’s what you’re missing. It doesn’t matter how the Vikings are using Carlson — it’s obvious they didn’t give him a $25 million contract to be a blocker. They signed him to catch the ball alongside Kyle Rudolph. The fact that he isn’t getting targets and catching the ball (whether that is because he is blocking or not playing at all) shows that he is not performing up to the potential the Vikings saw when they signed him. If you are arguing that Carlson isn’t free-agent bust because he may be in there blocking, then you’re not understanding his contract.

      And just to satisfy both of your questions, Carlson played 17 out of 84 snaps against the Redskins. Does that sound like money well spent?

  • Jake

    Carlson simply never had the chance to show himself during preseason. Rudolph shined and has been shining ever since so there is no need to reduce his role and push Carlson to the front. The Vikes don’t run enough 2 TE sets to justify Carlson’s role. The Vikes are one of the few teams out there still running out of the power I and featuring a FB. If they transition away from the power I and move toward a 2 TE set then you’ll Carlson’s stats improve but so far it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. In this sense signing Carlson has been a bust. Carlson is not a bust as a player, he’s got talent, but for the game the Vikes play this signing has been a bust.

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