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.
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.
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, 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.