Will the Vikings make a call on J.J. Watt? Has Gabe Kalscheur found his three-point shot? Can Mats Zuccarello rebound? It’s time for Quick Takes.
- Item: The Houston Texans granted J.J. Watt’s request to be released, making him a free agent.
- Reaction: The immediate speculation was the three-time winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award (2012-15) might be headed to play in his home state of Wisconsin or with his two brothers in Pittsburgh. The issue is that both the Packers and Steelers are well over the projected salary cap of $180 to $181 million for 2021. Watt, who will turn 32 on March 22, might be willing to take less in order to chase his first Super Bowl ring. So would the Vikings make a call on the defensive end? That might depend on how close one thinks this team is to being a contender after a 7-9 season. Minnesota also has salary-cap concerns — plenty of teams do with the cap coming down because of the pandemic — but defensive-first coach Mike Zimmer is likely intrigued by the thought of plugging Watt into a defensive line that is expected to get back left end Danielle Hunter and nose tackle Michael Pierce. Watt has battled injury issues and played in all 16 games only twice since 2016, including last season, but he remains an effective presence both against the pass and run and would help to bolster a Vikings defensive line that suffered a massive falloff last season. If the Vikings want to have any hope of rebounding in 2021, the defense is going to have to take a significant step and Watt could help make that happen.
- Item: The Gophers men’s basketball team rallied for a 71-68 victory over No. 24 Purdue on Thursday at Williams Arena, making them 5-0 against ranked teams at home. The Gophers are 13-7 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten with six regular-season games remaining.
- Reaction: It wasn’t surprising that guard Marcus Carr had two key three-pointers to help lift the Gophers, but it must have been a relief for coach Richard Pitino to see Gabe Kalscheur finally find his touch on three-pointers. Kalscheur shot 41 percent (77-of-188) on three-pointers as a freshmen, but that figure dropped to 34.1 percent (76-of-223) last season and is down to 24.5 percent (26-of-106) this season. Kalscheur entered Thursday having made only 4-of-21 three-pointers in his past four games, but he then hit on 4-of-7 against Purdue as he scored 16 points. An excellent defensive player, Kalscheur also grabbed eight rebounds in a game-high 38 minutes. If the junior has found his three-point shot, the Gophers’ chances of making the NCAA tournament and winning a game or two will increase significantly.
- Item: The Wild returned to practice Friday after a 10-day break and could get injured winger Mats Zuccarello and defenseman Matt Dumba back on Tuesday when they are scheduled to play in Los Angeles. Both were on the ice on Friday.
- Reaction: The Wild will have had six games postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak, but that has allowed Zuccarello (arm) and Dumba (ankle) to continue rehabbing. Zuccarello, signed to a five-year, $30 million contract in 2019 by former general manager Paul Fenton, had a disappointing first season with Minnesota. He 15 goals and 22 assists and was a minus-9 in 65 games. The 33-year-old has a no-move clause through the 2021-22 season, meaning unless he waives the clause he must be protected in the July expansion draft and the Wild are stuck with him. Dumba was injured in the third period on Jan. 30 against Colorado and acknowledged on Friday that he heard a pop. Dumba will be welcomed back because of his big shot and ability to provide offense from the blue line. Zuccarello, meanwhile, will get an opportunity to prove that he can do far more than he did in 2019-20.