The fan base for the Vikings stretches well beyond Minnesota, with strongholds in North Dakota, South Dakota and parts of Iowa.
It crosses the Canadian border, too. Just ask Brett Jones.
Acquired in a trade with the New York Giants to help shore up a shaky interior of the offensive line, Jones joined the Vikings for practice on Monday after his completed physical exam consummated the deal. He smiled as he spoke afterward about the whirlwind he’d experienced as the final week of the preseason began, when the Giants pulled him off the field during drills on Sunday. Then the Vikings called him to arrange his travel.
“I was pretty surprised,” Jones said, “and excited at the same time.”
As a youth on the Saskatchewan prairie, Jones rooted for the Vikings long before playing for them became a reality.
“There’s a lot of purple up there,” he said. “Growing up, this was probably the closest stadium we could get to.”
As an 18-year-old, Jones even bought a Phil Loadholt jersey to wear his devotion after the Vikings drafted him in the second round out of Oklahoma in 2009. He travelled south to watch a game that season against the Cincinnati Bengals at the now-demolished Metrodome.
“I just liked offensive linemen, and I didn’t think anybody else would have that jersey so I picked that one,” Jones said.
After attending Regina University, Jones was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award winner in 2014, his second year with the Calgary Stampeders.
The Giants signed him in 2015, and he made his first NFL start at left guard in 2016. The 6-foot-2, 312-pound Jones started 13 games last season at centre, but he fell behind Jon Halapio on the depth chart in training camp this summer and carried a $2.914 million salary the tight-against-the-cap Giants had to shed.
The Vikings have scouted the CFL thoroughly over the past few years. Wide receiver Brandon Zylstra is a fellow CFL alum in training camp.
“It was a unique path. It was the only option I had,” Jones said. “Coming out of college I was short, and I’m still short today, so it was tough for me. I had to prove that I could play by playing in the CFL, and then when I got to the NFL I had to prove I belong here. I’ve just been doing that each and every day.”
With centre Pat Elflein still not back at practice following off-season ankle and shoulder surgeries and left guard Nick Easton likely out for the year with a neck injury, Jones was a welcomed addition. Joe Berger retired after starting at right guard last season.
“On tape he’s pretty good. He’s stout, strong, really gritty, good in pass protection, solid on the double teams,” coach Mike Zimmer said.