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Monday was the first day the transfer portal was open for college football players and ESPN had a widely publicized tracker of the top players who had entered. It was the surest sign yet that the portal for high-profile college sports mimics pro sports free agency,

The Gophers football team might not be participants at the highest level, but already they have seen their 2023 starter (Athan Kaliakmanis) enter the portal while the front-runner to be their 2024 starter (Max Brosmer) entire via transfer from New Hampshire.

It is a strange and evolving world, one in which coaches have to recruit in three different ways: bringing in players out of high school, bringing in players via transfer and keeping players already on their roster out of the portal.

Any discussion of P.J. Fleck's career arc as Gophers coach and this year's 5-7 disappointment must include this caveat: The job he was hired to do in January 2017 is not the same as the one he's being asked to do nearly seven years later.

The transfer portal — fueled by an influx of name, image and likeness (NIL) cash — has changed the game, as Star Tribune beat writer Randy Johnson and I talked about on Tuesday's Daily Delivery podcast.

The Gophers have seemed to be playing from behind in the NIL game — a world that gets more complex and expensive every day — which is one reason why three very modern announcements this week were important.

Key contributors to the 2023 Gophers — running back Darius Taylor, receiver Daniel Jackson and corner Justin Walley — all announced they are staying at Minnesota. Specifically, they all mentioned they are remaining with Dinkytown Athletes, the Gophers' NIL collective.

Mentioning the collective was hardly some sort of happy coincidence, just as there was a lot of intention earlier this year when Fleck warned of what might happen to the Gophers' roster without NIL donations.

"If we want to keep players ... all these guys we have, they won't be here next year," Fleck said on a radio show recording in late September in front of Minnesota fans. "I'm making sure everybody understands. ... They won't be here. We'll be a Triple-A ballclub for somebody else. That is the reality and the truth of the situation. So, please contact Dinkytown Athletes."

Fighting to keep Taylor, Jackson and Walley might not be the sort of recruiting battle he envisioned seven years ago, but those players might end up being the most important members of this year's class.

Here are four more things to know today:

*The Timberwolves have the best record in the NBA after Boston's loss on Monday. It seems like a perfect time to have President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly on the podcast, and he will be my Wednesday guest.

*Speaking of NIL and the rapidly changing environment, the NCAA this week is proposing a rule that would let schools and athletes enter into payment agreements directly.

*The Wild have a better chance to make the playoffs than the Vikings?

*I'm bracing for a Twins team with a lot less depth than it had in 2023. Much will depend on health and how Derek Falvey navigates the trade market.