Wednesday, February 02, 2005

When Losing Doesn't Matter

When word leaked out this week that yet another member of the Vikings is being sought after by other NFL teams, many throughout Vikingland immediately began the ritual of lamenting the loss of yet another member of the Purple family. First it was offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Hardly a tremendous loss. Then it was wide-receiver coach Charlie Baggett, who, unless his work can be attributed to making Jermaine Wiggins a stand-out receiving tight end, has done about what should be expected of any wide-receiver coach who has the luxury of working with Randy Moss.

But after much initial consternation, Vikings' fans apparently have already forgotten about the loss of Linehan and Bagley and are already lamenting the possible loss of a third "key" member of the 2005 Vikings. Who is it? Why would he consider leaving? Why do good people always leave the Vikings? Why? Why? Why?

But lest we get too far ahead of ourselves in the grieving process, a bit of reflection is in order. Consider whom it is that is the source of concern. Are the Vikings about to lose a five-time Pro Bowl player in his prime? No. Is Red ready to let walk a highly regarded coach that has taken a team from the depths of despair to the Super Bowl? Not that either.

No, what is causing the fuss among Vikings' fans these days is the mere possibility that purported salary cap guru Rob Brzezinski might fly the coup. But should we even care if the Vikings lose this member of the purple entourage? In short, not really.

Brzezinski is widely credited with putting the Vikings' financial ship in order following the departure of Denny Green. Prior to Brzezinski's arrival, the Vikings were rudderless on the sea of salary cap navigation. The utter lack of salary cap acumen among Vikings' brass led the Vikings to make some stupendously ridiculous salary decisions, including giving Todd Steussie and Randall Cunningham large contract extensions and backloading a contract with Cris Carter. When Brzezinski arrived, those types of deals ceased and the Vikings became laudable managers of the salary cap.

But management of the NFL salary cap is not what now ails the Vikings. Rather, what ails the Vikings is manipulation of the salary cap to the benefit of ownership and to the detriment of signing quality players. While Brzezinski may be valuable in helping Vikings' owner Red McCombs determine how to circumvent the salary floor, such value is and ought to be entirely lost on Vikings' fans. After all, how valuable is Brzezinski to Vikings' fans when the fruits of his labor virtually ensure that the Vikings do not have the talent to compete at the highest level?

Brzezinski's loss should be of even less concern to Vikings' fans when one accepts that "losing" Brzezinski will only lead to the possibility of a successor who is less capable of handling the cap. That might mean that the Vikings spend less wisely, but that will only matter if one draws fine distinctions between teams that barely eke into the playoffs and teams that fail to make the playoffs because, without a change in ownership, there is no reason to expect the Vikings to run out of cap room.

Some Vikings' fans have suggested, however, that Brzezinski's loss would be critical if Red were to sell the team. The implication is that the new owners would have had one of the NFL's best and brightest at managing the salary cap, but for Red's refusal to retain Brzezinski prior to the sale.

One could conjure up some sympathy for this argument if there were something about Brzezinski that lent itself to such concern. Instead, there is a complete lack of such evidence. As a numbers guy, Brzezinski is not called upon to use his charisma to court players. He is not looked to for any specific leadership skills. He is not even called upon to perform a daunting task. Instead, he exists to crunch numbers using clear NFL salary cap guidelines. That might seem daunting for the mathematically challenged, but not to this scribe. And recent history suggests why Brzezinski is little more than a interchangeable part over whose departure Vikings' fans should lose zero sleep.

Consider what Brzezinski has done since his arrival in Minnesota. He has taken a payroll that was bloated and worked with personnel people to cut the fat. This has required the team to pair salaries that the team no longer found beneficial and to absorb one-time salary cap hits for theretofore prorated signing bonuses. This pairing, combined with parsimonious free agent spending, has put the Vikings approximately $30 million under the salary cap for 2005 and approximately $18 million under the salary floor.

Is that rocket science? Of course not. If Vikings' fans really want to lose some sleep over something related to the Vikings consider the possibility of having yet another carbetbagging ownership group, the apparently rudderless leadership of the current squad, or the on-going issues on defense, special teams, and with personnel decisions. But losing Brzezinski? That doesn't rate much concern, if any.

Up Next: Backfield Issues.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cheer for poor cap management, so the Vikings have to sign more free agents??

Nice, but probably too clever.