Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Another Impressive Signing

The Vikings are in a singing mood, and that's good news for Vikings' fans. Shortly after signing former Washington cornerback Fred Smoot to a long-term deal--including, not surprisingly, a deferred signing bonus--the Vikings re-signed one of their own when they agreed to terms with tight end Jermaine Wiggins. The terms of the deal are purported to be 5-years, for $7.3 million and a $1 million bonus.

The signing goes a long way toward cementing one of the Vikings' key off-season offensive concerns. In 14 games last season, Wiggins hauled in 71 receptions for 705 yards and four touchdowns. Only a mid-season hand injury, and a lack of commitment from the Vikings' coaching staff to the short- and mid-range passing game, kept those numbers from being even gaudier. Had the Vikings not re-signed Wiggins, they would have been forced to sign a lesser commodity at a position that the Vikings--particularly QB Daunte Culpepper--came to rely upon last season in the clutch.

Wiggins' signing ensures that the Vikings have one of the top receiving tight ends and the top blocking tight end next season. It also gives the Vikings the option of passing on any and all free agent wide receivers, permitting them to rely on a primary receiving corps of Nate Burleson, Wiggins, and Marcus Robinson, with Kleinsasser serving primarily as a blocking tight end and a release valve. That might not be as spectacular on any given play as the offense was with Moss as the number one receiving option, but it should provide offensive efficiency and consistenty by forcing the Vikings to be more pragmatic and systematic in their offensive game-planning.

Wiggins' signing is beneficial in another respect. Signing Wiggins for $7.3 million over five years with a $1 million signing bonus barely puts a dent in the Vikings' salary cap allowance. On its face, it appears that Wiggins' contract will count just over $1 million against this year's salary cap. That means that the Vikings still have plenty of cap room to sign a legitimate linebacker--Edgerton Hartwell?--a serviceable guard, and a safety.

Tice Tales

It appears there might be trouble in Ticeland. Yesterday SI broke the story that Vikings' head coach Mike Tice was being investigated for orchestrating a Super Bowl scalping operation, whereby Vikings' players would sell their Super Bowl duckets through Tice's broker in California--with Tice taking his cut. Tice is purported to have strongly encouraged players to use his services.

Tice initially denied all allegations--purportedly made by a former player--but has since backed away from that blanket denial. Today, one day after the news of the operation broke, Tice defended his actions. Tice stated that, although he did scalp Super Bowl tickets in contradiction of league rules, he "never did so as head coach of the Vikings." That denial, along with an admission of having participated in the scheme, might be enough to seal Tice's fate.

League rules prohibit players and coaches from scalping Super Bowl tickets "for a profit." The logic behind the rule is simple--the league wants a cut of any piece of the pie that increases revenue from the event. By scalping the tickets for a profit, players and coaches deprive the league of the additional revenue that the tickets would generate if sold by the league on the open market.

Because the league rule is clear, and because the league views most revenue-robbing schemes as the height of betrayal against the league, there is the potential that the league will ban or suspend Tice for his admission, even if the league is unable to substantiate whether Tice orchestrated such ticket scalping as head coach. That likelihood undoubtedly increases if the league determines--as has been alleged by the former Vikings' player--that Tice participated in the ticket-scalping scheme as head coach, and permitted those under his watch to violate clear league rules.

Conspiracy Theory

Although SI has refused to release the name of the former player who turned on Tice, the article does state that the former player played for the Vikings in 2003. The article does not say that the former did not play for the Vikings in 2004, however, leading one to believe that the former player is disgrunteld, former defensive tackle/end Chris Hovan.

While some have questioned Hovan's ability to create a pickle for anyone other than himself, there is the temptation to wonder whether a future owner, through a current owner, might have encouraged Hovan to come forward with the accusation. If the league suspends or bars Tice next season, the move obviously would jeopardize Tice's future as Minnesota's coach and might serve as a basis for voiding Tice's contract.

And that just might suit Fowler's group to a T as it would relieve them of the obligation of paying off a coach whom they may not have been thrilled to have inherited, allowing them to put that $1 million owed to Tice toward the salary of a new head coach for 2005.

Up Next: More signings? Plus, do the Vikings already have their future placekicker?

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