In the wake of the Vikings' most recent free-agent acquisition, former Green Bay Packer's safety Darren Sharper, Vikings' fans were inundated with another rousing rendition of how the Vikings have turned the corner. One local scribe went so far as to laud the recent signings as a clear indicator that the Vikings, particularly Vikings' owner Red McCombs, had discarded their parsimonious ways.
There really is minimal, if any support, for this notion, however. And there is mounting evidence that the Vikings recent foray into free agency is all about two things--reaching the NFL-mandated salary floor and selling the off-season as a success to the fan base.
It is hard to dislike the signing of Fred Smoot or Darren Sharper. Both players provide an immediate upgrade to the Vikings at their respective positions. Smoot adds a bit of brashness that the Vikings have lacked in recent years (at least from anyone qualified to be brash), while Sharper adds both ability and a degree of professionalism, a venerable combination the likes of which the Vikings desperately needed at the back of their secondary.
And although I have expressed concerns about Patrick Williams' fitness level, playmaking ability against the run, and the Vikings' commitment of resources to a player the Vikings hope to spell with Spencer Johnson on most passing downs and even on some running downs, Patrick Williams has to be an upgrade over Chris Hovan. That makes his addition at least positive, if not necessarily the highlight that the Vikings' front office would have us believe.
The re-signing of Jermaine Wiggins is the Vikings' lone off-season offensive move to date, but it is large. The move, as I have noted before, permits the Vikings to use two-tight-end sets in a manner essentially akin to using one tight end and a receiver. With Wiggins back, the Vikings will be able to keep Kleinsasser on the line more often, a move that could be particularly beneficial should the Vikings fail to shore up their offensive line this year.
The free agency signings have led the Vikings' biggest chearleaders--their own front office--to engage in the type of glad handing not often seen in this part of the world. Between self-congratulatory praises and genuflecting moments of fealty to Red, it is a wonder the Vikings' front office has had time to sit down and draw up the relevant contracts.
But more curious than this absurd ritual is the response of the Vikings' front office to the trade of Randy Moss to Oakland. After the eye of the storm passed, and the personnel people had passed along their obligatory "it was in the best interests of the team" line to anyone who would listen, little was heard of or, apparently, spoken about the trade.
And that's odd. Particularly since the very little bit that we did hear--straight from the owner's mouth--suggested what many fans all along have speculated, that this was a poorly orchestrated trade in which the Vikings were fleeced. And, for no apparent reason, a deal in which the Vikings willingly were fleeced.
The Vikings have used the free agency period to persuade fans that the Moss deal was part of a larger agenda. The plan, the personnel folks have suggested, is to change the team's dynamics by changing the team's philosophy. That required, so goes the implication, that the Vikings part ways with their aerial maestro, Randy Moss. Only by parting with Moss, they have suggested, could the Vikings truly improve their defense. Sacrifices needed to be made.
What no member of the Vikings' front office has explained to anyone's satisfication, as yet, is why Moss' departure was necessary to improve the team. Nor has anyone explained why any sacrifice needed to be made of a young star in his athletic prime. At least not one that anyone--including the party who purportedly ordered the trade--is buying.
At first, fans were led to believe that Moss' antics had become too burdensome on teammates. Fans were told he was a distraction, a lockerroom cancer.
That story was plausible. After Moss left the Washington game rather than take the field for an on-side kick in an already lost game, several teammates and coaches openly expressed their disapproval. And, while Moss had every reason to be disgusted with his team's performance and the performance of the coaching staff in that game, it was impossible to excuse his actions. Matt Birk, for one, did not, and spoke of his frustration with Moss' antics. After the season, Daunte Culpepper was quoted as having said that "maybe it is time for a change."
The sound bites made it appear that Moss had worn out his stay in Minnesota, despite the fact that the receiver wanted to remain in Minnesota.
At least that's how things appeared to stand. Except most teammates even refused to support that theory. And, when questioned after the trade, Culpepper refused to stand by his earlier comments and was critical of people "putting words in my mouth." And Culpepper reiterated his position that, were Moss to remain a Viking, it would not be a problem.
That got fans second-guessing the trade, if receiving Napoleon Harris and the seventh pick in the 2005 draft were not enough to do so already. But fans surely wondered what was going on at Winter Park when Red revealed that: (1) he almost fired Tice in 2004 to "light a fire under Moss;" (2) he never wanted to trade Moss; (3) he believed that Moss was capable of achieving much more given the proper coaching; and (4) most incredibly, he did not believe that the Vikings received a proper return in the trade.
For a hands-on owner like Red, that's quite a telling indictment of the Moss trade.
Even more damning, however, is the fact that the Vikings have done nothing in the off-season to support the post-trade front office suggestion that moving Moss would pay dividends by allowing the team to shore up the defense. Even with Moss' salary, the Vikings could have signed Wiggins, Sharper, Williams, and Smoot. And they could have added Edgerton Hartwell, another linebacker, a placekicker, and signed all of their draft picks, and--without any capology hocus-pocus (such as when they gave Brian Russell a $7 million bonus incentive for an unattainable special team's performance)--they still could have found themselves teetering on the fringe of the NFL's salary floor.
So, while I laud the Vikings for making moves that they incidentally had to make to reach the salary floor, I cannot help but vomit at the suggestion that the Moss trade in any way made the recent free agent moves possible.
Red's post-trade comments suggest that Red wishes that he did not make the trade; that Red wishes that he had, instead, found a coach willing and able to coach Moss; that Red realizes that the Vikings would have been better off keeping Moss than trading him for what they did; and that Red is worried that the Vikings were bamboozled.
Whether this impression reflects Red's true impressions of the Moss trade is irrelevant. What is relevant, and what the Vikings' front office and the new owner should care about, is that that is the impression that the vast majority of Vikings' fans hold.
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