Friday, March 04, 2005

Puzzling Move--Are More on the Way?

Late Wednesday, the Vikings added what is purported to be a run-stopping defensive tackle in former Buffalo Bill Pat Williams. The local papers jumped on board with this signing, tauting the signing as the addition of a run-stopper extraordinaire. Vikings' head coach Mike Tice even stated that Williams was one of the Vikings' primary off-season targets. Hmmm...

Without question, Williams is a large body. Without question, Williams matches the physical requirements for playing either nose guard or under tackle. But there is some question whether Williams' signing should be viewed with any significant delight in Minnesota.

First, there is the matter of need. In the same breath that Tice lauded Williams, he also suggested that Williams' addition might not be so necessary. "We really like how Spencer Johnson played next to Kevin Williams last year," the coach stated, "and we think we can get more out of [Johnson] this year."

For once, I agree not only with Tice's assessment, but also with what that assessment means. Johnson did play well last year, very well in most games in which he saw action. And there is every reason to believe that the young player will only improve this year as he becomes more comfortable with his role and as he gets more snaps (assuming that happens).

That, alone, would call into question the necessity of signing Williams. But there was more. Much more.

After suggesting that he liked the Vikings' added depth at defensive tackle as the result of the addition of Williams, Tice dropped a subtle bombshell (if that's possible). "We really like how Spencer came on last year and like the addition of Williams. You might see Williams giving Spencer a break now and then next season."

Huh?

The Vikings just dropped $13 million on Williams. Some of that money comes in the form of a signing bonus--though it is not clear how much. Why spend this kind of money on a guy who is going to spell a younger player who has shown the ability to play? I'd like to offer a cap conspiracy theory but there isn't one. Nor, apparently, is there any other theory that explains away this odd use of resources.

Second, there is the question of value. The Buffalo Bills were forced to let Williams go because they could not afford his cap number. At least that's what they said in Buffalo.

But Williams is an old 32--300 plusers tend not to age well in the NFL. Then there is the question of Williams' actual play-making abilities. While local pundits appear pleased with Williams' run-stopping abilities--the only real value in a 330/340 pound under tackle--others are less enthusiastic. One national NFL writer noted that, while Williams still has the ability to be a difference-maker, he often takes himself out of plays by free-lancing too much. The same writer states that Williams' freelancing causes him to have difficulty against the run.

Just to be clear, then, the Vikings signed a Siragus-like defensive lineman to stop the run, but that lineman is just slim enough to be able to take some chances (i.e., take himself out of the play) so that he cannot do the one thing that his physical "talents" would otherwise permit him to do? Sounds good.

Finally, there is a question of priorities. Tice noted his confidence in Johnson. That confidence appears well-placed. Moreover, run stopping has not been an issue for the Vikings, at least not up the middle. So why the addition of another player at defensive tackle? Why prioritize the position in free agency?

Unfortunately, there is no good answer unless the Vikings are so convinced that they will shore up their linebacking and secondary problems that teams will be forced to run inside against them next year. And that's not happening. Which makes this signing a bit puzzling.

Up Next: Are the Vikings Exchanging a Difficult Player for a True Head Case?

7 comments:

Lichty said...

And with the seventh selection in the NFL Draft the Vikings pick Cadillac Williams, RB from Auburn. Makes about as much sense as this signing.

I am surprised to see no comment on how they lost out on Pierce. Red wouln't pay him his signing bonus until this summer.

What FA's or salary cap casualties that could actually plug a hole do you honestly see the Vikings having a shot at? The news on Pierce who was ready to sign was very discouraging.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the complaints on this one - I like this signing. Yes, Spencer Johnson played well, very well in fact. But he's not big enough to be an every down tackle. If Pat Williams gets 60% of the snaps in the base defense he'll be an asset to the team and keep Johnson fresh.

Also I'm going out on a limb here to say I don't think the Vikings' linebackers are so bad they need to bring in lots of new people. It would have been nice to get Pierce. But what the team really needs is for the linebacker talent to grow up and into their roles. EJ and Thomas have the physical ability, they just need experience. I hope it doesn't take too long.

Where the team really needs new personnel is in the secondary.

Fran said...

I don't think any move the Vikings make can be labeled 'puzzling' anymore--puzzling is standard operating procedure.

If you know the origin of the word snafu (aka--situation normal: all f'd up), I think that applies to the Vikes for the foreseeable future. As long as the Big Red cloud is hanging over us (and I am not sure the Fowler Group is going to be any better, if it ever actually takes control), I don't think the team will do much more than tread water. I would like to be more optimistic, but alsmost nothing the Vikes have done in the last several years has given me any reason for hope. I expect the team will be competitive, might even make the playoffs now and then, but as for the big trophy, pipe dream as always.

Vikes Geek said...

Fran,

Unfortunately I agree. Despite being so far under the league cap that they could actually add players with reckless abandon, the Vikings are unlikely to make any meaningful push in the near future. Fowler's group maintains it has deep pockets, but also claims it cannot make football work in Minnesota without a new stadium. The BS is nearly enough to make me wish Pohlad owned the Vikings (nearly).

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Lichty,

See today's column for the Pierce situation. Sorry it wasn't in the previous column but this organization is giving more grist for the mill than all others usually do during the regular season.

The Vikings will still fill some holes. They don't have a choice as they are too far under the cap to rely exclusively on the draft. I look for at least one more big FA signing, hopefully on defense. The Vikings have made noises in another direction, but, hopefully, those are without merit. It is very unfortunate that the Vikings missed out on a player like Pierce.

Vikes Geek said...

Anonymous,

I agree, but that's the story every year for the Vikings. They rely on inexperienced players on defense and cross their fingers. That's particularly exasperating when the team has almost as much money to spend under the cap as they have already committed (that is nearly impossible in today's NFL!).

Henderson may have a future in the NFL, but it is not with the Vikings at MIKE in 2005. And Thomas may be capable at some point, but he still looks far from ready. Why rely on these guys as starters in 2005 when the cash is there (and must be spent!), and the players are available, to fill the void?

The secondary is bad, but a strong front seven makes a lot of the warts go away. Unfortunately, a strong back four does little to make a weak front seven look better.

VG

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