Thursday, March 10, 2005

Two Deals Brewing, But Should Vikings Be Interested In Either?

While the Vikings undoubtedly remain in the market for players at several positions, two players stand out in recent Viking personnel discussions. One player, Donovin Darius, would fill the Vikings' need at strong safety. The other, Plaxico Burress, purportedly would fill the Vikings' vacancy at number one receiver. The jury is out on the latter proposition, while the value of both players remains in question.

Darius

Current Jacksonville Jaguar's strong safety Donovin Darius is enticing to the Vikings for one reason--the Vikings currently have no viable alternative. Were the Vikings to acquire Darius, they would resolve their remaining secondary concern--assuming one believes that Corey Chavous is a viable starter--and would free themselves to either release Brian Russell or move him into dime coverage.

Darius and his agent have added to the intrigue of a Darius-to-Minnesota deal by actively lobbying for the Vikings to acquire the safety. In a letter to the Star Tribune, Darius contended that he would prefer to play for the Vikings this season, above all other teams, and that any contract-extension demands that he would make would be reasonable.

Of course, Darius leaked a similar appeal to the Miami Herald, thus contradicting at least one of Darius' claims within his pleading and suggesting that there is at least reason to be suspicious of his other claim regarding possible contract-extension demands. That might give the Vikings pause as they consider whether they wish even to deal with Darius. Though the Vikings might decide to look a bit deeper before making such a decision.

The reason for Darius' desire to leave Jacksonville is well known. Darius is upset over being franchised for the third straight season. By being franchised, Darius is guaranteed to make the average of the top five players at his position in 2005. That means a decent payday for Darius. But, as Darius and others will attest, that guarantee undoubtedly fails to reflect Darius' market value as a player. And he is rightfully upset.

By franchising Darius, the Jaguars assure themselves of retaining a player who is not permitted to test his value in the free agent market. Understanding how this works, the Jaguars are assuming that they have reserved the franchise label for a player who is worth the average salary of the top 5 players at his position and who would receive a better offer on the open market. If the Jaguars were not operating under these two assumptions, they would simply allow Darius to test the free agent market and make a counter-offer.

For three years running, Darius has been subjected to this bizaare NFL Players' Association allowance to the ownership group. That means for three years running, Darius unquestionably has received less than market value for his services. And that pisses him off.

The Vikings could look at the Darius situation in one of two ways. First, they could view the situation as one involving a disgruntled player, eager and willing to take on management and to make himself a lockerroom distraction over his own contract negotiations. The Vikings need a player like that like they need Derek Ross to return to the team.

The other possibility is to look at Darius as someone who put up with a frustrating situation for two years before finally demanding justice. Justice suggests that Darius is worth more than what the traditionally lower paid strong safeties of the NFL receive and that he receive something more in line with the average salary of the top 5 corners of the league. From this perspective, the Vikings could convince themselves that Darius' current actions are reaonable and that his claim that he will seek only a "reasonable" contract extension is believable and palatable.

Whether the Vikings wish to pay the price to obtain Darius is another matter. In addition to appeasing Darius with a contract extension for more years and bigger money--his central demands in his dispute with the Jaguars--the Vikings will need to give up something for Darius since he remains under contract with Jacksonville. The Jaguars purportedly are seeking the Vikings' second first-round pick or the Vikings' second-round pick and a player. That type of interest has not materialized yet from any other team in the NFL. And it appears that if the Jaguars are to succeed in moving Darius via trade this off-season, the asking price might have to go lower.

The Vikings received a player and a number seven pick (and a garbage seventh-round pick that can only cost them some signing pennies) for Randy Moss, an elite player. Darius, though good, has nowhere near the profile of a player of Moss' stature. That alone lowers his trade value.

In terms of Darius' trade value, the Vikings would be wise to look at T.O.'s trade value in 2004. In the only year of a goofy, agent-messed-up contract, T.O. undoubtedly would have been surly throughout the season had the 49ers not traded him. That compelled the 49ers to offer a trade to a player under contract, much as Darius' situation and statements might compel the Jaguars to part with him.

Th 49ers received a second-round pick and a now-retired player for T.O. If T.O. is worth a second-round pick and a washed-up player, Darius is worth less. Possibly considerably less.

Of course, the Jaguars can retain the rights to Darius and hope that he does not pull a Mike McKenzie, feigning a hamstring injury that keeps him off the field. But if they can get something of value in a trade of Darius, that might be better for the organization in the short run and in the long run.

Or the Jaguars could just drop the franchise tag and meet any offer. If they did so, I'm sure Darius could find it in his heart to "love" Jacksonville once again.

It probably behooves the Vikings to wait this out a bit and see what transpires. That would allow them to gauge the market for Darius a bit more and to see what other safeties become available after June 1st.

Burress

Plaxico Burress presents a different issue for the Vikings. Burress is an unrestricted free agent who entered the market with much bravado. Certain he would land a long-term, high-end contract, Burress and his agent let it be known that only the wealthy (those with considerable cap room) needed to apply for his services.

That approach, and Burress' history of being less than a team player, appear to have backfired. Despite being in self-professed need of an upgrade at wide receiver, and despite being enamored with Burress' potential, the once-hotly-pursuing Giants today rescinded their multi-year, multi-million-dollar offer to Burress.

The reason for the Giants' sudden shift in interest in Burress appears to have everything to do with Burress' continuing insistance that he is worth more than the market is offering--a contradiction in terms--and with Burress apparent self-obsession. And Burress' agent, presumably hired to assist Burress in landing his payday, appears, instead, intent on destroying whatever shred of hope the receiver had of landing a sizeable contract offer in 2005, perhaps beyond.

Upset with the lack of interest shown his receiver--despite apparently having bought off one ESPN analyst who continues to tout Burress' "transformation" (sorry Len, it's not a transformation if you only change your stripes to look good in a contract year filled with injuries)--Burress' agent continues to stump for a big payout. Nobody's buying, however.

This has led Burress' agent to play the idiot card--the card that you pull out when you are in over your head but don't know it. To this end, Burress' agent has made it known that if no team offers what Burress thinks he is worth, Burress will sign a one-year deal to show what he is worth and use that as a launching pad to a big payday in next years' free agent market.

If there were any meaningful standard for NFL agents, that would be, at a minimum, malfeasance. As it is, the statement is just plain idiocy.

By stating that Burress will use 2005 to prove his value, Burress' agent is suggesting that Burress played with a different agenda in the past. There is no telling what Burress is likely to do should he snag a long-term deal. Might he return to his old ways? Might he be even worse? Is it worth the risk?

Apparently, the Giants did not like the sound of the agent's bluster and, accordingly, they withdrew their offer. Given Burress' history, his constant self-absorption, and his need to be the go-to guy without go-to numbers, that move appears wise.

That doesn't mean that the Vikings should have no interest in Burress, however. Indeed, the Vikings are courting Burress as I type.

But the best bet for the Vikings, if they insist on adding a head case that, by most accounts, is worse than Moss under the most trying of times (and with much less talent), is to sign Burress to a one-year deal. That would give Burress a chance to prove to the league that he has the ability, allow the Vikings to rely on that ability in a make-or-break season for Burress, and draft Burress' 2006 successor with the seventh overall pick.

All of which would allow the Vikings to patch the hole they created when they shipped Moss to Oakland and break in a new receiver who might one day approach Moss-like status.

Up Next: Who's Left?

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