Friday, September 01, 2006

The Devil You Know

With pre-season winding down, first-year Minnesota Vikings' head coach confronted a stark reality. That reality was that he had made at least one significant personnel error before the season had even begun when he opted to sign Mike McMahon as his backup quarterback.

Not surprisingly, McMahon, who has struggled at every stop of his miraculously long NFL career--save for a two-week period of mild success while with the Detroit Lions--was struggling mightly as the Vikings' backup quarterback in 2006. The struggles reached such heights this pre-season that even the man who had touted McMahon's signing--the man that had been credited with making McMahon who he was while in Philadelphia, had to pull the plug.

The result was the insertion of first-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson as the number two quarterback. No coach in the NFL, not even a rookie coach, is foolish enough to rest their season's fortunes on the play of a rookie quarterback, particularly in the wake of Chicago's failed 2005 experiment with Kyle Orton.

Realizing the need for a backup quarterback with some experience, Childress thus went to work locating a veteran backup. The result was Thursday's signing of former New York Jets' backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger.

The Vikings' signing of Bollinger should come as no surprise--except, perhaps, to Michael Bennett fans--as Bollinger hails from the same school as Vikings' offensive coordinator Darrell Bevill. As the Vikings tell the story, the familiarity that Bevill has with Bollinger should breed both comfort and a smooth transition to Bollinger should Brad Johnson sustain an injury in 2006 and Bollinger's services be needed.

Others might question whether the signing was more a matter of convenience owing to familiarity and, if so, whether the signing improves the Vikings in any discernible fashion.

Fortunately, the NFL offers some reasonably realiable measures for weighing the relative value of quarterbacks. And, as the statistics suggest, the Vikings probably went with the player that they knew for the sake of knowing that player, while also picking up a reasonably good backup--even if by mere good fortune.

The Search

When the Vikings realized that they could not enter the season with a rookie as backup to Johnson, they immediately turned to A.J. Feely--another of Childress' "prodigies." The logic was that Feely knew the basics of Childress' offensive system, having played in Philadelphia when Chidress was offensive coordinator for Andy Reid, and that Feely's signing would not create an untenable situation of having a number two quarterback with a higher base contract than that held by the current number one quarterback.

But Feely, a never-really-has-been in the NFL, balked at the Vikings' offer. That left the Vikings with few options that fit their criteria of finding a quarterback both willing to sign for less than Johnson currently makes under his number-two-quarterback contract and a quarterback that had played for either Childress or Bevill.

Bollinger was the one exception. The Vikings' jumped when Bollinger became available and, it appears, the Vikings got lucky. And that might be better than being smart.

For all intents and purposes, the Vikings signed Bollinger to take the place of Mike McMahon and J.T. O'Sullivan. During his unremarkable run in the NFL, McMahon has posted some fairly jaundiced numbers, including a 44.5% career completion percentage, a 55.1 career passer rating, and 15 TDs to 21 INTs.

O'Sullivan's stats look gaudy in comparison but only because O'Sullivan has no career stats. That's because, in five NFL seasons, O'Sullivan has yet to throw a single regular- or post-season pass.

Bollinger easily bests both quarterbacks in these categories with 2005 numbers, alone, including 1558 yards passing with a 56.4% completion percentage, a 72.9 passer rating, and 7 TDs to 6 INTs. But, even without the benefit of competing against McMahon and O'Sullivan, Bollinger's numbers look pretty good. (compare to Brooks and others).

Bollinger is not Elway reincarnated, but he is much more palatable as a 26-year-old backup than are McMahon or O'Sullivan. And that makes his signing, serrindipitous or not, a solid one.

That, before the season began, the Vikings corrected a glaring error in judgment regarding their quarterback situation already places Childress in better stead than was situated his predecessor. Of course, if he'd figured out a way to get through his own issues with a semi-belligerent, already-under-contract-on-the-cheap-recovering quarterback, none of this would have been necessary. But it was, and the result was better than could have been expected in recent seasons. And for that, at least, Vikings' fans can be grateful.

Up Next: Comings and Goings. Questionable Signing, Questionable Cut, and Many Options for Additions.

No comments: