Thursday, March 01, 2007

Cleaning House

After the 2005 Lake Minnetonka boat episode involving several Minnesota Vikings' football players, new Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf promised to clean house. We now know what Zygi intended with that comment, namely, that the team would get rid of anyone who is a bad citizen--as long as they also happen to perform poorly on the field.

Prominent among the Vikings' Lake Minnetonka activists were Moe Williams, Daunte Culpepper, Fred Smoot, Mewelde Moore, and Bryant McKinnie. After Thursday's cuts--which included Fred Smoot, Jermaine Wiggins, and Mike Rosenthal--only Moore and McKinnie are left standing. And, given head coach Brad Childress' inexplicable perception that Moore is not capable of producing on the field, it might be only a matter of time until the woefully overvalued McKinnie is the sole survivor of the boating purge. That says nothing about McKinnie as a steward and probably everything about the difficulty of finding even remotely capable left tackles.

Thursday's Cuts

Of the Vikings' cuts on Thursday, none are surprising, though Wiggins' release is unfortunate. Smoot was little more than a spinning top spectator last season, starting back ten to twenty yards in man coverage and routinely stepping aside to let far slower receivers earn a living. Against speedier competition, Smoot left Vikings' fans longing for the Waswa Serwanga year.

Like Smoot, Rosenthal had a thoroughly forgettable 2006. Unfortunately for Rosenthal, and Vikings' fans, Rosenthal's forgettable 2006 season came directly on the heels of a miserable 2005 and a putrid 2004 season. If ever Rosenthal had gas in the tank at the NFL level, it ran out well before he arrived in Minnesota. Your favorite Rosenthal highlight? Take your pick from among many false starts or holding calls in critical situations.

Unlike Smoot and Rosenthal, Wiggins was a victim of circumstance in 2006. Smoot defenders contend that former defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's system doomed Smoot because it required Smoot to play tight on players whereas he is more comfortable in a zone, pick-up scheme. That might be true, but that certainly begs the definition of "more comfortable." Smoot looked equally lost in Ted Cottrell's do-as-you-please system as he did in Tomlin's system.

Wiggins, meanwhile, was wonderfully successful as a receiver in his first two seasons in Minnesota, leading the team with 140 receptions. Last year, under Childress' plodding, predictable, boring, and disastrous offensive system--for lack of a better word--Wiggins had a mere 46 receptions, 24 below his average as a Viking.

Was that Wiggins' fault or the fault of the system? You judge. With 46 receptions in 2006, Wiggins tied for second on the team in receptions, 11 behind team leader Travis Taylor. To put those numbers in perspective, Detroit's Kevin Furrey finished the season with 98 receptions.

With Wiggins gone, the Vikings reportedly have their sights set on New England free agent tight end Daniel Graham. If you're in the camp that thinks that's an upgrade at receiver, think again. Despite catching passes from Tom Brady and being the beneficiary of a tight end-friendly offense, Graham has done anything but flourish as a receiver in New England.

While it is true that New England's reliance on other tight ends in the passing game cuts down on Graham's touches, it's still difficult to see how Graham would be more of a pass-catching asset than Wiggins. In five years in the league, Graham has averaged 24 receptions per season, never posting more than the 38 that he posted in his second season in the league. Last year, in 12 games, Graham had a mere 21 receptions.

Graham might be capable of playing the entire game as a blocking tight end with the ability to contribute as a receiver in a pinch. And that might make Jim Kleinsasser more expendable than he already is--if that's possible. But anyone who looks at Graham as a solution to the Vikings' true offensive problems isn't looking hard enough. And if that doesn't dampen your enthusiasm over Graham's potential addition to the squad, perhaps the fact that Childress appears utterly enamored with Graham will.

It's unfortunate that Childress could not see what a receiving asset he had in Wiggins. It might be even more unfortunate, however, that his solution to the perceived hole at receiving tight end is a tight end who has never flourished in a well-run offense.

Up Next: Free Agency Begins, Draft Looms. Plus, Frozen Moss?

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