Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Making Lurtsema's Eyes Water

It's becoming a broken record in the Minnesota Vikings' organization, as the team continues to take two steps sideways and another back. This week, after a miserable 2006 season and an off-season in which the Vikings not only filled none of their pressing needs but also lost at least two players who should have been starters in 2007, Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf pleaded with the Vikings' fan base for patience.

According to Zygi, the Vikings have a plan for returning to Super Bowl contention. Like the Mike Tice-Red McCombs plan of 2002, however, that plan envisions a return to contention somewhere down the road rather than in the immediate future. In other words, seven years after the Vikings' organization put into effect its three-year plan for returning to the Super Bowl, Zygi envisions the Vikings being in position to contend for a championship.

The culprit behind the Vikings' predicament, according to Zygi, is not the head coach who turned a poorly coached 9-7 team into a more talent-laden 6-10 team. Nor is the problem the ownership's failure to recognize it's own measurable short-comings in the realm of professional football management, exemplified by Zygi's decision not to hire a quality personnel manager, arguably through the present day.

No, the real problems that have beset the Vikings' organization are that the team plays in the Metrodome and was short on talent evaluators until recently. While both issues undoubtedly have played a role in how the Vikings have made organizational decisions during Zygi's tenure, only the latter does anything to explain the incompetence of the current regime.

Zygi's insinuation that the Metrodome has caused some of the Vikings' on-field woes--an insinuation that Zygi appeared to intend as subtle but one that he delivered as bluntly as possible--is based on the premise that, because the Vikings do not make as much money in the Metrodome as other teams make in their stadiums, the Vikings cannot compete in the NFL.

For the record, any claim that the Metrodome's revenue stream hamstrings the Vikings is ludicrous. Unlike MLB, where non-ticket stadium revenue streams are essential, the Vikings have no such concerns. Not only do the Vikings enjoy nearly $115 million in television revenue from the league, they also receive millions more in revenue sharing because of their situation in the Metrodome. On top of that money, the team receives money from NFL licensing ventures, team radio affiliations, ticket sales, concessions, suites, and advertising. Combined, the team has revenues near or in excess of $200 million per season. Even with a payroll of nearly $90 million in 2007, the Vikings' ownership group is likely to profit to the tune of $40 million this year.

Thus, while the argument that the Metrodome costs the Vikings' revenue stream opportunities is perfectly legitimate, the argument that the Vikings' on-field woes can be traced to decisions that had to be made out of financial considerations is utterly ridiculous.

What Zygi's angle is is not entirely clear. On the one hand, he's always appeared somewhat inept at the football bit. When he first came to town, he preached family and responsibility--a clear sign of trouble given that Zygi preferred these topics over football-related topics. We then discovered that responsibility was only required of the bubble players, not guys on whom the team was going to depend. That's fine in the world of the NFL where finding responsible players is the harder task. But it points out Zygi's either absolute naivete about the world of the NFL or Zygi's belief that Minnesota fans will eat whatever crap he ladles out.

Upon his arrival in town, Zygi also noted his high expectations for a team that he believed had the pieces in place to contend. Yet today, with few notable players gone from the team that Zygi inherited, and players like Steve Hutchinson, Cedric Griffin, Chad Greenway, Chester Taylor, Ben Leber, and Ryan Longwell, Zygi is pointing to a two to three year plan for returning the team to respectability. Either Zygi is providing cover for Childress' dismal results in 2006 against one of the weakest schedules in the NFL, or Zygi is blinded to the team's real issues.

Zygi is now contending that the Vikings plan to rebuild through the draft. While this is a laudable goal, it is also stating the obvious. As discussed on this site several times this off-season, the current NFL cap structure will make it difficult for teams to build through free-agency for the foreseeable future. With fewer free agents and more cap space, premium players will be re-signed or tagged and the few top-flight free agents who hit the market will command a king's ransom. These factors will conspire to force teams to look to the draft to fill holes for the next two or three years, at a minimum.

All of which begs a pertinent question. If the Vikings, over the next two to three years, are only going to do what every other team is already doing in the NFL, how will the Vikings overtake the twenty-five teams currently ahead of them? A quick look at the roster suggests that Zygi's two- to three-year plan might be more realistically stated as a ten- to twelve-year plan.

Of the players currently under contract, several either will be gone or long in the tooth, by NFL standards, in three years. Those players include center Matt Birk, safety Darren Sharper, cornerback Antoine Winfield, and defensive tackle Pat Williams. It's one thing to fill holes through the draft. It's another to fill holes currently filled by Pro-Bowl caliber players. And that makes Zygi's two- to three-year plan as suspect as any of his previous plans.

In his defense, Zygi is stuck. He's stuck with a coach who has not been able to deliver the kick ass offense that he promised. He's stuck with a team bereft of a starting quarterback. He's stuck with a team absent a number one receiver. He's stuck with a team left relying on a personnel manager that no other team in the NFL would touch. And, in short, he's stuck with the decisions that he made when he inherited the team, but now in an era where correcting those mistakes suddenly became a much taller task.

And he wants Vikings' fans to be patient for more of the same. Even Lurtsy's not buyin' this Purple pitch.

Up Next: Is Peterson the Best Option? Plus, does a three-year plan require trading down?

7 comments:

Corey Ettinger said...

I like that he's (Zygi)honest. Lets face it, this team, except on a couple units of the defense and the O-line lacks nearly any talent. You say Brad turned this team into a 6-10 one when it should have been a 9-7 one. Honestly, I went into last year both boycotting the season (I neither bought tickets which I have done years past nor watch a single game) over the Moss and Culpepper trades, but also predicting a 2-14 record. Lets face it, you shouldn't win many games when you can't stop the pass because people can just sit back in the pocket all damn day and light you up because you have no one to pressure on the end (Tice's fault screwing up every draft he was ever in charge of). It doesn't help when on offense you have a QB who can't throw the ball 20 yards on the fly, a running back who's ever been a starter (maybe there was a reason for that... its because he wasn't that good) and a circus worth of clowns trying to catch the ball.

This mess isn't Zygi or Childress' and we need to give them at least four or five years to fix what McCombs and in particular worst coach in football history Mike Tice did to this team. notice how every single year after very mediocre coach Denny Green left this team just got worse and worse? Well when you have 4 years of incompetent management, 1 year isn't going to solve your problems. Its going to be a long long time before this team contends again and I think Vikes fans might as well grab a Snickers because we're not going anywhere for a while.

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ss said...

At least Tice got players interested in having some fun and playing football. Chilly's developing a bunch of stiffs doing nothing but collecting paychecks.

As for Green's legacy: 0-44. The team did pretty well after he was gone considering McCombs's laughable coaching budget and the putrid defense that Green left for Tice.

Wild and crazy mistakes might have been the legacy of the Tice years, but lethargy, indifference, and excuses seem to be the direction for the next "four or five years" of rebuilding. If Zygi's trying to tamp down fan interest so he can bolt for LA, he's doing a pretty good job.

Vikes Geek said...

Corey,

I don't know that we can say that Zygi is being honest. We haven't much to go on yet to make such an assessment. It does appear, however, that if he is being honest now, he was either naive or dishonest last year. Neither prospect will do much to calm a jittery fan base.

As for Childress, you are both much more optimistic and more pessimistic than am I. I was not a Tice fan as far as his coaching was concerned. He was a nice guy who seemed to have difficulty coaching at the NFL level.

With that said, he did show improvement over time, and his final team certainly was better than Denny's final team in Minnesota. But decision-making cost Tice several games in his final season and, ultimately, and I believe justifiably, cost him his head-coaching job with the Vikings.

I was not enamored with the Vikings' decision to hire Childress for two reasons that are well-documented on this site. The first was that Childress billed himself as an offensive guru despite limited exposure to gameday decision-making. That's a short-coming that he now acknowledges.

The second reason I was not enamored with the decision to hire Childress is that the decision seemed destined to be a decision for which training wheels would be required for a team loaded with veterans. I preferred a veteran head coach.

I didn't say Childress should have gone 9-7 last year. What I said is that Childress inherited a purportedly lesser talented team that finished 9-7 against reasonably good competition and turned the team into a 6-10 product against one of the easiest schedules in the league. You can slice it and dice it how you wish, but it's hard to convince anyone that that's the result of good coaching. Even if Childress has a master plan that requires changes, it makes no sense to take such a large step backward just to move two or three games ahead in five years. Does it?

As for your prognosis, I don't think it is as grim as you suggest for two reasons. First, if the Vikings fail miserably again in 2007, Zygi will have to replace Childress or face massive season-ticket cancellations (much worse than what the organization is facing this year). Second, Childress is correct in contending that there is a small margin of difference between being 6-10 and being 10-6 (of course, the same can be said of being 6-10 versus 2-14). If everything goes right for the Vikings between now and the beginning of 2008, 2008 might be a successful season.

What will that require? To begin with, the Vikings will need to find a quarterback capable of starting in 2008. Jackson looks ill-equipped to play this year but also looks to be at the head of the line in Childress' grand scheme. That suggests a really lousy offense yet again. Maybe Jackson will have command of the passing game by 2008, however, or maybe the Vikings will find a starter by then. If either happens, and the Vikings address their needs on the right side of the offensive line, and nobody gets hurt, the Vikings might be in contention at least for a playoff spot in 2008. That's a lot of "ifs" with a fairly modest payoff but it's not unimaginable. And it's better than just a Snickers bar.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

SS,

I agree that Chilly's offense is chilling on fans. Even if his system ultimately wins games, the brand of football is so boring that few people will care. While it is true that winning breeds support, it is also true that support wanes quickly when, though a winning product, the product is virtually unwatchable.

Chilly, Zygi, and the Vikings need to get their collective heads around the fact that the NFL is no longer just about winning. It's about winning with some flare. There are too many things competing for the consumer's dollar these days for consumers to get to hyped up over a winning brand of ball that would bore a librarian--and the Vikings haven't even reached that level yet.

VG

Anonymous said...

Your long-winded rants are what is chilling on fans. Is your last name Sansevere or Souhan?

Anonymous said...

Go watch the circus, if you want flare. Many of us prefer the old-school smash mouth football that used to define the "black and blue" division.

Vikes Geek said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the compliment. I didn't realize that I had such reach with this column.

As for the Vikings' brand of smash-mouth football, there's nothing like three and out. That's beautiful football.

VG