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?