Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Money Needs to Follow Mouth

Minnesota Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf has spoken often of his commitment to building a long-term contender in Minnesota. Last year, that commitment was to building an immediate contender. After a false start in Brad Childress' first season as Vikings' head coach, however, and staring down the reality of starting an inexperienced quarterback this season, Wilf has reeled in his ambitions, suggesting that the long-term bit will begin two or three years from now.

If the Vikings truly are committed to building a long-term championship-caliber contender, whether by this year, next year, or the year after, the real work ought already to have begun. And that work, as much as it includes adding new talent, requires advance planning for the retention of the talent that the team looks to employ as cornerstones of a contending team.

With nearly $30 million remaining under the salary cap and only the generally less bountiful pre-season cuts of other teams left to mull over as possible additions to the current Vikings' team, the Vikings are in prime position to make salary cap issues largely irrelevant for a very long time by identifying long-term fixtures and bringing salaries forward to 2007.

The caveat for the Vikings, as with any team, is that salary decisions be made judiciously. Bearing in mind that by paying players in 2007 for services after 2007 essentially guarantees future contract terms that otherwise would not have been guaranteed, such a pro-active use of cap space will require Vikings' capologist Rob Brzezinski to earn his stripes and to truly distinguish himself as a master of the NFL salary cap.

In short order, we will know the extent of Wilf's commitment to building a long-term contender in Minnesota and, possibly, whether Brzezinski is the person to lead the charge.

Up Next: Where and Where Not to Spend.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Childress Builds Straw Man to Make Weak Case

Last week, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress went into one of his defensive-style, sales-pitch modes when responding to questions about his confidence in this year's rag-tag-at-best receiving corps. With a number one receiver in Bobby Wade, a number two receiver in Troy Williamson, and no clear-cut number three receiver, the question was understandable. The response was less so.

Childress' reply to the wide receiver question was to compare outside doubts about the Vikings' 2007 receiving corps to outside doubts about the Vikings' 2006 linebacking corps. "Last year at this time, the linebackers were the concern of everybody except us," Childress said, patting himself on the back for having pre-season confidence in a linebacking corps that he helped put together. If Childress had stopped there, the comment would have been understandable and acceptable--though its use as an analogy to doubts about this year's Vikings' receiving corps would have fallen short of convincing.

But Childress, as he is wont to do, continued, offering absurd, general characterizations of the views of most about the Vikings' 2006 linebacking corps. "Everybody wanted to know about Napoleon Harris, how he was going to be. Who's Ben Leber? E.J. Henderson was considered to be, not a bust, but nobody spoke in high remarks. I didn't feel that way after coming in and watching those guys work. I feel much the same with the the wide receivers."

Setting aside Childress' convoluted English, some explication is in order. And if Chilly won't provide it, I will.

At the beginning of the 2006 season, it is correct to state, most Vikings' fans were concerned about the ability of Napoleon Harris to ties his own shoes, let alone play linebacker in the NFL. Harris was awful in his final season in Oakland and worse in his first season in Minnesota. Childress, himself, clearly had concerns about Harris' ability to play in the NFL as he made Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway the Vikings' number one pick in the 2006 NFL draft.

Under defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's tutelage, Harris improved significantly in 2006, to the point that most Vikings' fans were even upset that the Vikings refused to spend some of the $30 million that they have left under the salary cap to match Kansas City's relatively modest free-agent offer to Harris.

The reality, however, is that, while Harris made strides in 2006, he was still utterly incapable of covering his man in passing situations and did little, as the play-calling middle linebacker, to improve the Vikings' linebacking corps' overall coverage in the passing game. That, as Childress made clear during the 2006-07 offseason, made Harris expendable, justifying many of the pre-season concerns about Harris' ability to play in the middle and actually indicting Childress' confidence in Harris, both then and now.

The Vikings signed Ben Leber from San Diego last off-season. The move prompted two immediate responses from the Vikings' fan base. The first was that, if healthy, the recently injured Leber would shore up the Vikings' linebacking corps and that Leber might even be able to play in the middle, offering an upgrade over the previous MIKE linebacker, Sam Cowart. The second general outsider response was to wonder how serious Leber's injury was.

Nobody impugned the Vikings' signing of Leber or even remotely suggested that it was anything other than an upgrade until the Vikings' organization had a fallout with Fran Foley, the former Charger ball boy who was instrumental in signing Leber. Even then, fans considered Leber a low-risk, high-reward player. And last year, Leber showed some promise as a part-time player.

As for Henderson, not only was nobody speaking of him as a "bust" prior to 2006, most fans considered Henderson the best of the Vikings' linebacking corps and a very solid outside linebacker. While Henderson had been among the worst in league history playing MIKE in 2005, his speed and quickness made him one of the better edge players in the league in 2006. Childress' straw man reference to outsiders' views of Henderson heading into 2006 is thus preposterous, but par for the course for a coach reaching for ways to demonstrate his coaching acumen last season.

More preposterous is Chilly's comparison of the state of the Vikings' 2006 linebacking corps to the state of the Vikings' 2007 wide receiving corps. As with virtually everything that Childress has done since arriving in Minnesota, he essentially is arguing that, while outsiders only think they know talent, he does know talent. While, relying on Chilly's straw man, outsiders thought they saw a bad linebacking corps heading into the 2006 season, for example, he saw a solid linebacking corps. The same, Chilly is now arguing, applies to outsider versus Chilly perception of the 2007 Vikings' receiving corps. And there is no doubt in Chilly's mind who has the proper assessment.

As with Chilly's recollection of outsiders' perception of the Vikings' 2006 linebacking corps, Chilly again is setting up a straw man of sorts, arguing that outsiders think that the Vikings' receiving corps will be a bust. That misses the mark considerably, however, as it misconstrues where outsiders believe the problems are with the Vikings' wide receiving corps and with the Vikings' offense, in general.

What most Vikings' outsiders believe is that the Vikings are without a legitimate number one receiver, that the moves that the Vikings made in the off-season did little to improve upon last year's receiving corps, that a young and, to date, utterly non-productive receiving corps will have difficulty improving playing with a young and, to date, non-productive quarterback, and that, even with a miraculous turn-around from Troy Williamson, a career season from Bobby Wade, and the discovery of a number three receiver from among the twenty or so receivers currently in camp vying for the third-string receiver role in an offense that routinely uses two receivers, if it uses receivers at all, there is little reason to expect that "great improvement" will mean anything this season other than that the Vikings' receivers are not an after-thought this season.

While last year's Vikings' linebacking corps had talent and a history of at least decent production in the NFL, this year's Vikings' receiving corps appears short on talent and clearly lacks an NFL pedigree. That cannot be said of many NFL teams' receiving corps in an era in which the passing game is nearly as vital to a team's success as a team's defensive play. Add to that the likelihood that Chilly will still influence the offensive playcalling--something with which last year's linebacking corps was not hamstrung--and there is every reason to be skeptical about the Vikings' 2007 receiving corps.

Up Next: Dog Days.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Fool For A Client

When fans ask, as they often do, what advantage athletes accrue from retaining an agent, they generally ask the question rhetorically, having firm in mind the notion that agents provide no value to athletes in most sports. But for those fans who still believe that big time professional athletes do not need sports agents, Daunte Culpepper serves as glaring Exhibit A to the contrary.

As Daunte rehabbed his knee in Florida last off-season, new Minnesota Vikings' head coach took the opportunity to cast aspersions against Daunte's workout regimen offensive to anyone who frequents Chinese restaurants in the suburbs and offensive to his own stripmall-managing boss. Childress' cricism sounded the height of childish in a professional setting in which Childress stood only to lose by making such public remarks.

Had Daunte been represented by an agent, his agent would have replied to Childress' comments either with the standard "no comment" or with an equally oft-quoted "my client continues to rehabilitate and plans to return to being one of the top quarterbacks in the league as soon as possible." And that would have been that.

Daunte, however, was not represented by an agent at the time of Childress' disparaging comments. So, rather than Daunte's agent responding to Childress' comment, Daunte, himself, offered a reply. In essence, the reply was two-fold. One, the Vikings betrayed Daunte. Two, Daunte wanted out of Minnesota.

The Vikings obliged, settling for a pittance from Miami for Daunte when they could have forced Daunte to sit at the end of the bench for another three seasons and accept a contract that owed little real money.

Daunte arrived in Miami, where he proceeded to rush his recovery--again, without the advice of an agent. The decision was costly as Daunte quickly re-injured himself and was forced back into rehabiliation.

This week, with Daunte slow to make progress in his second off-season of rehabilitation, the Miami Dolphins traded for KC quarterback Trent Green. The Dolphins subsequently informed Culpepper that the team was going in a new direction and that they were exploring trade opportunities for him.

Because Daunte still has no agent, he responded to the Dolphin's revelation, not be speaking with the Dolphins, but by speaking with the Dolphins and then with the media. Daunte blamed the Dolphins for betraying him and asked for his release--all in a gift-wrapped letter to John Q. Media.

Had Daunte had an agent, the agent would have responded to the Dolphins' decision to "go another direction" by putting the best spin possible on the Dolphins' decision to release Daunte, thereby allowing Daunte an opportunity to appear to be the good guy caught in a numbers game rather than as a whiney guy, unwanted because of uncertainty about his injured knee.

Presumably, the agent would have said that "Daunte has received a clean bill of health on his injury and is preparing for the opening game of the 2007 season with the intent of re-taking his position as one of the game's top quarterbacks." He might have added that "Daunte understands the Dolphins' decision to go with a starting quarterback with whom the new offensive coordinator has a long working relationship and wishes the Dolphin's organization well." Period.

There's a saying in the legal profession that one who represents oneself has a fool for a client. That message applies equally in the world of professional sports where the vast majority of athletes understand the golden maxim. Unfortunately for Daunte, the lesson has yet to be learned.

Up Next: Around the NFC North--comparing offenses.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Vikings Moving to Los Angeles?

For the many Vikings' fans who have long felt that current Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf is not long for Minnesota, an article by G.R. Anderson in a January edition of the City Pages adds some fuel to the fire. While the article covers several topics pertaining to Wilf's ownership of the Vikings, it concludes with Wilf conceding that his view of the map has LA as the single noteable stopping off point outside the East Coast.

Anderson's article raises many concerns for Vikings' fans willing to read between the lines. And reading between the lines appears to be required when dealing with this ownership group. Among the troubling signs--in addition to having a myopic owner who seems more parochial than worldly--are Wilf's use of pat phrases intended as sincere on-the-spot vein cutting and the reminder that Vikings' Vice President for Public Relations, Lester Bagley, who serves as the point man for attempting to gain public funding for a new Viking's stadium, served in the same capacity under former owner Red McCombs and colluded with McCombs to foment the "we're moving to LA if we don't get a new stadium" mantra.

Precious among Wilf's quotes in the Anderson piece is the comment that Wilf made to Retail Traffic, a leading publication covering Wilf's primary retail development business. Referring to retail buildings for which he was seeking local subsidies (see full article in Retail Traffic), Wilf responded to critics by contending that "everything we've developed we've kept. We're long-term players and we're prepared to invest in the community."

If that last line rings a bell, it should. Wilf used the very same line when he took over ownership of the Vikings.

For Anderson's complete article, go to

Up Next: Around the NFC North. Plus, June 1st cuts not yielding anything yet.