Monday, September 03, 2007

Thigpen Decision An Unfortunate One

On Saturday, the Minnesota Vikings pared their roster to meet the opening day limit of a 53 players. While most of the Vikings' cuts came as no surprise, one stood out as particularly unfortunate.

With a solid starting running-back tandem in Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor likely to receive ninety-five percent of the team's workload in 2007 and Mewelde Moore holding onto the third spot on the Vikings' depth chart, running backs Ciatrick Fason and Artose Pinner were easy decisions to be among the Vikings' final cuts this season. Recognizing the writing on the wall for his client, Pinner's agent welcomed the news of his client's release. Fason, meanwhile, appears headed into former NFL-player oblivion.

Also relatively easy cuts were little-used wide-receivers Jason Carter, Cortez Hankton, Billy McMullen, Martin Nance, and Chandler Williams, tight ends Richard Owens and Stephen Spach, centers Kyle Cook and Norm Katnik, tackle Jimmy Martin, defensive end Khreem Smith, safety Patrick Body, cornerback Chad Johnson, and linebackers George Hall and David Herron. McMullen clearly sealed his fate with a silly personal foul against the Cowboys while the other receivers simply showed nothing on the field. Desperate for receivers, however, the Vikings nevertheless signed Martin Nance to their practice squad.

Among the more difficult cuts were the release of defensive tackles Conrad Bolston and Howard Green and safety Greg Blue. Bolston and Green looked promising while playing against mostly second and third stringers in the pre-season, but with question marks at defensive end, the impressive play of Brian Robison, and the overload that the Vikings already had on the defensive line, the team simply could not afford to allocate another roster spot to a defensive player.

The decision to release Green and Bolston could come back to haunt the Vikings if Pat Williams departs after this season, as many suspect that he will. As a hedge against Williams' departure, the Vikings have signed Bolston to the team's practice squad. But with practice squad players free to sign to any other team's active or inactive roster, that hedge is tenuous at best.

Of all the Vikings' cuts, however, two, in particular, stand out above all the rest--the release of rookie quarterback Tyler Thigpen and third-year cornerback Dovonte Edwards. Though Edwards would have had difficulty cracking the nickel rotation at cornerback this season, with Marcus McCauley winning the nickel role, it is difficult to fathom how Edwards could have fallen behind Ronyell Whitaker on the depth chart. He did, however, and the New York Giants nabbed him shortly after the Vikings released him.

Though Edwards' demise in Minnesota seems peculiar, more unfortunate is the team's decision to release seventh-round draft pick, Tyler Thigpen. Thigpen showed a strong arm and decent poise in the pre-season, despite playing exclusively with third- and fourth-stringers.

Thigpen's promise, alone, merited a spot on the Vikings' roster. Adding to the merit argument, however, is the fact that Thigpen's release was necessitated by the Vikings' peculiar decision to retain both Brooks Bollinger and Kelly Holcomb, neither of whom necessarily looked any better as veterans than did Thigpen.

Given Bollinger's poor outing against the New York Jets, the Vikings moved swiftly in the final week of pre-season to sign journeyman quarterback Kelly Holcomb, ostensibly to replace the soon-to-be-cut Bollinger. After Bollinger turned in a more encouraging performance against the Dallas Cowboys, however, the Vikings apparently had a change of heart regarding Bollinger. That left the team committed to what is essentially a rookie starter in Tarvaris Jackson, backed up either by Bollinger, who looked serviceable against Dallas and woeful the rest of the pre-season, Holcomb, who has not played yet this season, and Thigpen.

While NFL teams tend to retain three quarterbacks, the added tendency is to retain a clear starter, a veteran backup, and a young player with promise. The Vikings, however, have elected to retain a rookie starter and two backups with limited potential.

Though Thigpen was redundant from the point of view that Jackson is nearly the same age, Bollinger and Holcomb are redundant with respect to expected upside. Because the Vikings made a move for Holcomb so late in pre-season, however, the team left itself with no time to evaluate Holcomb, thus compelling the team either to retain both Holcomb and Bollinger or to make a decision between Holcomb and Bollinger without first seeing Holcomb play. The Vikings chose the former option, essentially forcing the team to jettison a player in Thigpen who has far more upside than either Holcomb or Bollinger, but who would not have been ready to play this year if called upon.

Thigpen's release makes sense given the Vikings' current quarterback predicament, but that predicament--one in which the Vikings are uncertain whether Bollinger or Holcomb is the solution as a veteran back-up to Jackson--was one of the Vikings' own making. Now, instead of having Jackson, a veteran backup, and a young player poised to push Jackson, the Vikings have Jackson and two career backups--a situation at odds with the team's stated goal of building for the long-term.

Up Next: Additions. Plus, opening-game preview.

2 comments:

DC said...

VG:

Seems like the Vikes are jettisoning players with potential (Thigpen, Blue and Edwards) for veterans with none (Bollinger, Tank Williams, Whitaker).

Cutting Edwards was the big surprise to me. I think he can play. The Giants obviously think so, too. Do you suppose Whitaker would have been picked up so quickly by another NFL team had he been cut? Forget it, he'd be sending out resumes to Wendy's right now.

Really like your stuff, VG. This is the best written Vikings blog I've come across. I log on often looking for updates. As an aside, I've changed my blog address and blog name, in case you're interested. It can now be found at http://grants-tomb.blogspot.com. After thinking about it, it just didn't seem right to have two Norseman-named blogs out there.

Tom C said...

I agree with all the Vikings moves. Whittaker was a better ST player than Edwards which is where we need help at and likely the only place Edwards would have seen serious action.

The trend in the NFL among QBs is to have two veterans and a developmental player. Unlike most teams, our developmental QB is starting.

I agree completely with the Blue cut. Blue can't play ST worth a damn and can't tackle. He will never be a good Cover 2 safety if he can't tackle. He didn't have good range and isn't a ballhawk. He could thump guys, but thats about it and I'd rather a guy that can thump and tackle (T. Williams) to a guy who can only do one.