Friday, January 04, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

The Minnesota Vikings finished the 2007 NFL season with the worst of all possible results. With an 8-8 record, the Vikings left themselves one win short of a playoff spot, but beneath all non-playoff teams in rank draft order. That means that not only will Minnesota not make the playoffs in year five of the previous three-year plan or in year one of the current three-year plan, but also that the team will draft as low as possible for a non-playoff team.

Last year, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress lamented the fact that he had unexpectedly lost the services of a franchise quarterback after signing on as the Vikings' head coach as one of the primary reasons for falling short of his stated 2006 goal of challenging immediately for an NFL championship.

After implanting rookie Tarvaris Jackson as the starting quarterback the final quarter of last season, Childress entered the 2007 season touting his young quarterback as the right quarterback to lead the Vikings. Childress commented that, though Jackson was bound to have some bumps along the road as he matured as a starting quarterback, he was more than comfortable relying on Jackson to "guide the team."

In addition to the props that he was tossing Jackson's way prior to the start of the currently completed season, Childress boasted that his receiving corps "would surprise people," pointing out that people doubted the team's linebacking corps in 2006--"I guess they were wrong, the doubters; I think they'll be wrong again this year about our receiving corps," Childress wryly added.

Childress was particularly excited about the purportedly improved play of Troy Williamson, proudly boasting that Williamson had caught 12,000 passes during the off-season (no report was made on how many passes Williamson dropped), the addition of Visanthe Shiancoe as a pass-catching tight end, the veteran leadership of Bobby Wade, and the addition of Audrae Allison and Sidney Rice.

Surely, neither Jackson nor anyone in the receiving corps met Childress' lofty pre-season expectations. Jackson missed too much playing time, at times with what seemed to be playable injuries, while the receivers either could not catch (Williamson, Allison, and Shiancoe), could not run after the catch in a self-proclaimed YAC offense (Wade and Robert Ferguson), or missed too much playing time through injury and coach's decisions (Rice and Allison). And all the receivers seemed, at times, the victims of bad schemes, poor execution, or both.

Clearly, the Vikings have some adjustments to make in the off-season. But to add woe to the current misery of a franchise once proud of its string of post-season berths, the Vikings might well be stuck with little better in 2008 than what they had this season, despite having hordes of cash that the team must spend just to reach the salary floor again in 2008.

While Jackson had several down moments in 2007, he played just well enough to merit returning as the top quarterback heading into camp in 2008 and has certainly provided the team more reason this off-season to eschew signing a short-term veteran than he had provided at the end of 2006. That means almost certainly no Donovan McNabb in Minnesota next season and probably more learning on the job for Jackson.

And while the Vikings had difficulty signing free agent wide-receivers in 2007, there's little reason to expect the conditions to improve in that regard in 2008. The number of bona fide free-agent wide receivers will be about the same as last year and, with the Vikings running a largely conservative offense, there is little reason to expect a wide receiver to opt for Minnesota over a more receiver-friendly system.

Holes on the right side of the offensive line--and one large one on the left side--too will probably have to wait another season, given the number of teams with comparable cap room and more enticing programs that will be competing with the Vikings for the few quality linemen that will be available in free agency.

In short, with the nineteenth overall pick in the 2008 NFL entry draft, the Vikings probably will be looking to fill several remaining holes. Yet, no player taken at 19 is likely to produce in year one of his NFL career at the level at which he will need to produce to be a difference maker for the Vikings next season. And that, along with the Vikings' essentially self-imposed constraints at critical positions, suggests a likely repeat of 2007 in 2008. And, as the saying goes, if you aren't getting ahead of the game, you're probably falling behind.

Up Next: Dollar Battles. Plus, free agency.

14 comments:

RM said...

Even if they play at the same level next year, their record will probably be worse, given that it's their turn to play the AFC South. There will be no gimmes in that bunch.

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

Quite correct, RM. Unless Chili shows he can actually coach next year I still see them as basically a .500 club. The NFL is nothing if not mimetic and AD can expect to see a steady diet of the 8-9 in the box fronts he faced later in the year until their passing game shows the kind of consistency to change things. On the receiver front they definitely need a field stretcher. Maybe Rice can be that guy. Who knows. Bernard Berrian's the top available FA WR but even coming from the Bears awful mess on offense would he really want to sign on with Chili's KAO?

On defense, depth at safety will be needed as Dwight Smith's almost certainly a goner and Sharper's lost a step. The cbs, imho, are capable and will only get better but we need a good edge rusher to do that. Chiefs Jared Allen is the top guy available. I love UVA's Chris Long for his motor (just like his dad) but I'm not sure that's enough to make up for short arms.

I actually think Jackson showed enough to warrant one last look as the qb of the future. But again that's dependent on Chili letting the kid play. At times this year he's looked like he was aiming the ball instead of throwing it and playing more robotically rather than instinctually.

I was dead set against firing Tice who did a lot more with less than Chili's done. Now we're also faced with the prospect of perhaps having our third Defensive Coordinator in three years if Frazier leaves.

Add that into the problems VG described at ROT and McKinnie's problems with speed rushers (remember the first GB game?) and we could be looking at another season of mediocrity next year as well. The only saving grace is that Favre may finally retire and the Bears and Lions look to be no better next year than this past.

Cabrito said...

Thanks for the new post, VG. Your appellation of "worst case scenario" is right on. To wind up the current campaign (my last comment, I promise), I'd like to make one final observation about Childress. There are many aspects of his performance that are open to serious criticism -- his poor game planning, his inability to make adjustments during games, his failure to take advantage of the skills of talented players, his lack of motivational skills, and on and on. But the quality that perturbs me most is the confidence he shows in facing the media and uttering blatant, self-serving drivel. As a recent Trib article reports, for example, he sees great promise in Tarvaris Jackson's performance at the end of the Denver game. I quote: "Hopefully that's a things-to-come picture of what you saw there in the last five minutes ... playing wide open and cutting loose with it and making plays with his arm and his feet." Ahem. Chili, please, please, please spare us! Every fan knows that you've done everything in your power to PREVENT Jackson from being creative and spontaneous! Your plan all along has been to constrict him -- you've forced him to play conservatively by demanding adherence to your precious (but boring and ineffective) offensive "system." How you can stand there in front of the assembled media and display such hypocrisy is totally beyond me.

RM said...

Cabrito,

Agree on T-Jack. I don't know how valid this comparison is, but I think back to Duante's first couple of years when he caused defensive headaches with his running ability. Tarvaris might be more comfortable if he had the option to run more. From Childress point of view, however, what do you do if Tarvaris gets hurt? Bollinger? Holcomb? Yuck. That's where I hold Childress and the other brain trust members responsible. In building this team, they're constructed a team with a playoff ready defense and a rebuilding offense. I fear we're squandering a good opportunity in a weak NFC.

RM said...

Bill,

The play-by-play guy for the Vikings is really high on Berrian, but no one else seems to be. What's your opinion?

bgman said...

Where you draft is overrated. It sounds obvious, but it's how you draft that's important.

Just go back and look at a team like the Colts. Most years thay are picking at the end of the draft, yet every year they nail their pick in the 1st round (guys like Joesph Addai, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne) and come back with guys like Bob Sanders and Tony Ugoh in the 2nd round.

Then compare that to teams like the Lions, Raiders and Dolphins who year in and year out pick ahead of the Colts, and what to they have to show for their picks?

For all the mistake by the current Vikings regime, identifying talent in the draft is one area they have succeeded at.

Vikes Geek said...

BG,

I agree. There certainly are plenty of college players good enough to provide every team at least two starters from the draft, if every team makes sound selections. I even expect that the Vikings will make a sound selection this year. But I do not expect the team to be able to rely on their first-round pick to fill any of their current holes next year. Perhaps in 2009, but not in 2008.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Cabrito,

I also believe that one of the difficulties that Jackson faces is that the coaching staff is instructing him to stay in the pack and to resort to the run only as a last option. While nobody wants Jackson to develop into a Michael Vick-like player or to ruin his career by getting hit while running the ball, there is a certain degree of risk that the Vikings must assume in having Jackson run the ball. Allow Jackson to run and you provide the defense another offensive option to defend, making it more difficult to key in on the running backs. Get the defense thinking that the quarterback is a threat to run and suddenly there is less pressure to make perfect passes and deep passes get more air and short passes more altitude. The benefits of a multi-dimensional offense are wondrous.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

RM,

PA has been pimping Berrian for the better part of the season. I don't know if Berrian is a relative or what, precisely, is at the root of PA's enthrallment with the Bears' soon-to-be wide-receiver, but you could take a cue from the Bears. In Chicago, Berrian is widely regarded as the second coming of Dez White and David Terrell--good speed, too many dropped passes, not enough commitment to the game. Part of Berrian's problem, to be sure, is that he has lousy quarterbacks throwing him the ball (Grossman, Griese, Orton). But a larger part of his problem is that he simply seems to disappear for large stretches of the game, looks disinterested during other stretches, and does, in fact, drop too many balls. Whether Berrian would want to play catch with another young quarterback is anyone's guess. But why the Vikings would want another speedy receiver with suspect hands is hard to fathom.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

RM,

I've made the point for the past two years that the Vikings are squandering a golden opportunity in a highly suspect NFC. If and when Jackson does mature into a consistent and capable quarterback, the defense will be without several of its current stalwarts, including Sharper, Pat Williams, Antoine Winfield, and Smith. Smith aside, those won't be easy holes to fill, potentially leaving the Vikings where they were approximately two-years into Tice's run. The alternative was to make the most of what appeared to be a two- to three-year window by solidifying the quarterback position with a veteran quarterback. That didn't happen. Now, it looks like it cannot happen.

VG

RM said...

VG,

Thanks for the Berrian opinion. I've never seen him do anything wondrous, but I don't know much about the Bears other than what I see vs. the Vikes. And damn, I hate wasting our defensive talent while our offense learns to pull their weight.

Nuff said...

Vikes draft 17th not 19th:
http://www.nfl.com/draft/story?id=09000d5d805a3a57&template=without-video&confirm=true

bgman said...

I think the fixation with Berrian is based solely on WRs who are unrestricted FAs.

But I agree that the Vikings don't need an inconsistent deep threat. They need someone who runs good patterns and knows how to get separation on short and intermediate routes. Speed and the ability to catch the deep pass would just be a bonus.

But I think too many people look at the list of pending free agents as the only option for a quick fix. What the Vikings need to do is look for a veteran who is a salary cap casualty (Laveranues Coles is a guy I've mentioned before who is expected to be available this way); a player a team wants to get rid of to start over (such as Chad Johnson), or a guy who wants out of his current situation (like Javon Walker).

Coles will be an asset where ever he goes, but may have moved to the stage in his career where he's more of a complimentary receiver than a true #1.

I don't see Chad Johnson as a good fit for a Childress team just due to his "me only" mentality. But given what we've seen out of Randy and T.O. this year, it could be a great gamble. And a coach who enters a season on the hot seat, as Childress should, or an owner wanting to drum up public support for a stadium by fielding an exciting winning team, may be in a gambling mood.

As far as Walker, if he's not happy with being supplanted as the #1 receiver in Denver, his options are limited of competitive teams where he could assume that role. Is he close with Robert Ferguson and Darren Sharper?

Coles, Johnson and Walker aren't the only quality veterans who could be available. It just goes to show that quality help is available if you're willing to take some chances.

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

Donte Stallworth might become available if the Pats have to restructure the cap to get Freak signed up again as he's the weakest link in their "triplets" air attack. That said, the guy has some baggage issues from both his time in NO and Philly. I wouldn't overpay for him.

On another note, everyone's right that while Chili's in the process of building his KAO the defense is starting to show signs of age at a couple of points. Sharper was definitely a step slower this year and the battering appears to taking a toll on Winfield. Phat Pat should be good for several seasons more at minimum barring injury. In my view the most glaring problem on defense remains the absence of a reliable four man pass rush. KWilliams is getting doubled on every play. That should be the first problem addressed both in FA and the draft.