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.