Sunday, March 30, 2008

Three Moves Could Make Vikings Viable

At the beginning of the 2006 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings had three primary positional concerns--running back, linebacker, and defensive end. The team resolved the running back issue by picking up Chester Taylor and fullback Tony Richardson, the linebacker issue by drafting Chad Greenway, bringing in Ben Leber, and putting their faith in E.J. Henderson on the edge and Napoleon Harris in the middle, and the offensive tackle position by drafting an oversized center in Ryan Cook. The defensive end situation essentially was left to dangle, with the hope that someone from the Vikings large pool of high defensive end draft picks finally would pan out.

In 2007, after a season in which the team realized new-found problems at quarterback and wide receiver, and renewed problems at right offensive guard and right offensive tackle, the team committed itself to moving forward with second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and brought in Bobby Wade as the team's new number one receiver. Again, the defensive end position was left to sort itself out. And the right side of the offensive line was entrusted to a never-was veteran in Artis Hicks and the slowly progressing/moderately regressing Cook.

The net result of all of the Vikings moves at positions of weakness since Brad Childress became head coach is that the Vikings now have a significantly improved linebacking corps--long the source of frustration to dedicated Vikings' fans, a vastly improved running game, and a slight improvement in the receiving corps.

Improvements in key areas have been off-set, however, by continuing malingering in other areas and outright bad play in others. The right side of the offensive line appears cabable of stabilizing in 2008 with the emergence at right guard Anthony Herrera, though continuing poor play from Cook, the likely loss of left tackle Bryant McKinnie for at least the first four games of the 2008 season, if not longer, and Matt Birk's expected discontent over his contract, given recent large contracts for McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson, suggest a need for immediate bolstering of the offensive line.

The addition of Bernard Berrian, subtraction of Troy Williamson, and maturation and use of Sidney Rice should, conservatively, give the Vikings an additional 40 receptions from the wide-receiving corps in 2008, though Berrian has work to do to show that he is not simply a rich man's version of Williamson.

Of all of the issues facing the Vikings for the past three years and continuing into this season, none is more significant, however, than that of quarterback. After drafting Jackson in the second round of the 2006 draft, the Vikings have done little to address the substantial fall-off behind their inexperienced signal caller, relying on the likes of Mike McMahon, Kelly Holcomb, and Brooks Bollinger to provide Jackson a competitive nudge. Those moves have compelled the Vikings finally to admit that ability, not familiarity, is the paramount value in a backup quarterback.

While the wide receiving corps appears set for 2008, the Vikings still have very good options for addressing at least three of their other weaknesses and, by so doing, for significantly improving their team in 2008.

Among the moves that the Vikings should consider are the addition of, not one, but two capable backup quarterbacks. Childress' use of Holcomb over Bollinger last season clearly indicated Childress' near absolute lack of faith in the former Badger signal caller. That leaves two holes behind Jackson--one that ought finally to be filled by a capable veteran, the other by a younger quarterback capable of taking over in the long run should Jackson falter. Players fitting both descriptions currently are available for little or no price.

Though his career numbers are not dramatically better than those of Bollinger, most believe that Houston Texans' quarterback Sage Rosenfels has the potential to be better than even his respectable 2007 numbers showed. Believing Rosenfels to have high market value, the Texans opened the 2008 free-agency period seeking a second-round pick in exchange for the quarterback. No team bit. Now the team is asking for a third-round pick.

While a third-round pick might be one round higher than the Vikings or any other team need give up for the rights to Rosenfels, a third-round pick for a younger quarterback with some proven NFL ability is hardly a risk given the options that teams typically have drafting in the third round of the entry draft. That should make picking up Rosenfels a fait accompli, thus calling into question whether, given the Vikings' recent track record at this position, it will be.

Adding Rosenfels would resolve the Vikings' need for a younger presence capable of pushing Jackson. But the team still needs a veteran capable of spelling Jackson in the short term. That veteran could and should be former Viking Gus Frerotte. Frerotte, whom the Vikings elected not to sign as a free agent in 2007, is again a free agent and is again interested in a move to Minnesota. Though Frerotte has had some health issues, bringing him in as a back-up under any circumstances would be preferable to what the Vikings have done the past two seasons and, along with the addition of Rosenfels, would give the Vikings immediate depth at quarterback.

Resolution of the quarterback situation would leave the Vikings with remaining holes along the offensive line and at defensive end. As with the back-up quarterback position, there are viable options for filling both of these needs.

It is no secret that new Miami Dolphins' GM Bill Parcells would be delighted to move disgruntled defensive end Jason Taylor for the right price. Taylor is probably in the last two years of his NFL career and is forever discontented with his pay, and his play, good or bad, likely will have little effect on a Dolphins' team currently in rebuilding mode.

The question outside of Miami is what constitutes the right price for Taylor. With players such as Randy Moss moving to the Patriots in 2007 for a fourth-round pick and Matt Schaub traded to Houston in 2007 for two second-round picks, the market asking price for an aging and disgruntled, though still capable defensive end figures to be between a second- and third-round pick--an asking price that will only go down as the season approaches and the Dolphins face the possibility of being stuck with a player that means nothing to their future.

While the Vikings could offer a second- or third-round pick for Taylor without wincing, they could also dangle in front of the Dolphins another package that could help both teams. Facing a decision on McKinnie, the Vikings could offer McKinnie for Taylor along with a swap of first-round picks. The move would give the Dolphins an offensive lineman who should be around when the team re-emerges and the Vikings a player it needs now and a pick that it can use to draft the best lineman in the country--or another defensive end in Chris Long.

For the Dolphins, the issues will be whether freeing itself of a high-pick salary bonus by dropping several spots in the draft in a rebuilding season is off-set by what will be available when they ultimately do draft--and whether having McKinnie in Miami, the epicenter of his current legal troubles, is worth the downside. If the answer to either of these questions is "no," moving Taylor for a second- or third-round pick should remain a viable option.

For the Vikings, the question will be how hard to push for the inclusion of McKinnie and the swap of first-round picks in a prospective deal to add Taylor. Despite McKinnie's sub-par 2007 and relatively lackluster career given the initial trajectory for his NFL career, losing McKinnie would add yet another question mark to an already fragile offensive line. And that might be more of a risk than a conservative head coach needing to prove himself in 2008 is willing to take on.

Up Next: The Draft.

7 comments:

Jon said...

Thanks for the in-depth analysis of the team. I agree with you on the macro scale, but disagree on some of the details.
I don't like trading even a 4th round pick for Sage, as I think there will be better options even that late in the draft. Granted they wouldn't come in with experience, but that would be what Gus would be for this year. I think the Vikings will use a high draft pick on a QB to be the option of the future should Tarvaris not pan out.
I don't think Miami would swap firsts with us, even if they were inclined to completely ignore the value charts. Trading Mckinnie for a DE does seem like a plausible scenario, though. I think the Vikes could go after Jared Allen with an offer of McKinnie and perhaps a second or third round pick. The Chiefs have a huge need on the O-line and likely will not be able to keep Allen beyond this year without again using the franchise tag, a move that would risk a holdout and alienating their players. We would keep our first and grab a quality LT to replace Mount, perhaps Jeff Otah.
I am a big fan of your blog, and just started my own at http://vikingvision.blogsavy.com
Please stop by some time!

Vikes Geek said...

Jon,

Thanks for the comment.

I do not expect the Vikings to take a QB high in the draft as it would send a statement that they do not trust the quarterback to whom they have committed both a high pick in 2006 and the keys to the team for the past two seasons. It's just not in this organization's DNA to hedge that way--even if it makes sense.

Also, it doesn't appear to do the team much of a service to use a high draft pick on a QB of the future, particularly when there are other pressing needs that could be filled in rounds one and two--particularly offensive line and defensive end. Moreover, it's not exactly a bumper crop season for college QBs in the draft.

I like Sage for a fourth rounder given that I'd be fine taking him with a fourth if he were in the draft this year--that's my standard, anyway. Gus is a one- or two-year stop gap with an injury history. His value is that he's fine if healthy and he'll be relatively cheap to sign. And, should he get hurt, Rosenfels would be available, a la last year as a sub for Schaub.

A swap of McKinnie for Taylor doesn't make sense as a straight-up deal given that McKinnie likely has more years left in him as a starter than does Taylor. Plus, McKinnie is already signed to a nice contract and is unlikely to raise contract issues as a concern, barring restructuring efforts by the Dolphins. Switching picks might only work if the Vikings throw in a another second-day pick, however, given the disparity in current selection positions in round one. It all depends on how badly the Dolphins want to move Taylor and rebuild their woeful offensive line.

I wouldn't mind Allen but think the Chiefs will keep him as long as he produces. There's so much cap space these days that it is almost impossible for a team to be in a position of having to trade a player or risk losing him. If he becomes available, however...

I'll check out your site. Thanks again for the post.

VG

bgman said...

Wishful thinking for the Dolphins will give up a HOF pass rusher and the No. 1 overall pick for a solid, but underachieving, left tackle with character issues and a mid-1st round pick. There's a long line of NFL teams would could offer a better deal to the Dolphins.

I differ from most people in assessing the Vikings needs in the draft. I think DE and WR are in decent shape, and should focus rounds 1-3 on O-line, DT and TE, with QB as the X factor.

The reason QB is the X factor is a decision has to be made on T-Jack. Do they give up a high pick or two to trade for a veteran like McNabb and move T-Jack to No. 2? Do they give up a mid-round pick to bring in an average veteran like Rosenfels to compete with T-Jack for the starting job even though it may not mean a significant upgrade at the position? Do they stay put with T-Jack after grooming him for two years (and losing some winnable games during that learning curve) in a move that will vindicate Childress if it works out or cost him his job if it doesn’t?

Or do they use their No. 1 pick at QB? If Brohm is on the board, and Childress/Speilman aren’t committed to T-Jack as the QB of the future, he’ll be hard to pass up. Joe Flacco should also be there when the Vikings pick in the 1st round, or they could wait until round 2 and take someone like Chad Henne (or Flacco if he's still there).

But if they decide to stay with T-Jack, the draft should be focused on OT, DT and TE.

If they do move McKinnie, OT is a certain 1st round need. Even if they keep him, the OTs available to the Vikes would be an upgrade over Cook.

I think a quality pass rushing DT, like Trevor Laws, would serve the Vikings better than another DE for a push from the inside. Plus they’ll need a DT to take over for Pat Williams in the next year or two. DE is surprisingly in better shape than most people give them credit for. Robison and Edwards (a rookie and 2nd year player last year) are still improving and should be even better next year, and while you can't count on E. James, he's still a factor in the rotation until he's on the injury report. Plus they added Wyms and have a few other bodies at that position. So they just need another DE for rotation depth, which they should be able to get in later rounds.

And the WR situation is much like DE. Rice/Berrian/Wade is a fairly good trio, but everyone seems focused on improving the WR corps when a pass catching TE will be more of a benefit to the passing game. I think Vikings fans have forgotten what a pass catching TE is because it’s been so long since they’ve had one, but if teams pull a safety up to stop A. Peterson, the middle seam is ripe for a TE to bleed out make teams pay for 8 men in the box, plus be a safety valve for whoever the QB is. I know the Vikings were hoping to “find” one buried on another team's depth chart (like they did with Chester Taylor the year before) when they signed V. Shiancoe last year, but it’s obvious that position has to be upgraded. Kleinsasser is fine for a blocking TE, but a guy like John Carlson (another Minnesota kid via Notre Dame) could do for the Vikings what Jason Witten does for the Cowboys.

One last point I’d like to make is has anyone noticed what the Vikings have focused on in free agency? Besides Berrian and M. Williams, it seems to be fairly low key, but anyone notice a trend with Mo Hicks, Derrick Pope, Benny Sapp, even Michael Boulware and possibly Dallas Sartz -- not to mention resigning Heath Farwell? I know most people haven’t heard of most of these guys, but they were primarily signed to improve special teams. Most of these guys were very productive and key special teams players for the prior teams and came here knowing that is going to be their role here, with little change to see much time on offense or defense. A very under the radar move by the Vikings, but one that collectively could be as big as signing Berrian or Williams.

Miles said...

With the moves we've done in free agency, I definitely believe we are in a good position going into the draft.

I agree with everyone on the sentiment given to Ferotte. He is not going to be a really good viable #2 for the long term. IMO, we can still cut him come training camp provided we receive the right depth. Such would be, of course, trading for Rosenfels. However, I really think that they have no reason to really trade him to us, and given Kubiak's statements, a trade seems to be diminishing. Thus, I think we should draft a pro-ready QB in the draft - John David Booty, USC. Booty makes sense in a West Coast system, and has added value being that he comes from a pro-style system. Everyone is saying that he'll fall to the 3rd/4th , so why not take him? Plus, he could feasibly have potential to be a franchise quarterback. So - let's take the chance.

I really do think we are placing McKinnie's value quite low when it comes to our team. If we were to trade McKinnie this year, our whole offense will be in limbo, something we (including Childress) cannot afford. It took plenty of time for our current lineup to gel, how much more longer would it take if we had a rookie manning the most important spot on the line? It would spell disaster, granted we don't draft a Joe Thomas type, both for our passing game and even our running game. Right now, I don't think McKinnie is expendable. Maybe next year, only if we draft his replacement this year (Sam Baker, USC, 2nd round).

Our DE situation is less than ideal. We could hold out and hope Edwards and Robison will pan out, but we did that last year with Udeze and James. We definitely need to have insurance by drafting DE high in the draft, due to the simple fact DE's are not expendable in this league. Look for either Derrik Harvey, Florida, in the 1st or someone I think that has really good value - Lawrence Jackson, USC, in the 2nd round.

BTW - I'm not a Trojan fan, BUT, depending on the direction we take in the draft, Fred Davis, TE, USC, would not look half bad in the 2nd since he would give us a viable threat @ the TE position.

Just my 2 cents.

Vikes Geek said...

BG,

Taylor will be 34 in September and among the older starting defensive ends in the NFL. McKinnie will be 29 in September and at the mean age for starting offensive tackles. For a team rebuilding and in need of offensive linemen who will be around in two to three years, that's a nice exchange. The addition of a first-round pick is a swap, not an outright drop of a first-rounder. The seventeen slot drop might be too much for the Dolphins to accept and the team might get a better offer, but there currently isn't a better offer on the table and the Dolphins have no need for Taylor next year if they can parlay him into something useful for the future. From a Vikings' fan's perspective, however, there is no doubt that the move is wishful thinking as it gives the Vikings immediate help at defensive end--though it creates a hole on the o-line that will need to be filled for the move to make sense.

I agree with your ranking of draft priorities, though everything hinges on who is available when the Vikings draft. Whether or not McKinnie returns, the Vikings have issues this year and, more dramatically, in the next two to three years with their offensive line, with Cook still a question mark and Birk possibly in his final days as a Viking (either for contract or for health reasons). DE is a concern but it's not clear that the Vikings would be better served drafting a defensive end rather than hoping their ends play better this year and that free agency offers something next year. I would put WR ahead of tight end if the right wide receiver is available in the draft.

The Vikings also need to concern themselves with the possibility of losing Williams to retirement when his current contract expires.

I also agree that the Vikings have signed some good special teams' players, though I don't know that that was a short-coming of the team's last year or headed into 2008.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

USC Miles,

I don't know that anyone is undervaluing McKinnie's presence. The problem is that the Vikings might be without him for a minimum of four games at the start of the 2008 season--that's one-quarter of the season. And if the NFL of Roger Goodell stays true to form, it might hit McKinnie with an even stiffer punishment as a repeat offender and someone evidently the perpetrator of an aggravated criminal offense.

McKinnie has some clear flaws as a player, but he's still better than the alternatives. If the Vikings deal McKinnie they will need to have a guaranteed plan to replace him or the trade-off will be pointless.

VG

word said...

so, what do you make of all this jared allen talk? sounds a bit like going all in to me. 2 first rounders is way too high, but i could certainly stomach a first and one of our extra third rounders.

where do you stand on all of this VG?