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.