Friday, May 30, 2008

Window in 2008?

With last week's release, and the subsequent trade of defensive end Erasmus James, the Minnesota Vikings have made partially clear that the organization expects significant progress on the field in 2008.

The Vikings' trade of the chronically injured, former first-round draft choice in the wake of the off-season signings of safety Madieu Williams, wide-receiver Bernard Berrian, and defensive end Jared Allen--a combination of moves that leaves the Vikings slightly above the NFL's salary cap floor for 2008--suggest that the organization either finally understands NFL dynamics and is paying heed or that the organization understands that support for a new stadium will be conditioned on the show-me rule. Either way, the Vikings should be improved in 2008.

The moves to sign three young starters in Williams, Berrian, and Allen is consistent with two realities in the present NFL environment. One is that, unlike major league baseball, money is not a commodity to be horded for the future. Not only must NFL teams spend to meet the cap floor, they also accrue no benefit by saving money in year one for years two and beyond. That fan-friendly element of the current collective bargaining agreement could change if the NFL opts out of a similar agreement for 2010, but, for now, it is an impetus to change for the better and one that the Vikings had no choice but to embrace in 2008. Fortunately for Vikings' fans, the Vikings opted to embrace this need by signing some of the better free agents on the market rather than simply re-writing contracts lavished with LBTEs.

Whether the Vikings realize it, the team's off-season signings and the subsequent release/trade of James offer another more ominous or promising signal for forward-looking fans--depending on what moves the team is able to make next year and in 2010.

Even a cursory review of the Vikings' current roster suggests the urgency of winning this year for the Minnesota franchise. With limited depth at cornerback, inexperience in the two-deep at safety, an aging bull anchoring the defensive line, and age and injury anchoring the offensive line, the Vikings are one of the older young teams in the NFL.

Though Pat Williams should be counted on to finish out the season, given their recent track records, the same cannot be said for Antoine Winfield, Darren Sharper, or Matt Birk. Injuries to anyone of these three veterans would be difficult for the Vikings to overcome in 2008. And the prospect of injuries or retirment for any in this trio after 2008 only heightens the concern that the Vikings might be operating within a so-called window of opportunity in 2008.

That the Vikings might be in a window season is promising for a fan base that has been without much post-season hope in recent years. But it is also daunting given the likely challenges of having to replace cornerstone players in the next two years. That puts a premium not only on looking ahead to which players will be available in the 2008-2009 off-season, but, more significantly, on winning in 2008--a message the Vikings organization reinforced by releasing James, despite James' youth and Washington's team doctor's assessment that James is nearing recovery from his injuries. Clearly, close will not cut it for this year's Viking team.

Up Next: Around the NFL. Plus, the cost of doing business today, rather than tomorrow.

4 comments:

Aaron said...

To say the Vikings are one of the older teams in the NFL is simply not true. Minnesota was the 9th youngest team in the league last year, and after replacing Tony Richardson and Dwight Smith with the likes of Thomas Tapeh and Madieu Williams, we have only gotten younger. Every free agent the Vikings have signed have been young veterans who are just beginning to hit their prime.

The front office has done a superb job of building the Vikings into a team that is not only able to win in the short term, but that will be a consistently competitive franchise in the long term.

Vikes Geek said...

Aaron,

As I said, the Vikings are one of the "older young teams" in the NFL. Context matters. And in the context of the Vikings' current team composition, they are long in the tooth at key positions. That's not unique to the Vikings, but it is an issue with which the front office will need to contend in the next few years.

The jury is out on whether the front office has built a consistently competitive team. The team has yet to accomplish anything and enters 2008 with its weakest link being the most critical position on the field.

Things are looking better for the Vikings than they did even last year, but that's no reason to lose sight of looming issues--particularly when they portend even greater urgency to win in 2008. That's something about which the Vikings' fan base should be celebratory, for whatever it is worth.

VG

Peter said...

I like that they're looking to win in 2008, but I'm worried about McKinnie's possible suspension. How many wins would a 4-game suspension cost the Vikes? What about an 8-game suspension?

Vikes Geek said...

Peter,

I don't know that the loss of one player will cost the Vikings any games in 2008. With that said, though McKinnie has been less than stellar in recent years, he is far superior to anything that the Vikings have to offer as a backup at LT at this point. If McKinnie is suspended, the Vikings can pretty much count on having a void at LT until he returns. That could make the running game more difficult and put more pressure on Tarvaris to produce. Much will depend on the strength of the opposition, but it's always better to have starters starting rather than subs--presumably by definition.

VG