Thursday, July 31, 2008

Favre Likely to be Released Over the Weekend

On Wednesday, Green Bay Packers' President Mark Murphy joined team general manager, Ted Thompson, and head coach, Mike McCarthy, in adding to what has been the on-going ineptitude of the Green Bay Packers in handling Brett Favre's attempt to play football in 2008.

The simple solution all along for Green Bay would have been simply to allow Favre to compete with Aaron Rodgers for the starting quarterback position, acknowledging--if only for the benefit of soothing Favre's ego--that Favre entered the competition as the presumptive favorite. No mention need have been made about the team's desire to move forward or the team's purported attempts to gauge Favre's interest in returning several months ago. All would have been water under the bridge. And if Favre did not like how that sounded, the Packers could have left to him the media circus, gracefully bowing out of any discussions regarding a player under contract and on the roster.

Instead, the Packers opted to call out Favre, apparently believing that the future hall-of-famer, a player who honed his skills and made his name solely as a member of the Packers, would never agree to put on any other team's uniform. Clearly, the Packers were wrong in that assessment.

Once this error in judgment became evident, once Thompson and Murphy were clear that Favre had every intention of playing again in 2008, and, possibly, beyond, the Packers still had the option of having Favre go through training camp with a shot to be the starting quarterback. It would have been a no-lose situation for the team. If Favre faltered, as, apparently, McCarthy and Thompson are expecting him to do, it would have been clear to all that it was time to move on--even if Aaron Rodgers did not, himself, particularly shine.

Conversely, were Favre to have shone in pre-season, the Packers could have swallowed their pride and re-inserted him as the starting quarterback for a team that arguably could use his abilities this season.

Instead, the Packers appear intent on passing on what appears to be the most sensible solution to their Favre "problem."

To make matters worse--to put a fine point on the ineptitude that has signaled the Packers' handling of this situation--Murphy reportedly flew to Mississippi yesterday, spending nearly the entire day attempting to get Favre to accept $20 million from the team. Murphy's offer was not, however, designed to encourage Favre to return to Green Bay, but to entice the already wealthy quarterback not to return to the NFL. How absurd. How stunningly amateurish.

As McCarthy and Thompson clearly failed to grasp about Favre's ego in the face of dictates that the quarterback would be welcome back to Green Bay only in the capacity of a back-up to Rodgers, Murphy seems even more unable to grasp Favre's motivation for returning. What might once have been merely a point of curiosity for an aging veteran hoping to rekindle some of his youthful play, Favre's impending return to the NFL surely is now motivated even more by a desire to show Thompson and McCarthy the error of their ways. And none of this ever had anything to do with money--at least not for Favre.

The final fatal error in Green Bay's handling of Favre's request to return to the NFL rests in what Green Bay will now be required to do to resolve the situation. If the Packers are intent on not allowing Favre to compete for the starting quarterback position--a decision that appears to be a fait accompli--they have only two options remaining. They must either release the quarterback or eat his salary for the next three seasons.

Thompson has already made clear that the Packers will do what is most expeditious for the team in business terms--something that Thompson clearly measures in the form of only two assets, money and players. That might overlook the tarnish that this whole affair has put on the Packers' organization, but that appears to be the direction in which the organization is determined to sail.

Had Thompson remained silent or more appropriately couched his sentiments when speaking to reporters, he might still have some options. Instead, he ensured that the Packers would have limited trading partners by revealing that the Packers and Favre would have to agree on a possible suitor; then he revealed that Favre essentially had a no trade clause; and, most recently, he has let it be known that the Packers might be moved to trade Favre to a division rival, "if push comes to shove."

The problem for Thompson is that push came to shove long ago. Now, with every other team in the league in both the Packers' deepest wishes for Favre and Favre's deepest desires regarding for whom he will play in 2008, the Packers have virtually zero options. Now, the team must either keep Favre or let him walk. . . to Minnesota. That's something that every team in the league, including Minnesota, fully understands. And that means that, should Thompson miraculously cajole the Vikings into giving up something for Favre, it will be far less than he could have obtained from the Vikings before he opened his mouth in this saga.

On Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell delayed for one day a decision regarding whether to reinstate Favre. The purpose of the delay is largely a face-saving opportunity for the Packers. Once reinstated, the Packers will have 24 hours either to activate Favre or release him. If the team does neither, it will be presumed to have released him.

Goodell's decision to delay a ruling on Favre's petition for reinstatement means that the Packers, who had lobbied for the delay to avoid having Favre show up at training camp on Friday, likely will make a decision on Favre before next Monday. Having already been rebuffed on a $20 million offer for him not to play football again, there is little reason to believe that the Packers will do anything other than release Favre over the weekend.

Up Next: Move over TJ?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tampering Issues Aside, Vikings Remain Front-Runner to Land Favre

Absent a ruling from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell barring the Minnesota Vikings from employing Brett Favre in 2008, the Minnesota Vikings appear to be the odds on favorite to land the in-limbo Green Bay quarterback.

In his nearly daily update on the Favre situation, Green Bay Packers' general manager Ted Thompson, along with Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy, all but ensured that the Packers will be left with little to show for all of their efforts to frustrate Favre's return to the NFL this season.

Responding to questions about Favre's status with Green Bay, McCarthy stated that Aaron Rodgers was the team's starting quarterback and that Favre would be welcome back in a back-up role.

Clearly, Favre has no intention of returning to the NFL only to sit behind what is essentially a rookie quarterback in Rodgers. We've discussed the difficulties for the Packers of such a scenario in a recent column, but the difficulties are far deeper than just the nuisance that Favre could be as an entrenched back-up.

Last week, Thompson seemed convinced that Favre was merely bluffing about a comeback, but hedged his bets by hitting Minnesota with a tampering charge, thereby seeking to keep Minnesota from signing Favre under any circumstances.

Those previously unthinkable circumstances now appear imminent. When asked whether the Packers would consider trading Favre to a division rival, Thompson was emphatic and quick in his response. "No," he said. Thompson intimated that the Packers' best options were to trade Favre out of the division or to retain Favre. When asked if releasing Favre were an option, Thompson again replied in the negative. "I just don't see the business sense in that," Thompson replied.

The business sense in releasing Favre is simple, it would seem. The Packers already have considerable cap space allocated to two young quarterbacks in Rodgers and rookie Brian Brohm. Retaining Favre at a cap hit of $13 million plus makes zero cap sense when combined with the deleterious effect having Favre on the sidelines is likely to cause. And that's only in 2008. Bringing back Favre and forcing him to watch Rodgers go through the growing pains would only add to the bottom-line misery as fans began opting out.

Clearly, the Packers need either to bring Favre back as the starter or rid themselves of him. The difficulty with trading him is that he can make it known to every team to which the Packers prefer to trade him--i.e., the New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers--that he has no interest in playing for them. That leaves the Packers' two most-likely trading partners unwilling to offer much for Favre and likely to move him for only a bit more once obtained. That all seems like more hassle than it is worth at this point in the season.

Then there are issues of need and cap space. Tampa Bay has plentiful cap space, but they also have money invested in Jeff Garcia. The Jets, meanwhile, are well short of the $13 million that they would need to add Favre without considerable restructuring of other players' salaries. That lack of flexibility would require the Jets to gain an accommodation from Favre prior to any trade. And that doesn't appear likely, given Favre's insinuation that he has no interest in playing for the Jets.

As for which other teams might interest the Packers, the list appears short, with few teams both flush with the necessary cap space to sign Favre in a trade and also in need of a starting quarterback. Unfortunately for Green Bay, most of the teams with sufficient cap space also either have an established quarterback or are building around a young quarterback and are too far removed from making a Super Bowl run for it to make much sense to bring Favre in for a season or two, thereby delaying the inevitable rebuilding process. Only Tampa Bay fits what Green Bay needs in a trading partner outside the NFC North.

In the NFC North, meanwhile, there are two teams for which Favre appears willing to play, even if it means taking a pay cut. Chicago and Minnesota both have talent on defense enough money to make it worth Favre's while to play for them, with Minnesota clearly more skilled at several positions and in a better overall position from the standpoint of claiming to be a quarterback away from making a run at a championship to entice Favre into the fold.

Ultimately, Green Bay might well be left with no better business decision--at least from Thompson's perspective--than to release Favre. And if one is to take a leap of faith and take Favre at his ever-changing word, there seems to be no more logical and probable of a destination for the quarterback than Minnesota.

Up Next: Will the drama end? Plus, cap issues and line pains.

Friday, July 25, 2008

It's the Most Ridiculous Time of the Year

Forgive the NFL head coaches, for they know not what else to say. Sadly, should we opt to read anything NFL-related this time of year, there is a better than odds on probability of reading some of the effluvium from the mouths of said coaches. This year is no different, as Chicago head coach Lovie Smith amply demonstrated.

Responding to his own question regarding the Bears' quarterback situation, Lovie was adamant that there were no favorites. "It's dead even," Smith said, referring to the quarterback, ahem, competition between Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. "The guy who ends up winning the position, we feel real good about him leading us where we want to go."

Where, precisely, the Bears want to go is unclear. But if the recent performances of Grossman and Orton are any indication, Lovie must have his sights set on another high first-round draft pick.

In eight games last season, Grossman had four touchdown passes, seven interceptions, and 1,400 yards passing. More alarming than these numbers, however, was that Grossman took 25 sacks last season.

If Grossman's game statistics are not alarming enough, there is the added fact that Grossman has started a mere 14 games in his five-year NFL career--a stat inflated by his one full-season of injury-free play in 2006.

While Grossman's past performance and injury history ought to send up warning flags, it is merely pathetic, rather than unreasonable, for Lovie to be compelled to announce that there is an open competition between Grossman and Orton.

In three games as a starter last season, Orton threw three touchdown passes and two interceptions, totaling 478 yards of passing. Those numbers are slightly better than Grossman's, though most of Orton's positive stats came in a meaningless season finale against the defensively challenged New Orleans Saints. Only Orton's two sacks given up appear to distinguish Orton's on-field performance in a statistically significant way from that of Grossman's.

Lovie, of course, is hyping his quarterback race because he has no alternative--Grossman and Orton are the team's only meaningful quarterback options in 2008. That's not good for a team already without its top receiver and running back from 2007. And it's yet but one sign that, no matter how dire the situation, teams from around the NFL already are pitching unrealistic hope for high returns in 2008.

Up Next: Then and Now. Plus, Favre trade appears likely and more selling from around the NFL.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Favre Saga Becomes Potentially More Problematic for Minnesota Vikings

Last week, the Green Bay Packers filed a tampering suit against the Minnesota Vikings alleging that the Vikings had improper conduct with current Packer quarterback Brett Favre. At the time of the filing, evidence suggested that Favre had had phone conversations with Minnesota offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Today, in a column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, there are purportedly substantiated reports that Favre not only had phone contact with Bevell, but also with Minnesota's head coach Brad Childress. The evidence of the calls, according to the Sentinel report, is contained in the records of Favre's team-issued cell phone.

If the reports are accurate, and if it comes to light that Childress had phone conversations with Favre regarding Favre's possible return to the NFL as a Viking, several questions immediately rise to the fore.

Among the most obvious questions is why Favre would use a team-issued cell phone to make calls the content of which he most certainly had to know violated the league's anti-tampering rules? Calls to Bevell can be explained away as calls from one long-time friend to another, even though, as was suggested earlier on this site, the league likely would frown on such conversations having taking place at or around the time that Favre began reconsidering his decision to retire. Calls to Childress could present a more dire predicament for the Vikings.

From the Sentinel article, it is not clear how long the purported calls between Childress and Favre lasted or whether the calls were one-way calls. If the records show short, one-way calls from Favre to Childress, Childress could argue that he either did not answer or return the calls or that the conversations were abrupt with Childress making clear his obligation not to discuss with Favre Favre's job status. Any signs of incoming calls from Childress to Favre of any reasonable duration likely will spell greater trouble for the Vikings and could result in even greater difficulties for Childress.

While, outside the two reports on the records from purported insiders, Favre's cell-phone records remain private, the Vikings have already lent some credence to the Packers' general charge of tampering and have, thereby, provided some weight to the current claim regarding the expanded scope from what initially was reported on this issue.

What remains unexplained is why Favre would contact the Vikings on his team-issued cell phone, understanding the implications if and, as was likely to be the result, when his correspondence was uncovered by Packers' officials? Short of a well-orchestrated conspiracy by the Packers to put the Vikings in hock with the league, only stupidity seems a plausible answer.

If the present reports are accurate, what last week looked like a league sanction of a late-round draft pick could now escalate to a first-day draft pick, a fine, and a preclusion of Favre signing with the Vikings in 2008.

Up Next: Salary cap and fallout.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Is Favre a Fit for Minnesota?

With Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre's recent announcement that he desires to return to the NFL in 2008 and subsequent rumors that he and the Minnesota Vikings have been discussing a possible change of venues bringing Favre to Minnesota, the question left insufficiently addressed is whether Favre would be a good fit with the Vikings. The short answer is that he would be. The long answer is longer.

Among the myriad considerations that the Vikings would have to address in determining Favre's value to the team are the likely harm to the progress of current starter Tarvaris Jackson, the implications for the team's salary cap, Favre's likely prospects as a starter, and what the team would have to concede to obtain Favre.

There is little question but that inserting Farve as a starter in Minnesota would retard the professional maturation Tarvaris Jackson. But, for at least two reasons, that's a concern that the Vikings should deem irrelevant.

While Jackson showed signs of progress last season, few even within the Vikings' organization consider Jackson ready to lead a Super Bowl caliber team. Still throwing out phrases like "caretaker" and "mistake free" to describe the type of play expected of Jackson in 2008, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress clearly would not object to an upgrade at the quarterback position, particularly if the decision were one that came from above in the organizational hierarchy.

The Vikings ought also to want to move on Favre, regardless of the implications for Jackson, if only as a means of following the blue print for success under the current NFL collective bargaining agreement. Under the current CBA, teams must play with short windows in mind. Building for the future thus only has meaning if by the future one means within the next three years. Begging any greater of a window will only serve to fulfill that wish--in perpetuity.

With aging veterans at several key positions, the Vikings no more have the luxury of building for tomorrow than does any other team in the NFL. If and when Jackson is prepared to lead the Vikings, the Vikings can asses their wherewithal as a contender and build accordingly. Until such time, the team ought to do what recent championship-caliber teams have done--build for today with an eye on tomorrow. Added Favre and retaining Jackson as a backup would fulfill that goal.

Adding Favre is not without on-field concerns, however. With a suspect offensive line likely to be crippled for at least a portion of the season by what appears to be the imminent suspension of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, Favre's creaky knees probably will not get him out of traffic as well as Jackson's would him. But Favre is likely to compensate for his short-comings in speed and quickness by finding receivers more quickly, reading defenses better, and getting rid of the ball quicker--all things upon which Jackson still needs greatly to improve.

A final concern that the Vikings would have regarding the possible addition of Favre is the implication for the Vikings' salary cap of adding the quarterback. Were Favre to remain with the Packers, his salary cap figure for 2008 would be in the neighborhood of $12 million. Given the Vikings' current salary commitments, the team would not be able to absorb such a hit and remain under the NFL's hard cap ceiling. Either the Vikings would have to restructure salaries or convince Favre to take a paycut, with the latter the most likely scenario.

Flush with cash, Favre likely is not returning to the NFL for the pay day. Rather, his return appears fueled by his competitive nature. Money is important, it just is not Favre's overarching concern. That dovetails nicely with the Vikings current salary cap situation.

Concerns about adding Favre to the team aside, the question remains whether the Vikings can obtain Favre. Many analysts have suggested that the Vikings' prospects in this regard are minimal as the Packers would ask for a ransom from the Vikings in exchange for the quarterback. While the assumption that the Packers would ask the Vikings to part with more than the Vikings would or should be willing to part, the conclusion is off-base.

The Vikings' prospects for landing Favre in a trade rest not with whether the Vikings are willing to meet a ludicrous trade request presented by Green Bay, but whether the Vikings are able to convince another team to trade for Favre and then trade Favre to the Vikings. Such an end-around maneuver likely would add a price to any trade that the Vikings might make for Favre, but the price still would be lower than that which the Packers would try to extract from Minnesota in a straight up trade.

I've suggested previously that the double-trade scenario is both possible and, increasingly, probable. It is possible because Favre has shown he will make things difficult should he land with a team for which he does not wish to play. Because Favre has intimated his desire to play in Minnesota--and because no otherwise viable contender appears to be only a quarterback away from contention--Minnesota is, thus, the only team other than Green Bay for which it would make sense for Favre to play. Already, then, every other NFL team is on notice of Favre's desires.

But because Green Bay has created a situation whereby it is virtually impossible to retain Favre and increasingly ridiculous, thereby, to retain him at $12 million plus a season for the next three seasons, the most logical move for Green Bay to make is to take what it can get for the disgruntled player. That probably equates to a low return for the Packers--something along the lines of a third- or fourth-round draft pick. And, given that no team will want to back out of a deal that it has made to act as intermediary in the transfer of a disgruntled player, the asking price by the intermediary of the Vikings should also be reasonable--probably the invested third- or fourth-round pick and a later-year fifth-round pick.

The only thing that could derail these best laid plans would be a Packer organization fearful of being burned and willing to eat ten percent of the team's cap space to avoid such a prospect. That, or another change of heart by Favre.

Up Next: Cap numbers and roster spots. Plus, coming and going.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tampering Charge Strongest Hint Yet of Favre's Move to Minnesota

On Wednesday, the Green Bay Packers filed tampering charges against the Minnesota Vikings with the NFL's league offices. The charges claim that the Vikings, through offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, had unauthorized discussions with Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre.

Green Bay's tampering charges are both revealing and intriguing on several levels, beginning with Minnesota's response to the charges. In a reply to the league, Vikings' team officials stated that, although Favre might well have had discussions with Bevell in recent weeks, those discussions were between friends rather than between player and coordinator of an opposing team.

The NFL is likely to take a dim view of the Vikings' response to the tampering charges if for no other reason than that the Vikings' defense is no defense. The Vikings' reply also comes off as a bit amateurish given that at least some of challenged conversations between Bevell and Favre appear to have taken place after Favre made known his desire to return to the NFL this season and after he revealed that he had requested his release from Green Bay.

For their part, the Vikings essentially have conceded that they do, indeed, have an interest in Favre, if he is available. For the past week, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress has bent over backwards to make clear that Tarvaris Jackson is his choice to start the 2008 season and that Jackson is his choice as quarterback of the future. That, of course, is what every coach in Childress' position would and should say. If Favre should become available, however, it now seems abundantly evident that Childress' willingness to forestall Jackson's maturation process for two or three years might substantially increase.

Not everything necessarily will be left to the Vikings, however. With their filing of tampering charges, the Packers have sent many clear signals. First and foremost, Green Bay is acknowledging that Favre's future is only remotely in the hands of the Packers' organization (for some background on this issue see here). Tampering charges are filed not only to obtain punishment against the offending team but to procure a concession for the aggrieved team. In this case, Green Bay likely would be seeking a draft pick for Minnesota's alleged tampering and/or a league-brokered deal that would resolve the entire Favre mess while making clear that Green Bay had its hands tied.

The NFL has a recent history of stepping into such matters. Earlier this year, the league stripped the San Francisco 49ers of a fifth-round pick and forced the 49ers to swap third-round selection positions with the Chicago Bears for making contacting with Bears' linebacker Lance Briggs prior to the opening of the NFL's free-agency period.

In March of this year, at the NFL owners' meetings, the league placed special emphasize on investigating tampering charges and punishing offenders. Though the league's emphasis was on team tampering with soon-to-be free agents, with teams attempting to get a jump on other teams in the race to sign valued free agents, the Vikings' alleged contact with Favre would seem to be no less of a concern.

It is thus clear that the NFL has both an interest and a mandate to address tampering, where once the league looked the other way. And if the Vikings did tamper with Favre--as it appears the Vikings essentially are admitting--the league will be left to fashion an appropriate punishment. In the case of 49ers' tampering with Briggs, the league used draft picks as punishment. That was before the league agreed to a new mandate, however. As such, if found guilty of tampering, the Vikings might well receive a stiffer penalty than did the 49ers.

The bigger question for the league, however, might be how to resolve the Favre issue--the one that Green Bay essentially is begging the league to resolve for it. For a number of reasons, including salary cap issues, player resentment, and team chemistry, the Packers appear to have no interest in Favre returning next season. All statements to the contrary appear little more than a canard at this point.

What Green Bay would love to have happen is for the league to penalize the Vikings by taking away draft picks and awarding them to Green Bay and for the league to prohibit Favre from playing with the Vikings in 2008. That would allow the Packers to trade Favre without fear that the team to whom they traded Favre would trade Favre to Minnesota.

For Minnesota, there are two saving arguments. One is that Bevell's conversations with Favre had nothing to do with Favre's desire to sign with Minnesota. That might be a tough sell in the league offices, but it is an argument that the Vikings must make--true or not. If Bevell can produce evidence of calls between Favre and him that at least pre-date Favre's announcement of his desire to return to the NFL or, more convincingly, calls that pre-date Favre's retirement, the Vikings might prevail.

The second argument that the Vikings need to make is that the Favre situation is unique and that, while a team coach may have discussed issues that carelessly seeped into the arena of tampering, the discussions were with a player in a unique situation--under contract with an organization that does not want him to return.

Given what Favre has meant to the league's coffers, what any penalty against the Vikings might mean for Favre's future, and Favre's stated interest in playing for Minnesota, the league very well could fashion a penalty for Minnesota limited to the loss of a draft pick--perhaps a fifth-round pick--thus giving Green Bay some compensation and allowing Green Bay and Favre to move on with no greater harm done to either than already has been done. At least until the season begins and one proves better than the other without the other.

Up Next: Would Favre Meet the Vikings' Needs?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Goodell's Scott Ruling Looms Ominous for McKinnie

Though NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to announce any disciplinary measures for Minnesota Vikings' offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie for McKinnie's assault with a deadly weapon of an individual outside of a Miami bar last February, it appears that the Vikings expect a decision very soon. And, from all indications, McKinnie can expect a minimum of a four-game suspension.

A four-game suspension would seem lenient in this case, given McKinnie's transgression and the league's priority of stemming such activities. Following numerous off-the-field legal incidents, Goodell suspended Adam Jones and Chris Henry for one year and eight games, respectively. Jones' suspension resulted from transgressions that included incidents in which others were caused bodily harm. Henry's suspension resulted primarily for on-going alcohol and drug abuse.

A repeat offender under league disciplinary rules, McKinnie is now subject to league disciplinary action. And though his actions in scope versus Jones and in number versus Henry and Jones seem to pale, Jones' and Henry's cases are not necessarily sufficiently instructive regarding the penalty that McKinnie should expect to receive from the league.

Following the May 2007 suspensions of Jones and Henry, Goodell announced a more deterrent-minded NFL code of conduct than that which governed the Jones and Henry suspensions. Acting under the new code of conduct, Goodell appears more intent at meeting out strong penalties for those subject to league suspension for the first time. On Tuesday, Goodell put the new code of conduct into force, suspending former Minnesota Vikings' defensive end Darrion Scott three games for gross misdemeanor child endangerment.

Under the old standard, McKinnie likely could have expected no less than a four-game suspension. Under the new standard, as applied in the case of Scott, who isn't even playing in the NFL at the moment, it would not be inconceivable for McKinnie to receive an eight-game suspension for his metal-pipe wielding actions in Miami.

Up Next: McKinnie's Replacement. Plus, NFC North turmoil.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why Favre Saga Merits Continued Attention by Vikings' Fans

Though most football fans probably have had more than enough of the Brett Favre saga by now, there is reason for Minnesota Vikings' fans to continue to follow the unfolding events surrounding the Green Bay Packers' former hallowed leader.

To date, the focus on Favre's request for his outright release from Green Bay has been on speculating where Favre will, can, and cannot go, assuming he returns to the NFL--which appears, as it always has, a near given--and assuming, as well, that the Packers opt not to start Favre over heretofore backup Aaron Rodgers.

For Favre to return to Green Bay, he need only file with the league indicating that he has not retired. Thereafter, the Packers would have a small window in which they would have the choice of either retaining Favre or parting with him, with the latter option involving more options.

To part with Favre, the Packers would have the choice of releasing Favre outright, as Favre has requested, or trading him to another team. Either option makes sense, if, as Packer GM Ted Thompson is now indicating, the Packers have no intention of re-inserting Favre as the starting quarterback in Green Bay in 2008.

As a backup to the unproven Rodgers, there is no reason to believe that Favre would be anything other than a nightmare--a distraction to Rodgers, a thorn in the side of the coaching staff, and a headache for the front office. If the Packers do well under Rodgers, Favre will only more vociferously agitate his release, realizing the dimming nature of his prospects of starting. If the team starts out slowly under Rodgers, it is a near certainty that Packer fans--as well as some teammates and possibly even some members of the Packers' coaching staff--will begin lobbying for Favre's return.

If the Packers were to bring back Favre, they would have another sizeable issue on their hands. Having spent a first-round pick on and second-round pick this year on Brian Brohm, it would make little sense to bring Favre back for what could be more than a one-year swan song. That is, unless the Packers believe that this is their year and that Rodgers is not yet ready to take over as starting quarterback.

Thompson appears to have lost all patience with Favre at this point, offering only a pithy text message response to Favre's most recent texting of his interest in returning to the NFL and publicly stating on Friday that, should Favre return to the Packers in 2008, it would be in an undetermined role. That's not something that is likely to sit well with a quarterback last seen leading his team to the brink of the Super Bowl.

All signals thus seem to suggest that the Packers would prefer that Favre and his hefty salary simply stay retired. That does not appear to be the direction that Favre is inclined to go, however. And since Favre has control over whether he retires and the Packers have control over what to do with the quarterback if and when he announces he has not retired, it seems clear that the Packers will be forced to move Favre--or Rodgers.

If the Packers elect to move Rodgers and retain Favre in the hopes of building around a future with Brohm as starting quarterback, the Packers would be stuck not only with Favre's 2008 contract, but also with an unsettled quarterback situation for at least the next three to four seasons. Rightly or wrongly, Thompson believes that the Packers can compete at the highest level in 2008, with Rodgers at the helm.

That, too, suggests that the Packers will move Favre. But to whom?

The Packers are in more of a bind than they have let on regarding their options for moving Favre, should Favre return. By all accounts, Favre does not have a no-trade clause in his contract. But that would not stop Favre from voiding a trade to a team for whom he did not wish to play--or to a team not willing to turn right around and trade him to a team for whom he wished to play.

Favre's ultimate trump card--what seems to be overlooked in most of the analysis on Favre's possible return--is his ability to walk away. Already close to retirement age for NFL quarterbacks and flush for life with cash, Favre has only his competitive nature driving his return to the NFL. Undoubtedly, such a drive would be ill-paired with the likes of Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Bucanneers.

Other teams would provide a good fit for Favre, however. Minnesota and Washington seem the most likely as each team is operating in a win-now mode and has the other pieces to contend. The most significant unknown for both Washington and Minnesota is the quarterback position. And though both teams have young quarterbacks on their rosters who they otherwise would start in 2008, neither team would look askance at an offer to add Favre as the starter for a season or two.

The rejoinder has been that, while teams like Minnesota and Washington very well might--probably would--court Favre as a free agent, Green Bay would never allow Favre to go to either team.

Unfortunately for Green Bay, the decision as to for whom Favre will play in 2008 is one that remains in Green Bay's control only if Green Bay elects to retain Favre. Given that that appears an unlikely move by Green Bay, there is little that Green Bay can do to control the situation.

The problem that Green Bay faces, of course, is that any team to whom the Packers might trade Favre would retain the right to trade Favre to another team. To be in a position to be traded to a team for whom he preferred to play, Favre would only need to make clear to teams considering trading for him his level of desire to play for that team--or another team. And that would end Green Bay's grand design.

Favre moving from Green Bay seems apocalyptic to some yellow and green fans, but it's not unprecedented. Following an even more hallowed career in San Francisco, former 49er quarterback and Bay Area legend, Joe Montana, moved on to Kansas City. The circumstances were slightly different, but not appreciably. Montana had his moments in KC but never lived up to his prior life in the Bay and fans quickly moved on. Green Bay may need to do the same very soon, if things are as Thompson suggests.

The most puzzling issue, of course, is why Green Bay does not have an interest in Favre. Rodgers has shown little in brief stints for the Packers and Brohm is nowhere near ready to play in the NFL. It is difficult to understand how a team coming off of a close NFC Championship loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions would not be interested in returning the leader of an offense that took off in 2007 and that returns, in 2008, all but the starting quarterback and main cog. Puzzling, that is, unless all of this is just Thompson posturing for a trade of Rodgers.

Up Next: Purple Games.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Significant Decision Remains at Quarterback

With five quarterbacks on the roster, it was little surprise when, last week, the Vikings opted to release the least experienced of the group, former University of Miami signal caller Kyle Wright. While some had suggested that the Vikings might retain Wright and release Brooks Bollinger, such a move would have left the Vikings with only one experienced quarterback, Gus Frerotte, behind Tarvaris Jackson. And with an injury history and age operating against Frerotte, that would have left the Vikings in a precarious situation at quarterback.

Ultimately, the Vikings were left with two options regarding Wright. The first was to do as they did, letting Wright walk after a brief appearance in the team's OTAs. The second was to retain Wright and release not Bollinger, but fifth-round quarterback John David Booty. And, after giving up a seventh-round pick to move up to take Booty, such a move simply was not in the cards.

Wright's release does not finalize the Vikings' moves at quarterback, however, as the team almost certainly will enter the season with three rather than four quarterbacks. That means that the Vikings still have a difficult decision to make. Committed to the relatively inexperienced Jackson as the starter, the team must carry an experienced veteran to fill in for Jackson should Jackson falter or sustain an injury. That means that either Frerotte or someone not currently on the roster will be the backup quarterback next season.

The more interesting issue for the Vikings is whether to keep Booty or Bollinger. Bollinger cannot be designated for the practice squad, meaning that the Vikings either must keep him on the roster or release him. Booty, meanwhile, is eligible for designation to the practice squad but likely would be picked up by another team if the Vikings did attempt to so designate him. Neither option is entirely satisfactory from the Vikings' perspective, but neither, either, would be retaining four quarterbacks at the loss of a player at another position.

Though Bollinger has been average at best, he has shown some ability at the professional level and should be capable of playing at least one full game without significantly impairing the Vikings' season. Booty, on the other hand, has zero NFL experience but arguably more upside, if not substantially more.

Head coach Brad Childress' commitment to Jackson as the starter last season meant that Jackson was virtually assured of being the starter in 2008. That, now, has come to pass. And that has handcuffed the Vikings in one of two ways. Either the team must enter 2008 with an extra quarterback on the 53-man roster or the team must employ a three-man quarterbacking corps that either short-changes the team's future or handcuffs its present.

Up Next: Offensive Line.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Vikings Join Twins Slightly Above the Fray

For a team as well known in the present for hyperbole and overselling as for its near dominance in the 1970s, the Minnesota Vikings have been surprisingly well-behaved in the 2008 off-season. The team's nearly complete level of off-season professionalism, marred only by the imbecilic behavior of left tackle Bryant McKinnie and a miraculously dunderheaded statement by defensive-end-by-default, Ray Edwards, leave the Vikings traveling in the rarified air occupied by the charmed Minnesota Twins.

And while that might seem as though it has little to do with the bottom line, as the Twins can well attest, professionalism begets professionalism begets opportunities. For the Vikings, who have weeded out several of the non-professional, lower IQ types in recent years, being linked to the Twins in any category other than matters of the purse string might well be as telling as the current progress of third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

Delusional Much, Eh?

While the Vikings and the Twins either continue to show signs of professionalism or have signaled a turn in that direction, the same cannot necessarily be said of the Twin Cities' two other, ahem, professional sports franchises.

Minnesota Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough left the Wild community in collective dismay this week when he came clean regarding his vision of how to run a professional hockey team in the State of Hockey. Commenting on the team's off-season plans just hours before the stroke of free agency, Risebrough expressed his view that NHL players felt privileged to play in Minnesota.

When asked if by that he meant that he expected free agents to play for less in Minnesota, Risebrough was nearly as blunt. "We are one of the teams that players around the league say that they would like to play for--one of the handful of teams that has a chance to win it all," Risebrough said.

Apparently, Brian Rolston had a different view of the direction in which the Wild are moving. When asked whether the Wild matched the offer New Jersey had made to lure Rolston back to New Jersey, Risebrough said only that the Wild's offer was "competitive." When asked to explicate, Risebrough reiterated that the offer was "competitive."

If the Wild's offer was competitive, it is telling that Rolston left the Wild despite assurances of being a key player for the Wild going forward. Either Rolston really missed the New Jersey Turnpike or he thought less of the Wild than the Wild think of themselves.

And if Risebrough really did lowball Rolston, as Rolston's agent, Rolston, and even Risebrough seemed to intimate with his constant and embarrassing statements regarding Minnesota being the place that players look to as one of a handful of premier franchises in the NHL and how that should be factored into any offer that the Wild make to free agents, then Risebrough has, himself, made a strong argument against his own proposition. Add to that the fact that the Wild have made it beyond the first round of the playoffs only once in the team's history and look to be no better in 2008 than they were in 2007 and it ought to make Wild fans wonder about the direction of the Wild.

While Risebrough's dealings with Rolston set the tone for the Wild in free agency, Risebrough was far from finished in making foolish statements, saving some of his most obtuse comments for the past twenty-four hours.

When questioned regarding overtures to free agent Marian Hossa, Risebrough sounded as though he had done his best to sign the gifted winger but that his best was just slightly less than what the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings had to offer. "I spoke with Marian," Risebrough stated, "and we had some good discussions."

Asked what precipitated the discussions, Risebrough said that Wild right winger Marian Gaborik set the table, arranging for talks between his general manager and the free agent. While that might be true, it is difficult to fathom Risebrough's complete lack of intuitiveness or utter wealth of ignorance regarding Gaborik's willingness to assist him in signing Hossa.

Shortly after the Stanley Cup finals had concluded, Hossa's agent was asked whether Hossa might be interested in joining the Wild--a move that many analysts saw as a possibility during the stretch run of the 2007-2008 season. Hossa's agent replied quickly, "I would say not." Asked whether Hossa had had discussions with Gaborik, a friend of his, and whether those discussions had had any influence on Hossa's interest level in joining Minnesota, Hossa's agent replied simply, "Yes."

One would think that those incidents, alone, would be enough to shame Risebrough into hibernation for at least a few weeks, but they clearly were not. He had more yet to give.

When asked about the possibility of the Wild bringing back former Wild player and current free agent Andrew Burnette, a fan favorite whom the Wild let go three years ago believing that his skills did not align well with the league's new no-clutch rules, Risebrough said that it was a possibility and that "Brunette deserved the chance to wear the Wild uniform again."

How absolutely gracious.

When the Wild finally did re-claim the now 34-year-old Brunette (35 this Fall), Risebrough commented that it was not often that an organization "has an opportunity to correct a mistake."

The mistake was letting Brunette walk three seasons ago at the age of 31. Missing out on three productive seasons and signing the left winger to a three-year deal in what is likely the twilight of his career does not exactly make up for that mistake. In fact, it might well compound the initial mistake by suggesting a swap of the younger Rolston for Brunette. Fans won't be buying such front-office antics much longer, but the delusional front office might.

Too Many Punchlines

While Risebrough continues to accelerate the pace at which he is uningratiating himself to the Wild fan base, Timberwolves President and General Manager, Kevin McHale, longs for such respect. If the post-NBA draft response--both by the team and the handful of remaining Wolves' fans--is any indication, McHale has a long wait, and deservedly so.

Mistake after egregious mistake prior to this off-season aside, McHale continues to demonstrate why he, and not the slippery, dim-witted Isaiah Thomas truly deserves the moniker as worst NBA executive of the twenty-first century. While moving the high-profile O.J. Mayo for the lesser known Kevin Love only seems like the wrong move at this point, given McHale's track record there is little doubt that it will prove to be the wrong decision, in spades.

But if the Mayo trade itself did not make the few Wolves' fans nervous, comments from within the Wolves' organization ought to set all the bells and whistles ringing.

Prior to the draft, Wolves' disaster manager in training, Fred Hoiberg, offered the company line. "We really like Mayo," he commented, responding to a question about Mayo. "But you look at a guy like Love and you really, really like him," he added, unprompted.

Following the draft, Hoiberg stated that the Wolves got the player in Mayo that they coveted all along. When asked if that meant that he was with Minnesota to stay, Hoiberg replied, "He's here to stay. He's ours." Nobody even could have feigned greater jubilation.

Roughly five hours after Hoiberg put the organization's solid stamp of excitement and approval on drafting the USC star, Mayo was gone, traded for the rights to Love, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins. A clearly embarrassed Hoiberg attempted to put a good face on his previous night's exuberance stating that the trade "made sense" for Minnesota as it "relieved the team of some big contracts."

Hoiberg chose to focus on what Minnesota was relieving itself of, of course, rather than on what it was receiving in the deal. That was wise, because, aside from Love, the Wolves essentially received back in the deal what they gave up--minus Mayo. Like Antoine Walker, Miller is a veteran who can shoot but cannot play defense and arrives saddles with a healthy contract. Like Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner, Cardinal and Collins offer little other than salary cap matching to their respective teams.

That makes the Wolves' deal essentially a Mayo for Love deal. And if McHale likes the deal because, as he put it, he's getting "a big guy who can bang"--words McHale also famously once uttered about Rasho Nesterovich, Loren Woods, Michael Olowakandi, and Eddie Griffin, among others--it's tough to imagine a happy ending for the Wolves on this deal.

But, perhaps with the idea that they will be forced to defend this trade three years from now when Love is a journeyman and Mayo is lighting up the NBA, Wolves' head coach Randy Whitman already is churning out the alternative spin. "I really like this deal," the Wolves underachieving coach commented. "If you look at the breakdown of the salaries, we clear the books one year earlier than we would have of some pretty big salaries--at just the right time. There are going to be some good players on the market when this all finally plays out and we're going to be in pretty good shape to make a run at those players--guys like Lebron."

Sigh. I guess that's why the Wolves are where they are--near the bottom and falling.

Up Next: Fantasy Football and Vikings' Talk.