Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is Addition of Rosenfels Vikings' Attempt at Subterfuge?

On Monday, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Houston Texans have reached an agreement with the Minnesota Vikings to trade back-up quarterback Sage Rosenfels to Minnesota for what is believed to be a fourth-round draft choice in this year's draft. The deal reportedly will be consummated at the opening of the free agency period on Friday.

While the announcement of Rosenfels' trade to Minnesota came as a surprise to some Vikings' writers, coming so quickly on the heels of head coach Brad Childress' statement last Friday that he wished to open the 2009 season with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson competing for the starting quarterback position, it is consistent with the Vikings' need to do something about their quarterback situation.

That does not mean, however, that the pending move is without substantial questions. Among those questions are why Rosenfels is now available for less of an asking price than he was last year, whether Rosenfels is a significant enough upgrade to warrant trading any draft pick for, and whether the move to obtain Rosenfels is an attempt by the Vikings to disguise their real off-season quarterback target.

In Texas, the contention is that the Texans are willing to move Rosenfels now because he will become a free agent after next season and moving him for a draft pick allows the Texans to focus on a back-up in free-agency while gaining some additional flexibility in the draft. Although that explanation is plausible on the margins, it's highly suspect, not only because the the Texans are getting almost nothing for Rosenfels in this deal, but also because the deal contemplates moving a player familiar with a system in which he was called on to play numerous games last season for what would be a free-agent of limited durability and at a much higher cost or for an inexperienced free agent.

In short, despite his warts, Rosenfels would appear to be precisely what the Houston Texans could use at back-up quarterback behind a relatively young Matt Schaub. Unlikely to command significant money in free-agency, moreover, there is little reason for the Texans to concern themselves with Rosenfels' departure after the 2009 season and every reason for them to retain him as a backup.

That makes Rosenfels' availability for a fourth-round pick this year difficult to understand, particularly when the Texans refused to trade him to the Vikings last season when Minnesota was offering a second-round pick as compensation. Rather than the explanation offered by the Houston Chronicle, the real explanation as to the Texans' rock-bottom asking price for Rosenfels appears to be that Rosenfels simply isn't worth the roster spot. Rosenfels' numbers suggest why the Texans might have reached such a conclusion.

In 2008 Rosenfels started six games for the Texans. In those six games, he threw for 1,460 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions with a completion percentage of 66.7 and a 79 quarterback rating. Of Rosenfels' 1,460 passing yards and 6 touchdowns, 505 yards and 3 touchdowns went to Andre Johnson, one of the elite receivers in the NFL. As a parenthetical, in games not started by Rosenfels, Johnson had 1070 yards and five touchdowns or slightly lower statistics, on average, than he had catching passes from Rosenfels.

The relevant comparison for Vikings' fans, however, is not with Schaub, who, nevertheless, had 15 touchdowns to 10 interceptions with over 3,000 yards passing in 10 games, but with Minnesota's 2008 starters, Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte. Last season, the Vikings' quarterbacks combined to throw for 3,213 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions, all without the benefit of an offensive system conducive to the pass.

Adjusting Rosenfels' numbers over the course of a season puts him slightly ahead of the Vikings' duo in yards passed (3,600 to 3,213), but well-behind in touchdowns thrown (21 to 13), and far more dismal in interceptions (26 to 17). Perhaps Childress' short-, short-passing game will help eliminate some of Rosenfels' interceptions, but so, too, would it reduce Rosenfels' positive numbers, thus calling into question whether the addition of Rosenfels is even a sideways move for the Vikings.

There is another more hopeful explanation for the Vikings' presumed addition of Rosenfels, namely, that the Vikings are using the addition of Rosenfels to disguise their interest in other free-agent quarterbacks such as Kurt Warner and Jeff Garcia, or to drive down the trade value of New England Patriots' quarterback Matt Cassel and New York Jets' quarterback Brett Favre. By adding Rosenfels, the Vikings are at least signaling that they got the quarterback they want for 2009. Given Childress' resort to similarly uninspiring quarterbacks in his annual quarterback battles, the league certainly would be prone to accept such a sale.

While it is evident that Frerotte and Childress no longer are on the same page and that the Vikings need someone at least of Rosenfels' caliber heading into the 2009 season, it is not at all evident that a Rosenfels-Jackson combo would provide any better dividends for the Vikings in 2009 than did a Frerotte-Jackson duo in 2008. Unless the Vikings are counting on Jackson measurably to improve or on Rosenfels to flourish in a system in which no other quarterback has yet done so, the Vikings' addition of Rosenfels bodes for a repeat of every other season under Childress, with upgrades at other positions strengthening the team beyond what most NFL teams can boast but with the quarterback position continuing to weigh the team down.

Up Next: Free-Agent Shopping.

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