Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Some Realities on Vikings' Spending Habits and Translation for Stadium Issue

Since Zygi Wilf took control of the Minnesota Vikings in 2005, he has taken great pains to make public the team's willingness to spend nearly to the salary cap each year. This year, that spending has left the Vikings with approximately $6 million in salary cap space or just above the mid-point in the range of required to allowable spending under the league's collective bargaining agreement.

The Vikings have positioned their spending as an indication of the ownership's commitment to fielding a first-class team. That may or may not be the case. What certainly is the case, and what the team does not deny, is that the spending has been undertaken as part of the team's effort to secure a new publicly funded stadium.

While a new stadium would be a welcome sight for fans accustomed to the drab interior of the Metrodome, how that stadium should be funded is quite another matter. Ardent fans who pay no regard to tax issues and their cumulative effect simply argue that they want a new stadium no matter the cost and point to the Wilf's financial support of the team as justification enough for the State to support whatever request the team makes regarding a new stadium.

The question left unaddressed, however, is whether the justification of owner engagement truly is credible. And there is reason to be suspicious of this contention, or at least to be wary of its durability given a publicly funded stadium.

Although the Wilf's have spent nearly to the cap for four of the past five years, that spending has been much different than has been the spending of many other well-financed teams in the NFL. And that's largely the consequence of how salaries are attributed in the NFL.

Under each of Wilf's five years as owner of the Vikings, the team has spent money on free agents and re-signed veterans. But the team has done so by bringing most of the dollars forward. To the casual fan, that makes the Vikings look like front-runners in building a championship team. In reality, it is a reflection both of the youth on which the Vikings have relied since Wilf purchased the team, the lack of a big-ticket quarterback that would have required a long-term commitment, and the team's eschewing of contracts that pay out over a number of years.

Because the Vikings have front-loaded their players' contracts, they have realized a persistent cycle of bountiful free-agent cap space at the end of each season. That doesn't mean that the Vikings are breaking the bank to sign players, however. In fact, it means just the opposite.

While teams like Dallas, Washington, Chicago, and even Green Bay are spending large sums of money on players in both current-year dollars and future dollars, the Vikings are spending primarily in current-year dollars. Assuming a resumption of the CBA salary cap floor and ceiling after the current agreement expires, that approach eventually will catch up with the Vikings.

The point is not that the Vikings are cheap. They clearly are spending above the salary floor each year and spending more than many other teams in the NFL. But that spending has to be viewed in the context of current-year and future-year spending. Eventually, the Vikings will be forced to spend into the future or show their unwillingness to do so. The guess here is that the team is hoping that that point does not arrive until after a new stadium is funded.

All of which points to the folly of a publicly funded stadium that does not put team ownership on the hook for a significant amount of the bill. Even in a world in which public resources were limitless, such a decision would be foolhardy, at best, as it would provide the team with no incentive to continue to put a good team on the field. Currently, the Wilfs are spending because they need to give the impression that they are committed to fielding a championship-caliber team. That they are spending at such a high current-to-future dollars ratio suggests, however, that the spending is largely about creating an impression.

Supporting a new stadium--even a publicly funded stadium--does not require taking a leave of one's senses. Instead, it requires thoughtful consideration of the value to both sides of carrying or according debt. If Vikings' fans wish to have a competitive team playing in a publicly funded stadium, they would be best served supporting a funding measure that shares revenue streams based on the financial commitment of each funding party. At some point along that continuum, the team has both the financial wherewithal and economic incentive to put a competitive team on the field each season. The question for those considering a public-stadium measure is where that breaking point is and whether that point makes sense for the public.

Up Next: Vanilla is as Vanilla Does. Plus, line concerns.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quarterback Decision Almost Certain to Burn Vikings

In 2006, the Minnesota Vikings traded up in the NFL entry draft to select quarterback Tarvaris Jackson out of I-A Alabama State. That move came just minutes after moving up in the draft to take center Ryan Cook.

Two years later, the Vikings moved up in the draft to select USC quarterback John David Booty. That move came one year before the Vikings traded for Houston Texans' backup quarterback, Sage Rosenfels, and signed free-agent Brett Favre for $12 million in guaranteed money.

Clearly, the Vikings have been pre-occupied with the quarterback position since cutting ties with the rehabilitating Daunte Culpepper. Also clear, however, is that the organization has no evident long-term plan for how to address the team's most pressing concern.

While the signing of Favre was a good first step in the team's acknowledgment of the reality that who plays quarterback means something in the NFL, the team ought already to be looking beyond Favre's time with the Vikings, as it is certain to be short even barring injury. That, for the Vikings, means assessing what the team has and what it is likely to be able to obtain at the position in the future.

After another pre-season game thankfully has been left by the wayside, the Vikings find themselves already at cross-roads with their new corps of quarterbacks. Favre appeared immobile and rusty in a very brief stint at quarterback, and, while he looked far better than he had the previous week against the Colts, Tarvaris Jackson showed only a bit more upside than did Booty--not accounting for the disparate experience of the two quarterbacks.

Following Friday's performance against Kansas City, it is fair to wonder whether the Viking would be better served using an extra roster spot on a fourth quarterback, rather than searching for a suitor for Jackson, Rosenfels, or Booty. If Favre's immobility and Bryant McKinnie's persistent beatability continue into the regular season, there is every likelihood that the Vikings will have more than one starting quarterback in 2009. And that would give the Vikings more time to assess what they have at the position.

The difficulty for the Vikings is that Jackson is in the final year of his rookie deal and is unlikely to re-sign with the team without some assurance of having an opportunity to play. The Vikings, meanwhile, are unlikely to tag Jackson after this season or even consider re-signing him without greater evidence that Jackson can play at a consistently high level in the NFL.

Friday's numbers were promising for Jackson, but some of his flaws--an egregious miscalculation of the line of scrimmage, difficulty on sideline passes, and downward aim on several of his short passes, continued to plague the fourth-year player. Those would seem to be easy problems to correct, but that's been the thought for four years now and the problems persist.

With Booty putting up some acceptable numbers of his own, the Vikings will be hard-pressed to decide whether to keep a second-round pick for whom they traded up in the draft and who has yet to put it all together after three plus years or a fifth-round pick for whom they traded up in the draft and who has yet to have an opportunity to put it all together but has shown some small glimpses of promise in his short time in Minnesota.

The two certainties for the Vikings' quarterback position this year are that, barring injury, Favre and Rosenfels will make the team. Favre will make the team because he's the starter, he's making loads of guaranteed money and he's the most consistent quarterback on the roster. Rosenfels will make the team because, while he will not carry the team, neither is he likely to implode. That leaves Jackson and Booty.

If the Vikings were to trade Jackson, now would be as good of a time as any since the quarterback joined the team. Though every team in the NFL is aware that the Vikings would not mind moving Jackson, after Friday's performance, there at least is some doubt as to whether the Vikings will cut Jackson. That means that Jackson now actually has some trade value outside of Canada.

The sticking point for the Vikings, however, remains the fact that Jackson is of no value to the team if he is not going to start a significant number of games in 2009. With Rosenfels the most sensible option at backup, that suggests that the Vikings must trade Jackson in 2009 or risk the loss of another useful position player owing to the retention of four quarterbacks. The only alternative is to cut Booty, which is an even worse option as it likely would leave the team with only Rosenfels at quarterback following the 2009 season. And that would put the Vikings right back where they were at the position heading into Childress' first season as coach of the team.

Up Next: Stadium Pabulum. Plus, concerns on defense.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Childress Might Be Left Wishing for a Favre Injury

Set to begin the fourth year of his five-year contract, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress has nearly all that any NFL coach could ask for as the makings of a legitimate championship contender. That could and probably will make 2009 a make or break season for him.

Throughout Childress' tenure in Minnesota, a tenure that got off to a rocky start on the heals of the preposterous and poorly chosen announcement that he picked Minnesota and that Minnesota did not pick him, Childress has benefited from a relatively strong defense that seems to improve every year, reasonably solid drafts, and some astute free-agent signings. And, after three seasons at the helm in Minnesota, Childress has returned the Vikings to one game better than where the team finished in Mike Tice's last season as Vikings' head coach.

Without question, the most pressing personnel problem during Childress' time as Vikings' head coach has been the lack of productivity from the quarterback position. While the Vikings, on the whole, have improved since Childress' highly disappointing 6-10 inaugural season, the quarterback play has actually regressed, leaving the Vikings with two of the bottom-rated quarterbacks in the league in 2008--one of whom improbably failed even to crack the list of top 32 quarterbacks.

Although Brett Favre is no longer the player he was in his early thirties, and though he arguably is the fourth best starting quarterback in the NFC North this season, he nevertheless represents a significant upgrade over the Vikings' other current quarterback options. With Childress all along maintaining that the pieces were in place to make a run at a championship without Favre, the team clearly ought now to be in even better position with the addition of Favre.

That said, for Childress to retain his job beyond this season, the Vikings either need to make a convincing run in the playoffs, get screwed out of advancing in the playoffs by a series of horrendous officiating calls that even well-chosen red flag challenges are unable to overturn, or lose Favre for the season following a promising start.

If Favre remains healthy, the Vikings, at a minimum, have the care-taker quarterback after which Childress has so long lusted. Odds are, Favre will fair a bit better than that even--as long as he stays healthy.

Should Favre do what he is able to do and should the Vikings still lose, it will be the final sign that something is amiss with "the system." When Denny Green's system showed its incurable warts, the Vikings showed Denny the door. If Childress' handpicked quarterback--number two or three, depending on your accounting method--fails to deliver this year, there will be only one place left to place blame for the team's failure, at the foot of the head coach.

That creates a difficult catch-22 for a coach who likely will not get credit should this team win the championship, but it's the reality of having a team purportedly without any significant holes.

Up Next: A Bag of Beans? Plus, spending and not spending.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Claims of Vikings' Cash Flow Problems Ludicrous

The latest rumor circulating the web is that the Minnesota Vikings are cash-strapped. The purported evidence for this is that the team reportedly spread out newly signed quarterback Brett Favre's guaranteed bonus money over a three-year period, even though all of it counts against the team's 2009 salary cap.

While economics may have prompted the Vikings to push forward some of Favre's guaranteed pay to future years, the team's financial situation almost certainly did not. Although Favre's signing was yet another indication of the team's concern that the team's fan base was becoming disenchanted and possibly disinterested in the product on the field and in the mall, the Vikings nevertheless have been sheltered--as have most all NFL teams--by the league's revenue-sharing system.

In 2008, the Vikings netted somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million. That's net--after payroll, after debt payments, after everything. And that's a conservative figure (one broken down in greater detail previously on this site).

Though ticket sales, concessions, and suites contribute greatly to the Vikings' bottom line, like all NFL teams, the Vikings primary source of revenue is the far more bountiful largesse that is the team's portion of the league's collective wealth generated from television rights contracts, merchandise sales, and the like. In 2008, the NFL received approximately $7 billion from these sources, most of which was divided among the league's 32 teams. That meant a take of roughly $210 million per team.

If the Vikings' have cash problems, they are not indicated by their revenue streams--which approached $260 million last season. Only pilfering--not modestly lagging ticket sales or a flagging economy--could put much of a dent in that figure.

Driving home the sound economic condition of NFL teams are two other factors. The first is the league's recently renewed television deals with CBS and NBC. Those contracts, inked in May of this year, resulted in an increase in television revenue through 2011 from the two networks. Yes, an increase--that, in spite of the purportedly tough economic times for the NFL.

The NFL's own salary cap only cements the evidence of the sound financial footing of the NFL and its beneficiary teams. In 2009, the player salary cap pool per team increased from $116 million to $132 million--$4 million more than even the league had anticipated. So what? One might ask. So this--the cap is calculated strictly based on league revenues so that the players directly receive a CBA-calculated percentage of the revenues (approximately 57% in 2009). Thus, the salary cap serves as a quick proxy for league well-being, and as a nearly equally direct proxy for individual team well-being.

There is no question that the only financial concern that the Vikings currently have is whether they make as much money as their NFL brethren--not whether they are making gobs of money, which they assuredly are. Because private suites, seat licenses, concessions, naming rights, parking, and other stadium-related fan expenditures are not shared with the league, teams thus benefit even more when they have greater revenue streams in these areas. For these latter sources of revenue, the Vikings lag well-behind their wealthier peers, but that doesn't make the team poor. Not even close.

Whether the Vikings' agreed to pay Favre his guaranteed money all at once or over three or four years has nothing to do with team wealth and everything to do with the deal that the Vikings were able to make. As the purveyor of the Vikings' poorhouse status noted, time is money. It thus makes sense for the Vikings, and for any team, to pay tomorrow what they could otherwise pay today, given no penalty for paying tomorrow. All this shows is that the Vikings agreed to pay Favre $12 million in guaranteed money in exchange for the concession of delayed payments. That's all.

Up Next: The Favre Trickle-Down Effect. Plus, more stadium talk.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Favre's Signing Just What the Doctor Ordered

Quarterback Brett Favre is in the Twin Cities today en route to signing a deal that he and the Minnesota Vikings worked out some time ago but that the quarterback inexplicably came close to spurning after reconsidering his physical limitations. The signing is expected to take place early this afternoon and is reported to be a two-year deal worth $25 million, with $12 million in guaranteed money and a player option in the second year of the deal.

The timing could not have been better for the Vikings or their fans.

Contrary to most reports, the play of Vikings' quarterback Sage Rosenfels on Friday against the Indianapolis Colts caused more concern at Winter Park over the weekend than it alleviated. Despite executing on a prototypical grind-it-out drive culminating in an opening series touchdown, Rosenfels lacked zip on his pass and gave the Vikings' coaching staff reason to believe that he truly is better suited to being the career backup that he has been rather than the starter that the Vikings nearly made him this season.

Tarvaris Jackson's dismal performance only cemented the concerns of the Vikings' organization over the ability of the team's quarterbacking duo as Jackson continued to show the flaws that have plagued him throughout his brief NFL career.

With Favre now in the fold and reportedly slated to start Friday's exhibition opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Vikings will have to decide whether to release Jackson, the likely option, or Rosenfels, with John David Booty retained as the aspiring understudy.

Favre's signing has numerous other implications for the Vikings, their fans, and other NFL followers. For the Vikings, Favre's signing means that the Vikings will sell out each of their remaining home games, sell a slew of new merchandise, and probably significantly increase beer sales--the sale of which makes or breaks concession revenues on game day--and vastly improve their prospects for reaching the Super Bowl.

For Vikings' fans, Favre's signing means greater hope of a championship, increased prospects for seeing a professional offense run on game day, and renewed excitement for a team that seemed very much like last year's team without Favre.

Even the casual NFL fan will gain by Favre's signing, at least to the extent that they play fantasy football, in that Favre's signing will mean far more Vikings' offensive players are in play in fantasy football leagues than otherwise would have been. Now, every Vikings' receiver, running back, and tight end is a reasonable fantasy league draft option. Last week, arguably only Peterson, Shiancoe, and a healthy Berrian had clear fantasy value.

Up Next: Much More on the Favre Signing.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Some Things New, Some Things Old, Some Things Blue

As pre-season games go, the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Indianapolis Colts was only barely worth watching, and certainly not worth the time of day beyond the first quarter. In that first quarter, however, several players provided a glimpse of what Vikings' fans can expect in 2009.

Not surprisingly, the biggest first-quarter plays for the Vikings came courtesy of two veterans, EJ Henderson and Heath Farwell, who both appear ready to begin the regular-season. Henderson was everywhere on the Colts' opening series, registering a sack and forcing the Colts to take a loss on another play. And while Henderson was anchoring the defense, Farwell was doing the same on special teams, fighting off a block to limit the Colts' return of a short Vikings' kickoff.

In addition to the unsurprising but much needed play of Henderson and Farwell, the Vikings can take some relief in the reasonably strong play of center John Sullivan. Starting his first game as Matt Birk's replacement, Sullivan looked confident and comfortable pointing out assignments and showed good athleticism, the type that Birk once displayed, pulling and blocking down field.

Despite one false start and a boost from playing against the Colts' second- and third-team defensive units, Phil Loadholt at least looked competent at right tackle. It is far too soon to tell what the Vikings have in Loadholt, and whether he is an upgrade over Ryan Cook, but early indications are that he will surmount that low bar.

More disconcerting was the play of the quarterbacks for the Vikings. Despite hitting his targets in the opening series, Sage Rosenfels demonstrated why the Vikings had reason to court Brett Favre. Playing against the Colts' second-team defense, Rosenfels did a nice job with his quick-rhythm passing, but clearly lacked velocity on his passes. On the Vikings' second drive, Rosenfels combined this lesser arm strength with an awful decision to throw off of his back foot, leading to a missed pass to an open receiver and what probably would have been a pick for a touchdown against the Colts' starting defensive unit.

While Sage gave reason for mild optimism as well as for some caution, Tarvaris Jackson merely offered reason for concern. Unsettled in the face of pressure, Jackson continues to lack the poise required at the position. Perhaps that will change when he sees time with the first-string offensive line, but, likely, it will not--at least not when that first-string line faces the better defensive lines in the league.

Finally, it is difficult to assess the Vikings' offense. The opening drive looked very fluid with good play selection and a sound finish for a touchdown, but that's always been the case under Childress and Bevell. The second drive looked equally familiar, and far less satisfactory, with the Vikings going short, short, and clumsy, settling for a chip-shot field goal, after a long drive.

There were, of course, the obligatory post-game comments regarding the vanilla nature of the Vikings' pre-season offense. And there were promises that that's just part of pre-season. But the reality is that, when the Vikings face a difficult situation on offense, Childress, to date, has resorted to playing it overly close to the vest. The second drive last night was classic Childress--some nice play-calling until the team hit the red zone and then tight. Whether adding a prepared Percy Harvin and a healthy Bernard Berrian to a solid running back tandem and an increasingly good pass-catching tight end in Visanthe Shiancoe will spell the end of Childress' conservative resolve, in spite of Childress' efforts, thus, remains to be seen.

Up Next: Stadium Issues.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Following Routine

Minnesota Vikings' fans have been conditioned during camp to expect the Vikings to employ a version of the wildcat offense in 2009. And, like last year and the year before, they have been told that the wide-receiving corps is vastly improved and one of the strengths of the team. None of which is likely to be born out in any fashion in tonight's pre-season opener.

Who the Vikings play tonight is of zero significance. What fans are likely to see no matter the game circumstances is the Vikings line up their starters for one quarter, run rudimentary plays for an entire game, and show none of the wildcat offense that the team may or may not use in the regular season.

After the game, no matter the outcome, Vikings' coaches will comment that they like what they saw, that there is still much room for tightening of things, and, in response to whether the offense is showing improvement, that the offense remains a work in progress but that the team isn't going to run all of its plays in pre-season.

At some point in his post-game interview, head coach Brad Childress will be unable to restrain himself from commenting that he likes the offense far more than most people seem to and that the Vikings' quarterback situation reminds him very much of the linebacking situation three years ago when only the coaches "knew how good we were." Childress will note that the "so-called experts never expected the linebacking corps to turn around and don't seem to think much of the quarterbacking corps now."

Following Childress' interview, the Vikings' play-by-play and sideline gang will inform the eagerly awaiting fan base that fans "should be patient" and not expect to see anything other than the vanilla offense throughout the pre-season. "Expect to see a lot of the wildcat in the regular season, but no reason to tip the hat in pre-season," Greg Coleman certainly will opine.

In a perfect world, the Vikings would show some wildcat offense as a means of practicing the offense in conditions more closely resembling game conditions than the "shells and shorts" practices that the team mostly has employed to date. And, in a perfect world, the result would be a jarring performance from Percy Harvin, pinpoint and crisp passing by Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, superior blocking along the offensive line, and experienced assignment calling by new center John Sullivan.

In reality, Vikings' fans probably can expect zero wildcat plays, one to two deep passes, some mistakes at center and right tackle that lead to problems in the backfield, and some good defense for at least one quarter. For now, that will have to pass for NFL entertainment and for a view of things to come or not to come.

Up Next: Postgame. Plus, stadium concerns.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Wild Cat Execution the Least of Vikings' Offensive Concerns

Much has been made of the Minnesota Vikings' reported flirtation with the Wildcat offense in 2009. With first-round pick Percy Harvin taking some snaps under center at training camp, the Vikings' fan base is being led to believe that head coach Brad Childress is on the precipice of discarding his old, staid stripes in favor of the more free-wheeling, daring-do offense.

Before the cart races too far in front of the horse, however, it is worth noting the numerous obstacles to such a startling transformation, not the least of which is Childress' innate struggle with change.

Through his first three seasons as Vikings' head coach, Childress has overseen offenses ranking near the middle of the league in scoring. For some teams, that would be adequate. For a team with the best running back tandem in the NFL and a sudden slew of well-paid and highly touted receivers, however, it is not.

In four seasons as head coach of the Vikings, Mike Tice had offenses ranked eighth, sixth, sixth, and nineteenth in the NFL, in successive years. Ranking sixth in offense in 2004 appears a relative miracle compared to the Vikings' offensive difficulties under Childress' much better-healed 2008 squad.

The 2004 Vikings included a gimpy Randy Moss and a young Nate Burleson at receiver, Onterrio Smith and Michael Bennett at running back, and Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. Burleson was the team's leading receiver with just over 1,000 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Moss chipped in 756 yards receiving and thirteen touchdowns and Culpepper passed for 4700 yards and 39 touchdowns in what should have been an MVP season.

Since arriving in Minnesota, Childress has seen his team add Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Bobby Wade, and the team has traded up in the draft to take center/right tackle Ryan Cook and quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and JD Booty. This year, the team drafted right tackle Phil Loadholt and running back/receiver Percy Harvin.

And still, there is little expectation that the Vikings will even come close to replicating the Vikings' 2004 numbers in 2009. That, despite having a healthier and arguably more talent-laden receiving corps and a far-superior running-back tandem.

It's not simply the downgrade at quarterback from 2004 to this year that has plagued the Vikings--a condition largely of Childress' own making--but also the continued fumbling of personnel decisions on the offensive line and the failure of the Vikings' offensive coaches, specifically Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel (who one suspects fills the same limited role in the offense as did Childress in Philadelphia), to put players in the proverbial "position to succeed."

Since arriving in Minnesota, Childress has yet to field an offense even remotely approaching the Vikings' 2004 offense, with the primary culprit being an ineffective passing game. The Vikings' 2008 numbers are telling, as the team posted the league's 25th-ranked passing yardage totals. Those numbers largely were the result of the Vikings ranking 23rd in offensive turnovers and attempting a near-league low in passes (28th).

Clearly, the Vikings remain plagued by below-grade quarterback play, but the team continues to struggle along the offensive line and in play-calling, as well. The loss of Matt Birk and the insertion of second-year center John Sullivan and rookie Loadholt will make it difficult not only for the Vikings to show improvement under center this season, but even more difficult for the team to run "exotic" offensive sets--whatever that means in the mind of the staid Childress.

Up Next: Running and Passing.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Vikings Have Money to Spend and At Least One Player On Whom They Should Spend

When the Minnesota Vikings were still actively involved in the Brett Favre-courting business, they were believed to have an offer on the table that guaranteed the quarterback $10-12 million. Whether that money came in the form of a divisible signing bonus or a lump-sum roster bonus in 2009, became irrelevant when the Vikings failed to lure Favre out of retirement.

While losing Favre's services was a blow to the front office's grand design this season, it did leave the Vikings in a position to spread some of the wealth that otherwise would have gone to Favre.

Straddling the fence between the salary cap floor and salary cap rules conformity--and needing to make a move to bolster a still less-than-content fan base upon which the team is relying in its push to secure a new, publicly financed stadium--the Vikings last week renegotiated the terms of popular cornerback Antoine Winfield's contract. The relevant aspect of Winfield's contract for salary-cap purposes is the $16 million that Winfield receives in guaranteed money.

If Winfield's bonus is all in the form of a roster bonus for 2009, the Vikings would be near the NFL salary cap for 2009 (with loads of cap room in 2010). As indications are that the bonus is otherwise, the Vikings still have money to spend in 2009 and at least one very deserving player on whom they ought to spend that money.

Last season, Adrian Peterson led the Vikings in rushing with 1,760 yards and 10 touchdowns. Well behind Peterson in second place among Vikings' rushing leaders was Chester Taylor, who chipped in 400 yards rushing and four touchdowns, along with one passing touchdown.

Taylor accomplished his feat on nearly 300 fewer carries than Peterson, however, and was the Vikings' primary blocking back--particularly in short-yardage situations. Prorated over the same number of carries as had Peterson, Taylor would have netted nearly 1,500 yards rushing.

A free-agent after the 2009 season, Taylor thus is a reasonable player for the Vikings to target with their remaining cap money this season. While the team has Percy Harvin in the fold, NFL teams can almost never have too much depth at running back. By spending today's "free" dollars on Taylor, the Vikings avoid seeing Taylor leave after next season and alleviate the subsequent need to find an intelligent back with pass-blocking skills who can also run with the ball.

Up Next: Twins Killing Vikings' Public Stadium-Funding Efforts.