Friday, May 28, 2010

Did You Plug the Hole Yet, Daddy?

Two weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings had the makings of a team primed for a let-down following a season of relatively high achievement. Today, some of the holes in the machine appear capped, while others remain in the balance.

Last week, Minnesota District Court Judge Gary Larson provided the plug for two of the holes that the Vikings otherwise would have had to address when he issued his injunction against the enforcement of his own ruling. The injunction, which ostensibly calls into question the very logic in Larson's findings, will allow Pat and Kevin Williams to remain free of their NFL-imposed suspension until the NFL either successfully appeals the injunction or the Williamses' appeal of Larson's original ruling is complete.

At the end of last week, word also leaked that quarterback Brett Favre had surgery to resolve an ailment that, left untreated, would have made his playing in 2010 highly improbable. Favre's decision to have surgery can only be viewed as further confirmation of his intention to return to the Vikings this season.

The return of the Williamses and Favre still leaves the Vikings with several notable concerns--specifically at cornerback, middle linebacker, third-down running back, and at numerous places along the offensive line--and fails to resolve last year's running mystery as to why Tarvaris Jackson, rather than Sage Rosenfels, was the back-up for every one of the Vikings' games and whether that will obtain this year, as well. But the holes now are noticeably fewer and farther between. And that appears to be a good thing.

Up Next: The Stadium Thing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pat Williams Likely to Finish Career Without Suspension

On Friday, Minnesota District Court Judge, Gary Larson, granted an injunction to Minnesota Vikings' players, Kevin and Pat Williams, in the StarCaps case. The injunction prohibits the NFL from presently invoking the four-game suspension meted out to the Williamses two years ago when both players tested positive for a substance found in the StarCaps diuretic that is banned under the NFL's banned-substances program.

Judge Larson's injunction applies until the Minnesota Court of Appeals rules on the Williamses' case. Should either the Williamses or the NFL apply for, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals grant, expedited review, that Appellate Court's ruling could be forthcoming in as few as three months. Given that the Williamses are unlikely to apply for expedited review and that the NFL is unlikely to meet the burden of demonstrating that this case requires such immediate attention that it should leap-frog other cases already on the Court's docket, such review is highly unlikely.

Without expedited review, it is highly unlikely that this case will be scheduled to be heard by the Court of Appeals anytime before the end of 2010. That likely means that at least Pat Williams will play one final season in Minnesota and never face an NFL suspension or the fine that otherwise would have attached thereto. And that likely means that the Vikings will have two fewer off-season concerns than they faced just yesterday.

Up Next: Stadium Stardust.

Friday, May 14, 2010

With Training Camp Around the Corner, Vikings a Hot Mess

As training camp in the NFL lurks, like the unkempt, seemingly prosthetic unibrow of Vikings' play-by-play caller, Paul Allen, the Minnesota Vikings are one hot mess. With 14-1 odds of winning the Super Bowl this year, the Vikings are one of the teams considered elite by NFL standards; with numerous question marks, however, they have gone from stable last year to borderline mess this off-season.

Last season, the Green Bay Packers looked the part of the ugly bridesmaid on the field, unable to paper over an atrocious, revamped defense. That the oddsmakers have the Vikings and Packers in a virtual dead heat at this point of the season, with only the incoming draft class doing much to augment the Packers' 2009-2010 team, thus says a great deal more about the uncertainty in Vegas about the Vikings than it does about the Packers' improvement.

Were the NFL season to begin today, the Vikings would be taking the field without at least five of last year's twenty-two starters and without the team's two most valuable backups. Those missing would include quarterback Brett Favre, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, cornerback Cedric Griffin, defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, backup running back Chester Taylor and backup offensive lineman Artis Hicks.

Turnover is part of theNFL game. But the Vikings are facing not only the ritual turnover in losing Taylor and Hicks, but also the possible (albeit unlikely) retirement of Favre and, more likely, the extended absences of Griffin, Henderson, and the Williamses. For a defense built on stopping the run and already challenged at stopping the pass, it is difficult to imagine more serious losses than these. Particularly daunting is the possibility that, even if players return from injuries, there is no necessary guarantee that they will return to the form that they showed prior to sustaining their injuries or that Pat Williams, should he assume his four-game suspension, will be in proper shape to navigate his box on defense, if and when he does return.

Under free-agency rules that virtually precluded Minnesota from meeting off-season needs, and in the face of the team's decision to eschew opportunities to part with draft picks for proven restricted free agents, the Vikings have attempted to fill their needs with draft picks. That's led the team to adopt the public posture that they will be counting on several of this year's draft picks to make significant contributions on the field in 2010-2011.

That posture flys in the face both of experience and the team's past guidance regarding what to expect of players taken outside of round one. "Patience," we have been told, is the rule of the day. "These players will take two or three years to really show what they have."

If the worst-case scenario plays out for the Vikings--if the Williamses' court case is resolved against them this year, Favre retires, and Griffin and Henderson remain out for an extended period of time--the Vikings should still field a reasonably competitive team, but it will be a team much more vulnerable to the likes of the Lions and Bears and much less likely to dethrone the Saints or to take down some of the other improved teams around the league. All of which would make a day on the brow of Paul Allen seem relatively appealing.

Up Next: Vikings' Tooth-and-Nail Position on the Stadium Front.