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.