Friday, December 31, 2010

Minnesota Vikings Flush With Free-Agency Cash and Limited in Concerns About Pending Free Agents

Reports are circulating that the Minnesota Vikings are on the brink of a major rebuilding effort in 2011. Those reports center on the fact that the Vikings have 17 unrestricted free agents on their roster heading into the 2010-2011 off-season. Not surprisingly, in an attempt to sensationalize and agonize an already anguished Vikings' fan base, those reports omit most of the pertinent details, such as a complete list of Vikings' free-agents, the Vikings' ample ability to re-sign any and all free agents, and the numerous alternatives that the Vikings will have to replace any exiting free agents.

Like most NFL teams, the Minnesota Vikings have numerous free-agents heading into this off-season, a consequence both of the uncertainty of the 2011 NFL season and logical layering of free-agent expiration dates on the 53-man roster. Also like most teams, the Vikings have some starters represented among their list of pending free agents.

Unlike some NFL teams, however, the Minnesota Vikings are in perfectly good position either to re-sign or replace pending free agents. And, unlike some NFL teams, the Vikings have only a handful of players for whom an upgrade will be difficult to find in free agency.

The complete list of Vikings' pending, unrestricted free agents is as follows: Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson, Naufahu Tahi, Sidney Rice, Greg Lewis, Ryan Cook, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Pat Williams, Fred Evans, Lito Sheppard, Eric Frampton, Hussain Abdullah, Ryan Longwell, Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Erin Henderson.

Of these free agents, the Vikings arguably have legitimate interest in retaining Rice, Williams or Evans, Longwell, Greenway, and Henderson. That's five free agents about whom the Vikings probably have any concern. In that group, only Rice, Williams, and Greenway would command meaningful money. That means that, of the Vikings' seventeen free agents, the Vikings probably need worry about competition for the services of but three. That's hardly a headache for the Vikings, who probably will have close to $40 million available under any new CBA (with a floor requiring that the team spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $26 million).

Given their likely cap space and limited free-agency concerns heading into the 2011 off-season, the Vikings not only are positioned to bring back the core of their team in 2011, but also are well-positioned to pick over what is likely to be the greatest free-agency crops in NFL history. Among the free agents likely to be available this off-season are Chicago Bears' center Olin Kreutz, New England's offensive guard Logan Mankins, Green Bay Packers' kicker Mason Crosby and safety Atari Bigby, Arizona wide-receiver Steve Breaston and guard Alan Faneca, Atlanta running back Jerious Norwood and tight end Tony Gonzalez, Detroit running back Kevin Smith, still just 23 years old, New York Jets' quarterback Kellen Clemens and wide-receiver Santonio Holmes, New York Giants' running back Ahmad Bradshaw and receiver Steve Smith (25), Pittsburgh cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay, Kansas City center Casey Wiegman, and San Diego wide-receiver Vincent Jackson. All of these players will be unrestricted free agents this off-season and all would represent upgrades over their counterparts on the Vikings' current roster.

The sole outstanding issue for the Vikings going into the 2011 season, should it be played, is who will play quarterback? Ringing out a lousy 2010 year, that will be the subject of the next column.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Frazier's Roller-Coaster Ride Continues

It wasn't the best defense in the NFL that Minnesota Vikings' rookie quarterback Joe Webb faced on Tuesday night, but it was considered good enough with its various blitz schemes to make the Philadelphia Eagles 14-point favorites at Lincoln Field. That Webb and the Vikings' defense left the field a ten-point victor, despite having a touchdown called back, thus makes a case not only for Webb as a starting quarterback, but also for the mercurially up-and-down short run of current interim Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier.

Three weeks ago, less than two weeks after assuming the head coaching duties of the Vikings in the wake of Brad Childress' overdue dismissal, Frazier appeared all but certain to take over the permanent head coaching duties for the Vikings. That certainty was built around Frazier's appealing persona, a road victory over Washington that snapped a nine-game road losing streak for the Vikings, and a home blow-out victory over the Buffalo Bills, despite the loss of quarterback Brett Favre on the opening drive of the game.

Two weeks and two blowout losses later, Frazier looked like the mop-up coach destined either to return to the NFL with some other team as a specialist coach or, as for more of a long-shot, to return to a blown-up, youth-laden Vikings' team.

After last night's surprising road victory over the Eagles, Frazier has won a new lease on the prospect of returning to Minnesota next year to coach a team with its veteran core largely intact. For that stunning change of events, Frazier may well have himself primarily to thank.

The Vikings' victory over the Eagles last night came on the strength of four on-field performances--that of the defense, generally speaking, Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, and Webb. As important as, if not more important than the performance of players on the field, however, was the decision-making of Frazier. Where Childress almost certainly would have opted to start anyone other than Webb, even if it meant starting a quarterback who had not played in the league for three years, Frazier went with Webb. Where Childress almost certainly would have continued with his determination not to use Peterson on screen plays, Frazier employed Peterson in that capacity. And where Childress almost certainly would have limited Harvin's role in favor of more passes to check-down specialists Toby Gerhart, Jim Kleinsasser, and Naufahu Tahi, Frazier stuck with the hot player and allowed Webb to find his targets and move out of the pocket in so doing.

On Tuesday night, Vikings' fans were offered a glimpse of a quarterback with the makings of a legitimate NFL starter. They were also offered a glimpse of what the Vikings' talent looks like when used properly and when motivated to play. There has never been a question of Frazier's willingness to move outside the tiny box in which Childress operated, the question, following two brutal blowout losses, was whether Frazier could lead a team laced with veterans and young players when there was nothing for which to play. Frazier answered that question on Tuesday, in spite of a seemingly endless nightmare of scheduling and injury issues. A win against Detroit on Sunday thus might make possible what last week seemed improbable--the annointment of Frazier as the Vikings' permanent head coach.

Up Next: Webb Worth Consideration in 2011. Plus, Vikings' performance makes case for bringing back core of team.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tampa 2 Has Run Its Course in Minnesota, If Not Also in the NFL

Among the myriad problems leading to the Minnesota Vikings' demise in 2010 was the near futility of Leslie Frazier's Tampa 2 defense. Though noticeable last year, the problems were magnified this season when the Vikings were forced to use a legion of players in the secondary, most of them not properly equipped to play the Tampa 2 defense. The fall of the Vikings' defense might be further fuel for the Vikings' ownership group to reconsider the merit of hiring current interim head coach Leslie Frazier on a permanent basis.

The premise of the Tampa 2 defense is that individuals with speed, strength, and sharp tackling skills can overcome any offensive scheme. That premise has best worked for defenses compromised of solid cornerbacks, adept safeties, and superb middle and outside linebackers. Failing any of these assets, the Tampa 2 is less appealing.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota Vikings, their current roster is missing at least four of the requisite Tampa 2 pieces. Minnesota has a very good middle linebacker and one good, healthy cornerback. What they do not have is either safety or a second cornerback. They also lack a strong-tackling weak-side linebacker and a linebacker who drops in coverage--Henderson is very good going forward and has progressed greatly dropping in coverage, but he is not yet a strong dropping linebacker.

The result for Minnesota has been a run defense that does not always make the plays on the weak side when the run has been redirected to that side and a pass defense that neither covers nor tackles when Winfield is not part of the play.

The rub for the Vikings, of course, is that Tampa 2 might be the lesser of all evils defensively speaking. Playing the Tampa 2 allows the Vikings to employ a simple defense that permits numerous substitutions--great for a team dealing with injuries. A read and react defense, the type favored by many NFL players and for which former Viking Darren Sharper loudly lobbied as he headed for New Orleans, requires players not only to maintain their assignments, tackle, and keep the play in front of them, but also to read the offense and anticipate the play. Given the Vikings' numerous injuries this season and the questionable skills of three of four members of the 2010 Vikings' secondary, a read and react defense likely would look little different from Denny Green's prevent defense, except that it would give up more points more often.

Leslie Frazier's greatest liability thus might also be his greatest excuse. For, while Frazier inherited Darrell Bevell and the remnants of one of the most poorly conceived West Coast offenses of all time, he also inherited the weak safeties and fell victim to defensive injuries that made a transition out of the Tampa 2 nearly impossible--assuming Frazier wanted to go that direction anyway.

The sticky wicket for Frazier, if given the option, will be what to do with the Vikings' defense next season. With the anticipated return of Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield and an opportunity to once again check out the free-agent market, the Vikings could not help but find at least one safety more capable than one of their current starters and Henderson probably will continue to evolve, but with the expected loss of Pat Williams and Ray Edwards, the Vikings will find run defense even more difficult.

This might be the ideal time for the Vikings to switch to a 3-4 defense, but that would mean bringing in someone familiar with the 3-4 defense and that, along with recent troubles, might further signal the end to Frazier's run in Minnesota.

Vikings' issues aside, it seems clear that the Tampa 2, with one or two exceptions, has run its course in the NFL. In the current climate, most teams are loathe to spend big dollars on the secondary; the rules greatly favor the offense and money invested in three offensive players is deemed desirable to large money spent on safeties and cornerbacks. Moreover, offensive coordinators long figured out how to attack the Tampa 2--short passes in front of corners to build a lead then deep passes when the corners start cheating up. It never really was a mystery, it was just more difficult to do against the likes of Ronde Barber and John Lynch than against what most teams opt to payroll in the secondary these days.

For the Vikings, a team presumably committed to building around key offensive players and retaining most of the front end of their defense, this all suggests that it is time to reconstruct not only the defense but the defensive philosophy. The question will be who will lead the charge?

Up Next: Childress' Last Claim His Weakest.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vikings' High School Performance Puts Frazier Behind the Eight Ball

On Monday night, the Minnesota Vikings made a strong case for calling it a franchise. When ESPN's announcers were not shilling for the NFL's and Vikings' stadium drive, the Vikings were making fans wish that that was all that Monday night was about. With bad play on all fronts, Leslie Frazier has moved from a near-certainty to be the Vikings' next head coach to almost a certainty not to be.

Last week's performance at Detroit was putrid. This week's performance against a Chicago Bears' team that had been throttled at home one week earlier was putrid to the nth degree. The performance made Les Steckel's team, Denny Green's Spurgeon Wynn season, and Mike Tice's run in Minnesota seem laudable. In short, it was an utter disgrace.

Even those of us who like Frazier and believe that Frazier might have the makings of a good NFL coach have a hard time defending him in the wake of this performance. Yes, Brett Favre was hurt in the game and Joe Webb looked the rookie that he is, but the Vikings did everything poorly on Monday, when they were even making an effort.

Whether Madieu Williams was taking yet another impossibly inept route to the ball/receiver/neither, Ben Leber was dropping an easy pick (yet again), Toby Gerhart was fumbling, Sidney Rice was going through the motions, Ryan Longwell was giving up on a return by Devin Hester, the entire special teams coverage unit was MIA, Bryant McKinnie was taking another night off, John Sullivan was snapping balls over the quarterback's head or at the quarterback's feet, Phil Loadholt was taking another penalty, or Chris Kluwe was punting both short and to Devin Hester, there was no shortage of inexcusable miscues from this group of misfits.

Those who earned at at least some of their salary tonight, included a very small group of players--Antoine Winfield, EJ Henderson, and Percy Harvin. The rest should mail their weekly check back to the team or, better yet, to those who shoveled out the stadium so that the Chicago Bears could clinch in Minnesota instead of in Detroit.

It's very difficult to shake the stink of one putrid loss and virtually impossible to do that with two such losses--particularly when they are back to back. This will be a difficult hole out from which for Frazier to climb.

In Frazier's defense, the Vikings have an awful offensive line, a limited play caller in Darrell Bevell, no safeties, sub-par corners, and no receivers, after Harvin. Those limitations, albeit mostly of his making, were not enough to save Brad Childress' job in Minnesota and now seem unlikely to give Frazier the opportunity that he might deserve.

Up Next: Time to Discard Tampa Two.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Webb and Frazier Trending in Opposite Directions

Last week, the Minnesota Vikings' front office was all but set to offer interim Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier the permanent head-coaching duties. That was after two Vikings' victories against league bottom-feeders and in the aftermath of former head coach Brad Childress' 31-3 going-away party at Lambeau Field. Vikings' officials had set this week, concurrent with the naming of the Vikings' top 50 players of all time, as a possible announcement date.

Monday night's drubbing at the hands of the New York Giants, a loss replete with all of the failures evident during the Childress regime, has the Vikings' ownership group second-guessing how quickly it needs to make their head-coaching decision. The thought process now appears to be that the team needs to accept any possible cost associated with waiting to make a decision on Frazier (i.e., the possibility of having other suitors bid up the price on Frazier) to make certain that Frazier is their man.

Monday disaster aside, it ought to be noted that Frazier is a breath of fresh air inside and outside of the locker room. He also remains saddled with Childress' offensive system, offensive coordinator, offensive line, and poor decisions regarding Tarvaris Jackson, Ryan Cook, and Matt Birk. Those are significant liabilities that the Vikings overcame, at times, during Childress' tenure and that Frazier appeared to handle well despite the added loss of Favre at the beginning of the Buffalo game. Things clearly unraveled against the Giants, however, raising questions about whether this team needs minor or major adjustments, outside of the evident holes.

No matter who is coach of the Vikings in 2011--or whenever the next season begins--that individual will need at least one bona fide interior offensive lineman, a quarterback, and a few other pieces before the Vikings can be considered favorites to win even their own division.

The money here is on Frazier, both in terms of who the Vikings will and ought to hire as their next head coach. But that says nothing about what the Vikings will or ought to do about other positions on the coaching staff. Fred Pagac might be the answer at defensive coordinator, but Darrell Bevell almost certainly is not the answer at offensive coordinator as his entire professional grounding is in a diseased version of the West Coast Offense.

Paramount among the concerns of the Vikings' ownership group this off-season will be ensuring continued public support for the team and sustaining a modicum of momentum for a publicly funded stadium. If the Vikings want to make a big splash, they need not change head coaches from Frazier to someone like Bill Parcells, a short-term mercenary at best. Rather, the Vikings can make a statement with Frazier at the helm if they also bring in an established offensive coordinator. If the Chargers flame out in round one, that might make Norv Turner available. If the Cowboys decide to go in a different direction, Jason Garrett would be available. And if the Vikings want to make him an assistant head coach, they can make a pitch for Green Bay Packer offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. All would represent an upgrade over the present as, undoubtedly, would numerous others.

Joe Webb Trending Up

With Tarvaris Jackson essentially having played his last game as a Minnesota Viking after being placed on injured reserve, Joe Webb almost certainly will start his first NFL game on Monday night against the Chicago Bears. Webb was not spectacular in his time against the Giants on Monday night, but he was intriguing. While Jackson continued to miss receivers badly and went into a shell when things did not go well, Webb showed a rifle arm, poise, and amazing speed to go along with a bounce-back personae.

It's not Jackson's fault that he was a reach in the draft. Nor is it his fault that his career was molded by a coach incapable of mentoring quarterbacks. At this point in his career, however, Jackson clearly is a lesser quarterback than even Webb. And Webb, the guy that Childress wanted to use strictly as a receiver--making that almost certainly the wrong decision--shows the kind of promise at this point in his career that suggests he might some day be the kind of quarterback that Childress always attempted to convince us Jackson already was.

Up Next: Shameful, Baseless Shaming.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lipstick On A Pig

A false start against Jim Kleinsasser on Monday summed up the Vikings' season. When the most valuable member of the offensive line consistently false starts in an attempt to gain the edge he needs to compensate for his fellow linemen's short-comings the end is never far behind. That end was obtained on Monday night, when the Vikings put forth one of their all-time worst performance en route to a pig-like 21-3 loss. All that was missing was the lipstick.

How bad was the performance? The Vikings trotted out two quarterbacks who each performed to the tune of sub-50 passer ratings. One quarterback's performance, that of rookie Joe Webb, was excusable, particularly given his clear assets. The performance of the other, was unacceptable and was merely one more nail in the coffin of a Minnesota career that never should have begun for Tarvaris Jackson.

For the game, Jackson was 15 of 30 for 118 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. Sidney Rice had five of those receptions, but for just 60 yards despite being targeted 12 times. Jackson chipped in 8 yards on four carries. Favre could have done that with his left hand and no legs.

The loss means the end to the Vikings' playoff hopes and a season ahead full of considerable questions. Who will play quarterback next season? Can the Vikings rebuild their offense and keep their defensive stars? Who will coach the team? The answers might make Vikings' fans content to suffer through protracted CBA negotiations.

Up Next: Voice of Vikings Embarrasses Self in Shilling for New Stadium.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reports of Vikings' 2010 Demise Premature

Most fans and pundits have already determined that the Minnesota Vikings are not playoff bound. While the odds of a Vikings' return to the playoffs appear fleeting, they nevertheless remain. An awful lot most go right for that to happen, however.

What must go right for the Vikings to make the playoffs this season, begins with the Vikings. They must win their remaining four games to finish 9-7. After that, the Vikings need the Packers to lose their remaining three games (unless Chicago does that), including a game against Chicago. They also need Tampa Bay to finish no better than 1-2, the New York Giants to finish no better than 1-3, with that one win coming against Green Bay (assuming Green Bay loses out), or have Philadelphia lose its remaining three games. And they need Seattle to lose one more game or beat out St. Louis for the NFC West title, and have either Green Bay or Chicago lose out.

All of that starts tonight, in Detroit, where the Vikings take on the beatable New York Giants. Under soon-to-be new head coach Leslie Frazier, those beatable opponents have translated into victories. If that trend continues tonight, the Vikings not only will be one-fourth of the way to an improbable playoff berth, they also will keep a conference competitor for that spot the same distance away from clinching the spot as they were going into the game. If, on the other hand, the Giants win tonight, the Vikings officially will be eliminated from the playoff race.

Up Next: Jackson's Mobility Something Favre Having Difficulty Overcoming With His Arm.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Always A Reason

When the economy was firing on all of its artificial cylinders, the Minnesota Vikings implored the State of Minnesota and numerous municipalities to fund a new stadium for the team. "Now's the time," we were told. "With the economy humming and everyone flush with tax revenue, what better time could there be?" Our local octogenarian sports writer even opined that "the cost can only go up."

Surely, that was the time to build the Vikings' ownership group a shiny new stadium and let them reap all of the revenue streams accruing therefrom.

When the economy went south, however, that became the new "best time" to build a shiny new stadium for the Vikings' millionaire owners. "Building a new stadium now will help put people to work and boost the local economy," we were told. Our local octogenarian sports writer agreed. "The price will only go up," he argued.

Early Sunday morning, the snow provided yet another reason why now is the time to build the Vikings and the NFL--both of which stand to gain in the billions of dollars, long term, from a new Vikings' stadium (yes, in the billions of dollars). Reaching levels previously reached in Minnesota only five or six times, the snow put too much weight on the Metrodome roof, rupturing seems and collapsing the roof. "That's why we need a new stadium," we now are being told.

There is a lesson, here, of course, and it should be too obvious to require elaboration. Unfortunately, it probably is not, so I will elaborate. That lesson is that, if you want a new stadium, there will always be an angle for suggesting that the stadium is long overdue and ought to be built now. Economy up? Time to build. Economy down? Time to build. Record snow fall? Time to build.

Of course, there is always the flip side to the time to build mantra--the argument that it's not time to build, at least not without a sizable, on-going return to the funding party. A strong economy is an argument to let the owners invest their own capital and to cut taxes. A weak economy is an argument to establish priorities and not spend on discretionary projects. And heavy snow is merely an argument to suck it up and shovel out--not build a new stadium. Of course none of this will you ever hear from the lips or read in the scribblings of our local octogenarian sports writer.

Up Next: Motown?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vikings' Stadium Push Policy Ought to Focus on State Blight

Since Red McCombs purchased the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, the team has spent considerable time and money in an attempt to gain public funding for a new stadium. Four years ago, just one year after purchasing the team from McCombs, current Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf orchestrated a deal for a new stadium in Anoka County, before backing out of the arrangement. Rejecting a deal that, in hindsight, was nearly too good to be true, the Wilfs opted to continue their push for a downtown Minneapolis stadium--a stadium that would take advantage of the Wilfs' recent land purchases in the area.

During the entire new stadium push process, the Vikings have used local radio, television, and newspapers, and the NFL-induced, weekly assistance of FOX, CBS, and ESPN (and, presumably, NFL Network) play-by-play and color analysts to pitch their agenda. The focus from outside has been two-fold: (1) that the Vikings sit near the bottom of the league in stadium-generated revenue (never mind what the actually means) and (2) that a new stadium like team "X" has would be really cool.

Internally, the Vikings continue to lob the fireball that the team might just have to move to LA. They have recently suggested, while maintaining that they are not suggesting, that LA is looking for two teams, not just one. Apparently, that is meant to make Minnesota fans twice as nervous as were LA merely looking for one team.

Standing in the way of the rhetoric, however, are the details: (1) LA is not looking even for one team, rather it is the NFL that wants a team in LA; (2) the NFL is not interested and will not permit a move of a current team to LA, thereby foregoing the largesse that would be the franchise fee for any team in LA; (3) there is no stadium suitable for the NFL in LA, with the Coliseum long-ago discarded as a viable option; (4) the NFL does not want to lose a team in Minneapolis, the 12th largest NFL market with arguably one of the most loyal fan bases; and (5) even if the NFL were to permit the Vikings to move to LA, not even the NFL's or Vikings' concocted stories about LA would benefit the Wilfs; nobody is inviting the Wilfs to move to LA, rather, they are offering to buy the team from the Wilfs and, to be fiscally viable, that almost certainly would mean that the Wilfs would have to sell at a loss.

All of which means that the Wilfs, as they clearly understand, have only two meaningful options. One is to fold-up shop, thereby foregoing the annual $50-60 million that they clear just for being part of the NFL brotherhood. The second is to get a stadium deal done in Minnesota and/or renew their lease at the built-for-football Metrodome.

For Minnesotans, a new stadium could mean additional revenues, if the deal is properly structured. Assuming such a deal associated with anyone who has brought you a $6.2 billion deficit and believes that a salary freeze when others are losing their jobs is a meaningful "spending cut" might not be as far-fetched as it seems, as many of the same players who brought the now profitable Metrodome to the Minneapolis skyscape probably will also have a hand in any new stadium deal for the Vikings.

Of course the Vikings will make much more money on a new stadium than they do in the Metrodome--hand over fist, in fact, with reasonable estimates north of $100 million per season. That makes the entire dance offered by the Vikings both stomach-churning and foolish. Had the Wilfs and the NFL simply invested their own money in a new stadium when the Wilfs purchased the team, they would have, by now, far exceeded in revenue the investment that they are seeking from Minnesotans. That's stupid math both by the NFL and the Vikings. But the Vikings are erring even in the source of their angst and in their focus for gaining legislative support for their new shrine.

While the Vikings essentially point to the fans--those fans who shell out over $150/person, on average, for the privilege of attending just one Vikings' game and who buy Vikings' merchandise even away from the field--where they ought to be focusing their attention is across the river, at another Minnesota institution, the University of Minnesota.

Even with the clear potential for revenue gains (again, assuming a well-struck deal that returns stadium revenues to the State), Minnesota legislators and the Governor are stuck with considerable public debt. And, though relatively small compared to the State's projected budget deficit, the University of Minnesota Athletic Department's annual budget deficit serves as both the poster child and rallying point for those opposed to public funding of sports venues and ventures, in general.

In 2010, the University of Minnesota Athletic Department ran its now customary $3 million budget deficit. That deficit must, of course, be balanced. To meet this dictate, the Athletic Department must borrow from the University's central fund. And the University obtains most of its money--either directly or indirectly--from the State of Minnesota and the tax payer.

Since Clem Haskins' $1.5 million bailout--an amount paid upfront to Haskins but still being paid on borrowed money by the University of Minnesota--the University of Minnesota Athletics Department has spent $6 million, also in borrowed money, to buy out the contracts of Glen Mason, Dan Monson, and Tim Brewster. It has also spent in excess of $300,000 on coaching searches, with approximately half of that amount going to search firms that identified Brewster as a viable head coach and that did nothing to identify Bill Kill as a coaching candidate. All of this money spent, and, still, the Athletic Department is running a $3 million annual deficit.

If the Vikings truly wanted to ingratiate themselves to Minnesota politicians, rather than promising "not to move to LA," they would dig into their pockets and buy out the University of Minnesota Athletic Director before he makes another costly, state-funded mistake, pay to lure a true AD to Minnesota, and endow several scholarships to help the U avoid future budget deficits. It would cost the Vikings quite little to gain a tremendous windfall. And it almost assuredly would allow Minnesota politicians to reassess where the Vikings fit into Minnesota's financial landscape and to do so sooner rather than later.

Up Next: That Roof Thing. Plus, a wasted year for Peterson.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Vikings Ready to Make Frazier Permanent Head Coach

The Minnesota Vikings are preparing to move on Leslie Frazier as their new head coach. The initial thought process at Winter Park was to give Frazier until the end of the season to prove his merit as head coach. That made sense, given some of the Vikings' defensive difficulties this season and the lingering question of whether any issues that existed on defense were the consequence of inadequate personnel or coaching. While the jury is still out on that question, the jury appears in on Frazier's acumen as a manager of talent. That, and other league dynamics, have shifted the Vikings' focus forward for making a decision on Frazier.

The one question remaining for the Vikings' ownership group regarding Frazier's merit as head coach is whether Frazier can deliver victories over the haves of the league rather than merely over the league's have-nots. Beating Washington on the road and running Buffalo at home showed that Frazier can do what a team loaded with talent ought to do. The test now is whether he can put his talent up against another team with good talent and emerge victorious. Fortunately for Frazier, that test will come first at home, rather than on the road. That test was to have been test three of four--the fourth being beating a talented team on the road, or at least playing competitively against such a team on the road. Other factors have made that fourth prong, and possibly the third prong, less salient in the eyes of Vikings' ownership.

On Monday, the Denver Broncos relieved their head coach of his coaching duties, approximately a year and one-half too late. The opening in Denver means more opportunities for Frazier. And given his rapport with players, media, fans, and coaching staff, and his humility in the face of immediate success--despite unexpected obstacles such as the loss of the starting quarterback--Frazier's stock has only risen since he took the reigns as Vikings' head coach. That fact has not been lost on the Vikings' ownership group.

While it is possible that the Vikings will announce Frazier's signing as early as this week, it is also possible that they will wait until after this week's game to determine whether Frazier can extend his run against better competition. The downside to the latter ploy is that the team allows Frazier more time to prove himself and consider that there are other openings in the off-season. That would increase Frazier's asking price and the Vikings would prefer, of course, to pay less rather than more for the same product. It would also at least create the possibility that the Vikings would be searching for a new head coach this off-season, having let get away the coach that they preferred.

Up Next: Even With PIcks and Against Buffalo, Jackson Improved.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What I Like About You

It did not take long for interim Minnesota Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier to ingratiate himself with Vikings' fans. In the days preceding the Vikings' 17-13 road victory over Washington, Frazier immediately established himself as a more personable public face of the team than former head coach Brad Childress ever seemed capable of managing, despite much effort and expense by the Vikings' front office. Frazier not only spoke openly about his plans for the Washington game--careful not to venture into the Mike Tice territory of giving away the team's game plan--he also did so unscripted. That, in and of itself, was a refreshing change from the Childress era.

Frazier also elected to be interviewed by KFAN drive-time host, Dan Barreiro, rather than reprising Childress' interview schedule with the 9 to noon station host, Paul Allen. The move, almost certainly encouraged by the Vikings' front office, nevertheless was Frazier's to approve. By moving out of the softball, love fest that is the Paul Allen world, Frazier opted, instead, to weather the typically more blunt questions from Barreiro--the type of questions that often flustered Tice and the answers to which, in part, probably facilitated Tice's departure.

Not only did Frazier accept the challenge of moving from the warm cocoon to the real world of sports interviews, he did so with aplomb, answering questions directly so as not to agitate the host and being thoughtful enough in his responses not leave the type of negative impression which Childress all too often left with fans and talk show hosts alike.

Frazier took his image to Washington where he led the Vikings to the team's first road victory since November of 2009 and its first opening drive touchdown this year. And even with Adrian Peterson sidelined from the second quarter on with a sprained ankle, Frazier managed a victory where a Childress-led team almost certainly would have fallen to ignominious defeat.

More striking of Frazier than either his initial public impression or his in-game performance was his response to the victory. Never has an individual looked more genuinely happy than did Frazier on Sunday. And never have members of a team seemed more genuinely pleased for their head coach than did the Vikings' players. Frazier beamed from ear to ear, his players cheered, and the Vikings' left an opponent's field finally victorious. It was reminiscent of the closing scene from Rudy, only Frazier is no Rudy and his run is far from over.

As his in-game coaching of E.J. Henderson, caught by FOX cameras during Sunday's game, suggests, Frazier is no wilting lily. But neither, as his players will attest, is he clinically obsessive compulsive about his design. In short, while he is not a 180 degree change from Childress, Frazier appears to be a 90 degree shift in the right direction. And that might be just what the Vikings need to ensure that at least some of their many soon-to-be free agents have a desire to return next season, whenever that might be, and that the State legislature and Governor see greater value in gifting the team public money for a stadium, even if the team has no other place to play.

Up Next: Vikings' Being Dishonest and Disingenuous About Their Lack of Interest in a Retractable Roof on a New Stadium.