Thursday, October 27, 2011

Last to Know

For anyone close to a situation, there is nothing worse than being the last to know about a development. In the World of the Minnesota Vikings, being the last to know has become common place this season, with three additions to that list just this week.

On Monday, Minnesota Vikings' head coach, Leslie Frazier, announced that the Vikings had to sit down with erstwhile wide-receiver, Bernard Berrian, "to make sure everyone is on the same page." Berrian took that to mean yet another opportunity to solidify his role as the most overpaid player in Viking history.

Frazier had something else in mind. Namely, he wanted to make clear that all were on the same page regarding the Vikings' rationale for what would become Tuesday's release of Berrian. Berrian, as has been true of his much coddled association with the Vikings over the past two years, was, of course, the last to know, claiming until the end that he wanted to remain with the team--an odd contention for someone who has not been with the team for at least the past two years.

Berrian joins Donovan McNabb in the current edition of "last to know," having expressed dismay at his demotion in favor of rookie Christian Ponder. That dismay would not be surprising were it a reflection of McNabb's uncertainty over why he was merely demoted rather than cut outright. Alas, McNabb was merely expressing the confusion that he generally has exhibited on the field.

In his first game, Ponder passed for one-third the yards and half the touchdowns that McNabb managed in six full games as a starter this season. Adrian Peterson also had his most productive game of the season, rushing for 175 yards--fifty-two more than his previous season high and nearly double his season average. Ponder's ability to roll out of the pocket and make completions down-field and to receivers in stride demonstrated why the change to Ponder or Joe Webb should have been made several weeks ago--a fact that Frazier, himself, appeared to be the last to know.

Then there is the unfolding saga of state budgets, revenue streams, and ill-advised constitutional amendments. In 2008, Minnesota voters unwisely amended the state constitution to require sales tax contributions to a fund known as the "Legacy Fund." The amendment was pitched as one intended to ensure clean water and environment in Minnesota for generations to come. Unquestionably, the fund is used to achieve these purposes--much as legislation previously accomplished such goals.

Not surprisingly, however, at least to some, the Legacy Fund has become a welcome wagon for anyone with a notion remotely tied to claims of state heritage and/or culture, along with other problems.

This week, the Minnesota Historical Society, one of the large recipients of Legacy funds, has expressed outrage over Governor Dayton's attempt to raid the Legacy Fund endowment to pay for a new Vikings' stadium. Clearly, MHS and others were not paying attention to the wording of the Legacy amendment, an amendment that so generally defines Minnesota's cultural heritage as to permit funding of virtually anything in the state with Legacy funds. It's unfortunate for state residents that MHS and others failed to heed this generous wording--or simply preferred to look the other way on a referendum pitched as a clean air and water referendum that MHS and others knew also would amply fund their own non-water/air designs--but the language clearly permits, and practice clearly supports, the funding Dayton now, however disingenuously, proposes.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that the Vikings are now suggesting raiding a fund created through a referendum as a means of circumventing a referendum on stadium voting. If you love conniving politics, dunderheaded agencies, complicit legislators, mayors, and commissioners, there is nothing like the confluence of public funding of a Vikings' stadium achieved through expropriation of funds constitutionally mandated by virtue of a vote taken on a measure sold as an environmental stand. Classic.

Up Next: Who Will Be Next?

Monday, October 17, 2011

86 or 84?

In 1984, the Minnesota Vikings finished 3-13. That was the year that Les Steckel and his no-nonsense boot camp received a tryout in the NFL. That tryout lasted but that one year, never again to return to the league.

2011 is shaping up to be every bit as uninspiring and demoralizing as was that 1984 debacle, only this version of 1984 comes courtesy of a soft-spoken, eminently likable individual in Leslie Frazier who appears utterly incompetent as a head coach. Where Childress stood by the likes of Bryant McKinnie and Bernard Berrian, Frazier stands by the likes of Donovan McNabb and Bernard Berrian--the former shows Frazier can be every bit as stubborn as his predecessor, the latter shows he has an even flatter learning curve.

But while Steckel at least left the Vikings with a roster including some young talent such as Steve Jordan, Wade Wilson, Joey Browner, Carl Lee, Tim Irwin, and Darrin Nelson, Frazier presides over a team with the bulk of the talent residing in the "veteran" category. Only the rarely used Kyle Rudolph, Percy Harvin, and possibly Joe Webb and/or Christian Ponder can be said to represent the up and coming youth of this Vikings' team. With veterans Kevin Williams, Chad Greenway, Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield, Adrian Peterson, Steve Hutchinson, and Jim Kleinsasser, Frazier and the Vikings have proven that veteran talent cannot compensate for a lack of a plan. And this Vikings' team, unlike that 1984 disaster, bent on being more conditioned than the opposition, has no plan of which to speak.

Among the numerous confounding coaching decisions in last night's game were the decision to pull McNabb for Webb after McNabb had connected on one of his few completions. The first play called for Webb was bizarre, still not completely computing. The second appeared to be one for which the Vikings' coaching staff told Webb that he must refuse to run no matter the circumstances and that he must make the worst pass of the game to take some heat off of McNabb. Webb followed the plan to a "t" and McNabb re-entered on third down, only to throw a pass behind his intended receiver (the announcers, so accustomed to McNabb's utter inability to throw the ball, gushed over the pass, blaming the receiver for the incompletion).

That fiasco paled, however, in contrast with the debacle that was the two-minute warning timeout turned missed field goal attempt turned loss of timeout when the team could have used it. Returning from the television timeout for the two-minute warning--a lengthy timeout befitting Sunday night football--Frazier sent his kicking team onto the field to attempt a field goal on 4th and 3 then immediately called a timeout.

There can be no good explanation for Frazier's timeout immediately following a timeout--though that did not stop the ever implausible Greg Coleman from making the effort. "Cat and mouse," Coleman lauded. "Leslie's just playing his chess pieces."

Not even the heretofore ultimate homer, Paul Allen, was buying Coleman's pollyanna puke on this night, however, as PA turned to his broadcast partner, Pete Bercich, stating "I don't get it." Neither did the Vikings, as the timeout was followed by a false start and a failed field goal attempt--all a microcosm of everything that the Vikings have represented under Frazier.

In a season in which the Vikings are paying a running back $14-16 million to play behind a putrid offensive line, with an awful quarterback, non-existent wide-receiving corps that includes, as its best receiver, a player ranked 86th in the NFL in yards receiving, for an offensive coordinator with no sense of a game plan and a head coach apparently willing to just soak it all in, there is no doubt that this Vikings' team is far worse than the '84 disaster. What's not clear is whether anyone in this organization has the sense to make the proper adjustments.

Up Next: Berrian Still Being Frozen Out.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vikings' "Public Aid for Jobs" Pitch a Loser

Much like most of what emotes from the mouths of the Minnesota Vikings' inner circle of stadium building drum beaters these days, the Vikings' contention that building a stadium on the public dime is critical to local job building is an outright loser of a platform. For, while stadium construction certainly would create jobs, it would do so with an opportunity cost of not creating other jobs that likely would be more enduring and local.

By the Vikings' estimate, construction of a new stadium would mean approximately 1,400 jobs over four years. That, the Vikings' argue, would be a boon for the local economy.

The Vikings' number assumes, however, that all jobs would be for the entire course of the project, that the project would require four years to conclude, and that the jobs would go to local workers. The team's conclusion regarding the result for the local economy is more dubious than these assumptions, as a boost of 1,400 jobs would be a drop in the proverbial bucket even in the State's employment picture.

The goal of any publicly funded job program is to create jobs that are sufficiently sustainable to make a difference both to the local economy and to the overall job picture moving forward. Construction of a new stadium does little in the latter regard and arguably nothing in the former, particularly when taking into consideration the alternative job programs that the State could employ to foster job growth--assuming that's on the mind of those making policy these days.

The Vikings are requesting $300 million (and more) from the State and another $360 million (and more) from Ramsey County to construct a stadium and amenities in Arden Hills. Never mind that the stadium construction itself should cost no more than $360 million, with retractable roof.

With $300 million dollars, the State could employ 10,000 people at $30,000 a year to complete any number of public works projects that currently are not being completed. Both the $300 million and 10,000 figure rely on assumptions, of course. One is that all workers are paid $30,000/year, the other is that the State's pool of money is $300 million.

Neither assumption, of course, is correct. Many individuals would accept less than $30,000 a year for the opportunity to work at a meaningful job that would permit them to fill both a void on their resumes and a depleted bank account. More important, however, is the fact that that $300 million that the State is suggesting that it will contribute to the pot is more like $1.1 billion. That's because to pay the $300 million, the State will need to bond or engage in some other mortgaging type of arrangement. That means paying interest on a loan. And that means that the State ultimately will pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.1 billion--not $300 million--to construct a new stadium.

With $1.1 billion dollars, the State could hire those same 10,000 workers at $30,000 per year for nearly four years. That's more than seven times the number of jobs that the Vikings contend the stadium will create, but full time jobs for the full four years of the same window. And none of this takes into account the additional $360 million (or more) that Ramsey County must bond or the cost overrides that the Vikings want the State to pay. Putting Ramsey County's money into play means another 10,000 jobs at $30,000 per year for closer to five or six years. That's 20,000 jobs for four to six years, or more than 14 times the number of jobs that the Vikings contend the stadium construction job will create in the State.

None of these figures factor in that each worker will be paying local tax revenue rather than receiving unemployment benefits, that each worker will be establishing working credentials making themselves viable if and when the market does return, or that the significant addition of workers to the ranks of those paying taxes will actually help fuel a local recovery. And, of course, none of this factors the benefit to a far larger population than would be afforded by a commercial stadium that is a stand-alone entity providing value to a limited pool of consumers eight days of the year.

Are there job benefits, many probably even local, to constructing anything? Of course. But those benefits must be weighed against the opportunity cost of not having public money dedicated to said construction to put towards other projects. And if job creation is part of the Vikings' sales pitch, it is a clear loser in contrast with what can be done with the public money that the Vikings are soliciting to build their giant revenue stream.

Up Next: Will Frazier's Intransigence Cost Vikings' an Opportunity to Gain on Weak Field?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Rest of the Story...or How the Vikings Intend to Shaft the Public

In his long-running radio show, widely syndicated radio personality, Paul Harvey, would offer some surprising information without disclosing the subject or some mundane information about a subject without disclosing the surprising information until later. What came next was what Harvey referred to as "the rest of the story."

For some time now, the Minnesota Vikings have been attempting to channel Paul Harvey, only without disclosing the rest of the story. The opening to the story is that the Vikings want a new stadium. And they want the public to pay for "part" of it. And they want the public to agree to pay for "part" of it without being afforded the opportunity to agree (or not). And they want it now. And they want more concessions down the road. Oh, that's part of the rest of the rest of the story.

For now, we can settle for the rest of the story. The rest of the story is what the Vikings are not telling anyone who will be footing the bill. The rest of the story goes something like this--the Vikings want desperately to build a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. They want a retractable roof on that new stadium. They want a stadium that can be used for other events. They want all of the revenue streams associated with the new stadium. They want all of the tax deductions associated with "owning" a new stadium. They want additional state and county tax concessions.

And, they really want the public to foot most if not all of the bill.

How's that?

Yes, the Vikings are looking to the public to foot the bulk of the cost of a new stadium--perhaps all of the cost.

But don't take my word for it, just look at the math.

Between 2000 and 2002, the City of Seattle built the Seattle Seahawks a new football stadium. Nobody has anything bad to say about Seattle's still relatively new facility, that comes with a partial roof and 111 luxury suites. The cost of constructing the stadium was $360 million.

There are several interesting points about the Seattle stadium. One is that the cost was borne during a hyper-active period for construction. Adjusted for the downturn in the economy and in the construction business, in particular, a similar stadium should cost even less to construct today. Logically, that should mean that constructing a new stadium in Minneapolis should cost less than $360 million, not the $1.1 billion dollars that the Vikings have pulled out of the sky to make it appear that the $360 million is but a small portion of the total construction cost.

Another interesting point regarding the Seattle stadium is that it was constructed as a public-private partnership with the public cost fixed at $360 million (not surprisingly the cost of actual construction of the stadium) and only after a state-wide referendum--yes, the very type of referendum which, according to Minnesota Vikings' officials, "the public always rejects." As the State of Washington has demonstrated, the public does not always reject such public-private ventures, but it certainly is more likely to do so when there is little sense that the venture will mean anything to the public other than a handful of football games.

In Seattle, the City, King County, and the State share in an annual $850,000 payment from the Seahawks. The team keeps everything else--somewhere in the neighborhood of $65,000,000. That's a great deal for the Seahawks, and far better than they deserve given the State's level of contribution to the team. And still, it is much less than the Vikings appear intent on taking from the residents of Minnesota.

If the Vikings want a stadium in Minnesota, they have three options. The first is to build their own stadium with their own money and recoup that money by putting a quality product on the field and charging fans what the market bears--that tends to be the option of the non-entitlement, open market crowd, at least when the issue is not a new stadium for them. The second option is to partner with the State and relevant municipality in a profit-sharing arrangement. That puts the sense back into a public deal. The Vikings don't seem to want that, however, because they prefer option three. That option is to make demands, effuse a sense of entitlement, insist that the public--on whom the team relies for the petty cash (truly)--not have any say save for the say of their corrupted representatives (see, e.g., Ramsey County Commissioners), and have a stadium built for them to the tune of $660 million in public funding, with the team contributing "the rest" of what will not be required to build the stadium.

As long as the Vikings stick with option three, and locals like Lester Bagley essentially tell the public to pay up AND lump it, there should be no tears shed if the Vikings ever finagle a move to LA--a remote option in any event. And if local "leaders" actually cave to this sophomoric charade, we surely will have confirmation as to who butters their bread.

Up Next: Wasting Webb in Favor of McNabb?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Storm Brewing in Minnesota

Following the Minnesota Vikings' loss to previously winless Kansas City, a team without two of its three top safeties and without its dynamic running back, Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf let it be known that he was tremendously displeased with the team's results and that he expected far better going forward. Wilf strongly suggested that, given McNabb's performance at critical junctures against KC (if not also throughout the entire season), he expected Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier to make the proper adjustments.

There is no denying that Wilf's implication was that it was time to make a move at quarterback--a decision that could have meant imposing either Christian Ponder or Joe Webb at quarterback.

Rather than acquiesce, Frazier dug in his heals and insisted that McNabb was not the problem. If the stubborn approach in the face of sound logic to the contrary sounds familiar, it should. It was, after all, the very same approach embraced by Dennis Green, Mike Tice, and Brad Childress. And it likely could lead Frazier to the same fate realized by his three predecessors--and justifiably so.

Through four games, McNabb ranks thirtieth in the league in passing. He ranks far lower--a quite difficult feat--in passing statistics in the second half and, more significantly for a team that has played four close games, in the fourth quarter. There is no denying that McNabb's primary problems are that he cannot put the ball where he needs to put it and that he shrinks in the face of a challenge when the game is on the line. These traits are not unique to McNabb, but they are unique among quarterbacks playing for teams with purported playoff aspirations.

Aside from Frazier's apparent inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that McNabb is not his best option at quarterback--that title now belonging to Webb, followed by Ponder--Frazier is utterly delusional about the Vikings' prospects this year. The only hope that the Vikings' have of making the playoffs this year is to start Webb, a quarterback who can escape the pocket, make plays with his legs, and throw at least as accurately as McNabb has this season.

At 0-4, the Vikings likely would need to finish the season 10-2 to make the playoffs. Frazier still views the 0-4 start as a 4-0 start, however, failing to recognize that most NFL games are decided by what teams are able to do in the fourth quarter. Given that McNabb has done nothing in the fourth quarter, other than look absolutely horrible, the decision to stick with McNabb can only be explained as one of myopia induced by Frazier's initial guarantee to ownership that he could do with McNabb what Philadelphia and Washington could not.

Barring an immediate and overwhelming turn-around, the likes of which is against all odds with the Vikings having not yet faced the Packers or Bears and with two teams in their own division already four games ahead of them, Frazier is committing to a quarterback who not only offers the team little hope for recovery this season, but also little understanding of where the team is headed in 2012. Playing McNabb will ensure that the Vikings know nothing about Ponder after this season and cement the fate of a promising quarterback in Webb--all for nothing.

Frazier's decision to stick with McNabb, already at odds with the his owner's inclination and collective wisdom, not only will jeopardize the Vikings' season but also will jeopardize Frazier's tenure in Minnesota.

Up Next: Kingdom for a Receiver.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

McNabb Done as Vikings' Quarterback

With a fourth straight loss in the books to start the 2011 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings are expected to bench starting quarterback Donovan McNabb in favor of either Joe Webb or Christian Ponder next week. The decision comes more from the Vikings' ownership than from a coaching staff that, offensively, appears oblivious to the on-the-field product.

McNabb again was awful when it most mattered on Sunday, thrice making horrendous passes to nobody in particular during the team's final drive with the Vikings trailing by five. McNabb's erratic performance once again made Adrian Peterson virtually irrelevant and an ownership group that has invested heavily in Peterson, irate.

With McNabb moving to the sidelines--and quite possibly to the waiver wire--the Vikings are left to decide whether to go into full blown rebuilding mode or to try to be respectable this year. Taking a cue from the Carolina Panthers, however, the Vikings almost certainly will opt for a heavy dose of roll-out quarterback packages, something woefully lacking in this year's offense.

Entering the season, the Vikings sold their fan base on a short-passing game predicated on getting the ball to their two dynamic tight ends, Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph, and Percy Harvin and running Adrian Peterson. After four games, the Vikings have used Randolph and Shiancoe only on a limited basis and highly sporadically and, despite obtaining positive results every time Harvin touches the ball, have shied away from Harvin, as well. The only commitment that the Vikings have kept is to get Peterson the ball, but that commitment generally has waned in the second half of games, making Peterson the "highest paid decoy in the game."

As McNabb heads to the bench, scrutiny will only increase of a coaching staff that has not obtained results this season. Of particular concern is the play-calling and personnel management of first-year offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, whose decision not to have Shiancoe on the field on 4th and 10 on the Vikings' final drive against KC--a decision saved only by KC's decision to call a time-out--brings to mind the play-calling that led to Musgrave's dismissal as Carolina's offensive coordinator only two games into his tenure.

Up Next: Change in Quarterbacks Will Buy Frazier Some Time.