If a veteran NFL General Manager were asked how to construct the prototypical unsuccessful NFL team, he undoubtedly would suggest that one must draft poorly, mismanage personnel, coach poorly, employ a run-first philosophy in a pass-first league, employ a run-stop defense in a pass-happy league, and give little regard to rules of play. Of those criteria, this year's Minnesota Vikings have attained all.
Establishing an awful NFL team in an era of mediocre play league-wide is a daunting challenge, but the Vikings appear more than up to the task. The work, of course, begins at the top, with horrendous decision-making in the NFL draft.
Since arriving in Minnesota after being released in previous stints with Chicago and Miami, Minnesota Vice-President of Player Personnel, Rick Spielman, has used high draft picks on Tyrell Johnson (2d), Toby Gerhart (2d), Phil Loadholt (2d), and Chris Cook (2d). He has also thrown away a third-round pick in the Randy Moss deal and traded out of the first round to take Gerhart.
Last year, Spielman used the Vikings' first and second round picks to select Christian Ponder, despite already having a taller, stronger, faster, more experienced Ponder in the ranks in Joe Webb, and Kyle Rudolph (2d). Rudolph looks every bit the talented receiver that the Vikings proclaimed him to be coming out of Notre Dame, but it hardly matters if the team virtually never calls his number, a hallmark of this Vikings' team when it comes to making use of talent.
Spielman has had the benefit of picking up passed over players like Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, and he made a sagacious move in dealing a first-round pick for Jared Allen, but two gimmies and one bold move hardly make up for the disaster that has otherwise been the Vikings' draft under Spielman. Not only has Spielman not selected very many legitimate starters in the draft, he has had a grave tendency to reach where others have leapt back--see Johnson, Jackson, Cook, Cook, and Gerhart--and his draft picks seemingly have had little in congruence with the plan of the head coaches to incorporate players into the game plan.
Selecting players not fit to start in the NFL and/or drafting players rounds ahead of where they otherwise would have gone, sometimes even trading away picks for the right to make such a mistake, is a good enough start to putting together a worse-than-Les-Steckel type of team. Adding a head coach that appears utterly incapable of managing the team helps, however.
Determinations of who will coach the Vikings has fallen squarely on the ownership group and demonstrates how little that group understand the league. After firing Mike Tice, Zygi Wilf locked in Brad Childress, famously quipping that he wanted to make sure Green Bay did not get a crack at Childress. That decision clearly backfired in every conceivable way. Childress, known as quarterback guru despite never really doing anything to merit that or any other NFL accolades, was abrupt off the field, disingenuous on the field, and easily the worst coach in team history not named Les Steckel.
When Wilf and Company had seen what others saw of Childress before Childress even was hired, they settled on Leslie Frazier as Childress' replacement. Frazier, a defensive coordinator who had not shown an ability to stop opposing offenses and had demonstrated a particularly alarming ineptitude, having been a former cornerback and safety, at shoring up the secondary, has surpassed Childress--and Steckel--in ineptitude. A nice guy whom everyone wants to succeed, Frazier simply does not appear anywhere near up to the task of organizing an NFL team.
Among Frazier's major gaffes this season were his decision to stick with Donovan McNabb five games after it was clear that McNabb had nothing to give the team, failing to utilize Rudolph despite scheming for Rudolph in the shortened pre-season, sticking with Bernard Berrian into the regular season, failing to establish any semblance of a solution along the offensive line, at wide-receiver, or in the secondary, and, perhaps most egregious, making a mockery of a very talented Webb by inserting Webb into the game for one or two plays a game, at the most inopportune/inexplicable moments, for zero return.
There is very little, if any, evidence that Frazier has improved the team since taking over for the challenged Childress and substantial evidence to suggest that Frazier has accomplished the nearly unfathomable feat of making the team worse. Showing so little progress given such a tremendously low bar is more than embarrassing it is also one of the hallmark features of a decrepit NFL team.
All of Frazier's flaws could be forgiven if the team consistently came into games prepared to compete, Frazier made good use of his talent, the Vikings did not have Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Visanthe "Who" Shiancoe, Kyle Rudolph, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Chad Greenway, and team did not forever emerge from losses dumbfounded about what hit them.
Alas, the Vikings increasingly appear unprepared for the competition, unable to adjust to opponents' game plans, unable to make use of the talent that they have, incapable of abiding by simple rules such as the off-sides rule, and increasingly incapable of even competing. Some of that is on the talent pool, but even the talent on the team is woefully underutilized and bad players continue to get run using the same bad schemes--how does one explain, for example, cover two defense routinely failing to cover on deep plays and corners failing to face the quarterback on corner-of-endzone routes?
Add to all these woes the team's seeming denial of its current status and the Vikings meet several of the criteria for achieving wretched status in a league in which wretched status is nearly impossible to attain.
Up Next: Fixing the Mess.