In a league in which the have nots tend to live in the past and the haves innovate and set or at least adopt trends, the Minnesota Vikings stand at the juncture defining the two roads. One path permits the Vikings to put their quarterbacking fortunes in a late-round pick over an early round draft choice and signals the end of the high-paid running back era. Along this path are quarterback Joe Webb and running back Toby Gerhart.
The other path, the path onto which Minnesota consistently insists on stepping its toes, is that of the standard ploy--playing high picks over lower picks in the hopes that what one's eyes saw in the draft eventually will materialize with the high pick playing up to expectations and the low pick down to expectations and entrusting a high percentage of the team's salary cap to a player who, though talented, plays a position proven to have a short NFL shelf life.
Last week's use of Adrian Peterson was inexplicable on every front. In a meaningless game, the Vikings had still to verify what they had in Gerhart and had every reason not to put into the game a player to whom they had just paid nearly $100 million dollars. The Vikings verified as much in the game, giving the ball to Peterson a mere 10 times--too little to make a difference, more than enough to risk serious injury.
This week, the Vikings again pressed their luck with Peterson, playing him in yet another meaningless game despite the team's insistence that Peterson is not 100%. Clearly, there was no point to this gamble and the Vikings finally were burned when Peterson went down with what is being described as a "serious knee injury." Now, Peterson not only is lost for the remainder of this meaningless season, he might well be lost for a significant portion of next season and may never be the same again, depending on the extent of his injury. All of this for a possible return of nothing.
Adding to the damage to the team and the team's payroll should Peterson be out or not tradable is the skid of poor play by this year's first-round pick Christian Ponder. Ponder started the season seemingly on par with Joe Webb, if a step slower and possessed of a slightly weaker arm. Despite having the playbook to study over the Summer--a luxury not afforded Webb--and placed one notch above Webb on the depth chart, Ponder clearly has regressed while Webb continues to impress whenever called upon, Blazer package excepted.
After Ponder left the Washington game with a concussion, Webb entered to toss two touchdown passes--two more than Ponder--and run for another. That should put to rest the nauseating commentary promoted by those covering the Vikings who want to show that they are in the team's corner that Webb cannot throw the ball. Yes, Webb can pass. Yes, Webb can be every bit the pocket passer that the Vikings want Ponder to be. And, yes, Webb has great instinct for escaping from and stepping up in the pocket. But for his late-round status, and Ponder's early round selection, Webb would be the starter in Minnesota. And that would be a meritorious decision.
Peterson's exit again confirmed that, as special as Peterson might be, his presence is absolutely wasted when it comes at the price tag that the Vikings paid to keep him. Peterson rarely puts up multiple touchdown games, rarely breaks 100 yards and is completely uninvolved in the passing game, often found on the sidelines in the red zone. Gerhart, meanwhile, broke 100 yards rushing on limited carries, stays in the game on passing downs, is a capable receiver, and is almost always in the game in the red zone. In short, everything that the Vikings ask of Peterson, Gerhart does, to no apparent detriment to the rest of the offense. Either the Vikings need to figure out how better to use Peterson or they need to admit that Peterson is the Ferrari that is great in limited situations but virtually unusable in most and worth the high price only to those for whom price does not matter. In a salary-capped NFL, price matters to every team.
The Vikings need to figure things out in a hurry if they want to return to being a competitive team. The decisions of the past two weeks, in particular, unfortunately suggest that they do not understand their personnel, how personnel fit together in the NFL, what the trends are in the NFL, what leads to success in the NFL, or what is in the team's best interests.
Up Next: What 2012 Ought to Look Like.