Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Minnesota Vikings' Rebuilding Lacks Understanding of Modern NFL Realities

In 2011, the Minnesota Vikings finished 3-13.  Minnesota's front office assured fans that 2012 would be different and pointed to close losses in 2011, a high draft pick in the college entry draft, and ambitions to pick up high-end free agents.

Two games into the 2012 season, despite a well-used high pick, the Vikings arguably are worse than they were last year.  Quarterback Christian Ponder has done a better job avoiding picks, but some of that appears to be good fortune and most of it appears to be the result of a passing attack so short in design that it threatens to reintroduce the underhanded passing game for teams more concerned with quarterback rating than fielding a quarterback that can read defenses.  Adrian Peterson is back after suffering a knew injury at the end of last season in a meaningless game, but he looks like any other back coming out of the backfield.  And Percy Harvin has avoided migraines, but he remains the Vikings' only target--either by design or oversight.

Offensively, 2012 thus has the same feel for the Vikings as did 2011, except now the Vikings are not even pretending to go downfield (i.e., beyond the line scrimmage).  Defensively, of course, the team looks horrid.

The result has been a 1-1 record in two close games against opponents currently without any reasonable claim to being good.

That's not a surprise, given that the Vikings spent their first off-season since securing a new stadium shedding salary and signing perhaps one meaningful player in free-agency (a player who has yet to contribute).  What is a surprise, however, is that the Vikings' front office believes that it is operating in a window of rebuilding that could take as many as three years.

Given free-agency, player contract lengths, and short careers, three years is an eternity in the NFL.  Given the Vikings' odd mix of veterans and rookies--with the big money going to players currently in their prime or at the end of their prime years in the league--three years might as well be ten.

Even assuming dramatic improvement this year, the Vikings are unlikely to finish any better than 5-11 or 6-10.  Assuming another high draft choice that fills a glaring need--wide receiver, offensive lineman, linebacker, cornerback--and another off-season of ignoring prime free-agent talent, the Vikings likely will enter next season favored to finish the season no better than 8-8.

All of this assumes continuing improvement, of course.  And it assumes, equally as important, that the Vikings not only add front-end talent in the next off-seaon, but that the team does not have additional holes to fill. That's a highly fanciful proposition.

This year is almost certainly Antoine Winfield's final season with the Vikings, Kevin Williams and Jared Allen might each have another year left in them after this year, Chris Cook was done before he ever started his career in Minnesota, Charlie Johnson is merely a place-holder, no matter how the Vikings' front office attempts to doll him up, and Phil Loadholt might not be far behind.  Each of these players represents a player currently holding a position that the Vikings consider filled.  Clearly, that's an optimistic thought process, even in the short term.

The Vikings appear reasonably well set at slot receiver, left tackle, center, right tackle, receiving tight end, and, hopefully, one of two safety positions, for any period beyond the next two years.  That leaves an awful lot of question marks, not the least of which is the starting quarterback position.

Even if the Vikings fill some holes next year and the year after and manage a normal trajectory of improvement over the two years, they are not assured of maturing beyond mediocre in three years if they do not find more than two starters in the draft and do not add at least two quality free agents each year.  This year, the team added two starters and a kicker in the draft but nobody picked up in free-agency has yet had an impact.  If that holds through 2012, the Vikings will need to add even more talent in 2013 to compensate for this year's shortfall and still will need to meet the demands of 2013.  All the while, the clock ticks on the team's purported cornerstones.

The short of it is that the Vikings, like all NFL teams that aspire to win a championship, must dream in two-year sequences.  Planning rosters any further out ultimately results in major short-comings in all but the rarest of circumstances--an unlikelihood for a Vikings' team so presently constructed.

Up Next:  Selling High--or at Least not Low.

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