Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Vikings Should Have Their Next Thirty Days Scripted: Day One

A day after firing third-year head coach Leslie Frazier, the Minnesota Vikings, and General Manager Rick Spielman, in particular, are in deflection mode, passing the buck on the season to Frazier and promising great changes ahead.  While several changes are needed over the next thirty days, the most pressing change required is the one that appears unlikely to be made--that of General Manager.

For the most part, Spielman has done well in the first round of the NFL draft, not over-thinking whether to take good players that have fallen into his lap.  In 2013, he parlayed the Percy Harvin trade to Seattle, along with the Vikings' own first-round pick, into Sharif Floyd, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Xavier Rhodes.  The latter two have already contributed enough to make themselves worthy of their 2013 draft spots, with Patterson worthy of a much higher selection; Floyd, too, has shown promise.

In some NFL cities, finding a General Manager able to identify the obvious would be grounds for celebration and Spielman would be canonized for his 2013 first-round picks.  In more demanding markets--particularly those in which the ownership group has recently fleeced a willing political base and is now attempting to position for the sale of expensive seat licenses in an of-the-people-by-the-people-but-not-for-the-people stadium--Spielman has done only what a trained monkey would have done in a similar situation.

When pressed, Spielman has been far less spectacular.  In 2011, after taking the reigns as the sole decision maker from the Vikings' previous triangle of authority, Spielman reached mightily with the twelfth overall pick for Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.  Optimistic scouting reports had Ponder going in the second round of the draft.  More pessimistic reviews had him falling much later in the draft.

The predictions on Ponder's draft status were based on perceptions of Ponder's strengths and weaknesses.  Among the reviews of Ponder were the positives that he can scramble and make accurate short throws.  These assessments mostly were validated during Ponder's tenure in Minnesota, though they reflect such low expectations of any college quarterback, let alone one that Spielman designated the "most NFL-ready in the draft," that meeting them is essentially meaningless.

Analyses of Ponder's play included, as well, those attributes regarded as negatives, such as the inability to throw deep with accuracy, the inability to look off the primary receiver, difficulty reading complex defenses, jitteriness in the pocket, poor decision-making under pressure, and the inability to stay healthy.  These traits, too, have translated to the NFL game for Ponder.

In short, the book was available on Ponder prior to the 2011 NFL draft.  What fans saw in year one was what scouts had suggested Ponder was.  Spielman, however, saw something different.  What that was, we may never know.  But he saw a far more polished and far more capable specimen than met either scouts' analysis or the naked eye test.

Spielman's whiff on Ponder would not, in and of itself, be grounds for Spielman's dismissal.  His persistent refusal to acknowledge the mistake and move on, however, is.

At the outset, Spielman contended that the test of a quarterback's ability to start in the NFL is how that quarterback is playing after a full NFL season.  When Ponder was still shaky at the end of season one, Spielman changed the timeline to 18 games and argued that Ponder's 2-9 record in 2011 was a reflection of limited reps early in the season and the NFL lockout.

At the 18-game mark of his career, Ponder had improved his record as a starter to 7-11 and Spielman crowed that Ponder was evolving.  As evidence, Spielman pointed almost exclusively to Ponder's record, conveniently ignoring Adrian Peterson's presence as the primary force in the Vikings' offense and Ponder's relatively weak overall numbers.  Spielman could barely keep from shouting that he had told everyone that Ponder would be a star, but it was clear that he believed it was happening.

When Ponder subsequently oversaw four losses in five games, Spielman offered that "it's a long process for NFL quarterbacks" and that, despite the eye test and the numbers, Ponder was "continuing to make progress."  Spielman again changed the timeline for assessing whether Ponder was a legitimate NFL starter, dividing 1000 by 100, multiplying by 20 and subtracting 170, and divining that 30 games was the magic number.

In the final four games of 2012, the Vikings went 4-0.  Spielman pointed to Ponder's leadership as the key to the Vikings' run to end the regular season and emphasized Ponder's "strong and improving play" in the four-game stretch.  He had some locals buying this notion, despite the fact that Ponder's four-game stretch yielded three games with a combined one touchdown pass and absent even a 200-yard passing game and one notable performance against Green Bay that was notable not because it was spectacular by NFL standards but because it was competent by those standards.

Again, Spielman puffed out his chest, offering that the best was yet to come.  If true, we have yet to see it.  In 2013, Ponder did what he has done throughout his well-coddled NFL existence.  He made a few decent plays, but mostly played like a bottom rung NFL starter.  And, more significantly, he played to the expectations of the 2011 NFL scouts.

After a dismal start to the 2013 NFL season, Spielman and Frazier began playing games, still intent on protecting Ponder and, more importantly for Spielman, providing the General Manager with some measure of deniability if and when things went south.  What started as a reach had become a quest not to concede the reach.  The cycle of embarrassment was only beginning.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released Josh Freeman for poor performance and poor attitude, Spielman signed the quarterback to a one-year, $2 million deal. Spielman's sophomoric and moronic on-mic coaching of Freeman during Freeman's first meeting with the Minnesota press served notice as to who was and has been pulling the quarterback strings in Minnesota.  Immediately, Freeman was inserted into the starters role where he turned in the single worst quarterbacking performance by a non-strike era Minnesota Viking.

Freeman's failure led to Matt Cassel's promotion--a promotion that lasted all of two games, one strong, one lousy.  Ponder returned until he proved too awful to sell to the public and Cassel resumed his role as starter.  Not even a horrific performance by Cassel could bring back Ponder, nor provide another opportunity to Freeman.

Apparently, as with the scouts' assessment of Ponder, the Bucs were accurate in their assessment of Freeman.  Again, Spielman thought that he knew better.  Again, at the most important position, Spielman was wrong.

After Sunday's meaningless victory over Detroit, Spielman announced that, for the Vikings to move forward, it had become necessary to relieve Frazier of his duties.  Given Frazier's decisions on the field and press conferences off, it is hard to argue otherwise.  But the root of the Vikings' problems in 2011 and 2013--and even in their 2012 playoff season--was not primarily Frazier, but Spielman's failure to find a bona fide starting quarterback.

Now, Spielman and the Vikings are looking toward the draft to select a player that likely will need time to develop.  Regardless of the merit of that thought process for a team so reliant on Adrian Peterson, there can and should be absolutely no doubt that Spielman is precisely the wrong person to make the decision regarding the Vikings' long-term answer at quarterback.  And it should be absolutely horrifying to Vikings' fans if he is allowed not only to make that decision but also to make the decision regarding who will decide which player, from among the players that Spielman offers, is most equipped to be the team's quarterback of the future.

The Vikings began their post-2013 off-season by jettisoning Frazier.  The next move should be relieving Spielman of his duties.

Up Next:  Day Two.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Leslie Frazier's Dilemma: You Can Never Put Too Much Water in the Reactor

When Brad Childress was dismissed as head coach by the Minnesota Vikings, he took with him an abrupt public disposition, limited offense, and robotic mantra that he required players and those covering him to repeat:  "You can never get too high or too low."

Brad Childress' replacement, former Vikings' defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, had shown a slightly different public disposition than his predecessor, being affable.  He, too, however, has put together a limited offense, paired that with an awful defense, and offered the same monotone mantra:  "You can never get too high or too low."

Childress' players repeated his mantra.  Frazier's players repeat the same.  Local media, when interviewing Childress and Frazier, repeat the mantra as if it is a badge of courage or even a truism.  It is neither.  Instead, it is debilitating and it could cost Frazier his job, regardless of how hard the team plays  in garbage time.

While it is true that it is not good for players to get too high or too low based on a single play, series of plays, or even the outcome of games, what is critically undefined in this mantra is what it means to be "too high" or "too low."

Is it too high for a player or coach to mandate a defensive stand early in a game or commit to striking offensive fear in an opponent other than in desperation time?  It seems to be for this Vikings' team, whether under Childress or Frazier.  And because Frazier has been unable to define an appropriate standard for how emotional a player ought to be in the normal course of a game, the Vikings regularly appear wanting for any meaningful sense of urgency.  In the NFL, that sense of urgency is not something that needs to be present only at the twelfth hour.  Rather, it needs to be present the entire game.

That seems to be lost on Frazier, however, not only with respect to game management, but also with respect to management of players.  During his Monday press conference, he was asked whether the Vikings had taken too conservative of an approach with Cordarrelle Patterson.  As expected, Frazier replied in the negative.  "I don't think we would have seen big plays out of Cordarrelle in September and October if we did not handle him the way that we did."

Nobody bothered to remind Frazier that we did not see big plays out of Cordarrelle in September and October or that we could not have because the Vikings did not use Patterson in September or October.  That, unfortunately, seemed like a lost cause to attempt to explain to Leslie.  Even more disconcerting, however, was that Frazier's approach with Patterson, like his approach with Sharif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes, has been to not do "too much too early."  Again, a mantra with key terms left undefined.

A similar "not too much too early" approach is identifiable in Frazier's grossly late decisions to move on from Ponder (if he has done so) and to move from a predominantly zone defense to a predominantly man-cover defense.  In Frazier's world, the transitions were appropriately measured.  In the NFL world,  as with the Vikings' game day sense of urgency and Frazier's personnel decisions, Frazier moves too slow in attempting not to be too high, too low, or overreactive.

After watching the Vikings under Frazier for three plus seasons, it does not appear the Frazier has a feel for timing or that his measure of timing is improving.  Affability aside, that makes him little better than his predecessor.

Up Next:  Why The Vikings Should Not Draft a Quarterback in the First Round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ponder's Lambeau Experiences Not All That Frazier Suggests--Unless the Bar is Now on the Ground.

Minnesota Vikings' Coach Leslie Frazier announced today that Christian Ponder will be the Vikings' starting quarterback in Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.  In defending his decision, Frazier stated that Ponder has "had some success there" and "gives us the best chance to win."

While it might be true that Ponder gives the Vikings the best chance to win on Sunday, that estimate is meaningless for a 2-8 team and for a team without a starting quarterback.  That's embarrassing enough. More embarrassing, however, is Frazier's contention that Ponder has had success at Lambeau Field.

Ponder has played two games at Lambeau Field.  In 2011, he was 16 of 34 passing for 190 yards, zero touchdowns, and one pick.  The Vikings lost the game 45-7.  In 2012, Ponder was 12 of 25 for 119 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.  The Vikings lost the game 23-14.

Either Frazier and the Vikings are simply hoping that their weekly PR nonsense confuses enough to not cause unrest among fans or they have lowered the bar for what constitutes success so low that there is no hope.  Or both.

Up Next:  AP.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ponder Proves He is Neither an NFL Starter Nor Backup and Decision-Makers Prove Equally Inept

After fumbling the ball away and tossing two awful picks--one for a touchdown--Christian Ponder has more than twice as many turnovers as touchdown completions in 2013.  Despite those woeful numbers, the Vikings continued to see something in Ponder that nobody else on the planet, other than a few local scribes who forever give the benefit of doubt upon doubt to local team administrators.  Sunday's performance should put any doubts to rest regarding whether Ponder is NFL starting quarterback material.  He is not.  It should also put a spike in thoughts that he is a serviceable backup quarterback.  He clearly is not that either.

Ponder's three-year run in Minnesota has been so inept that Vikings' halftime voices were able to look at his 11 of 13 for 114 yard numbers and announce that Ponder had a "pretty good first half."  Those are not good numbers, they are just not damaging.  114 yards on 11 of 13 passing tells you everything that you need to know about Ponder.  He passes short, hopes for yards after catch, and does minimal harm but minimal good.  That works when the Vikings have a solid lead.  Clearly, it does not work when the Vikings trail.

When the Vikings got down big against Seattle--big for this Vikings' team being anything greater than a touchdown--Ponder was forced to throw outside the box on a consistent basis.  When he did, he showed what skills he does not have, throwing consecutive picks--not a good trait in a starting or backup quarterback.

After the game, Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier acted stunned at Ponder's performance.  He ought not have been, as Ponder performed to his mean, with one additional pick tossed in.  We expect Ponder to throw a bad pick, fumble once, throw for 164 yards, and a touchdown.  That's his mean performance and it puts him near the bottom of the NFL.  It also puts him where one would expect in terms of overall starting quarterback record--13-20.

Frazier's puzzlement over Ponder's otherwise completely expected performance solidifies the notion that Frazier is not a good talent evaluator, or, at least, not someone willing to stand up to those who are making the decisions.  Frazier recently quipped that he long-ago learned that "if you are going to go down as a head coach in this league, you need to go down doing it the way you think it ought to be done."  Taking Frazier at his word, his best is not good and his management of the quarterback has been bizarre, at best.

The commitment to Ponder early in the draft was puzzling.  The further commitment beyond his first season was troubling.  Retaining that commitment into this season has been mind-numbingly obtuse and has set the team back at least three seasons.  Frazier's contribution to that commitment, no matter the level, is ground for dismissal, even were his many other inexplicable decisions--including, most significantly, putting together a coaching staff that includes Alan Williams, Bill Musgrave, Mike Priefer, and Mike Singletary--not so glaring.

As Frazier deserves to lose his job for putting together two of the worst seasons in Vikings' history, Rick Spielman also deserves to lose his job for his contribution to the mess.  In the 2013 NFL draft, the Vikings had three first-round draft choices.  They arguably selected three starters.  Only one of those three, Xavier Rhodes, has started this season, however, and Rhodes has started only because the starters have been awful and/or injured.  Either Spielman picked the wrong players or he has not exerted sufficient influence on the coaching staff to get playing time for first-round players in a season long-ago lost.  Either is inexcusable.

Beyond the 2013 NFL draft, giving Spielman every benefit of the doubt for his contribution to the triangle decision-making, he deserves credit for concurring in drafting Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph, drafting Harrison Smith and Matt Kalil, and concurring in trading for Jared Allen.  He also then gets saddled with at least concurring in drafting Christian Ponder, trading up to take Toby Gerhart, trading down to take Chris Cook, trading Percy Harvin in response to Harvin's dissatisfaction with Ponder's poor play, signing Josh Freeman, signing a backup quarterback who was run out of Kansas City, and amateurishly coaching Freeman during Freeman's first press conference.

On Spielman's balance sheet, however, no deficit is more glaring than his utterly unfounded commitment to Ponder as a starting quarterback.  From consistently changing the timeline necessary to assess Ponder's long-term prospects, to attempting to convince a non-believing, eyes-first fan base that they are seeing something that they are not, to the smug guarantees that he knows whats best and has some special view that those with eyes do not, Spielman is both tired and tiring.  It is time for him to go.

Added to these necessary changes, the Vikings need to begin to rethink their organizational philosophy, one that clearly attempts to spin every action within the organization and tell the fans that all is good and all is done for their benefit.  Spielman's whispered coaching of Freeman is merely a symptom of the overall problem that the Vikings confront with their fan base.  The current philosophy appears to be that if the team can control fan opinion, the product on the field will be good.  This is either plain moronic, beyond condescending, or both.

Up Next:  Seat Licenses and Changes.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vikings Continue to Offer Great Numbers

Some interesting numbers from Sunday's Vikings' loss to the Green Bay Packers and for the season.  First, the Sunday stats:

Christian Ponder averaged more yards per rush (7.6) than yards per pass attempted (6.9).

Fourteen NFL running backs rushed for more yards on Sunday than did Adrian Peterson (60).  Among those were Andre Ellington (154), a quarterback (Terrelle Pryor), Kendall Hunter (84), Maurice Jones-Drew (75), Peyton Hillis (70), and Pierre Thomas (65).  Other than Peterson, only Jones-Drew was on the losing side.

Twenty NFL quarterbacks threw for more yardage than Christian Ponder (145).  Among those were Jason Campbell (293), Mike Glennon (275), Thaddeus Lewis (234), Geno Smith (159), and Matt Barkley (158).  Like Ponder, each was on the losing side.

Of the seven quarterbacks with fewer passing yards than Christian Ponder on Sunday, three were garbage time replacements, one was knocked out with an injury, and two won their games.

Only five starting quarterbacks did not pass for a touchdown--Christian Ponder being one of the five-- and ten starting quarterbacks had multiple touchdown passes.

Twenty-two NFL teams had at least one receiver with more receiving yards than the Vikings' receiver with the most yards receiving, Kyle Rudolph (51), and 35 receivers bested Rudolph's figure.  Cordarrell Patterson was second on the Vikings in receiving yardage with 26 yards receiving, good for 73rd best on the day.

On the season, the Vikings have allowed more points (30/game) than all but three teams, and the Vikings are within 1.5 points of all three.

On the season, only three teams are allowing more passing yards per game than is Minnesota (288).  Despite the ease with which teams are able to pass against Minnesota, Minnesota still concedes over 100 yards rushing per game.

Only six teams have converted fewer field-goal attempts than the Vikings.

Only one team has a worse net punting average than the Vikings (37.5).

Only one team has allowed a higher average on kickoff returns.

Only one team has allowed a higher average return on punts.

In short, this team is a mess in all areas.  Everyone looks bad because nobody is doing well.  The quarterback play is awful, blocking is bad, protection is negligible, rushing has disappeared, the defense does not exist, and special teams is mostly bad.  When it can be debated whether the offense or the defense is the cause of the others' problems, the answer probably, as here, rests with each.  That's not very satisfying, but it certainly helps foster decisions on this team.

Up Next:  Four Moves The Vikings Need to Make to Save Next Season. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vikings' Circus Continues with Ponder Back in at Quarterback

Add another embarrassing chapter to the Leslie Frazier-Rick Spielman personnel decision-making profile.  Today, the Vikings announced that Josh Freeman was suffering "concussion-like symptoms" and will not be starting on Sunday against Green Bay.

Is this for real?

To make way for Matt Cassel's first start against Pittsburgh, the Vikings announced that Christian Ponder had cracked ribs.  The announcement, two days after Ponder's last game, took everyone by surprise, including Ponder.  "I was just informed today that I have cracked ribs," Ponder deadpanned.

The Vikings insisted at the time of the announcement of Ponder's cracked ribs that Ponder was the team's starting quarterback, if and when healthy.  The week of the announcement, Cassel performed at the level that the Vikings previously had expected of Ponder in his high moment(s).  Cassel's performance led Frazier to start him against Carolina, despite Ponder's purported clean bill of health.

Cassel was brutal against Carolina, leading the Vikings to rush into service newly acquired Josh Freeman.  Freeman seemed to pick up Bill Musgrave's five-play playbook fairly quickly, but was "a hair off" on thirty or so of his 53 passes.

Freeman's performance was embarrassing to all involved, but Frazier remained adamant that he would start against Green Bay this week.  The backlash was immediate, with even the usually staid and accepting local media evidencing incredulity.

Today, the Vikings came full circle, essentially admitting that Cassel is the poor-man's Ponder that many viewed him to be when Spielman signed him to "give Ponder competition" and that Freeman is, at best, erratic.

Ponder emerges the clear winner in this debacle of a season, having handled his demotion reasonably well and being permitted to follow his closest competitors' putrid performances.  It is virtually impossible for Ponder not to look good in contrast.

Up Next:  Frazier Reveals That Dog Ate Vikings' Offensive Line

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Leslie Frazier Proves Himself Either Entirely Irrelevant or Utterly Incompetent--or Both

Another embarrassing loss, another game without an offensive pulse, another quarterback.  It has become a broken record in Minnesota--a record that could net new lows after this season is done.

In the aftermath of an utterly abysmal performance in the Meadowlands, the Minnesota Vikings were bested by the previously 0-6 Giants.  How bad was Minnesota?  New quarterback Josh Freeman attempted 53 passes and completed just 20 for 190 yards.  The team called only fifteen running plays out of 68 total plays.  Facing a defense that had yielded 35 points per game through its first six games, Minnesota scored seven points.

Sometimes statistics lie.  Sometimes they tell nothing but the truth.  On Monday night, they did the latter.  They confirmed that Minnesota's problems run deep.  They run to talent evaluation, organization, preparation, and execution.

No quarterback has looked good in offensive (yes) coordinator Bill Musgrave's "system"--not the wild-running Joe Webb, not the outside threat turned pocket passer Christian Ponder, not the pocket passer turned pinata Matt Cassel, and not the pocket passer turned indescribable Josh Freeman.  To do so would be a small feat, as Musgrave's system begs failure--dump off, hand off, dump off, punt.  But when you pair sub-par with sub-par, more often than not, you get sub-par.

And Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier seems to be all in on the disaster--at least Musgrave's end.  Asked frequently how he would characterize the Vikings' system, Frazier proudly calls the team a run-first team.  Forget that nobody wins in the modern NFL with a run-first system, the Vikings are not even a good run-first team.  Twenty-eight yards for the best back in the game against one of the worst defenses in the modern era?  Please.

Even if Leslie is merely following orders to play players that clearly are in over their heads, there is no excuse for being lousy virtually everywhere else on the field.  This team has the feel of one of the worst teams in NFL history--not in terms of personnel, but in terms of game plan, preparation for the opposition, and anything taking place on the field.

As for personnel, the Vikings have sufficient talent to line up with most of the teams in the NFL, the utter mediocrity that most teams currently are.  But for the Vikings to prevail even against the mediocre teams, to rise above even the Jaguars and Bucs, they need to have some elemental foundation that simply does not exist under Frazier.  And that rests not just with Frazier, but with his Geppetto, Rick Spielman.

Even if the Vikings are angling for a shot at the player of their choice in next year's draft--long odds given the team's victory and the Jacksonsville Jaguar's only slightly superior contempt for professional football--there is little chance that the Vikings' ownership group wants Spielman making the decision on that player or Frazier, et. al., honing that player's skills.

Were there any meaningful alternative to simply sitting out the rest of the season, the coaching staff would be gone tonight, with Spielman merely permitted time to pad his resume.  Instead, those moves almost certainly will be coming in the off-season.

Up Next:  Some Impossible Numbers Made Possible.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vikings' Seat License Deal All But Ensures Coaching and Personnel Changes Sooner Rather Than Later

Under the otherwise gift-that-keeps-on-giving stadium legislation, the Minnesota Vikings secured the right to charge a seat license on most seats in the new Vikings'/Peoples' Stadium.  Until yesterday, that seat license was one-sided, decidedly benefiting the Vikings' ownership.  That all changed with the Vikings' attempt to replicate the team's 2001 41-0 loss to the N.Y. Giants--a game in which, like yesterday, the Vikings were favored.

Following yesterday's 35-10 loss to the previously moribund Carolina Panthers, the Vikings' ownership now sees the slight blade on the other side of the sword that is the team's plan to rely on seat licensing, among other fees, to fund the team's minority debt on the new stadium.  To sell seat licenses, the Vikings must sell tickets.  As tough as it is to sell tickets for a mediocre team, it is infinitely more challenging to sell tickets for a bad team.  And it is exponentially more difficult to sell tickets for a bad product and to charge a user fee for the right to buy the already expensive tickets.

Unless the Vikings want to see an empty lower bowl at the new stadium--the one thing that the ownership group cannot afford to see happen at the new stadium--changes must be made and they must be made immediately.  The only question is where one begins.

The Vikings' most glaring weaknesses are really everywhere.  The offense is plodding and predictable, the offensive line is awful, the defensive line is not getting to the quarterback or stopping the run, the linebackers are invisible, the secondary is unfathomably worse, and special teams is giving up large chunks of yards on returns without doing much of anything on their own return attempts.

Some of the changes will need to wait until the end of the season.  But some can and should occur immediately, if only to give the Vikings the opportunity to see which players should be retained and which simply should not be on an NFL roster.

The most logical and readily available changes are on the offensive side of the ball.  Bill Musgrave has had some good games, but he has far more bad games.  From the ultra-conservative, short game that got him dismissed as offensive coordinator in Carolina after just four games, the invisibility of Kyle Rudolph, the "incorporation" of Cordarrelle Patterson, the predictability of calls, or the general sense that the two-minute drill is little more than a warm down with no meaningful goal, Musgrave is, at best, a caretaker offensive coordinator.  There are too many good offensive minds in the NFL and college ranks to stay with this bit.

In the short term, Brian Billick offers precisely what the Vikings need in an offensive coordinator.  He is well respected, expects results, is a sound situational coach, and will command the attention of veterans and rookies, alike, the moment that he steps on the field.

The Vikings also need to make a change along the offensive line.  It is impossible to believe that a line that has John Sullivan, Matt Kalil, and Phil Loadholt, whatever their warts, should be performing as poorly as this offensive line has for virtually the entire season.  Bringing in Mike Tice, a coach who always seems to perform miracles with far less capable offensive line talent and who works particularly well with the straight up blocking systems, would almost certainly produce immediate dividends for the Vikings.  Like Billick, Tice offers a veteran coaching voice in a sea of mediocre coaches who are at their highest career coaching levels with the Vikings.  Like Billick, Tice would allow the Vikings to shore up two glaring offensive issues that have substantially stunted the Vikings' fortunes and made personnel assessment difficult, at best.

These two changes could and should be made yesterday.  With the Vikings needing to make changes sooner rather than later to ensure revenue streams later, expect changes soon.

Up Next:  Making Ted Cottrell and Richard Solomon Look Appealing.  Plus, Whither Frazier?  And Mike Priefer--#Karma?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Spielman's Puppeteering of Freeman's Conference Call a Sign of Vikings' and Pro Sports Culture

On Sunday night, the Minnesota Vikings signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Josh Freeman to a one-year, two-million dollar deal.  Freeman immediately becomes the heir apparent to both Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel.  But while the Vikings have routinely bombarded us with comments regarding Ponder's intelligence, they apparently have a much dimmer view of Freeman.

During Freeman's first press conference with the Vikings' media, Minnesota Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman can be heard prompting Freeman on how to respond to phoned in questions from various media members.  As with most questions from reporters, none of the questions were the least bit challenging with any angle clearly in view to all but the most dimwitted athlete.

Either Spielman is an absolute control freak, unable to control his impulses in front of a live microphone, or he merely stumbled in implementing the team's modus operandi.  Although one look at Spielman might suggest the former, it is a near certainty that, like every other Vikings' presentation, Spielman was merely toeing the company line.  That that line would require Spielman to prod Freeman to put a gloss on every comment is not the least bit surprising, but it certainly is an embarrassing indictment of the general fraudulence rife in the sporting world.  

Up Next:  Peanuts, Get Your Peanuts Here!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Vikings' Signing of Freeman a Lesson for Fans

When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the number twelve pick in the 2011 NFL draft, most pundits wondered why the team would pass on more certain prospects in favor of a quarterback who, most also believed, might not be the best quarterback left on the board and who was likely to be on the board as late as the fourth round.

Rick Spielman answered his critics by pointing to Ponder as the "most NFL-ready quarterback" in the entire draft.  Nothing about that comment made sense at the time and nothing about it makes sense now.  But, until now, Spielman was wedded to his pick.

Through thin and thinner, with one or two games of slightly above thin tossed in, many Vikings' fans supported Spielman's commitment to Ponder, relying, themselves, on the proven loser of an argument that "Spielman is the GM and knows better."  The crux of the logic was that, despite what everyone saw in Ponder's weekly performances, despite what Ponder's statistics suggested, Spielman had some mystical power to read in Ponder something that nobody else could read.

Late Sunday, the Vikings agreed to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.  The move signaled the end to Spielman's absolute commitment to Ponder and demonstrated that relying on a G.M.'s commitment to a player--despite clear and convincing evidence to the contrary--is foolish and counter-productive.

If a player is modest, at best, and demonstrates a flat line in progression early on while struggling with rudimentary tasks, there is no need to wait for a full season to pass to assess the quarterback's ability and certainly no need to wait for 18, 24, or 30 games to make such an assessment.  These were Spielman's artifices.  Now, they have been debunked.  Fans should take note going forward, not just regarding Spielman's statement, but any statements coming from people with vested interests.

In Freeman, the Vikings will have a young quarterback who has been routinely mishandled by successive coaching staffs.  Over his career, Freeman is a 60% passer--similar to Ponder.  Unlike Ponder, however, Freeman has attained his completion percentage throwing mostly downfield.  That makes that 60% look like 80% in Ponder percentages, with Ponder completing roughly 40% of his passes beyond ten yards.

At $3 million for one season, signing Freeman is a relatively low-risk move that will cause consternation to Buffalo, Oakland, Houston, and Jets' fans, to name a few.  Adding Freeman means that the Vikings will have an experienced downfield passer to either back up Cassel or start sometime in the very near future.  It also means that, after one or two more games as a back up, Ponder is likely to be relegated to third-string, with his future in Minnesota clearly in question.

Adding Freeman will also require dropping a player.  The two most likely candidates for release are both quarterbacks--McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Joe Webb.  Bethel-Thompson is the most likely candidate, given that the team would be wasting a roster spot carrying four quarterbacks.  Given his dual role as both back-up quarterback and wide-receiver, Webb, therefore, might be safe.  With the emergence of Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph, however, Webb is unlikely to see the field on many snaps, absent a change in offensive philosophy.  That might make him expendable.

No matter who the Vikings cut to sign Freeman, the team certainly is in better overall position at quarterback than it was in week one of the season.  In Cassel, the Vikings have a capable upgrade to Ponder.  In Ponder, the Vikings have a backup that will not permit the wheels to fall off if called on in a pinch.  In Freeman, the team has a good prospect, who, depending on Cassel's performance, might get the call this year.  In the entire quarterbacking system, the Vikings now have competition, with the links increasingly more properly ordered from strongest to weakest.  And overall, the Vikings have afforded themselves an opportunity to more properly assess other areas of the team.

Up Next: Dayton's Increasingly Publicly Funded Peoples' Stadium Not a Venue for the Unwashed Masses.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Vikings Talking to Winfield

For much of the 2013 NFL season, rumors have circulated that the Minnesota Vikings are keen on bringing cornerback Antoine Winfield back to the team.  Winfield signed with the Seattle Seahawks, after being released for by the Vikings in the off-season.  Slowed by an injury in pre-season, Winfield was released by the Seahawks without playing in a regular-season game.

Winfield's residence in Minnesota and the Vikings' horrid play at cornerback in the season's first four games makes Winfield a natural Viking target.  Today, Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier all but confirmed the Vikings' on-going pursuit of Winfield, twice commenting that the Vikings were "exploring many possibilities," when responding to whether the Vikings were interested in the cornerback.  In Frazier-speak, that's as solid of a confirmation as one can receive ex ante.

Adding Winfield will not resolve all of the secondary's problems, but adding Winfield as the nickel back and moving Xavier Rhodes to starting cornerback opposite Chris Cook will be infinitely better than what the Vikings have relied upon for the better part of the 2013 season.

Up Next:  Frazier's Lyin' Eyes?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Vikings Face Jerry Kill Moment

In Sunday's unnecessarily harrowing 34-27 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at storied Wembley Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings created for themselves a question that really ought not be a question--who starts at quarterback going forward?

This is a question that another local team recently encountered.  Faced with the decision of whether to start a quarterback, coming off injury, who had not played particularly well this season or his replacement who played well against a common opponent and even better in his first full start, Minnesota Gopher coach Jerry Kill fell back on the old saw that his starter is his starter.  The result was a performance that likely will cost the Gophers 20,000 or so fans per game for the remainder of the team's home schedule--no small significance given the estimate of $75 in revenue per paying customer.

The Vikings are far more adept at marketing and managing a team than are the Gophers, but that does not mean that they will automatically make the right decision in naming a starting quarterback when the team returns to the field.  Like Kill, Frazier and Spielman are judged on wins and losses.  Kill thought that the quarterback he named to start gave his team the best chance to win; almost everyone disagreed and the results tend to support the argument that sticking with the backup would have meant far more to the team in all areas.

Spielman has been wedded to Christian Ponder since using a high first-round pick on him in 2011.  The eye test suggested as far back as 2011 that Ponder was an average-at-best quarterback in the NFL.  Spielman was not convinced, however, and called for patience.  His eyes saw things more clearly, we were told.

Spielman first argued that eighteen starts were necessary to judge a quarterback at the NFL level--an odd claim given that he based his decision to pick Ponder on the notion that the judging had already been done and stated that Ponder was the "most NFL-ready quarterback in the [2011] draft."  When eighteen games came and went, and Ponder still looked just like the quarterback who first took the field in 2011, Spielman changed the requirement to twenty-four games.

After twenty-four games, and no signs of greatness or even a sense of consistency evidenced itself in Ponder's play, Spielman again changed the standard.  "We really need three seasons to get a feel for what Christian can do," he argued, all while planting the seed in the mouths and minds of his trusted couriers in the local media that the first year really should not count as a year, because Ponder did not play the whole year.

Following a solid if relatively average performance by Matt Cassel in London--a performance that netted 248 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions--Cassel represented the lowered expectations that Spielman had set for Ponder, expectations that Ponder was not meeting.

Asked after the game whether Cassel's performance solidified his status as starting quarterback for the Vikings' next game, at home against the Carolina Panthers, Frazier nauseatingly offered that he just wanted to enjoy the victory for twenty-four hours, as if answering a question regarding a starting quarterback and enjoying a victory are mutually exclusive.

In Sunday's game, Cassel was the epitome of the type of quarterback that the Vikings claim they can live with as long as Adrian Peterson is the focus of the offense.  He hit open receivers.  He hit open receivers in stride.  He spread the ball to all of this receivers, even connecting with John Carlson.  He made quick decisions.  He released the ball quickly.  And he produced in the red zone.  Ponder not only does none of these things well, he does all of them poorly.

If, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Frazier cannot find yet another Ponder injury or simply be bold enough to state the obvious, that Cassel gives the Vikings a better chance to win games, he ought to be given no more credence as a head coach than Jerry Kill is receiving after a lifeless and hapless loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes.  The guess here is that the Vikings' ownership will not allow that result to transpire, no matter the inertia to the contrary in some quarters at Winter Park.

Up Next:  Numbers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Vikings Laying Groundwork for Ponder's Demotion

This morning, the Minnesota Vikings announced that quarterback Christian Ponder suffered a rib injury early in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.  Were it left at that, there might be little story.  It is not, however, left at that.

Ponder responded to the statement noting that the hit to his ribs in Sunday's game "caused some discomfort, but I was able to throw."

Yesterday, one day before the team's announcement, Ponder was witnessed throwing passes to London school children in a league choreographed photo op.  Ponder said that, despite some slight discomfort, he was ready to play and was preparing for the game as if he would be the starter on Sunday.  Head coach Leslie Frazier replied that the Vikings are "monitoring the injury" and said the team would make a final assessment on Friday.

After the announcement of Ponder's injury, Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman appeared on the flagship station with Paul Allen and Pete Bercich.  Responding to a question regarding who he looks to to guide the team out of its 0-3 start, Spielman rattled off several names, including Frazier, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, and Greg Jennings.  Notably, Spielman did not mention his starting quarterback.  That, independent of the injury announcement, spoke volumes.

Tuesday's string of events suggests that the Vikings remain overly concerned about Ponder's psyche.  It also suggests that the Vikings are in circle-the-wagons mode when it comes to a possible change at quarterback with all decision makers now seemingly buying into a plan to use injury as pretext for change at quarterback.

Announcing Ponder's "injury" mid-week provides the Vikings cover should Matt Cassel start on Sunday and perform poorly.  Should Cassel be wretched--not a stretch given his career numbers--the Vikings have left the door open to return to Ponder.  If Cassel plays even reasonably well, however, the Vikings have both performance and "lingering injury" to support a move to Cassel.

Up Next: Favre or Cassel?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why The Vikings Should Be Contacting Brett Favre

In the midst of an 0-3 start that could well be 0-4 by this weekend, the Minnesota Vikings have numerous problems.  The defense is shaky, even when healthy, with linebackers nearly invisible in coverage, cornerbacks awful, and tackles softer than the underbelly of the Minnesota Twins' management team.  Special teams, too, have been suspect of late with long returns by the opposing team increasingly the norm.  And, of course, there is the offense.  Although the offense has produced 22 points per game (adjusted for defensive and return points), that output ranks the Vikings in the middle to the bottom third of the league in scoring, well off the standard set by the Broncos and ten points per game less than division rivals Green Bay and Chicago.

Middling offensive production might be acceptable, were the Vikings in the top third of the league defensively.  Alas, they are not.  And that makes watching Adrian Peterson languish in what should be the prime of his career all the more frustrating and disheartening.  With every passing short dump off on first down, followed by a predictable AP handoff on second down (seven such sequences last week), followed by futile dump off or sack on third down, Peterson's NFL career inches ever closer to its end.

With Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier now at least refusing to heap generous platitudes on Ponder's performance, the Vikings are left with a decision that they could have made sooner, but for institutional inertia and outright stubborness.  The decision that ought now be made is to transition from Ponder to the team's next starting quarterback.

Unfortunately for the Vikings--and despite claims to the contrary--Vikings' GM Rick Spielman solidified Ponder's status as "best option on the roster" by bringing in a quarterback that nobody else wanted.  How bad was Matt Cassel's performance in K.C.?  Suffice it to say that they thought of Cassel in K.C. the way Minnesotans think of Ponder.  Replacing Ponder with Cassel would require an admission that Ponder is not even Ponder-like--an unlikely concession.

This week, Bus Cook, Brett Favre's manager, put the NFL on notice that Favre is "as fit as ever."  The last time Cook was moved to make such a comment, Favre proved to be as fit as advertised and led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.

There are only two imaginable landing places for Brett Favre at this stage of his NFL life--Minnesota or Green Bay.  One suspects Green Bay is not interested.  Given commitments to sunken costs, the Vikings might not be interested either, but they should be.

Even playing at half of his 2009 level, Favre would immediately and significantly improve the Vikings' offense, giving the Vikings' someone to pass to Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, and Kyle Rudolph and a quarterback who would force opponents to reconsider the nine-men-in-the-box strategy.  That would increase the Vikings' time of possession and alleviate pressure on the defense.  It would also give the Vikings the latitude to move Ponder to backup or third-string, use McLeod Bethel-Thompson in mop up situations to better assess his ability, and make plans for drafting a true quarterback of the future.

How likely is it that the Vikings, faced with an overture from Favre to rejoin the ranks, would bite?  Not very.  Frazier would have told the people of Pompeii to "not overreact" and Spielman would have to admit the error of his ways.  To date, neither have seemed a willing participant, even if Frazier is showing signs of wanting to break away.  But one can at least wonder.

Up Next:  Changes.

Monday, September 23, 2013

While Vikings Continue to Look at the Tape, Opponents Appear to Have it Down Perfectly

At Winter Park, coaches and executives gather in their respective groups after each week's games and assess the landscape.  Coaches "review the tape" and look for "corrections that need to be made."  Executives rank assets and liabilities.  Despite an 0-3 start, the Vikings' coaching staff remains unable or unwilling to make the changes necessary to transform the Vikings from a team that competes to a team that wins.

The front office is only, somewhat different, as the Vikings PR people have clearly defined the number one liability as the starting quarterback, Christian Ponder.  Others, including General Manager Rick Spielman, remain committed to Ponder, however.

Spielman can point to two intelligent runs for touchdowns by a quarterback left with room to run by a defense completely disinterested in him, but that's feint praise.  How do we know it is feint praise?  We know because the Browns told us as much.  After the game, a member of the Browns' defense noted that the team's plan played out--"Our plan was to stop Peterson and force Ponder to throw."

The Browns' game plan has been the recipe for success against the Vikings since Ponder became starter.  Epitomizing why such a plan succeeds was the series of plays concluding the game.  With 51 seconds remaining and needing a touchdown to win, the Vikings started with the ball on their own 29-yard line.  On first down, Ponder dumped short to Peterson.  On second down, he dumped short to Rudolph.  On third down, he passed short to Simpson for a first down.  Ponder then went short to Rudolph, yet again.  With 15 seconds now remaining, the Vikings were forced to burn a timeout and still needed to go 48 yards for a touchdown.

After the timeout, Ponder dumped short to Peterson who ran out of bounds.  With the opportunity for one or two more plays remaining, Ponder finally elected to go deep.  Not close.  Fittingly, Ponder concluded his day by taking a sack.

Prior to that series, the Browns' third-string quarterback, a player who had not played all year and who had been relegated to career backup, drove the Browns 55 yards for a game-winning touchdown--four of Hoyer's passes went for more than ten yards.

The tragedy of the Vikings' commitment to Ponder is that it delays other necessary evaluations.  Is the offensive line playing poorly because linemen do not know what to expect behind them?  Is the defense collapsing because it is being put in bad situations by the offense?  Is the offensive coordinator making poor calls or is the execution simply bad?  Is the head coach the head coach of 2011 or the head coach of 2012?  Lots of questions for an 0-3 team.  Few that can be properly assessed if the clear short-comings are not first addressed.

Up Next:  A Bit of Change that Would Do Some Good.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

For the Record: Addressing (Again) the Continuing Revisionism of Ponder's 2012 Season

Most Vikings' fans have by now accepted the reality that Christian Ponder is not a starting-caliber NFL quarterback.  The Vikings and their media minions are another matter, however.  No matter the statements on Ponder, everyone in the Vikings' organization and most media members continue, at a minimum, to trot out the notion that "Ponder has shown stretches of greatness."  

As has been noted here numerous times, nothing could be further from the truth.  Yet, it is this sense of things that permits Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier and General Manager Rick Spielman to continue to turn a blind eye to the team's greatest weakness.  In the interest of addressing this attempt at historical revisionism on Ponder's play, I, again, address this institutional, wishful myopia.

The Claim:  Christian Ponder has shown substantial stretches of strong play meriting further evaluation of his ability to be the long-term solution at quarterback for the Vikings.

Basis for Claim:  The claim stems from reminiscences of Ponder's final five games in 2012.

Reality:  Christian Ponder had one strong game among the final five games of 2012 with four poor performances.

The Statistics and Context:  In weeks 13-16, Ponder threw two touchdowns and three interceptions and averaged 125 yards passing.  In week 17, against a lousy Green Bay defense attempting to stop a wildly running Adrian Peterson, Ponder threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns.

At best, it can be argued that Ponder's final game in 2012 represented the type of competent game that the Vikings expect of Ponder every week as the team relies on Peterson, first, and Ponder somewhere down the line.

At worst, it can be argued that the final five games of Ponder's 2012 season are a microcosm of both his NFL career and his long-term NFL trajectory--one competent game buttressed by poor performances. 

Up Next:  Where Ponder Founders, Others Prosper. 

Monday, September 09, 2013

The Silence is Becoming Deafening

For much of Christian Ponder's Minnesota Viking career, the Vikings have enlisted the services of the local media to cheerlead a player that the Vikings' front office desperately wants to succeed.  In truth, most Vikings' fans would prefer this outcome, as well.  The difference is that most Vikings' fans would prefer results to smoke and mirrors.

Having failed to convince the fans or will Ponder into becoming something that he is not, the Vikings and their minions now appear intent on denial.  The next step is admitting a long-standing error.  The final step is attempting to rectify the error.

The question for the Vikings is at what point the experiment will end?  Based on comments by those vetted by the Vikings, it appears we are still early in the denial phase.

During a post-game interview with Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier, Vikings' sideline reporter, Greg Coleman, never at a loss for a preposterous statement, chose silence for perhaps his most preposterous commentary of all time.  Running through a litany of the Vikings' errors, Coleman spoke broadly and took the opportunity to single out players for inquiry.

Curiously missing from Coleman's questioning was any inquiry regarding Ponder.  In a game in which Ponder had three picks and a botched handoff, easily could have had two more picks, and seemed to have only slightly more touch on his passes than Joe Webb, circa 2012-2013 playoffs, Coleman had not one question about the quarterback play.  Punter?  Check.  Cornerback?  Check.  The leader of an offense that has yet to master the short game in run-first offense?  Crickets.  Frazier, not surprisingly, failed to spread the blame, permitting Coleman to pretend that the Vikings' problems were not primarily on a quarterback that is leagues behind his peers in progression.

The tension undoubtedly is building in Eden Prairie.  On one side is a team with key veterans looking to make a playoff push, knowing that the good times--whatever they might be--are being retarded at a key position.  On the other side is a General Manager, heavily invested in a high first-round pick, who has dug in his heels in a fashion that would make Brad Childress blush.  Frazier has yet publicly to split with Rick Spielman, but, as the days of denial progress, the days of admission loom, and admission rarely comes in unison in the NFL. The question is whether Frazier will reach admission and save his career before Spielman relents and admits an error that is likely only to affect his ego.

Up Next:  Apparently Three Years are Not Required to Evidence Significant Strides as an NFL Quarterback.  Plus, with huffing and puffing amateurism waning, stadium construction nears.

Monday, September 02, 2013

As Rome Burns, Spielman Adjusts Timetable for Ponder (Yet Again)

In desperate times, men do desperate things.  So embarks Minnesota Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman, who, in a bid to put a good face on a poor decision, has again likened his 2011 twelfth overall pick in the NFL draft to a Super Bowl MVP quarterback.  The unfortunate part of this equation is not that it reeks of even more desperation on the part of Spielman--that, it surely does--but that it suggests that Spielman and his subordinates are even more dedicated to demonstrating that Ponder is who they thought he was rather than allowing him to be who he is.

During his tenure as Minnesota's head coach, Leslie Frazier has been loathe to even remotely suggest that Ponder is making anything other than significant strides as the starting quarterback.  The refrain is now commonplace--"Christian just needs to get through his progressions and continue to make quicker reads.  We like what we see and we expect him to take another big step in our next game."

The emphasis in both Frazier's and Spielman's remarks on Ponder has been on the need for Ponder to develop his reads and release the ball quicker in the face of pressure.  There is little doubt that these are two of Ponder's short-comings.  Yet, despite Spielman's assurances that Ponder was "the most pro-ready quarterback in the [2011] draft," these short-comings, mighty indeed for any NFL quarterback, were readily apparent from the outset, particularly when Ponder was forced to remain in the pocket.

The point has been made on this site many times before, but it is worth repeating as we enter Ponder's third NFL season as a starting quarterback.  For virtually Ponder's entire NFL career, Ponder has labored under the dictate that he remain in the pocket and become a "pro-style" quarterback.  Having a check-down offense that favors dump-offs to looking down field would be a  hindrance to any pocket passer, but it is particularly challenging to a pocket passer who is not really a pocket passer.

Ponder's greatest asset upon joining the Vikings was that he had an instinct not only for when he should leave the pocket but, more importantly, when he should run.  The Vikings chafed at this talent, because it did not mesh with their notion of what they needed in a franchise quarterback.  In a league gradually cycling toward allowing quarterbacks to roam more freely out of the pocket to set up the passing game--come what may in the form of injuries--the Vikings insisted that Ponder stay home.

For most of his career, Ponder has stayed in the pocket.  The result has been three times the number of games with under 100 yards passing (six) than games over 300 yards passing (two), an improbable statistic for a starting quarterback in today's pass-friendly NFL.

Other numbers suggest that Ponder's norm truly is his norm.  The last five games of 2012, often citied by the Vikings as a sign of Ponder's maturation, support this position.  Over his past five starts in 2012, Ponder had five touchdown passes and three picks with an average of 150 yards passing.  On the whole, approaching care-taker status, assuming a 200-yard rushing game, each game, by Adrian Peterson.  Take away Ponder's one truly good performance in those five games and his numbers are startling awful--two touchdowns, three picks, and 125 yards passing per game.

For the Vikings, the clear dilemma is that Ponder's greatest consistency is in being below average in the pocket.  His stronger games have been the aberration.  For most, that would suggest a change at the helm is in order.  But Spielman has (intentionally) backed the team into a corner, a la Brad Childress with Tarvaris Jackson, anointing Ponder the starter and bringing in Kansas City's cast-off as a backup, with the only true pocket passer on the team relegated to third-string and zero repetitions even in practice.

Now, after two seasons of being told that season three is the year that quarterbacks show whether they have it--unless they play for Seattle, Washington, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Detroit, San Francisco, or numerous other NFL teams, apparently--Spielman is again massaging the timeline, rather than focusing on what is necessary to truly assess Ponder.

Because, as a strict pocket passer, Ponder appears to be an average to below average NFL quarterback destined for a career as a backup, the Vikings stand only to gain at this point by allowing Ponder to leave the pocket and use his legs.  If he gets hurt, he gets hurt and the team moves on.  If he does what he can do, however, he will at least give the Vikings a credible option at quarterback, rather than the imaginary option that Spielman fancies.

Up Next:  Laying the Foundation for Why Ponder Did Not Succeed in 2013.  Plus, done with the political bluster and on to the building?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ponder and Musgrave Travel in Time

The forward pass in professional football dates to 1906.  From 1906 until the late 1970s, professional football in the United States very slowly evolved from a run-first philosophy to a pass-run mix.  In the the 1980s, the forward pass quickly overtook the running game as the primary mode of offensive playcalling in the NFL.  With substantial rule changes aimed at increasing the safety of high paid players and increasing fan bases through greater offensive shows, the NFL quickly became a pass-first league with few teams relying on the running game for rushing yard production and increasingly more teams relying on running backs for screen plays and blocking in pass situations.

The Minnesota Vikings have taken the least logical step in the progression of the passing game, putting all eggs in the 1950's basket.  Sunday night's pre-season performance was merely a microcosm of two plus years of this system, with quarterback Christian Ponder passing for an improbable 117 yards on 17 completions--approximately seven yards per completion, including yards-after-catch--and Ponder and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave conspiring to offer the shortest of short passing games in the history of the forward pass.

Of his twenty-three passes on Sunday, two were beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage.  Two.  That is how a quarterback completes seventeen passes for a mere 116 yards.  And that is how one of last year's NFL playoff teams risks missing the playoffs this year, despite having the most dominate rushing back in the modern era.

For Vikings' fans, the record is past broken.  With a functional offensive line, a dominate running back, and a respectable defense, the Vikings have one of the more complete teams in the NFL, but for the quarterback.  Unfortunately, quarterback play generally dictates the fortunes of today's NFL teams.  And based on Ponder's continuing check-down performance, that increasingly bodes negatively for the Vikings.

The truly bad news for Vikings' fans, however, is that, in spite of other positive no-brainer decisions in the draft, Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman persists in foisting upon the team and fans a stubborn notion that Ponder will evolve into something that he is not.  Spielman desperately wants this result because he bet heavily on Ponder and has continued to cheerlead for the signal caller.  Objectivity requires a different view.  Objectivity required that the Vikings bring in true competition for Ponder, rather than Kansas City's cast-off.  At most other positions, linebacker and receiver excepted, Spielman appears to possess such objectivity.  But, presented with Adrian Peterson's most productive seasons of his career and the approaching the end of Kevin Williams' and Jared Allen's careers, Spielman remains stubborn.

We have seen such stubborness in Vikingland during the regimes of Mike Tice (Randy Ration) and Brad Childress (Tarvaris Jackson).  We now face the same with Spielman's unwarranted love affair with Ponder, an affair adopted either by choice or by force by Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier.  Favre offered a reprieve from Childress' obstinancy.  The only conceivable savior from Spielman's obstinancy appears to be Peterson rushing for 3,000 yards.  That seems improbable this year and increasingly so each passing year.

Up Next:  Dayton's "Tough Talk" on Stadium All About Show.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vikings Prepare to Show Full Package Against 49ers, But Still Fear the Exotic

On the eve of their third and most meaningful pre-season game, the Minnesota Vikings are preparing to throw caution to the wind and unleash upon the presumably unsuspecting 49ers their full offensive arsenal.  At a team conference on Wednesday, Minnesota offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, was all but frothing at the prospect.

"We're going to give 'em everything we've got," Musgrave leaked.  "I know I shouldn't be saying this, but we have some things to prove and we feel real good about doing that this week."

Asked what Vikings' fans might expect, Musgrave initially advised that they should "wait and see," but could not restrain himself from detailing what the Vikings planned.  "Like I said, we're going to give them everything we've got.  No more "plain vanilla."  We're opening it up."

Pressed on what "opening it up" might entail, Musgrave was frank.  "We've got Adrian in the game for at least a quarter, maybe more," he giddily noted, rubbing his hands and smiling gleefully.  "We'll have the standard give it to Adrian to the left, give it to Adrian to the right, give it to Adrian up the middle, and dump it to Adrian in the backfield--our bread and butter.  But you're going to see some of that to Toby [Gerhart], as well, and we might even dump one off to one of those two.  Really, with Adrian in the game, the offensive options really open up."

Asked what that might mean for the passing game, Musgrave was equally forthcoming.  "There's no doubt that having Adrian really opens up our option in the passing game.  With eight, nine, ten, twelve men in the box, we can give it to Adrian or we can dump it off.  The options are boundless."

Musgrave was quick to add that he certainly expected Ponder to "continue his strong performances from the end of last year and this pre-season."

Asked what that meant, Musgrave shuffled his feet and looked down, mumbling in robotic-like fashion that he had "all the confidence in the world that Christian will make significant strides in the NFL this year and continue to validate the team's decision to take him with the number twelfth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft."

Musgrave added that "we expect Christian to hit a higher percentage of his one- and two-yard passes this year, make clean handoffs to Adrian--and Toby, if necessary--and toss it to the sticks a couple times a game.  And we think that Christian has shown that he can do just that, barring some exotic scheme."

Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier echoed Musgrave's sentiments, adding that "Christian is a marvelous human being.  We have all the confidence in the world in him."

Frazier did express some trepidation over facing the talent-laden 49ers in "our most meaningful game of the pre-season.  You'd like this game to come earlier or later, rather than now," he lamented.  "But we don't make the schedule, we just play it.  Am I concerned that they might do some things that we haven't seen recently or prepared for?  Sure," he said.

Asked what most concerns him, Frazier noted that he is "always concerned when a team has the ability to run and pass.  If they start passing down field, I'm not sure how well we will respond.  That's sort of a hybrid, exotic type of thing that you expect to see more in the playoffs.  I guess they'll do what they feel they need to do to get ready for the season and we'll respond as best we can."

Up Next: More Stadium Shenanigans

Friday, April 26, 2013

Spielman One Move Away from the Perfect Draft

In the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, Minnesota Vikings' GM Rick Spielman selected players fitting three of the Vikings' four most immediate needs.  That accomplishment already marks this year's draft a success, assuming, of course, that each of the selections pans out.  If Spielman wants to truly elevate himself into the realm of the select few drafting GMs, he has but one more decision to make in this draft.

The final decision for Spielman would be to bundle as many of the Vikings' remaining picks as necessary to secure a trade with the Jaguars for the first pick in the second round of the draft.  With that pick, the Vikings could and should take linebacker Manti Te'o.  Selecting Te'o would resolve the Vikings' lone remaining glaring hole--at least to the extent that the team is willing to acknowledge glaring holes.  After selecting Te'o, Spielman could sit back and consider whether he will allow two strong drafts and star veterans to be undermined by quarterback play in 2013.

Up Next:  Any Move?  Plus, why the Vikings duped New England.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spielman Mixes Now Expected Good Fortune With Sound Process

The Minnesota Vikings entered the 2013 NFL draft with two late first-round picks.  They emerged from the event with three starters, two of them having fallen to the team through a series of bad picks and need selections by other teams.

With the 23rd pick in this year's draft, the Vikings selected Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.  Virtually every mock had Floyd projected in the top five of the draft, with most mocks showing the tackle going at number three.  Floyd fell to Minnesota because teams became nervous about the perceived run on offensive linemen and because the Jets took Sheldon Richardson at 13, rather than one of the more highly touted defensive tackles.  And, yet again, Vikings' GM Rick Spielman was the beneficiary of a mighty fall.

That, along with Manti Te'o, probably would have made for the perfect first day for the Vikings.  But fortune was not done shining on the team.  Nor was Spielman done showing his increasing value to the team.

While most expected the Indianapolis Colts to nab free-falling Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes--a player widely viewed as an early to mid-first round pick--the Colts, instead, selected defensive end Bjoern Werner.  The Vikings did not hesitate in selecting Rhodes, picking up a player who will be expected to start this year.

A Floyd-Rhodes combo was more far more than any reasonable Viking fan could have hoped for in the first round this year and yet another sign that Spielman is living right.  But the Vikings were not done.

With multiple middle-round picks and a bottom-third second-round pick, Spielman sent the New England Patriots a second-, third-, fourth-, and seventh-round pick for New England's 29th overall pick.  For some, the price seemed steep.  But if, in selecting mercurial Tennessee wide-receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings picked up the receiver that they needed to fill the void left by Percy Harvin's trade to Seattle, Spielman will have made the right move.

In every draft, the goal must be to select three players capable of immediately starting for the team.  Last year, Spielman selected Matt Kalil with the Vikings' original first-round pick, traded up to the bottom of the first round to select safety Harrison Smith, and, later, selected placekicker Blair Walsh.  This year, in addition to adding wide-receiver Greg Jennings in free agency, Spielman has added Floyd, Rhodes, and Patterson.  If the latter three live up to expectations, Spielman will have his second consecutive successful draft--regardless of what happens with any of the other members of the 2012 or 2013 draft class.

What should be most heartening to Vikings' fans about Spielman's two-year run is that he has demonstrated an understanding of process and has committed to a process that is both intuitively sensible and, so far, productive.  The object in the NFL is to find starters at the front end of the draft and role players and specialists at the back end.  Spielman has defined a process that makes use of middle-round chips to provide greater certainty at the front end of the draft while leaving options for filling role positions at the back end of the draft.  This represents a sea change for an organization which, for many years, tappeared to have neither a sensible draft philosophy nor an ability to evaluate talent.

With several picks remaining in the middle and later rounds, the Vikings are now left to canvass the field for an linebacker, another receiver, another cornerback, an offensive guard, and, perhaps, yet another quarterback.  At a minimum, after only one day in this year's draft, the Vikings have met all of their most pressing needs, save for that of linebacker--the position the Vikings almost assuredly will be targeting with their next pick.

Up Next:  Will the Vikings Trade Back Into Round Two?  Plus, the cost of three first-round picks.

Rare Low-Risk, High-Reward Picks Available to Vikings in First Round of 2013 NFL Draft

The Minnesota Vikings enter the 2013 NFL draft with two picks in the first round, selecting number 23 and number 25.  From a 2013 macro perspective, the team needs help at cornerback, linebacker, defensive line, wide-receiver, and guard or tackle.  Focusing on specific needs for 2013, the Vikings cannot leave the draft without a cornerback, wide-receiver, linebacker, and interior defensive lineman.

The challenge for Vikings' General Manager, Rick Spielman, is not only to make the right picks, but to make the right picks at the right point in the draft.  In previous years, fortune shone on the Vikings and made the team's first-round selections relatively easy.  In 2007, injury concerns pushed Adrian Peterson to number seven.  In 2009, character issues dropped Percy Harvin to the Vikings at 22.  In 2012, the Vikings drafted near the top of the draft and took the best player available, landing offensive tackle Matt Kalil.

During Spielman's tenure in Minnesota, he has, thus, been the beneficiary of much good fortune.  Last year, however, he also identified two players who appear to be entrenched as long-term starters for the team--Harrison Smith (29th) and Blair Walsh (175th)--and who were not clear-cut picks.  Having traded Harvin and opting for another year of Christian Ponder development, Spielman must do more than replicate the two-starter success from 2012.  And he will need to do so without the benefit of drafting a special teams starter.

Once again, Spielman could benefit from having an obvious starter fall into his lap, however.  Following months of bad publicity--both on and off the field--Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o could well fall to the Vikings at 23.  At the beginning of the 2013 college football season, Te'o was considered a certain top-five pick in this year's draft.  Should he fall to 23, the Vikings would be forced both to select him to fill a pressing need at linebacker and to consider whether Spielman should be given a lifetime contract if only for his good charm effect.

Many mocks have the Vikings selecting Te'o at 23, due, in part, to Spielman's affinity for former Irish players, but even more so for the Vikings' need to restock a linebacking corps that has only two tested players in Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson, neither of whom is a middle linebacker.  Te'o fills both the general linebacker need and the more specific and urgent need at middle linebacker.  While it is true that the Vikings will often be in nickel and dime packages that limit linebacker play, the question for the Vikings is not whether they will need three linebackers often but whom they want on the field at linebacker in the nickel and dime situations.  If the answer to that question does not favor Te'o over Henderson and possibly even Greenway, something is wrong with the analysis.

The Vikings' play at linebacker will, of course, be greatly influenced by the play along the defensive line.  In selecting Matt Kalil with the number three pick in last year's NFL draft, the Vikings finally acknowledged what the great teams have long practiced.  Namely, the Vikings committed to building from the line back.  Having turned a ragged 2011 offensive line into a steady unit in 2012, the Vikings now must do the same with an aging and bendable defensive line.  The most obvious point of concern is defensive tackle, where the Vikings have Kevin Williams and nobody else that has been able to fill Pat Williams' shoes.

There are at least three immediate impact defensive tackles in this year's draft--Sharrif Floyd, Sylvester Williams, and Star Lotulelei.  Most mocks have Floyd and Williams going in the top half of the first round with Lotulelei going near the end of the round or the beginning of the second round.  All three interior linemen are big and all would meet the physical requirements of playing in the 4-3 defense.  Where Lotulelei surpasses Floyd and Williams, however, is in his origins.  While Floyd and Williams come from conferences that load up on big athletes that may or may not be invested in much else, Utah has a reputation for producing prospects who understand the bigger picture and who generally give full effort.  That's not necessarily a slight of Floyd or Williams as much as it is a complement to Utah football and a risk-factor analysis that suggests that Lotulelei has both the physical tools and the lesser long-term risk for being a bust in the NFL.

Vikings' fans should be elated if the Vikings complete night one of the draft with Te'o and Lotulelei, knowing that the team will have made low-risk, high-reward selections that must pan out and leaving for day two the less certain cornerback and wide-receiver picks.

Up Next:  The Picks.  Plus, Planning Day Two.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Minnesota Governor Claims Everyone is to Blame for His Failure to Perform Rudimentary Due Diligence

Apparently intent on demonstrating that he is thoroughly unfit for his office, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is now contending that his gross error in judgment in accepting fanciful revenue figures for e-pull tabs is everyone's fault.  "The gaming commission, the legislature, my office, me...everyone's at fault," the Governor stated, attempting to draw the circle of blame--and presumably the circle of responsibility--as wide as the state. "We are all in this together," he arrogantly and ignorantly intoned, "and we will find a solution together."

Well, Mr. Governor, please feel free to count me out.  If you have any doubt about my position, please refer to my earlier articles calling into question both the imposed public commitment to the Vikings' stadium and the State's proposed funding mechanism.  There were many others who felt as I did and who voiced their opinions, only to have you ignore them.  

Mr. Governor, your time will come, probably sooner rather than later.  Politics and karma tend to work that way.  But, as you point the finger that you simultaneous claim need not be pointed, keep it out of my face and out of the faces of those whom you ignored on the stadium matter.  Point it, instead, at your circle of friends--DFL or GOP--and save some fingers for the media cheerleaders who continue to be in the Vikings' pocket and the fans who followed this cheerleading because they wanted a stadium no matter the cost.

Finally, Mr. Governor, take a page from Harry Truman and point the longest finger at yourself.  And, if you have any self-respect or even a modicum of accountability, tender your resignation.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Apparently It Is Possible to Get a Better Deal on a $1 Billion Stadium

Throughout the build-up to the final vote on a Vikings' stadium, residents of Minnesota were hammered by the local media and the Minnesota Vikings that a new stadium would cost $1 billion and that the team could not possibly be expected to pay for more than one-third of that deal.

After much hand-wringing--all on the side of the woefully unprepared public leaders leading the charge for a new stadium--a deal was struck leaving the Vikings with precisely what they wanted and the public with an enormous debt that it now appears has no funding viable funding mechanism.

"That's the way of the modern world," we were told.  "Build this or the team moves--we couldn't take a chance."

Far South of Minneapolis, in a land often mocked by Northerners as the land of the less educated, the City of Atlanta struck a far friendlier deal with the Atlanta Falcons.  Rather than flinching in the face of hints that the Falcons might move to L.A., the City made its best offer to the Falcons, offering a package that included $200 million in funding for an $1 billion stadium with a thirty-year lease.  The Falcons will be footing the remaining $800 million.

Maybe it's time for Minnesotans to stop assuming wisdom of leadership and start demanding it.

Governor Dayton's Handling of Stadium Issue Merits Recall

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, one of the primary champions of the so-called "Peoples' Stadium" being built to house the Minnesota Vikings, today stated that he was unaware that self-interested parties were behind the fanciful estimates that e-pull tabs would generate sufficient revenue to cover the state's portion of the Vikings' stadium bill.

Governor Dayton's leadership on the stadium issue has been both harmful and embarrassing.  If he is being honest now regarding his knowledge of the source of the e-pull tab revenue estimates, he should be recalled for failure to undertake even rudimentary due diligence before championing the revenue stream as the primary funding mechanism for over $1 billion in debt.  If Governor Dayton is not being honest on the matter, he should recalled for that reason.

Former Vikings' Owner and Stadium Agitator Facing Tax Fraud Charges

If nothing else, former Minnesota Vikings' owner Red McCombs came off as an oily con man.  His current troubles only reinforce this impression.  For most Vikings' fans, McCombs' legacy will be his trade of Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders, a move solely made to avoid paying Moss' bonus.  Lost, unfortunately, will be the fact that McCombs set the bar so low for his predecessors that a $1 billion stadium appeared to many to be a reasonable quid pro quo for something less obnoxious than Red running the Vikings.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Minnesota Stadium Deal: Bait-and-Switch or Ponzi Scheme?

First, there was the stimulus plan that put workers to work to build the Vikings a $1 billion stadium.  That plan won't go into effect until later this year, but spending on the plan is well under way.  Under the stadium stimulus plan, a relative handful of workers will have jobs for a few years to produce an edifice that will continue to be subsidized by the public mostly to maintain a very small number of part-time jobs.

The big catches on this deal, of course, are purportedly the tax revenue that the State of Minnesota reaps from NFL players playing in the state and the game day revenue streams.  Then there are labeling, branding, and marketing values purportedly associated with having an NFL team in the market.

Virtually every economic impact study ever done on the matter has found that, at best--not at worst, not on average, but at best--public financing of NFL stadiums is a wash for the funding municipality.  All of the previous studies have considered joint ventures in which the public subsidy for construction of a new stadium was no more than $150 million and all of the previous studies have considered joint ventures for which bonding was the primary source of public funding and realistic measures were in place to pay off bonds.

Minneapolis and Minnesota will be funding over half of the Vikings' new stadium, contributing $498 million to construction and paving the way for downtown land space.  Minneapolis will pay off its $150 million portion of the stadium debt by raising hospitality taxes beyond their already exorbitant levels.  Ultimately, Minneapolis will pay at least $678 million on the stadium deal.  In exchange, the City will host two exhibition games that nobody attends and eight regular season home games--seven in the years that the Wilfs elect to sell a home game to the NFL to be played in London.

The State is on the hook for an even larger chunk of debt on the stadium, having committed to principal in the amount of $348 million.  The State will pay close to $2 billion to retire the $348 million debt.  That almost makes the State's quarter-on-the dollar sale of the tobacco settlement deal wondrously wise in comparison.

As if sensing that paying nearly $2 billion on a $348 million debt were not enough, however, those pulling the levers in Minnesota went one better, opting for electronic pull-tabs as the funding mechanism for the state's portion of the debt.  That might have worked except for the fact that it was clear from the beginning that electronic pull-tabs--a novelty at best--could not do what supporters claimed they could do.

Now we know, because now, after everyone with a vested interest received their piece of the pie, those with the vested interested are acknowledging what it no longer serves anyone to keep secret.  Like the fact that there not only are not two stadium plans for the LA area but not even one, like the fact that the NFL has zero interest in allowing any NFL team to relocate to LA, like the fact that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, we now know--beyond even the doubt of nearly the most myopic of fans--that the electronic pull-tabs were the canard that they appeared to be.  And now, everyone in Minnesota is on notice that they will be the poorer for it--at least everyone without a hand already in a velvet-lined pocket.

Soon, we will hear of more stimulus, the stimulus that will be necessary to move the stadium deal ahead.  Perhaps we can borrow, yet again, from the school fund or delay repairs of roads, or ramp up property taxes or offer more of the same at a far higher cost.

And while all of this is going on--when the honest residents of the State, who refuse to shut their eyes and pretend that this is not one large con with but a few well-connected individuals benefitting therefrom, decide that shaking their heads is the best that they can do, believing that at least all of the proverbial cards are now on the table--there will be yet another shoe falling.  And nobody will hear the shoe fall in the din of distraction about pull-tabs.

That shoe, of course, will be the final lease agreement between the Stadium Authority and the Vikings. The agreement ostensibly has no certain outcome.  The stadium legislation authorizes the authority to grant anywhere from none to all of the stadium revenue streams to the Vikings and to otherwise work out a lease agreement with the team.

You will hear little about the lease negotiations until they are completed.  Then, and only then, will there be any demonstration of angst in the local media about the possibility that neither Minnesotans nor Minneapolis residents are getting anything short of conned on the stadium deal.  By then, unfortunately, it certainly will be too late to do anything about a decision that has already been undermined by deceit at most every level and a willingness to pawn off the consequences of that deceit on those already deceived.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Vikings in Talks with Urlacher's Agent

With Percy Harvin traded to Seattle, the Minnesota Vikings were left without a number one (or number two or three) wide receiver in 2013.  Part of that short-fall at wide-out changed last week for the better when the Vikings inked former Green Bay Packer receiver Greg Jennings to a five-year, $47 million deal that includes $18 million in guaranteed money.

Prior to the Jennings deal, the Vikings were approximately $25 million below the 2013 salary cap.  If Minnesota relied exclusively on a signing bonus to cover the guaranteed portion of Jennings' deal, Jennings' contract will translate to a hit of approximately $9 million per year.  If the team relied entirely on a roster bonus, the hit to the Vikings in 2013 would be nearly $23 million in 2013 and $5 million per year thereafter.

Given the Vikings' previous modus operandi, Jennings' contract is probably structured to cover at least a quarter of his guaranteed money through a roster bonus.  Assuming that to be true, Jennings' deal would count approximately $12 million against the Vikings' 2013 cap.  Without further restructuring of other contracts or other cuts, that would leave the Vikings approximately $13 million under the 2013 salary cap.

Having signed a number one wide-receiver, the Vikings are still without a slot receiver and are in dire need of a middle or strong-side linebacker, depending on where Chad Greenway plays in 2013.  Assuming $13 million left under the cap, the Vikings still have money to sign players that they need to step into starter roles next year.

Earlier this week, former Chicago Bears' linebacker, Brian Urlacher, turned down a $2 million one-year deal from the Bears.  Urlacher reportedly was seeking a $3.5 million deal with $500,000 in incentives.  When the Bears refused to budge, the market was essentially set on Urlacher as something below $3 million with possible incentives for playing time and hitting other marks.

On Friday, Urlacher acknowledged that the Vikings were in talks with his agent.  If the Vikings are convinced that Urlacher is healthy, a one-year deal at $2.5 million with incentives up to $3.5 million probably would suffice to lure Urlacher to Minnesota, where he would have the opportunity to remind the Bears of his value twice during the regular season.

Assuming a $2.5 million hit for signing Urlacher, the Vikings could next turn to filling their need for a slot receiver.  The best free-agent options for filling this role are Josh Cribbs and Austin Collie.  Collie has a history of serious injury including recurring concussions.  Cribbs has proven both mercurial off and inconsistent on the field.

In a healthy Collie, the Vikings would have a speedy, sure-handed receiver with a good off-field reputation.  In Cribbs, Minnesota would have a fast and elusive receiver who is one of the better kick- and punt-return specialists in the league.  Given the baggage that both players carry, the dollar figure for either ought also to be reasonable--probably in the range of $2 million per season per player with a bonus to match on a per year basis.  Given injury history, Cribbs is the safer bet.  Given personality, Collie gets the nod.

Signing Urlacher and Cribbs or Collie would fill two pressing needs for the Vikings and allow Minnesota to use their two number one picks in this year's draft to focus on players who will develop into solid, long-term starters for several years--preferably at linebacker and defensive tackle.  The signings would also leave the Vikings with sufficient cap space to sign a cornerback capable of starting this season.

Up Next:  Is Cassel an Upgrade?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nothing Adds Up In Harvin Trade

On Monday, the Minnesota Vikings traded their sole proven wide-receiver, Percy Harvin.  The trade netted the Vikings the 25th pick in the first round of this year's draft and a third- and seventh-round pick.  Some Vikings' fans are ecstatic, pointing to the purported "haul" that the Vikings received for Harvin.  There is little reason to be even remotely happy about this dead, however.

That the picks are not adequate compensation for a player of Harvin's abilities is indisputable.  The Vikings, however, have manipulated the conversation, offering the given that Harvin was damaged goods in the public eye.  Of course, he was damaged goods because the Vikings damaged him.  They started the ball rolling down hill when they offered tight end John Carlson $25 million last off-season when Harvin was receiving a pittance in comparison--and that was before Carlson produced 43 receiving yards over the entire 2012 season.

The Vikings exacerbated the Harvin situation by standing by struggling quarterback Christian Ponder in the face of public and private criticism from Harvin regarding the play of the quarterback and the need for a quarterback who can produce at the NFL level.  Harvin was put in his place and the Vikings sent yet another signal to Ponder that they will do all that they can to protect his apparent egg-shell psyche.

Despite being cleared to play at the end of last season, the Vikings perpetuated the wedge with Harvin, opting to deactivate him.  Harvin was further disenchanted and the Vikings were further emboldened, by their own design, to view Harvin as a problem rather than a solution.

Moving Harvin saved the Vikings approximately $10 million per year in cap space.  Minnesota finished last season with approximately $12 million in unspent cap space that could have been used to sign Harvin with a more limited cap hit going forward had the team taken a one-year roster bonus cap hit on the contract with the remainder of the contract pro-rated at approximately $8 million per year over the remainder of the contract.

After the Harvin trade, the Vikings are left without a proven wide receiver, without one of the top players in the NFL, and with a late first-round pick that they hope to parlay into a player remotely as good as Harvin.  They would be fortunate even to come close.

Up Next:  Vikings Blow Boldin Deal--If It Even Matters.  Plus, with a stadium deal done--but for the unreported revenue stream negotiations--the Vikings offer yet another page from the Twins' financial handbook.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Minnesota Vikings Teeter on Edge of Another Disastrous Moment in Team History

Several media outlets are reporting that the Minnesota Vikings have agreed to terms of a trade that would send their only legitimate wide-receiver, Percy Harvin, to the already talent-laden Seattle Seahawks, pending a physical.

No matter the return, the Vikings stand to be the overwhelming losers in this deal, forfeiting a player that was vital to their offense in 2012 and a player nearly impossible to stop when used even in the Vikings' one-yard passing system.

Any fair return on Harvin would have to net the Vikings at least three first-round draft picks and a capable starter from a team likely to be selecting closer to the beginning of round two than the middle of round one for the next several years.  Given the Vikings' absolute mishandling of Harvin's situation, there is little chance that Minnesota will realize such a return, however.

Even were the Vikings to receive numerous high draft choices and a starter for Harvin, however, the deal would be worse for Minnesota than the Randy Moss trade to the Raiders--which netted the Vikings a top-ten pick that they then wasted--and second only to the Herschel Walker deal that gutted the team for years after.

In trading Harvin, the Vikings would be removing from their roster the one true complement to Adrian Peterson.  Already suffering at wide receiver, the Vikings would only complicate their predicament.

The only possible Harvin trade scenario that will play well for the Vikings--on and off the field--is if the Vikings sign both Wes Welker and Mike Wallace, receive from Seattle a starting linebacker or cornerback, and use their two first-round picks and second-round pick to select a defensive tackle, linebacker, and cornerback.  And, still, the Vikings would enter the 2013 season without clarity at the quarterback position.  Receiving Matt Flynn and his enormous contract in return for Harvin would be but one more blot on what almost certainly will otherwise be an awful deal already.

For those who prefer to see good in all that is, there is the anticipation of being able to see how a properly functioning coaching staff utilizes a great running back and a great combo receiver/back.  Just a guess that Seattle might find a way to keep Harvin and Marshawn Lynch on the field at the same time.

Up Next:  Does Free-Agency Matter for this Squad?