Thursday, May 08, 2014

Minnesota Vikings' Quest to Break 53-Year NFL Championship Drought Begins Today

In 1976, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks entered the NFL.  At the time, it seemed it would be an eternity before either won an NFL Championship.  At the time, conversely, it appeared that the Minnesota Vikings were destined for many championships--certainly at least one before either of the new expansion teams accomplished the feat.

As the Vikings aged, they redefined themselves.  Rather than the Purple People Eaters, they became the best of a very bad NFC Central Division.  Then Chicago improved.  And Green Bay improved.  Even Detroit--pre-Matt Millen--showed some flashes.  And the Vikings went from clear kings of the hill to just another team attempting to compete.

When Randy Moss fell into the Vikings' lap in 1998, the team was relatively reborn, making two trips to the Conference Championship game and another to the playoffs in Moss' first three seasons in Minnesota.  After that, the wheels fell off, with poor ownership and coaching conspiring to relegate Minnesota to the lesser half of the league more often than not.

Since 2000, the Vikings have made the playoffs a mere four times--gaudy for some teams, but far below the expectations of long-invested Minnesota fans.  In that span, both Tampa Bay and Seattle have won the Super Bowl.  Adding to the insult, in the Vikings' most meaningful threat to ending years of championship elusiveness, the New Orleans Saints, a team with a 317-405-5 all-time record, stole the NFC Championship from the Vikings and went on to win the Super Bowl.

While Vikings' fans, to be sure, have had far more highs than fans of most other NFL teams, they have also had far more crushing, seemingly cruel, lows.  Four times, the Vikings have gone to the Super Bowl.  Four times, they have lost in convincing fashion, scoring a combined 34 points.  Four times since 1987, the Vikings have gone to the NFC Championship game.  Three times, they were favored to win.  Four times, they lost.  All four losses were agonizing, with three coming down to a final play that could have been made but was not and one, in which the Vikings were a road favorite at New York, ending in the infamous 41-0 loss.

Today, the Vikings look to turn the page on this history.  Despite finishing last season 5-10-1, there are several reasons to believe that Minnesota has at least a fighting chance this year.  Among these are the fact that the two best teams in the league are in the same division and that that division is not the NFC North.  The second is that the Vikings are but a handful of players away from being a bona fide contender.  The third is that Minnesota has positioned itself well to take the best player available in this year's draft, regardless of round.

All of which brings us to this year's draft.  Although the Vikings, like most teams, would love to be sitting atop a draft board with a clear for-the-ages quarterback on the board, that's not this year's draft.  But this year's draft is otherwise ideally suited for a team like Minnesota which can take any one of several players at number eight or trade down in the first round and pick up an early second or an earlier 2015 pick--a year in which the Vikings' quarterback of the future might truly be on the board.

With hours to go before the commencement of this year's draft, the Vikings appear to have one clear target at number eight--quarterback Johnny Manziel.  The knowns on Manziel are that he is competitive and productive on the field.  He also has a history off the field, however, that might discourage a team from using a high draft pick on him.  Despite the off-the-field concerns, the Vikings appear intent on taking Manziel, should he be available, and appear willing to move up to take him, even if it means ceding their own first and a third-rounder in this year's draft.

Drafting Manziel would mean several things for the Vikings.  First, it would mean that Rick Spielman was willing to stake his career in Minnesota on Manziel's performance.  Despite the good that he has done in Minnesota--namely, noticing when a star has fallen into his lap--Spielman has had several bad misses at the quarterback position, including selecting Christian Ponder in the first-round of the 2011 draft.  Another miss at the position early in the draft not only will signal years of frustration and missed opportunity for Vikings' fans, but, almost certainly, the end of Spielman's tenure in Minnesota.

Concerns notwithstanding, selecting Manziel almost certainly would energize the fan base and push to the background never-ending revelations of sweetheart deals for Vikings' ownership, relating to the "People's Stadium."  Manziel's antics, on the field and of the mouth, will offer a welcome distraction for a team generally intently focused on controlling the message.

Finally, drafting Manziel will cause the Vikings to cater their offense to a running and passing quarterback, rather, as was the case with Ponder and Joe Webb, attempting to convert a running quarterback into a pro-style quarterback.  That, in and of itself, would be welcome relief in the land of purple.

If Manziel is off the board when Minnesota selects tonight, the Vikings appear to favor moving down in the draft, even if it means passing on a legitimate deep receiving threat.  Though the Vikings have talked about taking a linebacker if they move down, the better option would be an offensive or defensive lineman.  The  draft has four grade-A offensive linemen, including one from Spielman's favored Notre Dame.  Selecting a guard would go a long way toward solidifying what good general managers understand to be one of two units around which all else revolves.

In an ideal world, this year's draft would be next year's draft.  That it is not leaves the Vikings hoping either that Manziel falls to them at eight--something that seems to work for Spielman in each year's draft--or hoping that somebody is willing to trade up and give the Vikings a second second-round pick--something else, pick aside, that seems to work out for Spielman each year.  If the Vikings have but one first- and one second-round pick this year, a successful first-day draft will be one in which the Vikings get either Manziel and a starter on the offensive line or a starter on the offensive line and a starter at linebacker.  If the former, the Vikings will need to draft a slew of linebackers after round two to improve the prospects of finding at least one capable of playing the position.

Up Next:  Who They Took.


HBandM said...

Good to have you back posting, VG.

Many good options at this point in the draft. Johnny Football, Mayock's Justin Gilbert pick, OL, DL, DT, LB, etc. -- great draft for best player available. Should be a fun day.

Any thoughts on later rounds?

vikes geek said...


Thanks. Many possible permutations on the first two or three picks. If handled correctly, the Vikings should have at least two starters from the draft. I'd be happy with several different outcomes.

In the later rounds, I think it is a certainty that the Vikings will select yet another late-round receiver, a running back--perhaps as early as the third round, and as many linebackers and cornerbacks as they can get their hands on. If Manziel is not the pick at 8, the Vikings will likely take Garappolo in round two. That likely means Minnesota took Aaron Donald at 8. I'd be fine with that scenario.

The one scenario I would be nervous about--that I think Spielman would even entertain--is taking a linebacker in the first round. One of these guys will be good, probably very good. But there is too much uncertainty with linebackers transitioning to the NFL, particularly if they played with great players around them in college, and linebackers are too easy to find in free-agency.


42 Year Viking Fan said...

I think they jumped the gun on Teddy. Looking at next years schedule they will be right back at the top of the draft. The two QB's that opted out of this years draft will be available and are better prospects.
Hopefully I am wrong.