Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
OK, I promise to institute a statute of limitations on referencing my week off. Right after this one. While on vacation, I decided to jump on the Malcolm Gladwell bandwagon and start The Tipping Point. It was a productive read, if for no other reason than giving me a column idea.
Gladwell traces how broad success stories can start with "tightly focused, targeted interventions" rather than comprehensive grass-roots efforts. He referred to this concept as a "Band-Aid solution," which immediately reminded me of Matt Williamson's analysis of Minnesota and its pursuit of quarterback Brett Favre.
Maybe I have a one-track mind. (Based on your mailbag submissions, many you would agree.) But I thought Gladwell's defense of the Band-Aid solution offered relevance to the Favre situation as well as a number of other personnel matters in the NFC North.
I'm among those who blanch when teams makes changes for short-term gain when the long-term ramifications are less clear. Signing a 40-year-old quarterback. Trading high draft choices for veteran players. Hiring an internal coaching candidate for continuity rather than seeking new ideas. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, it seems, and in sports many of us prefer the building process over the quick fix.
That lofty approach, according to Gladwell, is impractical if not impossible. "[Band-Aids] should not be considered a term of disparagement," he writes. Here's the rest of his argument:
"The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking for walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.
"We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for this kind of solution because there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort, that slow and steady should win the race. The problem, of course, is that the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little...."
Make no mistake about it: Favre would be a Band-Aid solution for the Vikings -- just as he was for the New York Jets last season. By signing Favre, the Vikings would be delaying, not eliminating, their need to identify a long-term starter. (See the Jets, who drafted USC quarterback Mark Sanchez in April.) But Minnesota's pursuit of Favre is justified in the sense of maximizing the quarterback position for 2009 -- in other words, if they want to make a "lot out of a little."
If Favre plays only one season in Minnesota, the Vikings would be no worse for the experience when considered through Gladwell's lens. In fact, they would simply reprise the competition they had intended for this season between Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels.
There are potentially effective Band-Aid solutions all around the NFC North. You could make an argument that Detroit has made it the mantra of its offseason. With needs across the board, the Lions spent their salary-cap allotment on players like nose tackle Grady Jackson, cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry, linebacker Larry Foote and receiver Bryant Johnson.
As a group, they Lions' free-agent class is well-traveled and in some cases too old to stay around for a long-term rebuilding project. But given their personnel predicament, the Lions had no choice but to pursue this approach just to move closer to credibility for 2009.
"I think as an organization we were at a point where we didn't need one $15-million player," coach Jim Schwartz said in March. "We needed five or six $2- or $3-million players."
In Chicago, the Bears were planning to install second-year player Chris Williams as their long-term left tackle until they were unable to re-sign free agent John St. Clair to play right tackle. That created the possibility of having two inexperienced and/or middling tackles protecting quarterback Jay Cutler: Williams on the left and perhaps Kevin Shaffer on the right side.
The Band-Aid to that problem is veteran Orlando Pace, who has a long injury history and at 33 doesn't have many years left. You could make an intuitive argument that putting Williams at left tackle is best for his long-term growth. But in 2009, at least, the Bears chose the option of pairing Williams with Pace rather than Shaffer. From the short-term perspective, it's a reasonable decision.
It would have been nice if the Bears had a young up-and-coming player ready to replace the retired John Tait at right tackle. I'm sure the Vikings would have preferred that Jackson had established himself as a franchise quarterback by now, negating their annual search for an upgrade. But, in Gladwell's words, "the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible." Indeed, you're not always going to have that long-term solution.
The Band-Aid isn't always appropriate, of course. The Bears are smart to be considering Corey Graham at safety rather than a free agent like Josh Bullocks, who now appears to be a safety net in case Graham can't make the adjustment from cornerback. The Vikings probably could have pursued a free agent right tackle to replace Ryan Cook, but ultimately their decision to wait for the draft to produce a potentially longer-term fix -- second-round pick Phil Loadholt -- looks wise.
It's amazing what you can come up with when you take a week off. Oops. Last time. I really mean it.