Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings
January, 2, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
After the Minnesota Vikings' 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:
- As of today, the Vikings are franchise free agents and do not have a home stadium. Their lease at the Metrodome has no more games remaining. If he chose to, owner Zygi Wilf could entertain offers from Los Angeles or other locales about moving the franchise. But Lester Bagley, vice president of stadium development/public affairs, indicated Sunday that Wilf isn't prepared to do that. "It's no secret that we have been contacted by other communities," Bagley said. "But we've told them that we're encouraged, we're hopeful, we're in position to get it done in Minnesota. That has been our response." Justified or not, there appears to be significant optimism that a deal to build a stadium either in suburban Arden Hills or downtown Minneapolis will get done this year. But it could be awhile before the Vikings know whether they'll be playing in the Metrodome in 2012 or at the University of Minnesota's outdoors TCF Bank Stadium. Playing outdoors in Minnesota, even for a few years, would require some level of shift in roster-building philosophy.
- I used to bang the drum regularly for the Vikings to shift their committee leadership structure to a more vertical arrangement, with one person either the general manager or coach ultimately responsible for the football operations. I piped down when it became clear that Wilf favored the committee and wasn't interested in a change. To be fair, I'm not sure I blame the Vikings' style of leadership for their 9-23 record the past two seasons. One person can make bad decisions just as easily as three people can. The Star Tribune's Sid Hartman reported that Wilf might promote vice president of personnel Rick Spielman into a traditional general manager's role. Hopefully Wilf will think that one through first. That's nothing against Spielman. I'm just not sure that promoting one angle of the Triangle of Authority will mean anything in practice. If Spielman were truly to have a general manager's powers, Wilf will have started him off with a coach he didn't hire. The only way to do the traditional vertical structure the right way is to identify the top authority first and then give him the opportunity to hire the people who will work for him.
- Coach Leslie Frazier said Sunday that the Vikings will go into the offseason with Christian Ponder as their No. 1 quarterback, but that "all players" must compete for their jobs in training camp. I wouldn't expect anything different, considering Ponder was the No. 12 overall pick of the 2011 draft and began his rookie season behind on the development scale because of the lockout. Backup Joe Webb was more effective in moving the ball over the past month, but Sunday's game demonstrated why there are split opinions about his aptitude as a long-term starter. As athletic as he is, Webb must limit the plays in which he floats in the backfield, runs away from pass rushers and then throws madly downfield. It's nice to have that option, but in general those are low-percentage throws that can also lead to big yardage losses either through sacks or holding penalties by offensive linemen who can't stay on their blocks that long. If Webb truly wants to challenge for the job, he needs to master the drop-step-throw portion of being an NFL quarterback.
Kevin SeifertFollowing their loss against the Bears, the Vikings take a seat in the examination room.
It's not yet clear what the Vikings will do with defensive coordinator Fred Pagac, whose demise has been rumored, but Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen unexpectedly has come to Pagac's defense the past two days. Allen credited Pagac for some blitz packages that helped free him up for a 3 1/2-sack day against the Bears, and on Monday he told reporters that he wants Pagac to return and will "fight" for that to happen. Allen could have some personal reasons for that support, especially if Pagac's continued employment would preserve the 4-3 scheme that Allen thrives in, but it also suggests there could be more to blame with the Vikings' defensive problems than simply the coordinator.