NFC North: Brad Childress

MINNEAPOLIS -- Since he was introduced as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 17, Mike Zimmer has preached open competition as one of his core beliefs, and he should. It's a way for the new coach to keep his players honing their games to a fine edge, at least in theory.

If the Vikings hadn't gone into their coaching search with an open mind, Zimmer might not have landed his first head-coaching job at age 57, to the delight of people around the league who believed the longtime defensive coordinator had to wait too long for his shot. So when Zimmer -- who turned 58 earlier this month -- talks about an open battle at the quarterback position, adding that the Vikings won't be afraid to play rookie Teddy Bridgewater if he's good enough to win the job, there's every reason to believe the coach. There's also every reason for Zimmer to make sure Bridgewater has to clear a high threshold if he wants to line up as the Vikings' starter in St. Louis on Sept. 7.

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Zimmer needs only to look at the situation that played a large part in his job becoming available last winter. In April 2011, four months after the Vikings removed the interim tag from coach Leslie Frazier's title, the team took Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick. Ponder had no offseason to learn the Vikings' playbook and no time to work with his new coaches because of a lockout that stretched until August. But after six mediocre performances from a 34-year-old Donovan McNabb (in what turned out to be the final six games of his career), the Vikings handed the job to Ponder and never looked back, putting two young quarterbacks behind him in 2012 and using several solid games during a playoff push at the end of that season -- a year in which Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 yards -- as justification to declare Ponder the uncontested starter before 2013, despite the presence of Matt Cassel on the roster.

Would things have turned out differently if Ponder had been given more time to develop? Possibly not. But by putting him in the lineup as soon as they did, the Vikings were, in effect, making a statement that Ponder was ready to take the job for good and locking themselves into a long stretch with him. They didn't have to make that pronouncement as soon as they did, but if they'd waffled on it shortly thereafter, they would have invited scrutiny for their lack of direction at quarterback (as they did with their Ponder/Cassel/Josh Freeman carousel in 2013). Quarterback instability ultimately doomed Frazier, and in effect, it doomed his predecessor, Brad Childress. After feuding with Daunte Culpepper shortly after taking the job, Childress pushed for the Vikings to select Tarvaris Jackson in the second round of the 2006 draft and vacillated on Jackson until the team signed Brett Favre, whose stormy relationship with Childress ended with the coach's ouster 10 months after the Vikings nearly reached the Super Bowl.

The bet here is that Zimmer won't make a rash decision with Bridgewater, not when the Vikings are set up so well to avoid one. In Cassel, who's signed for the next two seasons, they've got the perfect custodian for Bridgewater: a veteran who's solid enough to handle the job in the short term, but not entrenched enough to step aside without a fuss. And even Ponder, who will be a free agent after the season, has some usefulness in 2014, as an emergency option in case Cassel gets hurt (or struggles early) and Bridgewater isn't ready. The Vikings have done everything they can to construct a healthy atmosphere for Bridgewater's growth. The key to the whole thing, though, is a coach who's patient enough to let it work. Zimmer might get only one shot as a head coach, and he's got something of a cushion this season, with the Vikings moving into a temporary home while trying to remodel their defense. One poor season won't cost the coach his job, but mismanagement of the quarterback situation ultimately could. Especially with offensive coordinator Norv Turner at his side, Zimmer should have the good sense to avoid the potholes his predecessors hit.

So how does this all play out? The 2012 Seattle Seahawks might provide a good blueprint. They signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal worth just $9 million guaranteed, giving themselves a quarterback they could play if Russell Wilson wasn't ready to start. When Wilson ultimately won the competition, the Seahawks were free to trade Flynn a year later. Only time will tell if Bridgewater turns out to be as good as Wilson has been -- the Vikings QB has looked sharp to this point, albeit only against defenses prohibited from hitting him -- but if he can take advantage of the situation, Minnesota has the mechanisms in place to make it work, just as the Seahawks did.

For Bridgewater to get on the field in September, he should have to prove he's unequivocally the best man for the job. Otherwise, with the Vikings facing a nasty early schedule, a tie should go to the veteran. It's a good, sensible construct for the rookie coach and quarterback, and with so many recent cautionary tales about the costs of quarterback foul-ups, the Vikings would be wise to take advantage of it.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The working theory around the Minnesota Vikings' coaching search has been that general manager Rick Spielman would bring two or three finalists back to Minnesota to meet with ownership after an initial round of interviews, which ostensibly concluded when Spielman talked to San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman on Saturday.

As ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported on Sunday morning, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will come to Minnesota early this week for a second interview. The Vikings talked to Zimmer last Wednesday in Cincinnati, and the chatter after that interview had been that Zimmer was one of the Vikings' top candidates. Now, he appears to be their first finalist.

We can glean a couple things from that. First, the Vikings seem to be done with their initial round of interviews, though I suppose it's always possible for them to change their timeline if Denver were to lose in time for Spielman to talk with offensive coordinator Adam Gase or defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. But Spielman had pegged his timetable to the Senior Bowl, so if the Vikings want to have a coach in place by then, it would seem likely they'd get their list of finalists together this week.

And second, if the Vikings are indeed done with their preliminary interviews, it seems like their search has been a little narrower than we expected. They've talked to six offensive or defensive coordinators, and also were believed to visit with 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula on Saturday. As we discussed yesterday, the coordinator pool has been fraught with risks over the years, to the point where Texans owner Bob McNair wanted to stay away from one. There's a big leap from game planning for one side of the ball to running the whole operation, reading the mood of a team, dealing with the media more frequently and so on. Some former coordinators have been able to handle it, like Green Bay's Mike McCarthy or New Orleans' Sean Payton. Others haven't, and the Vikings' last two fired coaches (Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier) are former coordinators.

Time will tell if Zimmer, or one of the other coordinators the Vikings have interviewed, will be able to make the jump successfully, but the Vikings' search does seem to be moving forward.
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings hired Brad Childress as their head coach in 2006, infamously keeping him in the Twin Cities before he could get on a plane to interview for the Green Bay Packers' head-coaching position, they were taking their chances on an offensive coordinator from a successful team (Philadelphia) who had not been a NFL head coach or a playcaller for the Eagles. That search wrapped up six days after Vikings ownership fired Mike Tice on the final day of the season.

When the Vikings removed the interim tag from Leslie Frazier's title before their final game of the 2010 season, they were taking their chances on a defensive coordinator who'd done good work for them and managed to win three of the final six games in a chaotic year marked by the collapse of the Metrodome. But Frazier, like the man he replaced in the middle of the season, had not been a head coach.

Those two searches were relatively short -- the first likely because of the Wilf family's inexperience as NFL owners, the second because the Vikings were rewarding a candidate who had interviewed for a handful of jobs elsewhere and who had kept the team together during a trying season. The Vikings' current search for a head coach, though, has general manager Rick Spielman criss-crossing the country, talking to coaching candidates. As ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reported on Saturday and as we discussed on Friday, the Vikings will interview San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman on Saturday.

That would make Roman the sixth known candidate the Vikings have talked to. And all of those -- Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Roman -- are current coordinators who have never been NFL head coaches beyond an interim level.

After the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30, Spielman outlined his process by talking about the research he'd already done on previous head coaches. NFL coaches can come from 13 different backgrounds, he said, and none had proven to be more successful than any other.

"That can be anything from head coaches that are currently offensive coordinators, former head coaches that are currently defensive coordinators, defensive coordinators [and] offensive coordinators without head-coaching experiences, college head coaches with and without NFL coaching experience," Spielman said. "So there is a long list of areas that you can look for in a head coach."

We'll say this with the disclaimer that the Vikings could certainly be talking to candidates whose names haven't been publicized, but the list so far has zeroed in, almost exclusively, on coordinators who haven't been permanent head coaches yet. As ESPN's John Clayton pointed out this week, the Houston Texans decided to go away from a coordinator because of how many have failed at the NFL level -- 60 percent, in Texans owner Bob McNair's estimation.

If the Vikings have found the coordinator pool to contain the best candidates, great. Spielman has too much riding on this hire -- his reputation as a GM and possibly his future with the team -- not to turn over every stone, and he has gone through this search in his typical diligent manner.

Roman certainly has the wares to be conducting an extensive interview tour this year, too; he's helped the 49ers get to the NFC title game and the Super Bowl with two different quarterbacks, and has designed one of the league's most diverse offenses behind quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a power running game. The Vikings could certainly use someone with that kind of offensive know-how, especially if he's able to develop a young quarterback.

But it's worth pointing out the considerable risk in the coordinator pool, and the Vikings should be well-acquainted with that, based on the past two coaches they've hired (and fired). The search, at least so far and at least with the names that have become public, hasn't included as much diversity in coaching backgrounds as we thought it could. We'll have to presume that's because Spielman is finding the right people in a class of coordinators that's historically been fraught with risk.

"There is no specific [type of coach we have to have]: offense, defense, college coach, high school coach, whatever," Spielman said on Dec. 30. "It is a coach that we feel is the best fit for our organization."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings enter Week 2 of their coaching search -- officially, at least -- with general manager Rick Spielman set to interview Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton in Phoenix. Spielman will head there after scheduled interviews in Seattle this weekend with Seahawks coordinators Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn, and when he returns from those interviews, he'll have another round of candidates he's able to approach.

Assistant coaches from teams who played in wild-card games this weekend are now eligible to interview for head coaching jobs. For coaches from teams that won this weekend -- like San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt or San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman -- those interviews would have to take place either this week or not until the end of their teams' seasons. For coaches from teams that lost, of course, interviews can happen at any time. Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer are two coaches expected to meet with Spielman at some point, but now that the Bengals lost, those interviews wouldn't necessarily have to happen this week.

Gruden, in particular, could be in high demand, with several years of success guiding the Bengals' offense and agent Bob LaMonte's considerable influence driving his stock up. LaMonte is also Spielman's agent, and the Vikings' last two coaches -- Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier -- are his clients. The relationship is well-established, and it could play in the Vikings' favor if they decided to make a push for Gruden.

The Vikings are one of five teams still looking for a head coach, now that the Tennessee Titans fired Mike Munchak, but at his press conference after the Vikings fired Frazier last Monday, Spielman said he wouldn't be rushed by other teams hiring coaches.

"We don't have 'a guy.' I think there's a lot of potential candidates out there," Spielman said. "I don't think everybody needs to panic [and say], 'This team already hired a guy. This team already hired a guy. What are the Vikings doing?' We are going to go through our process and do our due diligence and I think there is enough to potential candidates out there that we will be able to get the guy that we want."

Given how deliberate Spielman has indicated he wanted to be -- and how meticulous he usually is with big decisions -- it wouldn't be a big shock to me if the Vikings are the last team to hire a coach. It would be surprising if they've got a coach this week, but with another pool of candidates now available for interviews, the coaching search should heat up.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In any situation where a coach's job is presumed to be in jeopardy, there might be no greater death knell than the idea that he has lost his team -- that players care so little about him or what he has to say that they've stopped putting forth maximum effort, pulling back their intensity when a season goes awry.

It might not happen in the NFL as often as in other sports, since football players don't enjoy the job security of a guaranteed contract, but when it does happen, the results are striking. It happened the last time the Vikings fired a coach in November 2010, after a 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers where it was as apparent as ever that players had turned on Brad Childress.

[+] EnlargeLeslie Frazier
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesDespite a 19-31-1 mark as Minnesota's coach, Leslie Frazier hasn't lost the support of his players.
Leslie Frazier succeeded Childress the day after that loss, and more than three years later, he's coaching through his second season where the Vikings have no chance of making the playoffs. He sandwiched a surprising 10-6 season and a NFC wild-card berth around those two losing seasons. But after Vikings ownership declined to give Frazier a contract extension last winter, choosing only to pick up his 2014 option, they effectively asked him to repeat a season where the Vikings had a favorable schedule, as few injuries as any team in football and a 2,097-yard rushing season from Adrian Peterson.

There is blame to be cast across the Vikings organization for a 3-9-1 season, and some of it certainly falls on the coaching staff after the Vikings' defense had been handed a last-minute lead seven times and could only protect two of them. Confusion reigned in Chicago the first time it happened, and frustration over defensive play calling cropped up when it happened in Dallas. Frazier has been working with an aging defensive front, an undermanned linebacking group and a young secondary that's often looked adrift. And while personnel decisions are ultimately the responsibility of general manager Rick Spielman, the five blown leads don't wear well on a former defensive coordinator like Frazier, especially when the Vikings are literally five defensive stands away from leading the NFC North.

But what's clear is, players haven't stopped trying hard for Frazier. The Vikings are 2-2-1 in their past five games, rallying for an overtime victory against the Bears two weeks ago and trading punches with the Baltimore Ravens in a wild fourth quarter last Sunday. Center John Sullivan backed the coach in a radio interview earlier this month, and Peterson has done so at different times this year. And on Wednesday, two 30-year-old players from two very different backgrounds -- Chad Greenway and Greg Jennings -- both said the Vikings' effort has still been there.

"Obviously, we've talked, it's not the effort," Greenway said. "It's not that. We're preparing well, we're practicing well. We're just not making the critical plays at that time to get off the field or to drive on offense or to whatever to win a game, basically. So I think we're all on board."

Greenway has spent his whole career in Minnesota, spanning both Childress and Frazier's entire time with the Vikings. Jennings, on the other hand, had only played for one coach in Green Bay's Mike McCarthy, and had experienced one losing season in seven years with the Packers.

Said Jennings: "[If a coach had lost the team], I think that you would see no fight in the guys within this locker room. The one thing I can say about guys in this locker room is we stick together like glue. No matter what the outcome has been, we fought. Last week after the game, hard loss -- some would say it's a devastating loss -- the vibe in the locker room amongst the guys that fought throughout that game, it wasn't like, 'Oh my gosh.' It was more like, 'Man, that one got away.' No matter what the outcome, we all take ownership in a loss or win."

That kind of support for Frazier has been readily available throughout the season, and though the coach's tenure has coincided with a rebuilding project, he's 19-31-1 as the Vikings' coach, and might not have the results to satiate an ownership group that hasn't shown much patience for long turnarounds in its time in Minnesota. But if Frazier is somehow going to save his job, the fact that his players still seem to believe in him might be his best play.

"He's definitely been holding things together," Jennings said. "As far as the future, I don't know -- just like from a player's standpoint -- we don't know, we don't control that. That all goes from upstairs, down. All we can do is control what we do and that's what he's been doing as a head coach. And making sure that he's been hitting the points of emphasis. It's about us executing."
Leslie FrazierBrace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsA loss to the Packers three years ago led to Leslie Frazier's ascension. What will Sunday's loss bring?
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The last time Leslie Frazier was something other than the Minnesota Vikings' head coach was a game not unlike this one. It came on Nov. 21, 2010, when the Vikings lost 31-3 at the Metrodome to the Green Bay Packers. The loss was the Vikings' fifth in seven games, dropping the team to 3-7 in a season that had begun with high expectations after a trip to the NFC Championship Game the year before. Coach Brad Childress was fired the next day.

The circumstances three years later are somewhat different -- the 2010 Vikings were built for one more run at a title, while the 2013 Vikings are an amalgam of young draft picks and veteran players, and Frazier is eminently more popular with players than Childress was then. But Sunday night's 44-31 loss to the Packers had a familiar sting -- a lopsided loss at home to the Vikings' biggest rival, the sense of finality that comes with a season that won't include a playoff trip -- to the one that ultimately cost Childress his job three years ago.

And with the Vikings at 1-6, you start to wonder how many more defeats like this Frazier can survive.

In their past three games, the Vikings have sandwiched two blowouts at home (they dressed up Sunday's final score with two touchdowns in the final five minutes) around a road loss to the previously winless New York Giants. The past two defeats have been on national TV, and the Vikings have now given up at least 31 points in five of their seven games -- an especially harmful statistic for Frazier since (A) he is a former defensive coordinator and (B) it is outside the purview of the Vikings' three-man weave at quarterback. There are issues on special teams, as well. The 93-yard punt return the Vikings allowed to Micah Hyde effectively nullified Cordarrelle Patterson's 109-yard return of the opening kickoff. Even though the Vikings have three return touchdowns this season, they've also allowed three returns of at least 75 yards.

It's tough to blame the Vikings' issues just on their cycle of quarterbacks, though that hasn't helped to set a direction for the team, and when wider issues crop up, the head coach often pays the price.

The blame for the Vikings' season certainly should not fall solely on Frazier or his coaching staff. General manager Rick Spielman chose to spend the team's offseason money on the offense, letting cornerback Antoine Winfield go when right tackle Phil Loadholt's contract got more expensive than the Vikings initially thought it would. In a passing league, the Vikings' roster looks ill-equipped to win, with an inexperienced secondary and no coherent plan at quarterback. But unless the Vikings' owners step in and order a complete overhaul of the front office, Spielman might stay on the grounds that he hasn't gotten to pick his head coach; Frazier was the Vikings' interim coach, and became the head coach, before Spielman's title changed from VP of player personnel to general manager in 2012. Whether or not that's fair, or the correct strategy, it's often how the business works, and it might be how things play out in this case.

Frazier might have more time largely because there's not an obvious interim candidate on his coaching staff -- there's no Leslie Frazier waiting in the wings, so to speak -- and the Vikings' coordinators have struggled in their own right this season. Several veteran defenders voiced frustration Sunday night, but no one has suggested the Vikings have stopped playing for Frazier yet, and owner Zygi Wilf said after the Giants game that he wasn't considering any staff changes, adding, "This is our team. I'm sticking with it."

But now the Vikings are 1-6, with three of their next four games against teams currently in playoff position: Dallas, Seattle and Green Bay. They are scheduled to move into a new stadium in three years, and the further they get from respectability this year, the more work their owners might believe needs to be done to open the stadium on a wave of positivity. Frazier took the Vikings from 3-13 in 2011 to 10-6 last year, but in doing so he raised expectations for this year, and a winning season became even more important for him when the Wilf family decided to pick up Frazier's 2014 option instead of offering him a long-term extension. The Wilfs might have still been gun-shy from firing Childress the year after they gave him a contract extension, and while those circumstances helped Frazier get the job, they may have also made his long-term security susceptible to more risk.

At this point, the conditions appear to be gathering for a change. Games such as Sunday's loss can be a body blow for an unstable coach. Frazier got his current job after one like this in 2010, and on Sunday night, even he seemed to know these types of losses can't continue.

"It just seems like we have strong-enough character and strong-enough leadership on this team that the guys will come back," Frazier said. "We've just got to find a way to give them some hope."

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Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

October, 27, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 44-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night:

What it means: The Vikings were blown out for the second straight home game. In between those games, they lost on "Monday Night Football" to a winless team. They've looked awful on national TV two weeks in a row. Head coaches don't often survive these kinds of developments, particularly when their team is 1-6, and it's fair to start wondering how much longer Leslie Frazier will be around. His only chance to salvage his job might be if the Vikings come down the stretch with some respectability, but the last time the Vikings lost to the Packers this badly at home, Brad Childress got fired.

Stock watch: Falling -- Christian Ponder. The Vikings might not have any reason to go back to Ponder the rest of the season after he turned in a tepid performance with Josh Freeman (concussion) out. Ponder threw for just 145 yards. The Vikings barely had the ball, but when they did, Ponder looked like the same quarterback he was before he lost his job, bailing early on the pocket and taking off instead of trying to drive the ball downfield. He threw away a pass in the second quarter with Greg Jennings open and waving for the ball in the middle of the Packers' defense, and Jennings looked frustrated with Ponder after that. The Vikings might just spend the rest of the year seeing whether Freeman can learn the playbook and give them something better.

Jennings does little vs. old team: With Ponder throwing just 21 times, Jennings had few chances to show up his former team. He caught just one pass for nine yards on three targets, while the Packers put Jordy Nelson in Jennings' old slot receiver spot and watched him torch Xavier Rhodes for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jennings might have stoked Rodgers' fire with a series of jabs at the quarterback over the summer; Rodgers looked particularly fired up after a couple touchdowns, and certainly got the last laugh in his first game with Jennings on the other sideline.

Got the time? The Vikings' defense has been among the worst in the league at getting off the field on third down all season, but they might have hit a new low on Sunday night. The Packers converted four third downs on their first drive and their first seven of the game, finishing the night 13-for-18 on third down. That helped Green Bay hold the ball for more than 40 minutes, punishing a team that's already ranked 31st in the league in time of possession. The Packers held the ball for 12:58 in the third quarter alone, as the Vikings ran just three plays.

What's next: The Vikings (1-6) head to Dallas to take on the NFC East-leading Cowboys (4-4) next Sunday.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 7

October, 22, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 23-7 loss to the New York Giants:

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Julio CortezRyan Mundy and the Giants put the clamps on Vikings RB Adrian Peterson on Monday night.
1. An encore for Freeman? Two weeks after signing with the Vikings, quarterback Josh Freeman's debut on Monday night had the feel of a calculus midterm after an all-night cram session. Freeman overthrew 16 of his 33 incompletions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Tony Romo -- against the Giants in Week 8 last year -- has overthrown more passes in a game in the past eight seasons. Freeman chalked up many of the issues to a lack of timing with his receivers, saying some of his passes were just "a hair off," but no amount of practice or game plan study will make up for an inability to hit receivers. The Vikings might as well see if Freeman can improve on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers, but three of their next four games are against division leaders (Packers, Cowboys, Seahawks). Two of those are on the road. That's not a recipe for much more success.

2. Peterson MIA: For just the third time in his career, running back Adrian Peterson failed to rush for 30 yards after logging double-digit carries. But Peterson's workload wasn't exactly heavy; he carried just five times in the second half as Freeman uncorked 37 passes, including 31 in the fourth quarter. Like most teams do against Peterson, the Giants stacked the box with eight and nine defenders, daring Freeman to throw and cutting off Peterson's rushing lanes. But teams were doing that to the Vikings last year, and they still managed to open holes for Peterson. The running back said the team needs to be more physical, like it was last year, but it's been startling to watch how ineffective the Vikings have been running the ball, considering Peterson, fullback Jerome Felton and their entire offensive line returned this season intact. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's decision to use Peterson so little was perplexing, but how long do you try something that isn't working?

3. Pass protection issues: At the risk of piling on the offensive line, the Vikings weren't much better at protecting Freeman than they were at clearing holes for Peterson. Left tackle Matt Kalil -- playing with lower back tightness -- allowed seven pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. So did left guard Charlie Johnson, who was beaten on a number of blitzes up the middle. The Vikings were better at run blocking than pass protection last year, but they were by no means deficient at keeping quarterback Christian Ponder upright, either. Ponder was sacked 32 times in 2012, and the Vikings were tied for 11th in the league in sacks allowed per game. It's been startling to watch Kalil struggle after a Pro Bowl rookie season, though, and as a whole, the Vikings have given up 15 sacks in seven games.

4. Hot seats? Owner Zygi Wilf dismissed the idea of any immediate staff changes after the loss, saying, "I'm sticking with my team." But if the Vikings get throttled at home against the Packers next week, could coach Leslie Frazier meet the same fate his predecessor, Brad Childress, did after a lopsided loss to Green Bay in 2010? One thing that might help Frazier is the lack of an obvious successor; the Vikings had Frazier waiting in the wings in 2010, but of the Vikings' current assistants, only special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer might be an obvious interim candidate. And Priefer's unit marred a punt return touchdown with two turnovers Monday night. Moreover, a midseason coaching change would be the Vikings' second in four years, and would add another dose of uncertainty to a season that's already had plenty of it. The next few weeks could reveal how much more the Vikings' ownership can stomach.
LONDON -- It was just about eight years ago that Daunte Culpepper had his last great game with the Vikings, and one of his last great days in the NFL. Culpepper threw for 300 yards on Sept. 25, 2005, passing for three touchdowns in a 33-16 Vikings win over the New Orleans Saints. But Culpepper tore his ACL just over a month later, and only started 20 NFL games in his next four seasons before turning up in the United Football League on his way to retirement.

[+] EnlargeDaunte Culpepper
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports Daunte Culpepper still holds the Vikings record for TD passes in a season with 39.
Culpepper's exit from Minnesota was punctuated by a lengthy dispute with coach Brad Childress over how the quarterback would rehab his knee injury, and his last game with the Vikings came in a season tainted by the Vikings' now-famous "Love Boat" scandal during their bye week. But Culpepper, now 36, said he has fond memories and no regrets about his time in Minnesota.

"All good memories," Culpepper said after the NFL International Series Fan Forum on Saturday. "I would have loved to stay there my whole career. That's just how it happens in the business sometimes. People move on. But my memories of Minnesota were excellent -- every game was sold out. We had some games I wish we could have won, but overall, it was a positive experience for me. The fans were absolutely wonderful."

Culpepper reportedly lost his 10,000-square foot home in South Florida to foreclosure last summer, and opened a restaurant near his alma mater (Central Florida) soon after. The restaurant -- a sports bar named Culpepper's -- was a nine-month project before it opened, the quarterback said, and he's spending the rest of his time with his wife and children in Florida.

He threw 39 touchdowns -- still a Vikings single-season record -- the year before he injured his knee, and finished as MVP runner-up to Peyton Manning, forming one of the league's most dangerous deep-ball combinations with Randy Moss. Even on Saturday, Culpepper said he had chills recalling his favorite moments in the NFL: watching fans stand up in their seats while one of his 60-yard passes to Moss sailed through the air.

But Culpepper said he doesn't think back much to what happened after that 2004 season, when Moss was traded to Oakland and the quarterback injured his knee. Nor does he wonder what might have been had he stayed healthy.

He was even a good sport about the last question of the event, when a British fan in a Steelers jersey asked Culpepper if he'd be bringing any of his "friends" out for a cruise on the Thames River; Culpepper posed for a picture with the fan and his son afterward.

"I played the game the same way the whole time," he said. "I played to win. Whatever I had to do to try and win, I was going to do it. Every game I always wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror and say, 'Hey, I put everything out there.' I don’t regret anything about how I played the game."

Vikings not waiting on Winfield

September, 4, 2013
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As soon as the words left Leslie Frazier's mouth on Wednesday afternoon -- that "you don't want to be talking people out of retirement" -- I had the same thought that most of you are probably having now: Boy, things sure have changed in Minnesota.

It wasn't so long ago that the Vikings were -- in fact, Frazier was -- doing exactly what he said they didn't want to do on Wednesday. In 2009, when Brett Favre was trying to decide whether to come out of retirement for a second time and join the Vikings, it was Frazier (then the Vikings' defensive coordinator) who first went to Hattiesburg, Miss., to talk to Favre about coming back. The Vikings were coming off a 10-6 season and a first-round playoff exit then, as they are now, and while it's tough to say a veteran defensive back could have the same kind of impact in 2013 as Favre had in 2009, there's little question about what Antoine Winfield meant to the team last year and how much a young secondary has to prove with Winfield gone.

Winfield
Frazier
But beyond a text message to wish Winfield well and offer his assistance if the 36-year-old wanted to talk about transitioning to life after football, Frazier said he hasn't had any contact with Winfield. And his quote in the first paragraph of this post was in direct response to a tongue-in-cheek question about whether he'd be dispatching a group of players to lobby Winfield, as the Vikings did with Favre in 2010.

"When a guy's retired, you've got to let him go through what he's going through," Frazier said. "[It's] just encouraging him to be what he wants to be. If retirement is what it is, good luck in retirement. If you want to talk, let's talk, about taking that next step after your career ends. It's a big difference, going from playing 15 years almost to going back and being a regular citizen. It's a transition, and a lot of players struggle with that transition. If he ever needed to talk about that, I'd be glad to have that conversation."

That exchange crystallized many of the differences between where the Vikings were four years ago and where they are now. Back then, they were built on a group of prominent veterans, largely acquired from other teams, and believed they needed a quarterback of Favre's stature to put them over the top. But when the bill came due -- figuratively and literally -- on many of their aging players, including Favre, the Vikings crumbled in 2010. Frazier replaced Brad Childress in the middle of that season, and the Vikings began a draft-and-develop plan in earnest that offseason, drafting quarterback Christian Ponder.

None of this is to say that Frazier wouldn't listen if Winfield called him tomorrow and said he wanted to talk about returning to the Vikings. Winfield is coming off one of his best seasons -- though he didn't make Seattle's roster this summer -- and would immediately return as one of the most highly respected players in the locker room. Few defended slot receivers better, or tackled more reliably, than Winfield.

But it's also worth noting how different the Vikings' role is in this situation than it was four years ago. Had they not released Winfield in March, choosing to put him on the open market rather than pay him the $7.25 million he was due to make this season, he likely wouldn't be retired. The Vikings' initial decision left Winfield surprised and hurt, and though Frazier led the charge to get Winfield to re-sign with the team in April, the cornerback ultimately decided to sign with Seattle for less guaranteed money than the Vikings were offering. Essentially, they were first the ones telling an older player that things had changed, not how much they wanted him to do what he'd always done -- at the same salary he was earning before.

Perhaps the lessons of 2009 and 2010 are still in Frazier's mind, or perhaps this situation doesn't compare because it involves a different head coach, a different player and a different team concept than the Vikings had back then.

But while Childress drove his SUV to the airport to pick Favre up four years ago, Frazier -- at least at the moment -- is only extending a text message with an offer to help Winfield adjust to his life after football.

That little exchange provides an interesting vignette of how the Vikings' way of doing business has changed. If Winfield wanted to return, the choice would be his, and Frazier, at least, won't be doing any cajoling.

"I'm trying to encourage him. I'm hoping things go well for him," Frazier said. "I have no idea [if he'd want to return at some point]. We haven't spoken, so I really have no idea."
Brett FavreAP Photo/Andy KingBrett Favre's career ended on the frozen fields of TCF Bank Stadium during the 2010 season.
Editor’s note: ESPN.com revisits the NFL’s most interesting teams since Y2K with a five-part “Most Compelling Teams of the Century” series. We continue with the 2010 Minnesota Vikings.

Brett Favre retired and then he really retired and then three Minnesota Vikings teammates lassoed him on his Mississippi farm and he agreed to do them a "favor" and then suddenly he was old and slow and a sitting duck and the subject of off-field accusations and finally, no longer the Iron Man of football. Sidney Rice had a minor hip injury and major hip surgery and then fumed amid questions about his condition so the Vikings tried to trade for Vincent Jackson and then got the cockeyed idea of acquiring Randy Moss who caught 13 passes in four games and clashed with coach Brad Childress and finally got himself cut a few hours before Childress told reporters Moss was still a Viking. Percy Harvin was Moss' best friend on the team and never forgave Childress and later in the season had to be held back from fighting him during practice. Childress was fired and Leslie Frazier was the coach when the Metrodome roof collapsed under heavy snow and the Vikings played home games in Detroit and on a frozen field at TCF Bank Stadium on which Favre made a final surprise start before taking a concussed sendoff.

And … breathe.

That's what the Vikings' season felt like for those who spent time around it: One soap-opera installment after another in run-on, never-ending fashion. It was so wild that no one blinked when another snowstorm forced a three-night stay in Philadelphia for a Week 16 game ultimately played on a Tuesday night. Naturally, the Vikings managed a 24-14 upset of the playoff-bound Eagles, led by a quarterback, Joe Webb, who had been drafted eight months earlier as a receiver.

I remember waking up early on Dec. 12, 2010. I figured it would take a while to clear the exceptionally heavy and wet snow that began falling the previous evening, and I wanted to be done in time to start blogging by midmorning. Before heading outside, I took a quick look at Twitter. Several local news stations had posted photos of the stadium roof collapse, which had occurred overnight.

It was about 6:30 a.m. CT. I texted ESPN colleague Ed Werder, who as it turned out was in Minneapolis to chronicle what would ultimately be the first game Favre had missed in two decades.

"That's a joke, right?" Werder replied.

Nope, I said. Welcome to the 2010 Minnesota Vikings.

Surreal. Theater of the Absurd. Unprecedented. I had used those descriptions and others throughout the year, often as they related to Favre. It began in late July of that year, when he told Childress he wouldn't play in 2010. No one believed him. About midway through training camp, reports surfaced that he would remain retired rather than rejoin the team after camp, as he had in 2009. No one believed him.

In fact, no one believed Favre until the team broke camp, and he still hadn't joined the team. Childress panicked. He sent three key players in owner Zygi Wilf's jet to talk Favre into playing, all while ducking the media and instructing two assistants to lie about the players' whereabouts. It wasn't until 30 minutes before Wilf's plane was scheduled to depart that Favre finally relented, agreeing, in his word, to do the Vikings a "favor."

Right away, it was clear that the magic of 2009 -- Favre had arguably the best season of his career in leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game -- was gone. Favre was using lubricant injections to limit discomfort in his troublesome ankles, and he threw almost as many interceptions (six) in the Vikings' first three games as he did in all 16 games of 2009 combined (seven).

Something needed to be done. Rice had been his favorite receiver in 2009, and the Vikings didn't seem to trust his commitment to returning. Jackson and the San Diego Chargers were in a contract stalemate, and the Vikings worked for a week to complete a trade before declining the Chargers' steep asking price.

That brought them to Moss, who the franchise had already fired once. Moss had worn out welcomes in Oakland and New England since then, and the match seemed poor from the start. Childress was a strict disciplinarian, both on personal comportment and scheme, and Moss had never been much of a conformist. It was a connection made by the gods of the unemployment line. I was flabbergasted to learn the two didn't speak before the trade. One conversation would have been enough to scuttle it.

Moss cost the Vikings a third-round draft choice. He made no impact on the offense, floored Childress with typically salty demeanor and in his final act, conducted a question and answer session with himself because he was upset about media complaints that had led to a $25,000 NFL fine.

Childress cut him the day after his fourth game with the team, a 28-18 loss to the Patriots in which Favre had been carted off the field, nearly unconscious, after a hit below the chin.

There was one problem, however. Childress had passed over the tiny detail of informing owner Zygi Wilf before executing the move. He got caught lying to reporters about it a few hours later, telling them he expected Moss back with the team in two days even as media reports confirming Moss' demise were surfacing.

Childress was cracking. Favre was playing -- heroically or stupidly? -- on a fractured foot and, at one point, paraded through the locker room with a protective boot in full view of reporters. Deadspin.com reported that he had texted inappropriate photographs to a woman who worked for the New York Jets in 2008, bringing Favre to tears during a pregame address to his teammates.

A month after firing Moss, Childress himself was fired after the Vikings' sideline erupted in dysfunction during a 31-3 home loss to the Green Bay Packers. That came shortly after Harvin exploded in practice when Childress questioned the severity of an injury. How quickly had Childress flamed out? His dismissal came one year after he signed a three-year contract extension.

By the time the Metrodome roof decided it had had enough, Favre was taking more direct hits than at any time in his career. It was sad, really, watching a once-elusive athlete absorb so much punishment. In Week 13, he suffered a sprained sternoclavicular joint after Buffalo Bills linebacker Arthur Moats slammed him to the turf.

Backup Tarvaris Jackson was preparing to start the following week against the Giants when the roof collapsed. Two days later, we all jumped on planes to cover the "home game" in Detroit at Ford Field. Favre stood on the sidelines wearing a stocking cap indoors and seemed relieved that his streak of 297 consecutive starts had ended. With three weeks remaining in the season, and Favre telling everyone who would listen that he couldn't feel his right hand, it seemed clear he would never play again.

That is, until the morning of Dec. 20. Snow was in the forecast, and the Vikings' final "home" game was scheduled for "Monday Night Football" against the Chicago Bears at the outdoor TCF Bank Stadium. Favre telephoned athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and, later, Frazier. Would the NFL allow him to play after the team had already ruled him out on the injury report?

Why yes, it would. Was there really any other answer for the 2010 Minnesota Vikings? Favre took a few warm-up throws in the snow and decided he wanted one last hurrah. This was an NFL game, not a reality television show, but it felt more like the latter. He played into the second quarter before Bears defensive end Corey Wootton slammed him to the frozen turf.

(As you might recall, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe got his start as a rabble-rouser that week by tweeting his concerns about the frozen turf, which had no heating coils under it and clearly posed a danger to players.)

Favre recently said he felt like an "idiot" for playing in the game, as he recounted the resulting concussion. At one point, he said he asked Sugarman, "What are the Bears doing here?"

And that, my friends, is the most appropriate image I can recall of the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. One of the NFL's greatest players lying on the frozen turf of a college stadium, playing not because he could, but because he wanted to, asking why there was an opponent on the field. I mean, the only thing stranger would have been a local catering service gaining national attention after a player criticized its food. Oh, wait….

Big Decision: Percy Harvin's future

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
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Another in a series of important offseason issues facing NFC North teams:

In the past nine months, Percy Harvin has:
[+] EnlargePercy Harvin
Paul Frederiksen/USA TODAY SportsPercy Harvin is entering the final season of his contract.
That series of events represents a microcosm of Harvin's four seasons with the Vikings. They are a stew of unique production, extraordinary versatility and eccentric behavior. There is no single smoking gun to suggest that Harvin's personality will stand in the way of extending a contract that would otherwise expire after the season. But there have been enough odd moments and strange plot twists to suggest that negotiations will be extraordinarily complicated.

On the one hand, Harvin is a 24-year-old player who proved last season that an offense can be built around him. The Vikings opened the season with a general intent of getting him the ball in space and, as we discussed in September, simply letting him do his thing. He scored touchdowns as a receiver, running back and kick returner and, even though he didn't play nine full games, opponents still missed an NFL-high 22 tackles against him, according to Pro Football Focus. Harvin also finished the season with the league's fifth-most yards after the catch (542).

On the other hand, of course, Harvin has built up a complex resume of what we can fairly call off-field question marks. There have been reports of heated exchanges with both Vikings coaches he has played for. As you might recall, players and coaches had to get between Harvin and former coach Brad Childress in 2010. And his long ankle rehabilitation was not the first time he missed a surprisingly extended period for health reasons; you might recall he missed most of training camp in 2010 at first because of a migraine headache, and later because of a family member's death.

Based on what we know, I would call Harvin high-maintenance and note he is far from the first professional athlete to earn that description. Quite frankly, he is a good-enough player to merit the extra effort it takes to employ him. Unless much more has happened behind the scenes than we know, Harvin hasn't crossed the line from being high-maintenance to a unmanageable problem in my eyes.

Yet with Harvin, there is always a suspicion that more has happened behind the scenes. Shortly after the Detroit Lions released Titus Young this week, I heard from someone who works for another NFL team asking if the Vikings would do the same thing with Harvin.

I don't think Harvin's situation is anywhere close to Young's, but it's possible the Vikings have just done a better job of keeping the significant drama under wraps. It's worth noting that Frazier stopped short of endorsing a long-term contract for Harvin during a radio interview with 1500 ESPN this week.

Even if the Vikings decided to move on from Harvin, he would almost certainly generate value on the trade market whereas Young did not. There would be no reason to cut him. All the same, Harvin might have trouble convincing the Vikings to pay him elite receiver money considering the history of eccentricity we have discussed. You have to assume a compromise is available. If not, the Vikings have a Big Decision on their hands.

Say this much: Phil Emery is bold

January, 16, 2013
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Let's quickly summarize Phil Emery's first 11 1/2 months as the Chicago Bears' general manager:

  1. For the modest sum of two third-round draft picks, Emery acquired one of the NFL's best and most enigmatic wide receivers. Brandon Marshall rewarded the decision with a career year and last weekend was named a first-team All-Pro.
  2. [+] EnlargePhil Emery
    AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhChicago Bears general manager Phil Emery is doing things his way.
    He fired coach Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season, unconcerned about the level of difficulty in finding a coach better than the one who built an 81-63 regular-season record in nine seasons.
  3. As Smith's replacement, Emery hired a one-time NFL wunderkind who has been out of the league for eight years and coaching in the CFL for five. As we discussed earlier, Marc Trestman is a courageous choice who will either be a monstrous home run or a fall-on-your-face strikeout.

The English language offers us plenty of words to describe Emery's tenure. I'll choose "bold." Emery was a longtime scout and spent time as a conditioning coach at the Naval Academy, but he has shed all stereotypes that go along with that background. Anyone who thought he would take a cautious, by-the-book approach, has been proved wrong.

Emery has certainly displayed the work ethic of a career grinder, interviewing at least 13 candidates in two weeks and stunning them with his preparation and thorough approach. Asked in a news conference earlier this month about the Bears' offensive line, he spoke for about 10 minutes and used nearly 2,500 words to explain why he didn't sign or draft additional depth.

His thought process, however, can clearly take alternative paths. I've talked to some NFL people who have been predicting a Trestman-like hire for Emery. They have suggested he is much more aggressive than people realize, completely secure in his informed judgments and totally unconcerned about initial public reaction. Based on what we know about Emery and Trestman, it's quite possible that the Bears' new power duo connected on a professorial level that matched their unique personalities.

What it also speaks to, I think, is an approach I first heard voiced by former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress. (And no, there are no further comparisons to be made here.) Shortly after he was hired in 2006, Childress said he would make all important decisions with the idea that he was unlikely to get a second chance if he failed. If he was going to go down, Childress wanted to go down knowing he had done what he thought was right.

Emery is following a similar approach. Chances are that this is the one an only general manager job he'll ever have. Recycled general managers in the NFL are rare. His decisions and moves haven't always been predictable, but they are ones he has clear conviction on. Emery isn't looking to extend his time on the job with safe decisions. He's trying to do his job and is willing to reach out of the box to do so.
Sunday's game at CenturyLink Field is a reminder of a still-curious chapter of the Minnesota Vikings' rebuilding process.

The Vikings will face a Seattle Seahawks team whose leading receiver is none other than Sidney Rice, the former Vikings draft pick and Pro Bowler who was allowed to depart via free agency two years ago at age 24. Rice is exactly the kind of big downfield receiver the Vikings are missing in their lineup, and the Vikings have never offered an adequate public explanation for his departure.

Here's what we know: Injuries slowed Rice in two of his four seasons with the Vikings. He played through a knee injury in 2008 that limited him to 15 receptions in 13 games, and hip surgery prior to the 2010 season cost him 10 games. In between, of course, Rice had a monster season with 83 receptions, 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009.

The Vikings approached Rice's free agency cautiously, choosing to use their franchise tag on linebacker Chad Greenway instead, and didn't try to match the five-year, $41 million contract he signed with the Seahawks.

I'm not sure that Rice was eager to return after former coach Brad Childress questioned the timing of his hip surgery and the speed of his return. But all NFL teams have tools for retaining players they want to keep, and the Vikings didn't utilize them in Rice's case.

Were they concerned about his injury past and potential for future ailments? Their actions seemed to indicate it, even though no one has said that publicly.

Sure enough, Rice missed seven games because of injury in 2011. He is healthy now, however, and more importantly, the Vikings haven't come close to replacing his presence. Since the start of the 2011 season, Vikings receivers not named Percy Harvin -- Rice's 2009 teammate -- have caught six touchdown passes.

Hopefully that long intro didn't spoil the inherent wisdom contained in this week's Blogger Blitz.

The NFL's explanation for how it learned of the New Orleans Saints alleged bounty program goes like this: Former Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove told former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy about it at some point near the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Kennedy told Vikings coach Brad Childress, and Childress reported it to the league.

Friday, Kennedy denied his role as the bounty whistleblower and said the NFL has distributed "blatant lies about me." In a statement released by the NFL Players Association, Kennedy said: "Coach Childress approached me and asked me if I knew anything about such an allegation, and I told him the truth: I did not. I had no knowledge of any such alleged bounty."

Further, Kennedy said it is "an utter lie" to suggest Hargrove told him about the bounty. Kennedy: "It simply never happened. I never discussed an alleged bounty with Anthony Hargrove before, during or after the NFC Championship Game. The only discussion I have had with Anthony about the alleged bounty occurred when we recently spoke about the NFL’s egregiously flawed and unjust investigation and proceeding."

I've had plenty to say about the NFL's investigation of the bounty program, especially as it related to Hargrove during the time he spent with the Green Bay Packers. To be blunt, much of it doesn't pass the smell test. (Many of those posts can be found in this link.)

Hargrove and Kennedy have now both denied the NFL's claims on how Childress became convinced there was a bounty; Childress hasn't commented to my knowledge. And as we've discussed, the evidence the NFL presented against Hargrove has either been debunked or substantially discredited.

We all know the NFL didn't have to meet a legal standard in order to make these accusations and distribute discipline. And part of the language in Kennedy's statement no doubt is setting up the inevitable legal battle that is only beginning. But I agree with one sentiment in the statement from Kennedy, who said he is now among "the list of men whose reputations and character have been irreparably damaged by the shoddy, careless, shameful so-called investigation behind this sham proceeding."

That language might be a bit over the top, but careers have been altered and lives changed forever as a result of this bounty investigation. To this point, it's difficult to say that impact has been merited.

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