Tuesday, March 14, 2006

John Clayton, your time is now!

ESPN's John Clayton likes to break stories. And that's fine, he's very good at that. His trouble lies in his analysis.

What are the Vikings thinking?
Two years ago, they were a trendy Super Bowl pick. They had Randy Moss at wide receiver and Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. Following the 2004 season, both players were 28-years-old and in their prime. Moss was the league's ultimate playmaker, a receiver almost impossible to overthrow and known for making the impossible catch, especially in the red zone.
Anyone else remember Moss taking plays off, walking off the field early or causing team distractions? I recall the Vikings being a better pick after Moss was traded.

Culpepper was a freak. The league's biggest starting quarterback at 268 pounds, Culpepper was a load for smaller opposing linebackers to bring down. Plus, he had the speed and moves to run like a halfback. On top of all that, he had a rocket arm and could average 30 touchdowns a year.
And then Daunte got a Blackberry for Christmas and started emailing management his outlandish demands.

So what are the Vikings thinking giving up both players within a year for wide receiver Troy Williamson, linebacker Napoleon Harris and a second-round pick in 2006? New owner Zygi Wilf wasn't part of the Moss trade. That was from the Red McCombs era.
The organization decided there were too many incidents involving Moss that were distractions. So the Vikings shopped him in a trade, didn't wait to get value and ended up getting the seventh pick in the draft and Harris, who ended up playing only 25 percent of the downs.

They drafted Williamson with that No. 7 pick last year. He is a fast deep threat, but he played in only 29 percent of the offensive downs last season. Harris' days in Minnesota are probably numbered, because the Vikings spent $4 million a year to get outside linebacker Ben Leber out of San Diego. Plus, Harris is in the final year of his contract.
No one expected Williamson to make the Pro Bowl last year. He is raw and still learning, but you can’t say he’s a bust. Nap Harris is a bust. The 49ers only got a 2nd round pick for Terrell Owens. A first rounder plus a potential starter is the as near fair value as possible. Of course considering Moss’ numbers sharply declined the past two years, it’s not that bad of a deal.

Championship teams are built around five key positions -- quarterbacks, receivers, cornerbacks, tackles and defensive ends who are playmakers. The Vikings ended up giving up 40 percent of those cornerstone positions for Williamson, who is a fast prospect but caught only 24 passes for 372 yards in 2005, and whatever they get in the second round this year.
Name the Ravens receivers, quarterback and playmaking defensive ends. Now name the Rams’ corners, tackles and defensive ends. How about the Cowboys defensive playmakers during the dynasty?

What are the Vikings thinking?
Thanks to good cap management, though, the Vikings have the salary space to bring in top players. Williamson might develop into a big-play threat. They hit gold with Koren Robinson, whom they re-signed after his amazing comeback season from alcohol problems (Robinson made the Pro Bowl in 2005 as a return man.)
First Clayton implies they are fools, but then says the team is in good shape. What does Koren Robinson have to do with this story? One reason the Vikings have lots of cap room is trading a declining Moss.

The organization apparently didn't like Culpepper's contract demands this offseason. Moreover, he didn't hit it off with new head coach Brad Childress by not working out at the team facility. Culpepper preferred to train in Florida. New coaches want their quarterbacks in town.
Maybe Clayton would appreciate his franchise player publicly demanding a pay raise after a horrendous season. Or passive-aggressively asking for a trade via email. And how ludicrous of Childress to request Culpepper in town to better assimilate to a new offense.

Back in the Dennis Green days, the Vikings made trips to the playoffs each year, even though Green went through a long list of veteran quarterbacks in the later stages of their careers. Although that strategy might get you to the playoffs, it's hard to win a Super Bowl with what you might consider transitional quarterbacks.
“Transitional Quarterbacks” that won Super Bowls: Jay Schroeder/Doug Williams, Jeff Hostetler, Mark Rypien, Trent Dilfer and hold on, it’ll come to me…Brad Johnson.

Culpepper, when healthy, has the ability to win a Super Bowl.
Franchise quarterbacks that have not won a Super Bowl: Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Drew Bledsoe, Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick.

It's interesting that he's going to the Dolphins, a team, like the Vikings, that had nine wins in 2006. Miami head coach Nick Saban felt he got the most he could out of the aging Gus Frerotte.
Why is this interesting? John Clayton also thinks it is interesting that Miami and Minnesota are next to each other in an alphabetical listing of NFL teams.

But look at the impact of what a quarterback can do.
Carson Palmer put the Bengals on the playoff map in Cincinnati. Fortunately, he went to a franchise that had a coach, Marvin Lewis, who knew what to do with such a commodity. He sat him for a year and let him blossom into a Pro Bowl quarterback.
Marvin the Wise tells Palmer, “Carson, I want you to sit out this year and then next year you can blossom.” Other stupid coaches like Jim Mora immediately played Peyton Manning to his ruin.

If Palmer comes back from his knee injury, the Bengals, like the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger, will be Super Bowl contenders every year. The Patriots won three Super Bowls with their franchise quarterback, Tom Brady.
What Clayton is trying to say is, a franchise quarterback is critical to a dynasty. But that is not the only ingredient for a Super Bowl team. Randy Moss wore out his welcome and the Vikings did the best they could. Daunte had a horrible 2005, severely blew out his knee, isn’t a perfect fit for the West Coast offense, and forced a trade. For the Vikings to get a 2nd round pick is a decent save compared to releasing him for nothing. The Dolphins get a potential franchise quarterback with serious questions, and still very expensive.

The Vikings can only hope they can be as successful as the Seattle Mariners were when they went through a period in which they lost Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.
The Mariners won games but no championships after Griffey and Rodriguez left. It's hard to replace franchise players, and the Vikings hardly got value. What are they thinking?
The Mariners have never been to the World Series. Since Clayton ends with this terrible analogy, I’ll end with this cheapshot:
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