Friday, March 27, 2015
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Rick Spielman

The one promise Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman gave media and fans regarding the hiring of the next head coach was a willingness to conduct an extensive search that includes 13 different possible categories.

 Off the record, I’m betting one of those categories include looking at former Vikings’ coaches or former coaches that have served on the same staff with Rick Spielman. Former Vikings’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has already surfaced as a possible candidate to replace Leslie Frazier.

 So, I decided to do a little search to look for a few under-the-radar names that might have a connection to Spielman or the Vikings. My search also includes consideration to any connections to a possible future franchise quarterback that the Vikings might be scouting in the 2014 NFL draft. This is what I found.

In today’s society and culture, consumer’s seem to crave drama, and are willing to pay good money to see it unfold.  Whether it is our television programming, political races, or professional sports we collectively want to see one human essentially do battle with another.  Today, Leslie Frazier’s departure from Minnesota likely left a few NFL consumer’s unsatisfied, and when the purple history books are written his firing will be as forgettable as his three seasons as the team’s head coach.

Frazier is widely respected within NFL circles.  Since stepping out of the shadows and into his prominent role, Percy Harvin sticks out as the only person with first hand experience that seemed unappreciative of Frazier as a man, and even that observation is pure speculation and lacks concrete evidence.

Instead, Leslie Frazier left Winter Park shaking hands with those he knew and looked as dignified as ever.  When he got in his car, if he chose to turn on his radio, he likely heard quote after quote about how loved he is by his current and former players.  He probably noticed some local and national media members talk about how they never dealt with a head coach as classy as he is.  He surely heard the statements released by his former employers that included almost nothing but respectful endorsements of Frazier’s character.

Frazier himself, as could only be expected, exited his position with grace and composure by all accounts.  His words included only the most subtle hints at disagreements and dysfunction within the organization.  The organization, most notably Rick Spielman, also poked back a little bit to make clear that Frazier made decisions that led to his demise and that they are fully ready to start another chapter.

That was, and is, the extent of the drama with Leslie Frazier at the helm.  He didn’t win enough football games.  He didn’t make enough brilliant calls.  He couldn’t get enough out of some of his players.  He couldn’t make things click at the right times.  He did, however, run the Childress Circus out of town and replaced it with an overall sense of coolness.

In some circles, there are folks rolling their eyes at the “pity party” that ensued following the news of Frazier’s departure, but I think to get annoyed is to miss the point.  Few argue that Frazier should have been retained, or that he did enough to keep his job, but almost everyone is willing to let the man walk away with his dignity and his personal pride.

In the last few weeks we have seen an NFC North coach curse out his hometown fans.  We’ve seen a midwest team fire a coach that was able to make a respectable run with perhaps the only quarterback situation worse than Minnesota’s.  We’ve seen hundreds of reporters flock to the Nation’s capitol to watch a father and his son lose their jobs.  We’ve seen plenty of things that will steal all of the headlines while the Vikings quietly move on to evaluating their options.

The coaching search sounds like it will be extensive and time-consuming.  We will have lots of fun sifting through all of the options and all of the rumors.  We will debate who is the best fit, what each candidate brings to the table, and we will all hope the future is bright.  There is plenty of time for that.

Right now, though, I am still processing the events that have taken place since yesterday’s win closed out the Metrodome one final time.  I’m certainly not crying about it all, it is no “pity party” on this end of your computer screen, but there is no doubt that this firing doesn’t entirely feel right.

The way Frazier’s career with the Vikings has ended, the manner in which it all took place, is perhaps the most shining example of why he shouldn’t be out of work for long if he chooses.  The respectful quietness also makes me wonder if this decision won’t eventually end up looking like one of Rick Spielman’s worst.

Good luck, Leslie… from one Vikings fan with a computer.

 

 Fresno State’s QB Derek Carr takes on USC in the Las Vegas Bowl. USC has a solid defensive front, so it will be interesting to see if Derek can rise to the occasion and prove he is worthy of a top 10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Nothing wrong with his arm strength or production, but I will be watching to see if he’s a big game performer in the clutch. His 4,866 yards passing this season with 48 touchdowns and 7 interceptions has me hoping the Vikings are in position to draft him.

Ranked just outside the top 50 on some draft boards is Washington State’s hard hitting SS Deone Bucannon. Spielman likes his defensive backs big, and Bucannon fits the mold at 6-1 215 lbs. Not only is he big enough to rattle some bones, but he is also a turnover machine with 5 interceptions on the year and 14 for his career. Bucannon is also the leading tackler for Washington State with 74 solo stops. With a solid bowl and combine performance, Bucannon could see his stock rise.

Washington State takes on Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl in the early Satuday game. The Rams have the 2nd ranked center in the country in Weston Richburg. With Charlie Johnson and Joe Burger set to be free agents, the Vikings are sure to take a look at this talented center from Colorado State. Weston has good NFL size at 6-4 300 lbs and has started 49 consecutive games. Weston blocks for the nation’s eight-leading rusher Kapri Bibbs who gained 1,572 yards this year. If Weston can prove he is versatile enough to also play guard, he just might be a guy Spielman will be tempted to target between rounds 2 and 4.

Quarterback Jay Cutler isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  His personality rubs some the wrong way, his leadership has been questioned countless times, and he won’t be winning any Mister Congeniality contests anytime soon.  Still, he is an accomplished veteran at the NFL’s most important position, and recent rumors stating the Bears might let him walk after this season are sure to grab attention.

It is an especially intriguing scenario for Vikings fans who are as hungry as ever for some new hope at the quarterback spot.  For every rumor in the NFL a counter-rumor is sure to follow, and some are wisely betting that the Bears don’t simply let Cutler leave, but let’s pretend for a second they do.  Should the Vikings be interested?  Would they be?

First off, they clearly will enter the offseason in the market for a new quarterback or three.  The Christian Ponder experiment is pretty clearly on it’s last legs, Matt Cassel can opt out of the second year of his deal, and Josh Freeman can’t be happy riding the bench after migrating north from Tampa midseason.  None of the above have proven they can lead the Vikings in an overly impressive way and so it seems they will once again be looking for the guy that just has “it.”

Secondly, they are preparing to play the next two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, and finding a quarterback that can have success outdoors in Minnesota could be even trickier than trying to find one that can succeed in the Metrodome… which hasn’t been the easiest task ever.

Cutler, now 30 years old, has played outdoors in every home game of his professional career.  He has three seasons in Denver under his belt, and four in Chicago, and so that experience could be mighty attractive.  He has not only played in the cold and wind, but he’s also been fairly successful.

Cutler has a career passer rating of 84.4 and 23,224 yards on 3,220 attempts.  He’s thrown for 149 career touchdowns and has thrown 108 interceptions.  Durability has been a concern lately, however, as he hasn’t played a full 16 game season since 2009.

The Vikings showed some interest in Cutler when he was on the trade block in 2009.  They were reportedly involved in a three-way negotiation that would have sent Cutler to Minnesota and Matt Cassel, of all people, to Denver.  The story goes, though, that head coach Brad Childress was not as sold on Cutler as the front office was and put a stop to the talks.  Of course, the rest is history.

Childress is gone now, though, and much of that same front office remains intact.  While intra-division trades are very rare, and Cutler would almost certainly have to become an unrestricted free agent to make this scenario possible, I am curious as to how receptive our readers would be to having Cutler be the next starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.  Keep in mind while voting that signing Cutler would not necessarily kill the team’s chances of drafting a young quarterback in May’s NFL Draft.

When Rick Spielman decided to win a bidding war with Chicago for the services of right tackle Phil Loadholt, he was willing to make veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield a casualty by sending him packing.  At the time, I opined that the Vikings not only lost their best cornerback as a result, but that they also lost their best linebacker and defensive leader.

Then, through free agency and the NFL Draft, the Vikings refused to make considerable investment into the linebacker position despite numerous opportunities.  Some third day Draft picks, and injury-prone free agent Desmond Bishop, amounted to no immediate upgrade to the starting linebacker positions.  Instead, the team was willing to move forward with Erin Henderson manning the middle.

Now, I am on record as being supportive of Henderson.  I think he has played better than many fans give him credit for.  Until last week, he led the team in tackles.  Only ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison have more sacks than his three.  He leads the Vikings with nine tackles for a loss, is tied for a team lead with two interceptions, and leads all the linebackers with three defended passes.  Those stats, however, have not been enough for fans and analysts to grant Henderson immunity from criticism as the Vikings currently place 29th in pass defense and 24th against the run.

Henderson was expected to step up, take command of the defense, and instead the entire unit has been on a season-long campaign of collapse.  With Winfield gone, and Kevin Williams and Jared Allen clearly on their way out, it seemed natural to look for a leader on defense to ease the transition.  Instead, Henderson has been at the center of a defense that has shown no ability to stop opponents, and instead of being a vocal leader that speaks of consistency and accountability he has found himself in the center of controversy.

That is exactly what you don’t look for in a team leader.

Last week, news broke that Henderson had been picked up for DWI and possession of a controlled substance.  The details are murky right now, and he claims this isn’t the “personal reason” he had for missing last week’s game, but Henderson has a long ways to go before anybody will consider him a legitimate leader on defense.

Henderson counts as the third Vikings player in three weeks to hit the police blotter, which prompted General Manager Rick Spielman to release a public statement, and the Vikings brass cannot be happy about any of this.  Surely this issue will come up when end-of-season evaluations of Henderson’s value are being performed and I can’t imagine the front office will be content relying so heavily on him in 2014 and beyond.

Perhaps the best case scenario, for Henderson, is to end up back at the weakside spot.

That would certainly seem like a preferred alternative to being out of a job.

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