Vikings's 2006 Draft Should Be a Learning Experience

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Vikings's 2006 Draft Should Be a Learning Experience
(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

While everyone else seems to be talking about the likelihood that Brett Favre will un-retire yet again and join the Minnesota Vikings, I would rather go against the current and talk about the other quarterback we were linked with for a while: Jay Cutler.

Of course, now that Cutler is a member of the division rival Bears, it might be improper to continue with all the talk of what the Vikings should or shouldn't have done to acquire him from the Denver Broncos

But I think I'll go back a littler farther—to the 2006 draft itself—to rub more salt in the "could have been" wound that Childress created by not being aggressive in upgrading the most important position on the field when he arrived in Minnesota.

Brad Childress came to the Vikings in 2006 as the first of a giant class of 10 new head coaches to be hired in the NFL that season.

Besides Dick Jauron, Herman Edwards and Art Shell, none of the other new coaches had any head coaching experience, and only Parcells disciple Sean Payton and Belichick disciple Eric Mangini could rival Childress as hot offensive mind going into the hiring process. 

And what do offensive-minded coaches tend to place importance on when taking the reigns as a first time head coach? Settle the quarterback position of course.

Some of the other new head coaches had a stable QB situation going in.  Jauron, Edwards, Mangini, Gary Kubiak, Mike McCarthy and Scott Linehan had either newly drafted guys from previous regimes who couldn't be given up on already, or firmly entrenched veterans in that role. 

Rod Marinelli and Sean Payton brought in veteran free agents to start over in a new town.  Art Shell did neither in Oakland and was promptly replaced at the end of a two-win season. 

But Childress took a completely different route.  Brad Johnson was the veteran holdover from an offensively gutted Vikings team under Mike Tice, but was hardly the plan for the future as he was 37 years old at the time. 

Johnson had filled in admirably for Daunte Culpepper—who had torn three knee ligaments earlier in the season—but his age and pedestrian stats (1800 yards and 12TDs in nine games) were hardly reason for optimism. 

At the time of Childress' hiring, it was unknown how soon or how well veteran QB Culpepper would recover from his devastating knee injuries.

It was also unknown that he would basically force the team to trade him after negotiations on reworking his contract and other differences with Childress and new owner Zygi Wilf made him sour on Minnesota.

It didn't help that Culpepper was one of the defendants in the now notorious Love Boat incident in December of 2005, before Childress was even hired.

So you couldn't blame Childress for having little faith if Culpepper being the answer at quarterback, or for even deeming the offense too broke to immediately fix and being satisfied to ride out his rookie campaign with solid veteran Johnson in the fold. 

But what I and other Vikings fans have had trouble accepting is how self-described quarterback tutor Childress could both overestimate the draft value of Tarvaris Jackson and undervalue the more talented Jay Cutler.  And not just back then, but currently as well.

We have to assume that Childress thought he had more to do with Donovan McNabb's progression as a starting quarterback in Philadelphia than McNabb's own talent did.  And this no doubt led him to the drafting of a "poor man's McNabb" who could grow into the Pro Bowl caliber QB McNabb has turned into while not costing the team a top-five draft pick, which the team didn't have to start with.

But when wily Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan, who already had a Pro Bowl QB (Jake Plummer) on the roster, decided to make a trade to move up and grab the strong-armed Cutler, I have to hope that Childress' heart sank. 

Surely the Vikings genuinely desired Cutler to be the cornerstone in a rebuilding process under a new coach and new owner.  If not, we all need to ask ourselves how important Childress was to the Eagles' offense, which went to four NFC Championship games while he was an assistant there. 

The Broncos traded their first and third-round picks (Nos. 15 and 68) to the St. Louis Rams to move up to eleven and draft Cutler.  Six picks later, the Vikings drafted linebacker Chad Greenway, who has been solid after missing his rookie year with an injury. 

But Greenway is still a linebacker, and no linebacker will ever make as big a difference in a team's performance as a quarterback will.  There are three LBs on every team when the defense takes the field. Only one QB takes the field and he has his hands on the ball every play, making decisions about how to put points on the board and win games. 

Considering that the Vikings had two second and two third round picks, it certainly stands to reason that they had more than enough ammunition to move up a few spots to take a franchise quarterback.

The point total for the two picks Denver gave up is 1,300.  The total points for the Vikings' five first-day picks was 2,055. The ammo was there, but nobody had the guts to shoot the gun.

But rather than pull the trigger on a franchise-changing trade, the Vikings opted for an ill-advised one, trading their two third round picks to the Super Bowl champ Steelers for the last pick in round two. With this pick, Childress selected his poor man's McNabb, who would have been a better pick with their No. 95 pick in round three.

His physical gifts and athleticism were—and still are—undeniable, but as we all knew then and certainly know now, there is more to being a good QB between the ears than there is below the neck.

And after seeing Jackson show flashes of skill but be mostly inconsistent and overwhelmed in his two seasons as starter, many now think he's more of a poor man's Tony Banks than McNabb. But Jackson still has a chance to be the Vikings' opening day starter if he can hold off newly acquired Sage Rosenfels for the job this summer.

And if not, he certainly will see the field again sometime this upcoming season if Rosenfels throws himself around like in his infamous "Rosencopter" stunt against the Colts last year.

But in the past three seasons, Childress had to look across the country and in the other conference to see the talent he was afraid to grab in round one of 2006.  Now he'll have to look across the field at Cutler twice.

And after Kyle Orton, who could barely keep the starting job in Chicago went 2-3 against the Vikings in the past three seasons, even Childress has to be a little scared that a gunslinger like Cutler can eat his defense alive. And if the defense can keep him at bay, how well will Chilress' own offense be able to keep up? 

After passing on the chance to draft a franchise QB in his first season, then passing on a chance to acquire the same QB in a trade this offseason, it remains to be seen how important Childress thinks the QB position really is.

Will a journeyman QB who was traded for on the cheap save his job?  Will the inconsistent QB he drafted in 2006 turn into a player more McNabb than Banks if given another opportunity? 

And if neither does anything to impress us in the upcoming season, making it a long five years since Minnesota's last outstanding QB play, will Childress finally make a move to acquire a franchise QB in next year's draft or through a trade? 

You can't be afraid of success in the NFL and keep your job for long. Especially when your owner needs behinds in his stadium's seats to make a new stadium pitch more palatable.  It remains to be seen how the offensive guru can get better offensively in his fourth season as head coach.

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