As the Minnesota Vikings and Brett Favre seemingly get closer and closer to joining forces, it's worth asking: Are the Vikings doing the right thing for the franchise by pursuing a quarterback who will turn 40 in October?
While not admitting that the Vikings are talking to Favre, coach Brad Childress recently told Twin Cities radio station KFAN, "...I'm charged with adding and subtracting players to make this team better. If [signing Favre] is going to make us better down the road, I'm going to take care of the Minnesota Vikings."
The Vikings obviously have bought into the conventional wisdom that says they are a quarterback away from the Super Bowl. In 2008, the Vikings had the league's best run defense and its leading rusher, and now they think that adding a future Hall of Fame quarterback will make them super contenders.
Knowing all it will cost them is perhaps $12 million for one year, they are willing to forgo the development of a quarterback—or suspend the development of Tarvaris Jackson—and hope Favre can get them to the promised land.
Some will argue it's the right move, future be damned.
They'll say the Vikings' window for a championship is open now, and they need to jump through it. They'll say Favre is better than either quarterback who might otherwise start for the Vikings, Jackson or Sage Rosenfels. They'll say Childress is on the hot seat and needs at least to win a playoff game to keep his job.
Cynics will argue that signing Favre will not make the Vikings better—not in 2009 and certainly not later.
Skeptics will ask: Did the Vikings learn nothing from the New York Jets last year? Or from the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993? Or from the San Diego Chargers in 1973? Or from any other team that has tried to milk one more good year out of an over-the-hill quarterback?
Conventional team-building strategy says you draft a young quarterback and either develop him or let him learn on the run. Most teams historically have tried to build around the quarterback.
But some teams think they are so good everywhere else that they don't have time to build up a quarterback. That's what the Jets thought last year, when they traded for Favre. It's what the Chiefs thought in 1993, when they traded for a 37-year-old Joe Montana. It's also what the Chargers thought in 1973 when they acquired a 40-year-old Johnny Unitas.
The Vikings would say they are nothing like the Jets of 2008.
They would say the Jets failed with Favre because they had to teach him a new offensive system and he was injured at the end. The Vikings figure they will have a different Favre because he already knows their offense and, if he signs, it means he will be healthy thanks to recent shoulder surgery.
The Vikings would also say they are far better than the 1973 Chargers, who ended up starting rookie Dan Fouts in a season that ended 2-11-1.
The Vikings probably would say they are much like the 1993 Chiefs, who went to the AFC title game in Montana's first season (Montana started only 11 games, while 35-year-old backup Dave Krieg started the rest).
Favre will be 40 in October, and few quarterbacks have done anything noteworthy at that age, let alone lead a team to the Super Bowl.
Most of the very best quarterbacks in NFL history retired before they reached 40. Montana, Sammy Baugh, Fran Tarkenton, John Elway and Dan Marino all retired at age 38. In his final season, Elway was the oldest QB to lead an NFL team to the Super Bowl.
But the Vikings might point to a couple of relatively recent 40-somethings who had excellent individual seasons despite playing on non-winning teams.
In 1997, a 41-year-old Warren Moon threw for a Seattle record 3,678 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl. But the Seahawks finished 8-8.
In 2004, also at age 41, Vinny Testaverde threw for 3,532 yards for Dallas. But the Cowboys went 6-10.
The Vikings probably would compare their situation to the Arizona Cardinals, who anointed 37-year-old Kurt Warner their starter last year and let him take them to the Super Bowl.
Of course, over the history of the NFL, there has been a big difference between a 37-year-old QB and a 40-year-old. Only a dozen quarterbacks have played into their 40s, and most finished as backups.
Age aside, it's easy to see why the Vikings seem so desperate for a quarterback. They have been trying to find a successor to Daunte Culpepper since they traded the busted-up former first-round pick in 2005 and went with Brad Johnson.
The last two years, they have tried to develop Jackson, their surprise second-round pick in 2006, but they also have ended up using Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, and Gus Frerotte.
Considering Johnson and Frerotte both were 37 when they played for Minnesota, it figures that the Vikings are now pursuing a soon-to-be 40-year-old. But is it really the right thing for the franchise?
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