Last off-season, the Vikings' brass had it easy. Returning all 22 starters, including a league-high eight Pro Bowlers, Minnesota figured to be right back in the Super Bowl mix. Free agency and the draft were mere formalities—adding depth and competition are relatively simple tasks.
I'm still trying to comprehend how things unraveled so fast. It's like this version of the Vikings was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan—they went from remarkable (The Sixth Sense) to rotten (The Last Airbender) while we were out getting refills on our popcorn.
Stealing a page out of Haley Joel Osment's playbook: "I see bad players... they're everywhere." Holes need to be patched and the individuals featured in this slideshow will be hard pressed to retain their respective roles in purple.
Sullivan calls a good game from the center position and he has some decent athleticism. The problem is that he gets no push at the point of attack. In fact, he spends more time on his back than Jenna Jameson.
Sullivan's unlikely to face any serious outside competition. Free agency is on hold and it's a relatively weak center class anyways. With regard to the draft, there's not a center worthy of the No. 12 pick, and the Vikings have more pressing needs to address in the second-round. Without a third-rounder, they won't likely give serious consideration to the center position before the fourth.
Sullivan's biggest threat may come from right guard Anthony Herrera, who the Vikings briefly experimented with last preseason when Sullivan was battling a calf injury. Herrera plays with a nasty streak and packs more power than Sullivan. If he can rebound from an ACL injury and grasp the center position, he could render Sullivan a backup.
In short, Sullivan may not have anyone breathing down his neck at the moment, but as a marginal talent, he should be constantly looking over his shoulder.
I always have to preface my Madieu Williams laments with this: the guy's a true hero. In fact, it makes me feel sleazy diminishing his on-field shortcomings when I should be devoting every last character to his humanitarian efforts. In the game of life, Williams is a winner.
Unfortunately, he's a loser on the gridiron.
Williams takes horrific routes on the ball. He's always showing up late. The dude could get lost in a Rent-A-John. Seriously, somebody get Gandhi a Garmin.
Pro Football Focus rated Williams as the 84th (of 85) best safety in the league last season. Or second worst, if you're a glass half-empty kind of fan. Still, Leslie Frazier recently suggested that Williams and the equally-lousy Tyrell Johnson will compete for the starting free safety job in 2011. Williams earns about $5 million more than Johnson, making him a prime candidate for release.
The Vikings showed no real interest in Bob Sanders or O.J. Atogwe, and the upcoming draft is weak at the safety position. However, if UCLA's Rahim Moore is available when the Vikings step to the podium in the second-round, it's possible that Williams and Johnson could share a cab to the airport.
In no way is this an indictment of Joe Webb. Drafted as a sixth-round wide receiver, he greatly exceeded all expectations in his rookie season once he was moved back to quarterback.
His shining moment came under the national spotlight in late December, when he took the Vikings into Philadelphia as 14-point underdogs and cost the Eagles a first-round playoff bye. Somewhere, Willie Beamen was blushing.
It was great moment, but understandably most of Webb's action last season was marked by the obvious fact that the game was moving far too fast for him to process. Whether it will ever slow down enough for him to fully capitalize on his freakish athleticism is still in serious question.
The Vikings will undoubtedly address the quarterback situation early in the draft, and they'll also explore their options with veterans once free agency and trading become an option. Webb will face competition from all directions.
Webb's 2011 fate may hinge on that freezing December night in Philadelphia. Not only did he put a commendable performance on tape, but the victory likely knocked the Vikings out of Gabbert/Newton range in the draft.
Webb should have a leg up on any of the second-tier rookies the Vikings draft, but unless he's made major strides behind the scenes, he still faces an uphill battle to keep the job.
Anthony Herrera is another guy I have a lot of respect for. If you could combine his heart and effort with the size and God-given ability of Bryant McKinnie, the results would encroach upon Chuck Norris-like invincibility.
I wish I could put McKinnie on this list, but he provides mostly solid production on talent alone. Sorry Vikings fans, he's not No. 1 on this list—his starter status is in no real danger.
Herrera gets every last ounce out of his limited ability, but he's a backup-caliber talent. Into next season he'll face challenges internally, externally, medically and financially.
The Vikings like what they saw out of second-year man Chris DeGeare last season, and at 6'4", 335 lbs., he dwarfs the 6'2", 315 lb. Herrera. He'll get a shot.
The Vikings are also likely to address the offensive line early in the draft, and either a guard or tackle may spell doom for Herrera. It's been speculated that if the Vikings go with a tackle at No. 12, McKinnie could be shifted to the right side and current right tackle Phil Loadholt could slide inside to guard, pinching Herrera out of the starting lineup.
Keep an eye out for tackles Tyron Smith (USC), Nate Solder (Colorado), Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), and Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin). In the second-round, guards Danny Watkins (Baylor), Benjamin Ijalana (Villanova) and Clint Boling (Georgia) could all be instant upgrades at right guard.
To make matters worse, Herrera's coming off ACL and triceps surgeries and his $2.65 million contract is on the high side, putting his roster spot on uneven ground.
As noted earlier, Herrera's best chance to stick may be to heal up and get comfortable at center, where he'd be an upgrade over John Sullivan.
Just when we think we've seen it all, Snooki writes a New York Times bestseller and Bernard Berrian survives the chopping block. Both fashionistas will bank far more than they deserve when it's all said and done, yet somehow Jersey Shore appears to have more staying power than "B-Twice."
Coming off his second consecutive invisible season, Berrian's owed $18.7 million over the next three seasons. For reference, he's totaled 83 catches, 870 yards, and four touchdowns over the last two seasons with a Hall of Fame quarterback under center. Davonne Bess, an average receiver in a bad Miami pass offense, put up nearly identical numbers last season alone.
Depending on how the Sidney Rice free agency fiasco and April's draft play out, the Vikings may have no choice but to roll twinkle toes out there again in 2011. Most Vikings fans, myself included, would prefer that they cut their losses and send Bernice on her way.