No clowning around. The Vikings have their work cut out for them.
As the Vikings close out perhaps the worst season in team history, many of us are shaking our heads wondering what went wrong. In short, it's been the proverbial, "when it rains it pours" scenario.
The Vikings were standing on the steps of the Super Bowl just two short years ago. Now they're in the basement of the NFC North. There are lessons here.
Not to over-dramatize the situation, but the 2012 draft is one of the most important in recent Vikings history.
By all accounts the 2011 draft was a heady one for the Vikings. Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Christian Ballard, DeMarcus Love, and Mistral Raymond formed the central picks. Two other picks are gone and the remaining nucleus includes WR Stephen Burton, DE D'Aundre Reed, and OL Brandon Fusco. This draft class has the potential to offer long-term results.
Two key factors explain the Vikings' mediocrity of late—questionable draft picks and suspect free agent signings. This article explores both areas and offers suggestions for improvement.
Ironically wearing Christian Ponder's number
Here are a list of key recent draft picks who are either no longer with the Vikings or who currently add no real value. The first two names cannot be assessed completely due to exigent factors.
2011: Kyle Rudolph has shown himself to be a savvy pick. He may well replace the aging Visanthe Shiancoe next year.
2010: Toby Gerhart was a surprise pick that has validated himself, albeit in a limited role.
2009: Phil Loadholt is a massive man, but the jury still straddles the fence on his worth. He is capable of big games, but he also has games that make fans wonder why he is still on the team.
2008: Tyrell Johnson has yet to prove his value and seems to be tottering on being cut or released by next season.
2007: Of the eight players chosen only two remain in Minnesota—Adrian Peterson and Brian Robison. Sidney Rice had one good receiving year, but he's been marred by injuries throughout his career and currently plays for the Seattle Seahawks.
2006: Tarvaris Jackson, enough said. And Ryan Cook—a journeyman at best—is no longer with the team.
Some of you may have already picked up on the theme here, but if you haven't, all of these players were second round draft picks. Round two is nearly as important as round one when it comes to players contributing and having an impact.
Like the ball - Cook's career still up in the air
A lack of draft picks has also plagued the Vikings. From 2006 to 2011 the Vikings did not have the following draft picks.
2006: No 3rd, 6th, or 7th round selections
2008: No 1st, 3rd, or 4th round picks. These picks were given away to select Jared Allen, and although he has proven to be worth a lot, we probably could have given up less to land Allen.
2009: No 4th or 6th round choice. The good news is the remainder of these players are still on the roster, but their contributions outside of Percy Harvin have not made a huge impact.
2010: Dropped out the first, and no 3rd
2011: No 3rd
Over this same period of time the Packers have had 58 picks to the Vikings' 42. If you throw in McNabb, Moss, and Allen as trades, the Vikings have had 45 selections. Of these 58 Packers draft picks 30 are still with the team. Only 20 remain with Minnesota.
Doing the math, the Packers have kept 59% of their picks while the Vikings have kept 44% of theirs. On a 53 man roster 30 quality players versus 20 is a significant difference.
This isn't just about the additional number of players remaining with the team. This is about having and making draft choices that contribute significantly to an organization.
Four of these six years Minnesota was without a third or fourth round draft pick. That's astonishing!
I would rather give up a number one for two second round picks and two third round picks. Our philosophy seems to be the opposite.
Two or three more Harvin type picks will have the Vikings back on track
Numbers are usually for mathematicians and politicians, but in this case they are pretty telling.
The indicators say the Vikings foolishly traded away draft choices for questionable players and made weak draft day trades.
At the same time, the league's top teams have been doing it the old fashioned way—good negotiating and good acquisitions. They're smart enough, for example, to sell off aging players who still have a little left in the tank but not enough to maintain the train of sustainability.
For the Vikings, who is to blame?
There is plenty of blame to go around.
It's difficult to point the finger at one particular person. Many have called for VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman to go. Others have said the Vikes should replace their scouts. Some say the coaches are not tapping into players' real talent. These are all valid calls for a turnover, and here's hoping the Vikings' management makes key moves this off-season.
The bottom line is the 2012 draft must be a successful one for Minnesota.
The Vikings have picks in every round except the sixth (Donavan McNabb). Talk about being ridden and put away wet, even it was for a sixth round pick.
It is key the Vikings hit this draft on all cylinders. I figure there must be close to a 60% success rate coming from the draft classes of 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 to turn the Vikings around.
An all too familiar scene, WRs running by former Viking Madieu Williams
The Vikings have struck gold with a few free agents, but for the most part this is an area that has backfired.
They're not alone. Most teams pursue free agents to fill critical voids.
What sets the Vikings apart is their absolute requirement to be aggressive with free agency. When you lose two or three draft choices every season, you must look at free agency to compensate for those moves.
Vikings fans are all too familiar with how giddy it felt to lure Brett Favre into the fold in 2009 and watch a rejuvenated team win. But how quickly that flame of excitement was snuffed out with an ignominious thud.
2010 was a debacle from beginning to end, and the Vikings looked like a franchise in reverse.
Here are some notable free agent signings within the past few years. Not all of it is negative.
Michael Jenkins: Currently on IR and has not made the impact the Vikings hoped for or expected.
Devin Aromashodu: A second tier receiver is just that, second tier. He has shown some flashes, but he just seems to be too inconsistent.
Remi Oyodele: Has had an up and down year. Next year will be pivotal in the assessment of his free agent value.
Brett Favre: Ah, Brett. If we could have just gotten you a few years earlier. We can "what if" all day long. It was a great, albeit brief, run.
Visanthe Shiancoe: The mouth of Minnesota is more that than productivity. I will credit him for at least looking like he's working his tail off. I worry that he can no longer separate and that only Kyle Rudolph lingers in the wings. If Shiancoe would accept a secondary role next year, I foresee the Vikings hanging on to him. Otherwise, his days appear to be numbered. I would say his return to investment value is a wash.
Antoine Winfield: Perhaps the Vikes' greatest free agent pick. He has been all of that and more, but time is not on his side. Too bad, we sure need him.
Pat Williams: Another great free agent acquisition who is no longer with the team. For several years he helped lead the Vikings defensive line in run yards per game and girth.
Defensive Backs: The list is too long and mostly filled with duds, thuds, and slugs. Madieu Williams never seemed to find his footing here and is now trying to make his name in San Fransisco. Case closed.
It's not rocket science
Free agents are not draft risks, but they sometimes make you risk your draft choices. There are occasions when a free agent signing allows you to move into other areas in the draft. For instance, if the Vikings are able to find a WR in the free agent market that is a considerable upgrade from Jenkins or Aromashodu, their first pick can be more focused on an offensive lineman.
One thing is for certain. With this year's continued nose dive the Vikings stand on the doorstep of being this decade's Detroit Lions.
Could it be years before the Vikings sniff the playoffs again?
This proud franchise is tarnished, and for us fans that is a hard pill to swallow. We are used to winning, yet we're approaching a consecutive losing season for only the second time in team history.
We need to at least keep head coach Leslie Frazier for one more year. He deserves another year given all the off-season turmoil that went on this year. Changing coaches again will only cause more problems and perhaps cause a further setback. Let's hang on to Frazier and Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and see where they lead us.
As for Defensive Coordinator Fred Pagac and several others, there may have to be changes. The only way I could see Frazier being let go is if we are able to lure Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, or Bill Parcells, and I do not believe that is going to happen.
With all that's been said, I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.
With great hope we have our quarterback of the future, the NFL's best running back, and a few complimentary players to go along with them. After 13 games, the Vikings have lost seven of those by six points or less. The final three games will further reinforce if these players are playing hard for a head coach they believe can turn this thing around.
On that note, I plan on remaining as positive as I can be. The Vikings will return to greatness sooner rather than later.
As always, constructive comments welcome.