Saturday, March 10, 2007

NFC North Offseason Needs

Here is a brief look at what Purple Kool Aid thinks are the primary needs of NFC North teams...

Chicago - This team was in the Manning Bowl so the cupboard is not exactly bare. They don't need much but they still need to improve if they want to get back to the SB and have a shot at winning it. Here are some things they need to figure out...

1. Figure out the QB situation. I know Rex was the guy that got them to XLI, but to call his play erratic is an understatement. Rex was fortunate to have his defense and Hester win games for him, over the long haul he won't be so fortunate. The Bears need him to figure things out and take 2 steps forward or they'll suffer the fate of the recent trend of SB losing teams.
2. Coaching stability - a couple days ago this was a bigger deal, but today they wrapped up Lovie to a contract extension. The departure of Rivera is kind of intersting but it will remain to be seen if that affects the defense.
3. Depth on defense - the loss of Tommie Harris and Mike Brown severely hurt their run defense. This unit was an historic unit for the first half of the year, but did enough to get by as the regular season came to a close.

Detroit - This could be a long list but I'll try to keep it brief. The problem is their weakest link is the one calling the shots in the months of February through July. As a Vikings fan I love Matt Millen but he has yet to show he can help a team to actually improve it's talent level.

1. Find a QB - Kitna was adequate as he tried to lead a losing team to not lose as much, but he clearly is not a viable long term solution. They'll have the opportunity to draft a QB with the #2 pick in the draft but they are projected to take OT Joe Thomas. This is probably a wise move but they have to figure something out for QB. Fortunately Matt Millen is around to solve this mystery.
2. Fix the Defense - While the Lions have struggled in recent years (the Millen Era) at least they used to have a feared defensive front 4. Now there is very little about the Lion's D that frightens anyone except Lion's fans. 30th in the league in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed. Ernie Simms was a nice draft pick last year and is one of the pieces that can help build this unit back to respectability. But that is one piece and Millen needs to find several more to go with him.
3. Offensive Line - We already addressed the QB situation, the WR situation is good and Kevin Jones shouldn't be judged to harshly since has no OLine. Speculation is that the Lions will draft Joe Thomas with the #2 overall pick and that should be a big step in the right direction (I wouldn't rule out a Jarrett or Ted Ginn Jr. pick there though). The trenches need to be addressed if this team wants to take any steps forward.

Green Bay - this team finished hot and now Brett Favre is energized to come back and capture that career INT record (and I think he's somewhere near some career TD record). Really though this team was very young and steadily improved over the course of the 16 games, especially the OLine. Here are the things they need to get back into the playoffs...

1. Wide Receiver - having Donald Driver is always nice but they are missing a big play guy that will open up the shorter routes for Driver and theoretically make thing easier on Favre. Rumors are now surfacing that the Pack might make a move for Randy Moss. While this is intriguing I don't know if it will be as beautiful a marriage as people think. The other wild card is Koren Robinson. Reports are that the Packers are keeping Koren on their roster and plan to utilize his talent when he is eligible to return from his NFL suspension. That is a possible dirty bomb waiting to go off.
2. Running Back - Ahman Green is an unrestricted free agent so ittle explanation is needed here. There is nothing behind Green so sign him and drafting a RB would probably be a great idea. Early Indications are that the Packers will draft Mashawn Lynch RB Cal. Lynch has some baggage but also loads of talent.
3. Quarterback - This is a skill position heavy list of needs, but Favre can't and won't play forever. Is Rogers ready to take over in 2008 or more importantly is he ready to play should Favre have to miss some time due to injury? For a team that could be in the wild card hunt losing a couple games because of an inexperienced backup QB can't happen.

Minnesota - here is a more detailed list of the Viking's needs. 6-10 was a very disappointing finish for a team that started hot and had expectations of playoffs. A team that was the best in the league against the run and was capable of running the ball should be a playoff team. But there were some problems...

1. Wide Receiver - This is slightly more of a pressing need than the Packers have. Green Bay at least has Driver, Minnesota has Troy Williamson? This is an ugly situation that doesn't look solvable in the near future. Free agency is weak but this is a WR heavy draft and that will help but the Vikings need 2 good WRs to contribute NOW. Rumors persist that the Vikings might make a move for Ashley Lelei. This is a step in the right direction but not enough, my dream is that we move up in the draft and land Calvin Johnson, but that won't happen.
2. Right side of OL - Guard and Tackle were atrocious in 2006. Youngsters Ryan Cook and Marcus Johnson will likely battle for RT, but upgrading RG would make the RT hole a bit easier to swallow. Could be a 1st day draft pick or a mid-level free agent signing to "fix" this problem.
3. Defensive End - This might be taken care of by returning Erasmus James from injury, but the pass rush was non-existent in 2006. The DT combo of the Williams brothers was easily the best in the division but the attention they require did nothing to help the outside get to the QB. Most likely scenario I predict is the Vikings use the #7 pick on DE and 2nd round pick on a WR.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Viking Fan Apathy

Tom Powers' column today addresses a ridiculous conspiracy theory that the Wilf Group is intentionally killing fan enthusiasm for the Vikings so it will be easy for them to leave town. Powers isn't promoting the the theory but it has legs because whether it's intentional or not they are killing fan interest for the Vikings in this state.

It wasn't more than 2 years ago that the Vikings dominated this town. The Twins could win the World Series, the Gopher football team could be going to the Rose bowl and the Wild could be making a run at The Cup, but if the Vikings were playing the Texans, letting their 3rd string K go or signing their 7th round draft pick to a contract and that would dominate the headlines. But that is slowly going away.

The Vikings are fortunate that nobody with the exception of the Twins have mustered any sort of sustainable success.

  • Gopher Football has moved from terrible to mediocre, but that isn't exactly filling the seats at the Dome.
  • Twins have been very successful winning 3 of the last 4 division titles but going down early in the playoffs are thwarting their momentum.
  • Gopher hockey is strong but that fan base is always going to be smaller and more niche.
  • Wild are still parading as a building expansion team and have enjoyed a long honeymoon. But here again regardless of their success at best their Minnesota Sports domination will only last during the playoffs.
  • Gopher Basketball is capable of taking over the town but in their current state they are miles away from that, step 1 for them is to get 14,000 fans back into The Barn.
  • Timberwolves have potential but they would need to be successful over several seasons (note to Kevin McHale, 8th seed and losing 1st round may get you ranked #1 amongst all GMs, but that is not "successful").
What is my point? Well the point is that if the Vikings aren't careful they will lose their crown of top dog in the Minnesota sports scene. And that is a crown they have worn for decades. It has weathered 2 Twins' World Series titles, 4 Super Bowl losses, 2 NFC Championship disappointments (Drew Pearson pushed off!), a Gopher basketball Final Four run (er, wait, I mean that never happened), and a Gopher Football Rose bowl victory (er, wait, I mean that REALLY never happened).

The Twins, Gopher football and Gopher basketball are really the only teams that could ever overtake the Vikings.
  • The Twins are closing the gap. 4 straight successful seasons and a dynamic young nucleus of Santana, Mauer, Morneau, Nathan etc mean they could be great for the next several seasons. They have a new stadium coming which will make for an exciting 2010 season. If they were to go out and win the 2007 World Series they would make a serious dent in the Vikings #1 ranking.
  • Gopher football is poised to go from mediocre to good, and if we are lucky, great. New coach and new stadium could be a catalyst to move up the list. Gopher football could take over faster than the Twins and Tim Brewster has said all the right things to move Gopher Nation into #1 in this state.
  • Gopher basketball could, but they would need a decade of success including a couple (few) Final Four runs. But recruiting news and a long season could be interesting enough news to captivate the masses.
The teams listed above cannot take over #1 on their own, they need a collapse by the Vikings and that is happening. After dominating in the 70s, late 80s, early and then late 90s they have now strung together 6 mediocre seasons. Beyond their lackluster play they have jettisoned or lost but not replaced any superstars that we once enjoyed watching. They gave us a likable but an "in over his head" head coach in Tice, then followed him up with a boring and vanilla coach who hasn't shown he's above mediocrity in Brad the Red Hot Childress Pepper.

They now have their hats hung on a D1aa QB who nobody knows anything about to go with an offensive core that includes Bobby Wade and Visanthe Shiancoe as their newest additions. And a defense that is very good but skitzo. This team is boring, their moves are boring, their players are boring, their stadium is boring, Brad the Red Hot Childress Pepper is boring and if they are not careful everyone is going to ignore them.

Outrage and disgust are signs of passion and shows that people still care. I don't see emotion surrounding this team anymore. Nobody cares and apathy is the worst thing a franchise can be faced with because you cannot endure and survive (or get stadium built).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hang on to those jerseys!

Adios to a now former-former Viking.

Brad Johnson's days of wearing purple have ended for a 2nd time. This should give the team an additional 1 million in cap space according to Kevin Seifert. But I hope you all learned your lesson before, DON'T throw that B. Johnson jersey away just yet cause you never know.

Other jerseys to put in the back of the closet, but not yet ready for the Goodwill pile are...

Wiggins - apparently asked to be waived and we complied. Look for Jacksonville(Tice) and St. Louis(Linehan) to clamor over his services.
Rosenthal - the Red-Hot-Childress-Pepper threw up a smokescreen last week that Rosenthal might not be cut, but we were all fooled yet again. Mike was cut today.

Hang on to this one (for now)...

Smoot - still a Viking but as I understand it his cap-salary could be spread out over 2 years if they cut him tomorrow (after free agency starts).
Kleinsasser - I know there are a lot of these jerseys out there (really, there are for some unknown reason). Jimmy's chances of remaining a Viking are about 50/50 in my estimation. Depends on a number of things like will he restructure his contract? Will we land Daniel Graham? Will we draft a TE?

Kool Aid Drinkers