The second Brandon Meriweather was cut by the New England Patriots, fans of the 31 other NFL teams pricked up their ears. That’s what happens when 2-time Pro Bowlers suddenly hit the market.
Vikings fans’ ears probably pricked up higher than most when they heard that Meriweather was available, given the mess the safety position has become. As things stand now, Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson figure to be the two starters. Yes, the same Tyrell Johnson who during Thursday night’s preseason finale responded to the pressure of vying for a starting spot by dropping an easy interception.
There had been some buzz throughout Saturday RosterMania that the Vikings might cut Johnson outright, but when all was said and done, the team decided to keep their veteran safety, more out of necessity than choice. The Vikings now have 5 safeties on their 53-man roster, including Jamarca Sanford, the man Johnson has been battling for that starting job. Of those 5 safeties, only Husain Abdullah strikes anyone as a legit NFL starter, and him only barely.
Which leads us back to Brandon Meriweather. Today the Patriots parted company with the 2-time Pro Bowler, who despite his solid credentials fell completely out of favor with Bill Belichick. So far did Meriweather’s star fall in New England that when the fourth quarter of the Pats’ preseason finale rolled around, there was Meriweather running with the scrubs. Nevertheless, coach Belichick seemed to indicate that Meriweather was in no danger of being dumped, telling reporters, “[His camp] has been good. Brandon has been out there every day. He’s worked hard. He’s been able to do everything and I think he’s gotten better, worked a lot on his man-to-man coverage. He’s out there practicing like everybody else is.”
And we wonder why people don’t trust NFL coaches.
So what exactly went wrong for Meriweather in New England? Looking at the stats doesn’t give an answer; in fact, the stats indicate that this guy was among the best safeties in the league. In 64 career games, Meriweather has 12 interceptions and 27 passes defensed – numbers that would shame every recent Viking safety not named Darren Sharper. His best year came in 2009 when he picked off five balls for 149 yards and a TD, and added 83 tackles and 2 forced fumbles.
How could a Vikings team starved for playmaking at the safety position not drool when looking at that level of production? Like I said though, stats don’t tell the whole story. Meriweather may have shown flashes of brilliance in New England but overall he proved himself to be undisciplined and at times even dirty. His most egregious on-field transgression happened last season when he was fined $50,000 for a blow to the head of TE Todd Heap. Off the field Meriweather has been big trouble too, getting caught up in a shooting incident in Florida in early 2011 (he was ultimately cleared of all allegations related to the shooting).
Clearly, any team that signs Meriweather will be taking a chance on a guy with a spotty reputation. But this fact shouldn’t make the Vikings shy away. Minnesota has plenty of veteran leadership in their locker room, and coaches with strong personalities who can handle players who suffer from occasional maturity issues. What matters most with Meriweather is the production. True, he is probably not an elite safety despite the two Pro Bowl nods, but overrated as he may be, he is still better than any safety currently on the Vikings roster – way, way better.
To me Meriweather has exactly what the Vikings need in their secondary: the ability to make a huge play at any time. I grant you that the Cover-2 as the Vikings play it is not necessarily a defense that allows for lots of safety freelancing – just ask Darren Sharper about that – but I also think that Fred Pagac is a more aggressive-minded defensive coordinator than we’ve had in recent years, and might be open to allowing a player like Meriweather more leeway.
The thing we’ve heard over-and-over since Leslie Frazier took the reins is that the Vikings now want to build their schemes around their personnel rather than fit their personnel to the schemes. The personnel they have now don’t allow them to be aggressive in their secondary, but what if they had Meriweather back there instead of Tyrell Johnson or Jamarca Sanford?
Of course you would have to worry about Meriweather’s occasional lapses of discipline coming back to bite the team, but when you consider the potential rewards in terms of big plays, you begin to see why this is a risk worth taking. The key word here being “risk.” No, Brandon Meriweather would not be a sure thing. But when you compare his talent to that of the other players you’re considering running out there at safety this year, I think the decision becomes a no-brainer. If it’s possible at all to sign Meriweather, the Vikings should make a run at him.
Update: It’s a moot point now – the Chicago Bears have landed Meriweather, signing him to a one-year contract. No idea if the Vikings ever had interest in Meriweather. If they want to upgrade at safety – and I have to believe they are not happy with their current situation – they will have to look elsewhere. Renaldo Hill anyone? Marlin Jackson? Lawyer Milloy?
Darren Sharper (he meekly inquired, wincing his eyes in pain)?