There seems to be no doubt among veteran Vikings that the team indeed has another playoff run in it. This was demonstrated when, earlier in the off-season, Visanthe Shiancoe openly advocated for Donovan McNabb to become the new quarterback. And it’s been demonstrated again by all the love being flung at the feet of recently freed former Giants and Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress.
Two Vikings have gone on record saying they’d like to see Plax in purple. Tuesday on ESPN’s SportsNation Adrian Peterson proclaimed he’d “love [Burress] to be a part of my team.” Peterson explained, “He’s a guy – before he left the game for two years – he was one of the top receivers in the league. You look at [Michael] Vick, when he came out of [prison], how explosive he was. I’m sure [Burress] is going to be on fire and he’ll be ready to contribute to whatever team picks him up.”
Now Percy Harvin has echoed Peterson’s sentiments. “I think he’s one of the best receivers to play the game,” Harvin said in a radio interview, “so I would love to have him and get the opportunity to learn from him as I did [Randy] Moss and some of the other veterans I’ve played with.”
As long as Plax doesn’t try to give Percy lessons in safe gun ownership…
Perhaps it’s slightly dangerous to try taking the temperature of the squad based on a few comments, but I’m going to do it anyway, because I love danger. To me, all the stumping for slightly long-in-the-tooth guys like McNabb and Plax says one thing: The veterans on the Vikings aren’t ready to hand the controls over to a rookie quarterback.
As I said earlier, the vets have clearly bought into the notion that the Vikings have one more run in them. And it isn’t only the players who have taken this angle. In a recent KFAN interview, Leslie Frazier said “We think we have some pieces in place on our roster, that we don’t just have to be satisfied with being a mediocre team.” Frazier said this while commenting about the veteran vs. rookie quarterback dilemma. The coach is of course behind Christian Ponder, but he also has made it clear that he wants to add experience at quarterback.
The other thing Frazier made clear is that the team will only add experience at quarterback if they can find the right guy, and can afford what it would cost to get him. A guy like Donovan McNabb would be a nice luxury but not if it would mean paying all his hefty salary for 2011. Kyle Orton might be fun to put in the mix but not if it means giving up a 3rd round pick.
Plaxico Burress is of course in a different situation than guys like McNabb and Orton. Coming out of prison, he is not going to get a large contract from anyone. He will have to sign a small, incentive-laden deal, and prove himself worthy of more money down the road. Plax’s relative cheapness might make him more attractive to a team like the Vikings, who are now trying to make prudent financial decisions after years of reckless spending, but price isn’t the only factor involved. There’s also the baggage issue, which in Plax’s case is considerable.
The point here is, it’s easy for guys like Peterson, Harvin and Shiancoe to stump for the McNabbs and Burresses of the world, because in the end they won’t be held accountable for these personnel moves. Frazier, Rick Spielman and Zygi Wilf will be the ones taking the heat if more big name players flop in purple the way Bernard Berrian, Randy Moss and Brett Favre did in 2010.
Burress is simply not the right guy for this team at this time. Not with a rookie quarterback likely taking the reins. And not with the team looking to build more of a unified identity in the post-Favre era.
But Burress isn’t even really the issue here. The issue is this larger question of where the veterans’ heads are at going into the Frazier era. It certainly doesn’t seem like they’re remotely sold on the notion that a rookie QB can come in and lead them to immediate success. They may all be saying the right things about Ponder – how they’re behind him 100% and all of that – but their other words and actions seem to indicate a skepticism about the team’s current direction.
This could all be armchair psychologist nonsense on my part, but I think things are set up to become a rough, contentious mess in 2011. A rookie quarterback trying to prove himself on a team full of veterans who think they could win now with an experienced quarterback? Ponder had better play well early in the season or we could be in for another year of barking and sniping.
Leslie Frazier is, I believe, sensitive to the danger of a schism and the effect it could have on Ponder’s confidence, which is why he keeps talking about adding a veteran. If the team is going to melt down, let a guy with experience who doesn’t figure into the future plan go out there and take the heat. And when the year’s over you can let the malcontents go and get down to the business of genuinely rebuilding.