Well, the immediate, knee-jerk reaction on the latest in a long line of devastating Vikings losses ranged from poetically angry, to frustratingly analytical, to downright maudlin. They were all accurate, and came from the entire emotional spectrum of Viking fandom, which is bigger than the light spectrum right now. Look, we’re Vikings fans. We embrace the suck better than any other fan base in the NFL, except maybe Detroit, which is French for ‘Football Wasteland’. We're number one! Woo!! What we haven’t really done is figure out what needs to happen in the off season so we can stare into the abyss of another roller coaster of a season. One that either ends in a Super Bowl championship, or me disabling the air bags on my car and driving into a big ass oak tree at 107 miles an hour. Yes, it’s really come to that, and there’s not one of you out there who wouldn’t hop into the passengers seat if this happens again next year. So if you care to look past the jump, let’s look at what I think are several key questions and see how they might be answered.
1. Will he or won’t he?
The return or retirement of Brett Favre will largely determine Minnesota's chances for 2010. My gut tells me that he will retire; he took a pounding from the Saints, and he has to be emotionally drained. The 2009 season was a perfect storm of environment, schedule, and talent on the roster, and was really one of those special moments in time that had that feeling of destiny. Oh, wait, nevermind. It’s the Vikings, also known as the John Edwards Bastard Love Child of Destiny. When you look at the 2010 schedule, five of eight road opponents are outdoors, and all of those are northern, cold-climate teams. That means there’s a good chance that there will be two or three late season games outdoors, against quality opponents like Philly, New England, the Jets, and Bears. There is also a rematch in New Orleans, and home games against Dallas, Arizona, and the Giants. It’s a brutal schedule, with tough defenses that physically pound their opponents. 12-4 record aside, the Vikings did have an easy schedule, but that won’t be the case next season.
But maybe, just maybe, once he’s away for awhile, and the injuries heal, that fire will light in the belly, and he’ll give it one more go. He’s got a rapport with his young receivers, a great running game, and a good, if slightly over-rated, offensive line. Brett Lorenzo Favre, love him or hate him, had arguably the most remarkable season any quarterback ever had in the NFL when you take into consideration his age and the circumstances surrounding his arrival in Minnesota, and it will be very tempting to give it one more shot. It was a memorable ride, Brett. Thank you, because it was worth it, kick to the junk and all.
Oh, and Vikings fans out there: no bitching allowed once the waffling and speculation begins. It was part of the deal. We dished it out for years to our Packer friends, be prepared to take it.
For the record, I want him to come back. It was a lot more fun than it was agonizing.
2. What should the draft strategy be?
I have to say I am more than willing to take the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ strategy here. Regardless of what the needs are heading into the draft, Minnesota takes a back seat to no one when evaluating draft results since 2006. That said, there are needs, among them defensive line, defensive backfield, and probably a quarterback. Whether Favre retires or not doesn’t matter in the sense the Vikings will still need a long term answer at quarterback, and I do not favor going after a veteran like Donovan McNabb, so answering the question on draft day seems like the best solution. It’s tough to say whether or not Tarvaris Jackson is the answer, but if he isn’t, then QB is something that must be addressed in the draft. I know the name Tim Tebow garners a lot of controversy, but if the Vikings go in the QB direction, I say roll the dice and go after Tebow. You can teach a kid to throw, but you can’t teach charisma, leadership, and heart. Follow that up with defensive backs, because the Vikings were as bad in pass coverage as they were good in run defense.
3. Who Stays and Who Goes?
Currently, the most important unrestricted free agents are Benny Sapp, Jimmy Kennedy, and Chester Taylor. With Cedric Griffin’s knee injury in the NFC Championship, signing Benny Sapp jumps to the top of the ‘to do’ list. With Pat Williams 50-50 on retiring, Jimmy Kennedy becomes a pretty important re-signing, and Adrian Peterson’s sudden inability to hold on to the football, (a pretty important pre-requisite for a running back) Chester Taylor’s re-signing might be the most important of all three, but probably the most difficult. Taylor signed with Minnesota to be a feature back, got to be one for one year, and then the Vikings drafted Peterson. Taylor has adapted well in his new role as a third down, change of pace back, but if he gets an opportunity to be a feature back, I wouldn’t be surprised if he took it. Kennedy, a former first rounder who failed to live up to his draft status, has had a career year in a backup role, and it seems he has found a home in Minnesota. Right now, all three of these guys are pretty important to the 2010 team, and re-signing all of them needs to be a high priority.
4. Can You Bounce Back From an OT Loss in the NFC Championship?
I know we’re about as anguished as can be, yet we didn’t throw a block, complete a pass, or make a tackle. Now imagine being a member of the team. It’s easy to say that they’re professional athletes and they get paid a lot of money to ‘get over it’ and focus on next season. There’s been a fairly significant ‘hangover’ of sorts for teams that advance as far as the NFC championship, and teams like Seattle, Chicago, and Carolina have had a difficult time climbing back to the mountain top. That said, teams like Arizona, the Giants, and Indianapolis have been able to bounce back and find success. Can the Vikings do it? I wish I had an answer. I say yes, if Favre comes back. They’d be a veteran team with a veteran quarterback, with a lot of talent up and down the roster.
And if Favre does retire for good? Well, I'm going to go for a ride in my car. Passenger seat's open if anybody wants to tag along.