As enjoyable as the Tuesday Night domination of the Philadelphia Eagles was, I couldn't help but think ahead towards next year, as wunderkind Joe Webb made play after play with his feet and arms.
In some ways, Webb's play was a lifeboat of hope in this Titanic of a season. His athleticism was not in question coming in to the game, but the general consensus was that he was going to get rolled by a talented and experienced Eagles defense. It was Webb, however, that did the rolling, with his feet, his arm...and his poise and confidence.
In other ways, Webb's performance was the worst thing that could've happened to the Vikings as they head into the off-season.
Yeah, it could be the worst thing. Follow my reasoning, after the jump.
The Vikings personnel guys have a very difficult question they will need to answer as they start to prepare for the draft and free agency:
Who is Joe Webb, really?
Is he the guy we saw Tuesday, or the guy that was largely lost against Chicago? Had Webb been Jacksonian (Tarvaris, not Andrew) in his play against the Eagles, the Vikings strategy for the off-season becomes very simple: get a quarterback, probably very early in the draft, and sign a Gus Frerotte/Sage Rosenfels-type backup to play caretaker and mentor for a year. Towards the end of the season, give the new guy a few starts (depending on where the Vikes stand in the playoff chase), let him get his sea legs under him, and let him start his hall of fame career in 2012. Webb's play throws a potential wrench into the plans. An encouraging wrench, but a wrench nonetheless.
What if Webb is the for real guy we saw on Tuesday? The Vikings have a lot of issues that need to be addressed on both sides of the ball, and NOT having to draft a QB allows the Vikings to target more areas and gets the roster shored up faster than if they do need a QB. The offensive line needs an extreme makeover, Pat Williams will need to be replaced, possibly Ray Edwards, possibly Ben Leber, and so help me Odin, if Madieu Williams is wearing purple next year, it better be with the Baltimore Ravens.
To add to this Gordian knot, [Redacted] Coach Leslie Frazier has said that if Brett Favre is able to play against the Lions, he will.
Seriously? Is Y.A. Tittle busy on Sunday?
I appreciate everything Favre has done and meant for the Vikings in his two years here, but I have two concerns with this. For one, the guy is risking permanent, lifelong injury at this point, and love or hate Favre, no one who has a soul wants to see anyone have to deal with long term health issues after they leave the NFL. I see heroes from my childhood crippled so badly they can barely walk, and it's sad. Secondly, Favre won't be back with the Vikings in 2011, and neither will Tarvaris Jackson for that matter, so with no playoff spot on the line it makes perfect sense to give Webb another audition. The only way the Vikings will know whether or not they can go with Webb is for him to be evaluated by playing.
Webb has earned the Detroit start, with that I don't think there is much debate on.
Regardless of how Webb plays, it gives the Vikings more game tape to make an informed decision. Let's face it, sometimes guys do well because there is so little game film of him defenses have a hard time scheming against him. They don't know what his tendencies are, so a guy that doesn't play that often tends to be able to have a few really good games before everything catches up to him. Think how many times over the years a journeyman backup started against the Vikings and looked like Joe Montana for a day. This could be the same case here. And quite frankly, if Frazier and his staff aren't retained, having as much game film on Webb will help the new staff make an informed decision as well.
Here's the problem, and it's two-sided:
1) What if Webb plays well and the Vikings go with him and turns out to be 'just a guy', but the Vikings thought he would be 'the guy'?
2) What if the Vikings dismiss Webb's late-season spectacularness (is that a word?) as a fluke, and get a so-called 'blue-chip' QB in the draft, and Webb gets a stranglehold on the starter's job like a Brett Hart figure 4 leglock?
Option 2 is better than option 1, but both have downsides. In the first scenario, we're back to square one at the quarterback position, and it's the Denny Green 1990's all over again--get a guy in a few years past his prime and hope we catch lightning in a bottle, like what happened with Warren Moon and Favre. But what we end up with is a Jim McMahon, who can't throw 40 yards without a sling shot. How does the Chad Pennington Noodle Arm Quarterback Review sound for the next five years? Yeah, didn't think so.
In the second option, it's obviously better to have two good QB's than none, but it will take a couple of seasons to figure out who you go with, and then comes the inevitable trade, much like San Diego had to do with Philip Rivers and Drew Breees a few years back. Pick the wrong guy to trade, and it comes back to haunt you. Rivers has been good, but Brees has been otherworldly, winning a Super Bowl with New Orleans. And if they hadn't drafted Rivers, would they have been able to pick the guy that would've taken them over the top? Yes, yes, there was the shoulder injury and trade with New York in there, but you get the idea.
And that goes back to this off-season's draft strategy. If Webb turns out to be the guy, but the Vikings draft yet another QBOTF, when it comes time to trade one of them, it will be hard to keep Webb because of the money spent on the rookie. It's easy to say that you keep the best guy, but economics do come in to play at the professional level, and when you've given a wheelbarrow full of money to a rookie, it's hard to justify not playing him to the owner. If there is a new CBA, the rookie wage scale could be a part of that, and this could alleviate that problem, but for now, that is the landscape of the NFL.
Well Mr. Smart Ass blogger, what would YOU do?
Thanks for asking. I preface my answer with this: You can peruse DN and find example after example...after example that would prove in a court of law I have no business whatsoever making personnel decisions for the Vikings. I mean, I advocated for Tarvaris Jackson to start againstthe Giants. So, yeah. That said, what I would do:
1. Start Webb against Detroit, and make him run the whole playbook. All of it. Treat this game like a pre-season game and see if there's anything he can't do that is a critical component of the offense.
2. Personally, I think Webb will play well against Detroit. And by 'play well', I mean 'he won't suck like Tarvaris Jackson'. So you give Webb an opportunity to compete for the starting job coming in to training camp in 2011.
3. Do not draft a quarterback. HEY, you in the basement of your mom's house--quit throwing heavy objects at the blogger. It's not nice, and you'll hurt your back.
4. Keep Webb, Rhett Bomar (or RJ Archer, they're all the same) and bring in a veteran that can take over if Webb is a spectacular failure. Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, insert name of average quarterback that has worn out his welcome with current team here, it doesn't matter. Sign them to a two year deal, and if Webb isn't the guy in 2011, draft the next guy in 2012 and have them mentor him.
This allows the Vikings to address the offensive line and secondary, which are almost as critical as addressing the QB situation. You have 2011 to see if Webb is the guy, and then you make a move for a guy in the 2012 draft if you have to. And yes, there will be guys in 2012 just as there are guys available in 2011, and if they fix the rookie wage scale, they might be a lot more affordable, making a potential whiff less painful.
There are many ways this can go down, for sure. This is just my idea--which is an AWESOME one, by the way. :)
There are a lot of off the field issues that need to be resolved by Vikings ownership before they address what is the most key part of their team. Will there be a new coaching staff with a new offensive philosophy? WIll the new stadium be an indoor or outdoor facility? Can they address all of the roster needs in one off-season?
I'm glad I'm not a personnel guy, And you should be, too.