So, I know it's childish to say ‘I told you so', but there are two things to keep in mind here- 1.) I'm more wrong than right, so I will relish every little victory I get, and 2.) I'm very much a child trapped in a man's body. So, without further ado-
I told you so!
Reports are surfacing that the Vikings locker room is not terribly happy with how the team has handled Cookgate, which, in case you've been living under a rock for the past few months (and if you have been- it is your best interest to go back under it for the remainder of the season, and for the love of G-d do NOT check on what the Vikings have been up to lately), refers to how Chris Cook allegedly strangled his girlfriend to the point of losing breath as well as permanent hearing damage, and now faces some very serious charges in said matter.
And of course, to finish the recap, the Vikings suspended Cook for two of the four allowed weeks for ‘conduct detrimental to the team' (as in, doing something that caused him to sit in a jail cell while we lost to the Packers just a few miles away) before reinstating him to the active 53-man roster... and basically putting him on paid leave, not allowing him to attend practices, meetings, games, etc. all while collecting his full paycheck.
So, why the ‘I told you so'? And what about this exactly has miffed the Vikes? Well, join me after the leap of faith for that.
The first reason the players aren't too pleased, and this is where the ‘I told you so' comes in, is that they feel it is hypocritical for a few reasons. First off, players are forced to sign a conduct agreement by both the NFL as well as the Minnesota Vikings upon attending their first training camp. While I can't say I know the specifics of said agreement, I'm fairly certain it doesn't approve of ‘choking your girlfriend'. The Vikings, ever since the Love Boat incident and Zygi Wilf's involvement with the team, have taken quite the hardline stance on this.
The team therefore feels it's hypocritical in that regards that Bryant McKinnie was released shortly after reporting to camp via forklift, and Bernard Berrian later in the season for showing all the interest on the field (and off of it at times as well) as Prince Valium in the team's success; yet Chris Cook can allegedly strangle and beat his girlfriend, and essentially get a paid vacation out of it. I pointed this out several times when the team decided not to release him; I found it hypocritical myself, seeing as how neither McKinnie nor Berrian did anything remotely illegal or, outside of the pure realm of football, anything harmful to any other human being and yet were cut. And I feared the players would feel the same. And as it seems to turn out, I was right.
The negative reaction in the locker room runs deeper than that, actually. The hypocrisies of releasing McKinnie and Berrian and keeping Cook aside, Frazier has preached a constant message of ‘fight no matter what' to his team, and we've seen it resonate in many games when, faced with a large deficit, the team rallied to at least keep it competitive in the end. If nothing else, that message and its relative success has been what's going to keep Frazier's job- in the end, if faced with a dumpster fire of a season, a horrific dearth of talent at several key positions, and an ever growing IR list, a coach can inspire his team to pick it up and fight on, then he's doing at least a big part of his job. However, that whole message might be at risk by the Cook handling. While teams don't actually suit up 53 players for a game, every roster spot is treated with fanatical devotion- players sweat, bleed, and (come on, I'm sure they do it) cry to ensure they get one of those almighty spots. And when a team essentially lowers itself to a 52 man roster by allowing one of those guys to sit on his couch day in and day out, it by and far shows less of a concern for the current season. Players are starting to look at it all from the logical standpoint- that in reality, the team would like to see how this resolves itself and possibly keep Cook for next season (mind you, in some aspects not a bad idea, I personally have encouraged the idea of trading him if nothing else rather than outright releasing him), rather than focus on 53 guys who can win games this season.
While that again is not a bad idea- especially when you're staring at 2-14 and are mathematically in the running for the #1 draft pick- it does to the players create a second hypocrisy, in that the team is more focused on next season than this. While we fans can sit back and go "well, duh", a lot of players, like E.J. Henderson, are staring at the strong possibility of not having a next season, at least not with the Vikings. And as the locker room grows more and more aware that this team might go down as the worst in Vikings' history, it's becoming a growing concern. (For all he's given to this team, do we really want The People's Champion to end it all on this note?) Fans, and to some extent (especially for the Colts) front offices, can easily grow the perception that ‘screw it, this season's lost, let's just go for a good draft pick'. But players, especially those at the end of their contracts and in some cases their careers, don't particularly care about that kind of stuff. They're focused on this season, this upcoming game. (Again, maybe not the Colts.) Even the rare player who is actually a natural fan of the team, a la Chad Greenway, cares less about draft stock than they do about pride.
And again, when the team lets one of its almighty 53 spots go to a guy on his couch- a guy on his couch who is there because he beat up his girlfriend (it's a bit different when it's Peyton Manning, who's on the roster but not playing because of an injury, and was left there due to the hope that he would return)- it screams ‘we're not as interested about the next game as we are about the next season'. And for coaches who preach ‘ignore the future, focus on tomorrow', that message because problematic.
Cook's probably not making matters any better via his twitter account. I was going to post a few ‘best of' tweets of his, but man, just go check it out yourself- they guy is apparently living large right now. Since he posts about 50 freakin' times a day I finally gave up after a point, but I didn't see a single tweet regarding the Vikings or their games; instead, he's constantly tweeting about what delicious food he wants to eat, what shoes he's going to buy, chatting with followers about what video games they should play with him... essentially, his twitter account shows a guy who really is perfectly OK with chilling at home rather than fighting alongside his fellow teammates on the field. While reports that have surfaced have not mentioned any players having ‘personal' problems with Cook per se, I can't imagine that some haven't seen this and aren't wondering why he's still on the roster. To take a theory out on a limb here, it could also partly explain some of Cedric Griffin's recent unhappiness- for a guy who's fought back from two ACL tears and is at least practicing day in and day out, I can't imagine he's pleased that a fellow cornerback is collecting paychecks at home and essentially on a public bullhorn announcing how sweet his life is right now. (Mind you, that's 100% speculation on my part here, but really- does it sound farfetched?)
Right now, the team still seems united behind Frazier. Percy Harvin is quoted as saying he's pleased with a recent team announcement that Frazier will be back next season. And to be fair, there's no guarantee that Frazier himself came up with this decision or even approved of it- a few reports claim the contrary, although Frazier himself repeatedly has publicly backed it (which, of course he will do regardless). And with only two games left in the season, one wonders how important this will all be. It's not like locker room discord is going to do any serious damage for playoff prospects or anything. However, what happens should Cook be exonerated via his intended self-defense plea, or plead down to lesser charges, and return to the team next season? How will he be treated in the locker room? How will players like Jared Allen take to his return? Could Cook turn into a locker room cancer in a season where hope might be somewhat restored, all while we attempt to continue the development of QBOTF Christian Ponder, in a season where we entirely have the possibility of more new starters than old on the team?
At this point the team might have to take a good, hard look at their future plans for Chris Cook, and accept that perhaps it's not so much about what he might do on the field for us in the future as it is about what effects off the field he will have on the team.
What say you, my fellow Viking faithful? With the team unhappy about how the Vikings have handled Chris Cook, what should the team's future plans with him be? (FYI, yes, this poll is based entirely on the contingent that Cook is available through whatever legal wrangling next season.)