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Stability hasn’t exactly been a word associated with Minnesota sports leadership in recent years when you consider Jerry Kill, who was hired late in 2010, is the longest-tenured current head coach among these six major teams: Gophers football, Gophers men’s basketball, Wild, Timberwolves, Twins and Vikings. The Wolves, Twins and Vikings, of course, all hired new leaders in 2014.
The same could be said in terms of stability and the Vikings QB position. Since Brett Favre’s run ended late in the 2010 season, seven different quarterbacks have started at least one game for the Vikings — and in 2013 and 2014, three different quarterbacks have started games for Minnesota.
That said, that lack of stability is starting to change — particularly with respect to specific football rivals, both college and pro.
If the Gophers are going to become consistent contenders in the Big Ten’s West Division — something that is hardly a given, but is at least a possibility — they will need to consistently compete against and sometimes defeat Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Nebraska’s coaching situation could not be uglier or more volatile than it is right now, with Bo Pelini lighting a match in the corn field and watching it all burn on his way out. Wisconsin’s situation is different, with two coaches bolting for other teams since 2012, leaving the Badgers to introduce yet another head coach, Paul Chryst, on Wednesday. Chryst could very well keep the Badgers’ train moving right along. But it’s impossible to say that situation is stable right now.
The Gophers? A year ago, there were all sorts of questions about Kill and his health. He has answered those brilliantly and along with a devoted staff has kept Minnesota moving on an upward trajectory. Among the Gophers, Badgers and Huskers, Minnesota — by a long shot — has the most stable coaching situation right now.
On the pro side, the Vikings entered the season with — again, by a long shot — the least stable QB situation of any team in their division. Aaron Rodgers entered as the league’s best quarterback and still in his prime with the Packers. Matthew Stafford is an above-average starter still growing with the Lions. And the Bears had just handed Jay Cutler a massive contract. The Vikings had just drafted a QB in the first round for the second time in four years, admitting they were starting over again.
Rodgers and Stafford have done nothing to change their standing … but when it comes to QB stability in the division, the Vikings no longer bring up the rear. Part of that is because Teddy Bridgewater has shown enough in his rookie season to convince us that while his ceiling isn’t someone of Rodgers’ caliber, his floor is as an adequate starter in the NFL for years to come. The Bears, meanwhile, just benched Cutler and will start Jimmy Clausen at QB this week.
Long-term, Cutler might still turn it around in Chicago. But his tenure there — already rocky at times — has turned completely volatile. We’d take the Vikings’ situation 10 times out of 10 over Chicago’s right now, and that’s not something we would have said three months ago.
Nebraska wouldn’t take [redacted] for an answer. And it appears that Michigan won’t take no for an answer.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Michigan is making another run at Jim Harbaugh to be its football coach, and this time they reached onto the highest branches of their money tree to put together a 6-year, $48 million offer.
That would make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in college football, eclipsing the $7.16 million Alabama’s Nick Saban makes. Saban is the only current college football coach making even $6 million a year.
Heck, there’s only one NFL coach who makes $8 million: Sean Payton. And there’s only one coach who makes more in any U.S. pro or major college sport: Coach K at Duke, who pulls in close to $9.7 million a year.
Out of necessity, those teams have traded away established players nearing big paydays for younger, cheap talent years away from cashing in. Then when some of those young players approach their paydays, they start the process all over again. Along they way, they try to identify surpluses and players they really want to build around.
Again, this has worked very well for both organizations. Tampa has made the postseason four of the past seven years; The A’s have gone each of the past three years and had a similar run in the early 2000s.
But there are some subtle reminders of just how thin the margin is for both teams, and one of them came to light today with news that the Rays are close to trading outfielder Wil Myers to the Padres. Myers isn’t close to cashing in, and the Rays will reportedly get several players in return, so it’s not like this is a total loss for Tampa.
That said, Myers was the unquestioned prize for the Rays in a trade after the 2012 season that sent, among others, pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals. In 2013, it looked like a great move for both teams. Shields was great in his first year with Kansas City, and Myers was the AL Rookie of the Year with 53 RBI and an .831 OPS in just 335 at bats.
The Rays still had plenty of pitching without Shields, and Myers’ offense helped them get to the postseason. Everything was going great …
Until 2014. Myers hit a major second-year slump, batting just .222 with a .614 OPS. The Rays as a team finished last in the AL in runs scored, and despite a pitching staff that was still above-average, they plummeted to a 77-85 record. The Royals, of course, got another great year from Shields while Davis emerged as one of the best relievers in baseball as Kansas City went all the way to the World Series.
Long story short: the Rays gambled on staying ahead of the game, hoping that Myers would be a superstar making a pittance for years. He faltered, and now they’re flipping him for more prospects. If those players don’t pan out, they will have very little to show for the type of initial trade (Shields/Davis) that A) a larger-market team like the Yankees never has to make and B) a lower-revenue team like the Rays or A’s absolutely has to make and can’t afford to mess up.
The Star Tribune’s Mark Craig had a good piece today about just how far ahead the Vikings’ defense is from the offense — something that figured to be the opposite at the start of the season with a lot of question marks on defense and a lot of presumed playmakers on offense.
The Vikings have improved enough on defense this year to be considered at least middle-of-the-pack, if not better. It might not be a championship defense, but it is on the way to being a good-to-very-good defense. The offense has cost the Vikings multiple games, plain and simple.
As such, here is how we see the Vikings’ biggest positions of need going into 2015:
*Offensive line: We wouldn’t be upset at all if the Vikings spent two or more draft picks on the offensive line, including the first-round pick. If you had to point to one unit as the reason things have tended to fall apart for Minnesota this year, the line is it.
*Wide receiver: An infusion of talent here is needed. Even if Cordarrelle Patterson has a resurgence in 2015, the Vikings need to get better here in order to give Teddy Bridgewater a better chance to succeed.
*Defensive back: The biggest reason the Vikings took a defensive leap this year is the relative health and strong overall play of the secondary, led by Xavier Rhodes. But bringing in some more depth at both corner and safety would be wise.
*Linebacker: Anthony Barr was terrific before his knee injury, and the rest of the players at this position have held up at least adequately in most situations. Still, it’s another area that could use more depth for the defense to take another step.
If the Vikings spent most of their draft picks and overall attention on those spots, they would be wise. If Adrian Peterson is gone, they will surely need to address running back depth as well, but the role of feature backs in the NFL has been diminished to the point that we wouldn’t consider it a higher priority than any of the aforementioned positions.
Months before the Vikings lured Brett Favre to Minnesota … and weeks before Jay Cutler was ultimately traded from the Broncos to the Bears … there was a steady stream of reports and rumors that the Vikings — coming off a 10-6 playoff season but still with questions at quarterback — were interested in making a deal for the QB.
Did you forget about this? Never forget it. Because with each passing Cutler game, we still wonder about it.
How different would 2009 have been? How different would the five seasons and many QBs after that have been? Would it have been worth it, possibly, in some ways? Cutler in purple? Here’s what was being written in the Star Tribune back in March of 2009:
The Denver Post reported the Vikings are among the teams that
have expressed interest in Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, and
talks between the sides were believed to be ongoing Monday. It
remains unclear what the Vikings might be offering.
The news broke three days after the Vikings completed a trade
that sent a fourth-round draft pick to Houston for Sage Rosenfels.
He and Tarvaris Jackson are expected to compete for the starting
quarterback job, but neither is at the level of Cutler, a 2006
first-round pick who made his first Pro Bowl this past season. The
Vikings made inquiries about Cutler‘s availability at the NFL
scouting combine last month.
Vikings coach Brad Childress was elusive when asked at Rosenfels’
introductory news conference whether the team would add a top-tier
“Don’t know, I’m not clairvoyant,” Childress said.
Cutler is 44-37 with an 84.4 passer rating in his Bears career. He’s the NFL leader in bad body language. How would his tenure have played out here? We’ll never know, but it’s a question we still, for some reason, think about.
|Philadelphia||12/20/14 3:30 PM|
|San Diego||12/20/14 7:25 PM|
|Minnesota||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Detroit||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Cleveland||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Atlanta||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Green Bay||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Kansas City||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|New England||12/21/14 12:00 PM|
|NY Giants||12/21/14 3:05 PM|
|Buffalo||12/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Indianapolis||12/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Seattle||12/21/14 7:30 PM|
|Denver||12/22/14 7:30 PM|
|New York||7:00 PM|
|New Orleans||7:30 PM|
|Oklahoma City||9:30 PM|
|St. Louis||9:30 PM|
|St Thomas (TX)||11:30 AM|
|Stony Brook||6:00 PM|
|South Alabama||6:00 PM|
|Seton Hall||6:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||6:00 PM|
|Cleveland State||6:00 PM|
|Wright State||6:00 PM|
|Morgan State||6:30 PM|
|Idaho State||6:30 PM|
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|Oakland City||7:00 PM|
|Appalachian St||7:00 PM|
|Southern Miss||7:00 PM|
|Coastal Carolina||7:00 PM|
|Montana State||7:30 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton|
|Walla Walla||9:00 PM|
|Portland State||9:00 PM|
|Nevada||12/20/14 10:00 AM|
|Utah State||12/20/14 1:20 PM|
|(23) Utah||12/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Western Mich||12/20/14 4:45 PM|
|South Alabama||12/20/14 8:15 PM|
|BYU||12/22/14 1:00 PM|
|Marshall||12/23/14 5:00 PM|
|Navy||12/23/14 8:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Central Mich||12/24/14 11:00 AM|
|Fresno State||12/24/14 7:00 PM|
|High Point||10:00 AM|
|Chicago State||11:00 AM|
|Northwestern Coll||11:05 AM|
|Southern Miss||4:00 PM|
|St Mary-KS||5:00 PM|
|William & Mary||5:00 PM|
|Loyola Marymount||6:00 PM|
|St Francis-PA||6:00 PM|
|Delaware State||6:00 PM|
|Tenn Temple||6:00 PM|
|West Virginia St||6:00 PM|
|Ball State||6:00 PM|
|Tenn Tech||6:30 PM|
|New Orleans||7:00 PM|
|Incarnate Word||7:00 PM|
|Ark-Little Rock||7:00 PM|
|South Dakota St|
|Santa Clara||8:00 PM|
|(19) Oklahoma St||8:00 PM|
|San Diego State|
|Cal Poly||8:00 PM|
|(10) Louisville||8:00 PM|