It’s April 28th, 2011. Radio City Music Hall is buzzing with anticipation as the next generation of NFL stars gather around tables with agents on their right and family on their left. The always fashionable Cam Newton is sporting a full suit, with a pocket square to boot. Von Miller, Julio Jones, AJ Green, Patrick Peterson, JJ Watt, and many more are waiting anxiously for their name to be uttered from the monotone and deeply uninteresting voice of NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. The hype for this draft has reached a state of frenzy in the greater New York area as millions tune in to see the biggest day of 32 young men’s lives.
Photo Credit: Andy Kenutis/ Minnesota Vikings
Tucked away in the Suburbs of Dallas, Texas, Christian Ponder sits on his couch with family, eyes glued to the TV. At the beginning of the off-season, Ponder came in as a late day-two prospect, but after an impressive athletic performance at the combine and an MVP Senior Bowl showing, he rose to the status of a possible early day two pick. Not anticipating a first-round selection, Ponder forwent the guadyness of New York and opted for a quieter night at home. Afterall, he was coming into the NFL with an injury history that was more decorated than his college resume and well-documented issues with accuracy and decision-making, particularly under pressure.
The 2010-2011 season held many offensive woes for the Minnesota Vikings. Brett Favre, following a glowing twilight season in 2009, showed age and injury as he posted some of the worst numbers of his storied career. Behind him, Joe Webb, the WR turned QB, was given a shot at QB… he failed. Tavaris Jackson, the Vikings second-round bust of a QB took the least snaps under center of the three on the roster. All three of the quarterbacks combined for 3,327 yards, 14 TD’s, and 26 INT’s in 2010. In fact, from the 2005 season through the 2010 season, the Vikings long list of QB’s combined for 112 TD Passes and 100 INT’s. If you subtract Brett Favre’s 2009 campaign, the Vikings QB’s combined for 79 TD’s and 93 INT’s from 2005 through 2010.
After a half-decade of atrocious QB play, the Vikings were desperate to find a new answer under center. With the 12th pick of the 2011 NFL Draft in their sights, the Vikings were determined to replace their bust, Tavaris Jackson, and their retired star, Brett Favre, with a new face. The media pressure was enormous and the fans were clamoring for the Vikings to fill the QB void that had been largely duct taped together with exiting veterans and late-round picks.
The Vikings had a problem. Three QB’s entered the 2011 NFL Draft who were deemed “Pro-Ready.” Cam Newton, Jake Locker, and Blaine Gabbert were all anticipated to be, and were, selected within the first 10 picks. The Vikings sat at 12. They had a choice to make. Reach for a second-round QB with the 12th overall pick, trade back for extra value and get their QB later in the first round, or select one of the multiple available pro-ready DT’s or DE’s to replace the aging Pat Williams or Jared Allen on the defensive front.
What did the Vikings do? They choked. They reached for Ponder at 12th overall, and the rest is history.
It’s August 30th, 2016. Teddy Bridgewater is engaging in non-contact drills with the Minnesota Vikings. Without a second thought, the young QB drops back for a pass and his knee explodes. He writhes in pain, screaming as the trainers act quickly, saving the young QB’s leg, but his career hung in the balance. Teddy wouldn’t play for years, but the general consensus was that the QB’s once promising career was over… at least as a contending Quarterback. The news of the young QB’s gruesome knee injury echoed throughout the league, sending shocks and sympathy throughout the Minnesota fan-base. With Teddy Bridgewater at the helm, and Mike Zimmer building one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Vikings were seen as a team that was primed to take the next step in establishing themselves as real contenders in the NFL. In an instant, the hype and promise disappeared.
It’s September 3rd, 2016. Another QB with knee problems, Sam Bradford, is preparing himself to battle Carson Wentz, a rookie at the time, for the starting gig in Philadelphia. His battle ended before it began. The Vikings, in a desperate attempt to salvage their season traded their 2017 first-round pick (Derek Barnett) for Bradford.
Bradford played well for the Vikings, but ultimately showed that he is a journeyman QB/placeholder at best, who simply can’t stay healthy.
In the instant that it became clear that Teddy Bridgewater would not be playing for the Vikings in 2016, the Vikings had a choice to make. Start Shaun Hill and accept that the season’s competitive chances were dead, trade less value for a lesser QB in an attempt to piece together a decent season, or trade an extremely valuable first-round pick for the best QB you could get immediately.
What did the Vikings do? They traded for Sam Bradford, finished 8-8, and lost a first-round pick to miss the playoffs.
It’s March 11, 2019. The writing is on the wall. Anthony Barr is going to be a New York Jet. The deal is in place, all he needs to do is cross the T’s and dot the I’s. Barr is an athletic outside linebacker, who had done his best to transition to a 4-3 OLB, but his skill-set is much better suited to a 3-4. In other words, he is a decent linebacker. Strong in run-coverage, but leaves something to be desired in the passing game. Regardless, there is enough ability and athletic prowess there to get teams interested.
The Vikings are in a tricky position. They are lacking cap room, but desperately needed to address some issues in Free Agency. The Vikings had already let Sheldon Richardson walk, and Barr was all but gone - leaving a small amount of cap room for the Vikings to address the biggest positional liability on the roster: the offensive line. Mitch Morse, Trent Brown, Billy Turner, and Ju’Wuan James headlined the OL market, and were open for the highest bidder.
Breaking news splashed all over the major sports journalism platforms: on March 13th, 2019 Anthony Barr signed a huge deal with the Vikings.
Over the next few days, the OL free agents dropped like flies, leaving a picked over carcass of streaky and last-chance Offensive Lineman available for signing. The Vikings eventually signed Josh Kline, an offensive guard who was coming off of a down year with the Titans - which left his options sparse.
When the news of Barr’s intentions to sign with the Jets broke, the Vikings had a choice. Resign Barr for an exorbitant amount of money or allow Barr to walk and take their chances with one of the developmental LB’s on the roster or a rookie.
What did the Vikings do? They resigned Anthony Barr, forcing them to restructure contracts with Kyle Rudolph and Everson Griffen in order to sign the mediocre Josh Kline and to sign their rookies.
When I say the words “Vikings” and “choke” in the same sentence, I am sure that many of you who are familiar with the team see images of shanked kicks from Blair Walsh, Daniel Carlson, and Gary Anderson. Maybe you see Brett Favre’s across the body throw in the 2009 NFC Championship game or the embarrassing 41-0 shutout the Giants handed the Vikings in the 2000 NFC Championship game.
However, the Viking chokes that I have experienced in my lifetime are not only subject to single player mishaps. The chokes that I am referring to are organizational failures that stem from panicking executives, overvalued players, and a lack of urgency in addressing roster holes.
The Vikings had a criminally bad offensive line in 2016, and instead of signing top-tier offensive linemen, they dug through the bargain bin for Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers.
The Vikings had a void at WR since the departure of Sydney Rice and Percy Harvin. Instead of adequately addressing the position, they took chances on players like Jerome Simspon, Mike Wallace, and the shadow of Greg Jennings, while only drafting one high-round WR, Cordarrelle Patterson. He was a bust.
The Vikings needed a kicker after Blair Walsh decided he actually was terrible, and Kai Forbath was only somewhat better. They drafted Daniel Carlson and cut him after one bad game, only to watch him be nearly perfect with the Raiders. They then signed Dan Bailey, who was just as average as he was in his final stint with the Cowboys.
I don’t know if I am the only one who sees it, but there is a definite trend that has done nothing but fail the Vikings time and time again. They bide their time on positional discrepancies until an emergency forces them to overplay their hand. The second that they feel the pressure, they seem to enter panic-mode and make bold, unfruitful moves.
In essence… they choke.
Now, I would like to be very clear. I am not calling for the removal of Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, or any other Viking employee or player. What I am saying is this: be calculated. Overpaying for players that aren’t worth the money or equity has failed many times. Whether the Vikings are cursed, unlucky, or simply unable to keep a cool head in high-pressure situation - it is time for a new approach.