2010 Vikings Review: Low marks for personnel, coaching reflect record
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Both moves were resounding failures as the Vikings went 6-10. Perhaps worse, the effects of those decisions will continue to be felt in 2011 and beyond.
Waiting for Favre delayed the Vikings' pursuit of a long-term answer at the most important position. Enticing the team's highest-paid player with a substantial raise didn't sit well in some corners of the locker room, at a time so many other starters were being told there was no money to be had. And sacrificing a third-round draft pick in the Moss deal will make it harder to immediately restock the offensive line and secondary.
The depth of Favre's descent couldn't have been predicted, given his success in 2010. Neither could the rapidity of Moss' demise, although warning signs were too prevalent to ignore.
The bottom line is both moves backfired in a big way, making it as difficult to find positives in the Vikings' overall personnel picture for 2010 as it was to find fault in 2009.
The following are individual grades for the three specialists who finished the season on the Vikings' 53-man roster, as well as grades for the coaching staff and personnel department. Grades are based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts throughout the season. The scale designates "A" for elite performance, "B" for above-average performance, "C" for average performance, "D" for below-average performance and "F" for failure to perform at an NFL level.
Chris Kluwe (B): Improved directional punting and hang time paid dividends for Kluwe, whose only real blemishes came against the best return man on the schedule. Finished 10th in net punting average (career-high 38.9) and 21st in gross (43.0). Ranked among NFL leaders in punts downed (career-high 17, tied for second) and fair catches (22, tied for fifth). Put seven out of bounds. Only 32 of 83 punts (38.6%) were returned, for a 7.5 average. Tied for fifth with 32 punts inside the 20, including four or more in six games. Had five touchbacks, a career low. Rescued three poor snaps. Opponents surpassed 20 return yards only twice -- and both times, it was Chicago's Devin Hester, whose 42-yard return at Soldier Field came on a decent punt near the sideline and was aided by multiple unflagged blocks in the back. Kluwe punted four of six out of bounds in the rematch and sculled another 34 yards in 3.3 seconds, setting up Hester's untouched 64-yard touchdown. Made one solo tackle. Drew attention on several occasions for outspoken posts on his Twitter page. A series of messages about the condition of TCF Bank Stadium's playing surface didn't go over well with team officials. At age 29, Kluwe is under contract for three more seasons and looks like a bargain at $1.23 million in salary and bonuses in 2011, provided he continues to develop under new special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
Ryan Longwell (B-): In a contract year, Longwell was inches away from a flawless performance on field goals. Made 17 of 18 attempts (career-high 94.4%, second in the NFL), improving to 43-for-46 (93.5%) over the past two seasons. Hit a 41-yarder in the opener and a 48-yarder in the finale. Nailed the 35-yard winner in overtime against Arizona. Had a 51-yarder against Green Bay wiped out by a holding penalty. Only miss hit the left upright from 36 at gusty Chicago. Had an extra point blocked at New Orleans and finished 30-of-31 (96.8%). Recorded only three touchbacks in 65 kickoffs (4.6%). Low, short kickoffs created some difficult situations for the Vikings' coverage units, which finished 23rd in opponent kick-return average (23.9). Allowed returns of 86 yards to the Jets' Brad Smith, 96 to Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling, 68 and 79 to Hester, and 65 to Washington's Brandon Banks, contributing to a 30.1 average starting field position. Did not record a tackle. Never the strongest-legged kicker, Longwell is accurate as ever at age 36 and will draw interest in free agency. He wants to handle all phases but probably would fit best in a timeshare with a kickoff specialist.
Cullen Loeffler (C+): No glaring mistakes equated to another successful season for Loeffler, who still hasn't missed a game since beating out Brody Heffner-Liddiard for the job in 2004. Had three bad snaps -- one-hoppers at New Orleans and Detroit, plus a high one against the Jets -- but Kluwe fielded them all. Got in on three tackles (two solo). At age 30, Loeffler is heading into the last year of a six-year contract and probably is in line for an extension once more pressing matters are handled.
The firing of coach Brad Childress on Nov. 21 was the climax of a storm that brewed from the day the Vikings arrived at training camp. Childress gave players a gag order about Favre's status. He sent assistant coaches to lie on camera while a group of veterans was in Mississippi pleading with Favre to return. He lost so much credibility in the locker room by midseason that Moss called him out to ownership and reporters, players provided off-the-record quotes to several media outlets impugning Childress' leadership and, after an overtime comeback against Arizona, players roundly said they won for themselves, not their embattled coach. Calling out Favre's mistakes after a loss at Green Bay further fractured Childress' relationship with his quarterback. Cutting Moss without consulting ownership fractured his relationship with the Wilf family. Reported confrontations with the likes of WR Percy Harvin and DE Ray Edwards didn't help. The drama overshadowed some schematic missteps, too -- most notable, the attempt to run the same offense without WR Sidney Rice early on, miscasting vertical receiver Bernard Berrian in Rice's multidimensional role and forcing explosive slot man Harvin to figure out the "Z" position on the fly. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier took over a 3-7 team and went 3-3 down the stretch as interim coach. He earned the full-time job by restoring some sense of order in the locker room, navigating a bizarre series of events and getting the team's best performance in a snow-delayed upset at Philadelphia. Lopsided losses the preceding two weeks against the New York Giants (21-3) and Chicago Bears (40-14) leave the jury out on Frazier as both a strategist and a motivator. In all, six of Childress' assistants didn't survive the wreckage either: assistant head coach/running backs coach Eric Bieniemy (left to become offensive coordinator at the University of Colorado), offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (replaced), special-teams coordinator Brian Murphy (replaced), quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers (fired), offensive line coach Pat Morris (fired) and assistant offensive line coach Jim Hueber (fired).
Bringing back Favre was a $16 million mistake, albeit an understandable one. Bringing back Moss was almost unconscionable -- a desperate gambit on a declining troublemaker that cost $1.506 million and a prime draft pick for 13 catches. The decision to trade CB Benny Sapp for WR Greg Camarillo ended up looking questionable, too, although the injuries that thinned the cornerback position couldn't have been anticipated. Top draft pick CB Chris Cook looked like a player until two knee surgeries slowed him down. Fellow second-rounder HB Toby Gerhart showed potential late in the season. Fourth-round pick DE Everson Griffen and sixth-rounder QB Joe Webb have the physical tools to be steals, but both have a long way to go. Fifth-rounder OL Chris DeGeare should compete for a starting job in 2011. Seventh-rounder FB Ryan D'Imperio spent the season on the practice squad. Only fifth-rounder LB Nate Triplett (released in final cuts) and seventh-rounder TE Mickey Shuler (signed off practice squad by Miami) are gone. Of the 16 undrafted rookies signed the week after the draft, only one (CB Marcus Sherels) finished the season with the team. Bonuses were wasted on Sapp ($500,000) and KOS Rhys Lloyd ($200,000), who didn't make the team. DT Jimmy Kennedy ($1 million), CB Lito Sheppard ($250,000) and WR Greg Lewis ($50,000) also received bonuses to re-sign and were underwhelming. Trading QB Sage Rosenfels and HB/PR Darius Reynaud to the Giants was controversial but did net fifth- and seventh-round picks. CB Frank Walker and HB Lorenzo Booker were solid additions off the street. The offseason to-do list includes finding a quarterback, extending HB Adrian Peterson's contract and sorting out 22 potential free agents. The cupboard isn't bare, particularly at the skill positions, but help is needed just about everywhere except running back, tight end and maybe defensive line.