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Updated: August 2nd, 2011 10:20pm
Pelissero: In the end, good enough didn't cut it for Bryant McKinnie

Pelissero: In the end, good enough didn't cut it for Bryant McKinnie

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MANKATO, Minn. -- An NFL personnel director was discussing the Minnesota Vikings' draft needs in April when the topic turned to Bryant McKinnie, whose fate couldn't have been foretold more accurately with a crystal ball.

"He is a good football player, but it seems like he's always into something, though," the personnel director said.

"There's always something off the field issue-wise coming up with him, and none of it is very flattering when it comes up. But he can still play, so you keep him there. You keep sticking him out there until you have the opportunity to go get somebody else."

On Monday, the Vikings signed former Indianapolis left tackle Charlie Johnson to a three-year contract worth a reported $10.5 million.

On Tuesday, the Vikings released McKinnie, whose career-long issues with weight, conditioning and commitment finally outweighed his immense physical talent within the organization.

Only quarterbacks are harder to find than NFL left tackles. It takes a premium combination of balance, quickness and length to keep one of the opponent's best athletes out of the backfield for 70 snaps a game.

That's why the Vikings were willing to hand him a $13.5 million signing bonus on a seven-year contract extension in September 2006, a day after the NFL docked McKinnie a game check for his role in the "Love Boat" sex scandal.

That's why the Vikings were willing to stand by him through his arrests in scuffles at a gas station in 2005 and outside a nightclub in 2008, not to mention his unprecedented dismissal from the Pro Bowl team after the 2009 season.

"Everybody we play, you can circle a guy -- 'God, how come he's playing there?'" former Vikings offensive line coach Pat Morris said in an interview in December. "Well, there's really no one else good enough to replace him right now."

At age 31, McKinnie has been in decline for several years. He slipped down the stretch last season as his weight ballooned to more than 360 pounds and he gave up two hits that knocked out quarterback Brett Favre.

McKinnie's body of work still was above-average for the position, though, even if he once again let his body go. He played 99.3% of the Vikings' offensive snaps and ranked at or above the median among left tackles in every pass-protection category.

"I think he's always going to be contentious with his weight," Morris said. "The older you get, the harder it is to lose the weight. But just his size -- and he has been pretty durable as you look at it, in terms of over his career."

The Star Tribune reported late Tuesday that McKinnie weighed in at nearly 400 pounds over the weekend, contributing to the team's decision to place him on the non-football injury list and prevent him from collecting $750,000 in bonuses.

McKinnie claimed in an interview with the celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com he asked for his release. But the decision ultimately rested with coach Leslie Frazier, vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and the rest of the team's remodeled braintrust, which had an opportunity to make a bold statement within the locker room.

Maybe the Vikings believed McKinnie's physique meant this was the year the wheels fell off completely. Maybe they were desperate to shed his $5.4 million cap number. Maybe they felt they were better off with Johnson, 27, even though scouts believe he belongs at guard. Or maybe it's all that and more.

Right or wrong, McKinnie's legacy with Vikings fans will be the Love Boat, the street brawl and the Pro Bowl bender.

His legacy as a player will be a rare talent who settled for good instead of great, until the only NFL team he's known decided it wasn't willing to settle anymore.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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