Pelissero: Indifferent Bernard Berrian's ouster fits Vikings' overhaul
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings didn't cut Bernard Berrian because he didn't catch passes. They didn't cut him because he missed meetings.
Well, they did, but it was so much more.
It was that Berrian didn't care when he didn't catch passes. He didn't care when he missed meetings. Or if he did, he didn't show it to the people who matter.
When coach Leslie Frazier met with Berrian on Monday, the 30-year-old receiver said he still wanted to help the Vikings win -- and Frazier couldn't believe him anymore.
It's not entirely clear who is making final personnel calls these days at Winter Park, given that Frazier lacks the 53-man roster control of predecessor Brad Childress and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman is believed to wield more power than ever within the organization.
But from the top down, everyone saw the same warning signs with Berrian: he wasn't trying to improve his game, wasn't trying to improve the team and wasn't even bothering to pretend otherwise anymore.
"The thing you have to be concerned about is, if he's a starter, how is he producing? And then, what's the attitude?" Frazier said, speaking generally after Thursday's practice.
"If he's not producing, but he's practicing hard, playing hard, doing everything you ask -- you've just got to find ways to try to help that guy be a productive player for you. But if the production isn't there, the attitude isn't right, then you've got to say, 'OK, is he giving us anything in the locker room?'"
That was never Berrian's style either. Aloof and introverted, he had a reputation for caring more about fashion and celebrity status than football. One former teammate said he'd be willing to bet Berrian didn't even know several other players' names.
The Vikings offered to restructure Berrian's contract in the offseason, rather than releasing him outright, in part because they wanted one more chance to see a return on the six-year, $42 million contract that made him the fourth highest-paid receiver in the NFL only 3½ years ago.
They ended up paying him another $782,353 for five games, seven catches and two deactivations -- the former triggered by two missed meetings the night before the game, the latter by the team being sick enough of Berrian's attitude to cut him two days later.
Even affable receivers coach George Stewart, who said on Thursday he has "a lot of respect for Bernard Berrian" and believes the eight-year veteran will produce somewhere else, admitted this no longer was the right fit.
"I talked to him about it as well," Stewart said. "It's probably best that he moves on."
There's no question Berrian -- who declined comment through his publicist -- has declined physically. His descent from 20.1 yards per catch in his first season with the Vikings to 11.2 in 2009 and 9.0 on only 28 catches in 2010 are indicative of a vertical-speed receiver whose dominant trait has diminished.
But one longtime NFC personnel man who reviewed the Vikings' first four games said Berrian looked "a little better than he did last year. In terms of dropping his weight in and out of breaks and stuff, I thought he was declining athletically last year. I thought he looked like more of a straightline-only guy. I think he's moving better this year."
That wasn't enough to outweigh Berrian's lack of production, coupled with his indifference to the way the team around him was struggling in a 1-6 start.
When coaches wanted more effort, Berrian pushed back. Communication broke down and his words eventually rang hollow with a coach who has a reputation in the locker room for holding players accountable -- even those for whom he might have vouched after their first significant misstep.
"He stands by his word," receiver Greg Camarillo said of Frazier. "He's always said we're going to have not necessarily the 53 most talented football players, but we're going to have the best 53 people for this team. And he stood by that. If you're not a team-oriented guy, you won't be here."
Many point to left tackle Bryant McKinnie's weight-related release on Aug. 2 as the moment Frazier sent that message. Behind the scenes, though, that move was chalked up as a football decision for a team that already was on its way to getting younger under Spielman's watch.
The past two weeks have been an extension of that process, with the veteran quarterback Frazier wanted, Donovan McNabb, benched for good and Berrian beating him out the door.
"You never want it to be one thing," Frazier said of the reasons for Berrian's release. "Sometimes, it is. In this case, it wasn't just one thing."
With Berrian, it was just about everything. But in the grand scheme of the Vikings' rebuilding process, the only difference in cutting him now was 10 weeks of experience for younger players and 10 paychecks Berrian only was showing up to collect anyway.