Updated: September 21st, 2011 11:04pm
Zulgad: Lose again Sunday, and Vikings must enter true rebuilding mode

Zulgad: Lose again Sunday, and Vikings must enter true rebuilding mode

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by Judd Zulgad

Since the day the Minnesota Vikings removed the interim tag from his title in January, coach Leslie Frazier made it clear he disagreed with anyone who suggested he might have inherited a franchise that was rebuilding.

Frazier dismissed suggestions the glass-half-full approach might be the wrong one to take as he sold his players on the notion that they could rebound from a 6-10, last-place finish in the NFC North.

This despite the fact there was speculation certain members of the Vikings front office told Frazier it would be best to punt on the 2011 season in favor of attempting to make a quick turnaround by going young and finally admitting the window was closed on a team that went to the 2009 NFC title game.

Frazier possibly balked at this approach because he only received a three-year contract from owner Zygi Wilf and believed he needed to start winning immediately. Frazier also had other head coaching opportunities after last season and turned down those interviews in part because he thought he would have a competitive team in Minnesota.

But by late Sunday afternoon Frazier and members of the Vikings front office could be faced with the reality that no matter how they viewed this season at the start of training camp, they are now going to have to change their thinking.

The Vikings have failed to hold significant first-half leads in losing their opening two games to San Diego and Tampa Bay and are four-point underdogs against the Detroit Lions for Sunday's game at the Metrodome.

The Lions are a much-improved team on the rise - somehow it's going to be tough to actually trust these words until we're a bit deeper into the season - that edged Tampa Bay in Week 1 and then destroyed the woeful Kansas City Chiefs (48-3) last Sunday.

Nonetheless, it speaks volumes about the perception of the Lions and Vikings for Detroit be favored for a game at Minnesota. Kevin Seifert, who writes the always informative NFC North blog for ESPN.com, did some research and uncovered the fact the Lions have not been favored for a game in Minnesota since Week 3 ... of the 1981 season.

That would mean this will be the first time the Lions will be favored to beat the Vikings at the Metrodome. The Lions' futility in Minnesota has been such that they have not won a game here since 1997.

Given the Vikings' performances in the second half of the opening two games this season, it should come as no surprise the odds-makers view it this way.

The important thing is going to be how the Vikings' decision-makers see things after Sunday. Only the most die-hard of purple enthusiasts could view this collection as a legitimate NFC playoff threat. It's one thing to say they should be competitive, it's another to think they actually have a chance in January.

There could be some real pitfalls if the Vikings fall to 0-3 on Sunday and then try to crawl out of that hole.

The general understanding of how things work at Winter Park in the post-Brad Childress era is that vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and Frazier each have an equal say in football matters.

It's going to be very hard for Frazier to reverse course now and tell anyone that it's time to look to the future. He already convinced his players that he is all in and it's very difficult (almost unfair) to ask any coach to give up on a season.

That means Spielman would be the logical candidate to be the bad guy and set in motion a rebuilding process that could land a top-five draft pick. Spielman doesn't have the general manager title but he is the guy that must take the long-term view of what's best for this franchise.

A loss to the Lions means the Vikings must begin thinking about when first-round pick Christian Ponder will be ready to replace Donovan McNabb at quarterback and when other personnel changes might make the most sense.

The Ponder for McNabb swap is the obvious one - and should only be done when there is a belief that Ponder is ready to take over - but there are other veterans who could be replaced in 2011 with an eye on making sure a younger player is ready to go in 2012.

For instance, does safety Mistral Raymond, a sixth-round pick in April, start seeing playing time in place of Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford?

It also would become important to begin plucking talent off the waiver wire each week, meaning a once valuable veteran might have to be shown the door. This approach would mean sacrificing a few potential and meaningless victories in the name of upgrading the roster for the future.

None of this would be pleasant for Frazier or anyone else associated with the Vikings franchise in the short term, but in the long run it likely would be the quickest and most efficient way to get back on track.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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