Minus Birk, only thing Vikings will kick is themselves

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2009 - 3:34 PM

One way of evaluating your team's progress is imagining how a bitter rival might view your team's decisions.

So strap one of those cheese wedges to your head and think like a Packers fan for a moment.

If you wear green and gold, aren't you thrilled that the Vikings' solution for their quarterback quandary is a 30-year-old career backup, not a proven winner, or even an established starter?

Aren't you joyous that the Vikings' choice of quarterbacks might have discouraged receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh from signing with Minnesota, giving Sage Rosenfels an excellent possession receiver to complement burner Bernard Berrian?

Aren't you giddy that the Vikings haven't made the kinds of surgical strikes they made last year, when they brought in Berrian, Jared Allen and Gus Frerotte, all of whom helped them win the division?

Aren't you ecstatic that the Vikings would let a veteran center leave without making a reasonable investment in a man who remains not only a quality player but an exemplary human being and a linchpin in one of the team's strongest units?

If you wear green and gold, your horror at the Packers' collapse last season might just be mitigated by your glee at the Vikings' inability to improve themselves for a second consecutive season. Wednesday, center Matt Birk signed with the Baltimore Ravens for three years at $12 million, with $6 million guaranteed. Considering what the Vikings have spent on other players, Birk's departure for limited guaranteed money speaks volumes about either the Vikings' interest in re-signing him or the touchy relationship between Birk and coach Brad Childress.

Birk is no longer a mauler. Age, injuries and Childress' zone-blocking schemes have made him less than the perennial Pro Bowl player he once was. He could still contribute, though, could still provide a big, smart bridge between guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, could still make intelligent calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage, could still provide an empathetic, down-to-earth bridge between an arrogant league and fans who want their millionaire athletes to act like their next-door neighbors.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf fired Mike Tice and hired Childress because he believed the latter would more effectively police the locker room, would be more intent on filling the organization with quality human beings.

These are the same people who signed serial troublemaker Bryant McKinnie, an underachieving left tackle, to a seven-year contract worth $48.5 million. These are the same people who, about a month after Birk represented the Vikings at the Super Bowl as a candidate for NFL Man of the Year, let Birk leave town.

Childress issued this statement: "The Minnesota Vikings thank Matt for all he did for the organization both on and off the field over the past 11 years. Matt has done a great job and we wanted him to return to the Vikings in '09, but at this point Matt wanted a change of scenery. We wish him the best and know that he will always be a part of the Vikings family."

That's Chilly's passive-aggressiveness at its best. "Matt wanted a change of scenery." In other words, it was all Birk's decision, the Vikings were merely powerless bystanders trying to stanch the flow of tears down their cheeks.

Childress now must piece together an effective offensive line that features fewer outstanding players (that would be one, by the name of Steve Hutchinson) than gaping holes (at center and right tackle). Behind a revamped offensive line will stand an unproven quarterback.

Childress' Kick-Ass Offense came closer to justifying the moniker in 2008. With free-agent quarterback Jeff Garcia, Houshmandzadeh and Birk on the roster in 2009, Childress' outrageous nickname for his offense just might have been deemed humble.

Jim Souhan can be heard 10-noon Sundays on KSTP AM 1500. jsouhan@startribune.com

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