Vikings CEO and General Manager Mike Lynn made the Herschel Walker trade with the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 12, 1989. Years later, when asked about the ransom of players and draft choices exchanged for Walker, Lynn would take a hit off his Kool Filter King, exhale and say:

“I gave up too much for Herschel. I also got Cris Carter for a hundred bucks.”

Rick Spielman, then the Vikings vice president for player personnel, selected Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder at No. 12 overall in the NFL draft on April 28, 2011. When asked about this first-round reach in the future, Spielman’s hope is that he will be able to say:

“It didn’t work out with Ponder. We also got Josh Freeman for no cost in personnel.”

It’s not easy to get difference-makers for nothing in the NFL. Generally, you either have to spend a draft choice, trade draft choices or spend a great deal of money to get one.

The Vikings wound up with left guard Steve Hutchinson, a Hall of Famer-to-be, in 2006 for nothing in personnel, but it took a $49 million contract. The Vikings wound up with quarterback Brett Favre in 2009, but it cost $12 million.

Carter was claimed off waivers from Philadelphia for $100. He had a drug problem and the Eagles decided Carter was more trouble than he was worth.

He produced enormously during his dozen seasons in Minnesota. And there was never an issue that reached the public and created real controversy.

Another receiver taken from the bargain bin was Koren Robinson. He had been the ninth overall selection by Seattle in 2001. After he pleaded guilty to drunken driving in 2005, the Seahawks decided Robinson was incorrigible and released him.

The Vikings signed him early in the 2005 season. He returned kicks for 1,221 yards, including seven over 40 yards, and was voted into the Pro Bowl as a returner.

The new regime of owner Zygi Wilf and coach Brad Childress was so impressed by Robinson’s talent and his commitment to sobriety that he was given a three-year, $12.7 million contract in March 2006. The idea was to turn Robinson loose as a receiver as well as a returner.

Carter could be quite a schmoozer when he chose to be. This was particularly true when network cameras were in town.

Robinson was even better at it than Carter. Koren would sit at his locker, surrounded by a cluster of reporters, and convince you that his days of choosing alcohol and late nights over football were gone forever.

And then on Aug. 15, he was speeding through St. Peter, Minn., at over 100 miles per hour, trying to get to training camp in Mankato before the 11 p.m. curfew. His blood alcohol was 0.11. He spent time in jail in St. Peter and was released 10 days later by the Vikings.

Freeman was released 2½ weeks ago by Tampa Bay. The Vikings agreed to a deal with him on Oct. 6.

The cost was about $3 million for the 12 remaining games on the schedule. If Freeman becomes the answer Ponder was not, $3 million is the equivalent of $100 for a Hall of Fame wide receiver in 1990 — that’s the importance of a productive quarterback in today’s NFL.

The Buccaneers allowed plenty of bad information to surface on Freeman. He was late to meetings. He missed the all-important team photo. And he was in the first phase of the NFL’s drug program.

Freeman, upset at the apparent leak by the team, explained the positive test as a failure to report a change in his medication from Adderall to Ritalin for his attention disorder and hyperactivity.

Whatever his choice, it’s working, because Freeman seems as becalmed as one can get in a public setting.

Freeman was named the starter on Monday. He talked to reporters briefly early in the week and at length on Thursday. He’s bright, doesn’t speak in Ponder-like clichés and it comes with an air of what … casual sincerity?

Everyone knows this 25-year-old has the right arm to get it done. After listening to this man on Thursday, I’m betting he’s going to have his head on straight and solve the Vikings’ quarterback problem.

I’m betting on him to be a gift along the lines of Cris Carter.

Of course, I’ve been fooled before. The name was Koren. That guy had me looking at the moon and saying, “Dang, that is made of green cheese.”

 

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. preusse@startribune.com