After winning a combined nine games in 2010 and 2011 with an old team, the Vikings again have built an impressive roster.
I like where they are. I hate how they got here.
Perhaps only in the NFL can one praise the results of a team’s decisions while questioning the rationale behind them.
This winter, the Vikings traded Percy Harvin, a remarkable talent, and cut Antoine Winfield, one of the great professionals of his generation. Saturday, they drafted a punter to challenge Chris Kluwe, who last year averaged a career-best net yards per punt.
In any other sport, those are the kinds of decisions that hamper franchises. In the NFL, the Vikings have built-in rationales often repeated around the league.
Trading away a franchise player in his prime like Harvin? That’s hard to defend, unless you believe, as the Vikings have strongly hinted, that Harvin had become impossible to work with. The Vikings used the first-round pick they received from Seattle in the deal to take Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and they signed former Packer Greg Jennings to become their top receiver. If Jennings helps Christian Ponder become a better downfield passer and Rhodes becomes a starter, the Vikings will have fared reasonably well despite the obvious risk of trading Harvin.
Cutting Winfield from a team that is always looking for cornerback quality and depth? That’s unwise, unless you believe Bill Belichick’s philosophy of ditching veterans before they fall apart, not after. Winfield played very well in a lesser role last season, but he will be 36 next season. He’s the kind of player I’d take a chance on, but the Vikings aren’t the only well-run NFL team that fears paying older players.
Drafting a punter who presumably will take Kluwe’s job? The Vikings spent a fifth-round draft pick to replace a player who does his job very well. Last year, Kluwe averaged 45 yards per punt (his third-best average during his nine NFL seasons) and a career-best 39.7 net yards per punt.
Kluwe is right when he says he’s the best punter in team history, but it became clear during last season that the Vikings had tired of Kluwe’s activism and social media activity.
This is one of the many problems with the NFL mentality regarding player behavior. When prized cornerback Chris Cook was accused of beating up his girlfriend, the Vikings waited patiently for the legal process to culminate and welcomed him back. Jared Allen’s three DUIs did not dissuade the Vikings from trading a fortune for him.
Kluwe’s crimes against mankind include lobbying for Ray Guy to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, promoting his rock band, advocating for same-sex marriage and tweeting constantly about gaming.
For nine years, Kluwe has done his job exceptionally well. I’ve never heard anyone accuse him of being a bad teammate. Ryan Longwell raved about him. Blair Walsh seems to like him. I’m sure he annoyed some people in the building. I’ve also been told many times that Fran Tarkenton drove people in that building crazy.
Because the NFL combines short careers, a salary cap, and the necessity of employing violent people, the league has the strangest sliding scale in our society. The ideal employee is 1) young, 2) healthy, 3) cheap, 4) one-dimensional and 5) capable of staying out of jail, even if only because of expert counsel.
Kluwe is in danger of violating Nos. 1 and 3, which meant that violating No. 4 has become the NFL equivalent of sitting in an ejector seat.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman disagreed Saturday, saying drafting a punter “has nothing to do with anything Chris Kluwe has done off the field. … This is just a football decision.’’
Given the track records of Spielman and special teams coach Mike Priefer, who last year recommended Walsh, I’d assume they have found another good punter.
I just hope the Vikings are looking to replace Kluwe for football reasons, not as a way of practicing censorship in a league where so many transgressions are ignored.
Jim Souhan can been heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10-noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org