Craig: Change in title won't fix all that ails Vikings

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2012 - 11:14 AM

Rick Spielman will get most of the credit or blame as the team rebuilds -- and it's a massive job.

NFL teams that finish 3-13 typically wake up the next day and make news by firing people left and right on what's called "Black Monday." The Vikings napped through Monday and went right to what runs the risk of being remembered as "Rose-Colored Tuesday."

Nobody was fired. And the team promoted from within when Rick Spielman filled the role of general manager that's been strangely vacant for more than 20 years.

Other than the fact we now know exactly who to blame or praise for all personnel decisions, essentially nothing has changed because, right or wrong, the decision-makers are the same and no changes are planned for the scouting departments. Yes, Spielman now has the final say on personnel, but he still has to be in tune with what kind of players fit coach Leslie Frazier's offensive and defensive systems.

Rogue power moves made out of step with the head coach's wishes do nothing but waste draft picks, blow salary cap space, lead to more losing seasons and get everybody fired. So look for continued collaboration between Spielman and Frazier, with the primary benefit being him having more time to focus on coaching once Spielman fully understands Frazier's blueprint for what he's looking for at each position.

Where Tuesday's move takes this team will be determined this offseason. For starters, the Vikings will have ample room under the salary cap and ownership vowed Tuesday to spend whatever's necessary in free agency. The team also has the third overall draft pick, potentially 10 picks overall and will sit No. 3 on the waiver wire.

"Things can flip in this league," said Mark Wilf, owner and president. "We're not saying it's going to be easier, but with this structure in place and having a surplus of picks ... I think we can get better in a hurry."

Neither Spielman nor Frazier would identify the team's No. 1 priority position. And who could blame them? Right now, they're like men staring at a messy garage and wondering where to start.

Is it left tackle? No. 1 receiver? Linebacker? Nose tackle? Safety? Cornerback? Take another swing at quarterback? All of the above?

The Vikings need all of that, with the exception of quarterback. You don't pick a guy 12th overall one year, give him 10 starts with an inadequate supporting cast and toss him aside. So Christian Ponder stays put while the team turns to filling gaping holes.

After watching the Vikings, Packers, Lions and Bears with Jay Cutler this season, the Vikings' most glaring hole as it pertains to exiting the NFC North's basement is easy to spot: Defensive back. Cover cornerbacks in particular, but Polamalu-esque safeties are welcome, too.

The Vikings have lost 11 consecutive division games. In five games against the Vikings defense this season, Detroit's Matthew Stafford, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Cutler completed 72.3 percent of their passes for 1,457 yards (291.4 yards per game), 13 touchdowns and no interceptions despite being sacked 18 times.

The pressure up front is there for the Vikings to be a dominant defense again. They led the league with 50 sacks, but the secondary was so inept that Vikings set a team record for passing completion allowed (68.2) while tying the record for fewest interceptions (eight). The team's defensive passer rating (107.6) and passing touchdowns allowed (34) also were worst in the league, while their points allowed (449) was 31st.

"You do have to take a look at what's happening in your division, and how can you get back in the mix," Frazier said. "So we've got to take a real hard look at a number of areas, but we definitely have to take a look at what we're doing from a defensive standpoint, and our secondary will be key to that."

On Sunday, the Packers' backup quarterback, Matt Flynn, threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a victory over the playoff-bound Lions. On the other side, Stafford threw for 520 yards and became the third NFL quarterback to top 5,000 yards in a pass-crazed league this season.

"With the quarterbacks in our division, along with the receivers that we face, we've got to do a good job of identifying the right people to help us," Frazier said.

That's been the case for awhile now. The only difference is now we know exactly where the pressure to get it done lies.

Mark Craig •

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