Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
MANKATO -- These are not your 2010 Vikings.
Leslie Frazier made that crystal clear on Tuesday when he decided that the Vikings would be better off without Bryant McKinnie on the roster.
Frazier was the Vikings defensive coordinator last season before replacing Brad Childress as interim coach for the final six games. He was rewarded with the permanent job after the season and owner Zygi Wilf made it clear that the new coach and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman would work hand-in-hand on football decisions.
On Tuesday, the two decided that after seeing Sidney Rice and Randy Moss (among others) turn Winter Park into a circus last year, that enough was enough.
McKinnie showed up to camp well over 350 pounds. The Vikings could have kept him on the non-football injury list and told him to get in shape. They could have reinstated him to the roster and hoped he would get up to speed in his conditioning.
They could have done what the Vikings have done so many times before -- think Love Boat, street fight in Miami, walking out on the Pro Bowl -- and crossed their fingers and hoped McKinnie would mature. But McKinnie is 31-years-old and it's clear if you follow him on Twitter that his biggest interest isn't ever going to be football.
McKinnie's issue is that he is a 6-foot-8 man who is incredibly agile and gifted athletically. That gives him the makeup to be a very good football player. But mentally he never seemed like a guy who really wanted it on the field. If anything, he was one of the most laidback players in the Vikings locker room. McKinnie was a guy who was doing a job because he knew he could make money at it and be better than many.
But he never embraced that job.
McKinnie indicated to TMZ that he might sit out a year and then try to return in 2012. Maybe he'll never try to play again. It wouldn't be surprising.
The Vikings, meanwhile, know there is a definite risk to this move. They sent an incredibly strong message by releasing McKinnie, but now they must replace him. Charlie Johnson, signed as a free agent from the Colts on Monday, is going to be the guy for now. He played left tackle in Indianapolis but isn't at McKinnie's level as a player. Or should I say, McKinnie's level when he felt like playing.
One would think Donovan McNabb is watching this situation closely. McNabb is going to turn 35 in November, doesn't move like he used to and now the guy he thought would be his blindside protector is gone. He might not be thrilled.
The Vikings, though, decided that McNabb potentially having to watch his back this season was better than continuing to put up with the type of stunts that caused them to free-fall to the bottom of the NFC North last season.
MANKATO -- The Vikings cut left tackle Bryant McKinnie today in a move that had been rumored to be coming.
The decision was made during a team meeting after McKinnie showed up to training camp weighing far more than what the team had wanted. The decision demonstrates just how frustrated the Vikings were with a guy who had a world of talent but seemed to lack the drive necessary to make himself an elite player. It also is an indication that coach Leslie Frazier means business.
McKinnie was placed on the non-football injury list Monday, meaning the Vikings did not have to pay him. He had a $4.9 million base salary and $1 million roster bonus for this season. Frazier said today that the newly signed Charlie Johnson would start out playing with the first team at left tackle. That was before the decision was made on McKinnie.
McKinnie, meanwhile, is attempting to put his own spin on matters through the website TMZ. He told the site that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, asked the Vikings to release his client so he can sign with another team before next season.
According to McKinnie, he was placed on the NFI after doctors said his cholesterol was too high and he had to lose weight. "I'll definitely be ready for next season," McKinnie said. "That's not even a question."
"This decision, while not an easy one, is in the best interests of our football team as we move forward preparing for the season," Frazier said in a statement issued by the Vikings after the move was announced. "We appreciate Bryant’s contributions to the Vikings, and we wish him the best in the future."
McKinnie gave an indication of what happened this afternoon by tweeting, "It's been fun."
McKinnie was the seventh-overall selection in the 2002 draft by the Vikings out of Miami, making him the second-highest drafted offensive lineman in team history behind Ron Yary (No. 1, 1968). McKinnie conducted a lengthy holdout before signing his rookie contract. He stepped into the starting role at left tackle in a November game against the Packers a week after signing.
He started the final seven games of the season and did not miss another start until the 2008 season when he sat out the first four games after being suspended for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. McKinnie was punished after being involved in a street brawl outside a Miami nightclub in February 2008. McKinnie forfeited $764,706 of his base salary of $3.25 million while sitting out.
That was one of a few off-the-field missteps by McKinnie.
NFL comissioner Roger Goodell took that action in part because of McKinnie's involvement in the infamous "Love Boat" incident on Lake Minnetonka during the 2005 season. He was docked a game check in 2006 ($41,176) for his involvement in the boat party.
Nonetheless, McKinnie received a seven-year contract extension worth $48.5 million in September 2006 that was supposed to run through 2013. The deal included $18 million in guarantees.
McKinnie did nothing to help his cause -- and caused plenty of anger in the Vikings organization -- after the 2009 season when he was kicked off the NFC Pro Bowl team after skipping three of the four practices, the team photo and all but the first meeting Tuesday night. He had been slated to play right tackle in the game.
McKinnie tried to explain after the fact that he was unable to play because of injury but by then the league had made its decision to kick him off the team. McKinnie also did not help his cause by tweeting about the events he was going to late night at the time in South Florida.
Rosenhaus did not immediately respond to a message.
MANKATO -- Coach Leslie Frazier gave no update on left tackle Bryant McKinnie's situation today after the Vikings' single practice but said the situation would be discussed by team officials later in the day.
McKinnie, meanwhile, spent a second day on the non-football injury list for undisclosed reasons. There is a possibility he was put on the list because of his weight and conditioning but team officials have not confirmed that. Charlie Johnson, who was signed as a free agent after playing for the Colts, is expected to be at left tackle when the full team is allowed to start practicing on Thursday.
McKinnie and right guard Anthony Herrera (knee) did work off to the side again as players went through a practice that featured 7-on-7 and team drills. It was scheduled to run from 9 to 11:05 a.m. but ended about 15 minutes early.
As for Adrian Peterson, Frazier said he has not talked to the running back but from what he has been told things are positive and moving along on the baby front. Peterson's fiancee went into labor on Monday.
Frazier confirmed that Donovan McNabb will be able to take part in the first practice Thursday. That will run from 9 to 11:30 a.m.
Other highlights from the day ...
MANKATO -- Bernard Berrian confirmed Monday that he agreed to restructure his contract with the Vikings. The move almost certainly saved Berrian's place on the team because his salary-cap number was scheduled to be a very high $6.3 million.
That would be one thing if Berrian was coming off a solid season but that wasn't the case. He caught only 28 passes for 252 yards with no touchdowns in 2010. That was his worst NFL season since his second year in 2005 when he played in 11 games with the Chicago Bears.
Berrian's willingness to redo his contract -- he said he was pleased with what happened -- likely was done in part because he's confident he will be able to rebound working in a new offense with coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterback Donovan McNabb.
"I like the offense, going through the book, when I first got it and seeing the plays and finding out … not really knowing my role just seeing what the plays are and how the system is run," Berrian said. "I really like the system and then as we go along through camp really finding out what our role really [will] be.”
Berrian, who said his contract is now set to expire after the 2012 season instead of 2013, isn't the only one who feels he will have a better year. Coach Leslie Frazier also has expressed confidence in Berrian.
"He and I talked at length before the lockout was instituted, and we talked about his future here and my expectations of him and what he wanted to achieve if he were to remain a Viking," Frazier said. "I'm convinced he knows that this is the best place for him. He knows he has some things around him, and we have his best interest at heart and he has a chance to really thrive in our offense. Bernard is a guy who is excited about playing, and I'm looking forward to watching him play this season. He's going to have a great year and I really believe that."
The new addition
The Vikings decision to sign Charlie Johnson on Monday made perfect sense after it was revealed that left tackle Bryant McKinnie had opened camp on the non-football injury list. Johnson had been the Colts left tackle and the team wanted him back, although they were only willing to pay so much.
Frazier said Johnson would be worked into the rotation. Johnson also can play guard and his arrival might mean the Vikings aren't going to make any attempt to bring back free agent Ryan Cook.
"We’ll get a chance to take a look at him and see how he looks," Frazier said. "He’s a guy that I am familiar with from our days in Indianapolis and of course watched him progress and we’re fortunate that he was available and we’ll just see how he fits in. We’ve talked all along about how we want to improve both of our lines, our defensive line and our offensive line and upgrade our depth as well. He gives us a chance to do both, so just glad he’s here."
Frazier said it's possible that Johnson could battle for a starting job, but it's unclear at what position that might be.
"We’re still early enough that we can kind of evaluate our roster and see where he is going to fit best," Frazier said. "I think early on we’ll just get a feel for our team. That’s one of the, I don’t want to say downsides, but one of the things about this no offseason, you’re not certain on certain guys so you get a chance to go through this early phase and figure out what’s best for them and what’s best for us."
Sitting it out
The Vikings had 18, by my count, players sit out practice on Monday. Most of them have to wait until Thursday to take part because that's when the new collective bargaining agreement is expected to be ratified.
Here's the list: Quarterback Donovan McNabb; kicker Ryan Longwell; wide receiver Devin Aromashodu; running back Tristan Davis; safety Eric Frampton; safety Husain Abdullah; linebacker Erin Henderson; linebacker Mark Washington; guard Rodney Huntley; guard Anthony Herrera; defensive end Adrian Awasom; tackle Scott Kooistra; tackle Charlie Johnson; tackle Bryant McKinnie; wide receiver Michael Jenkins; wide receiver Bernard Berrian; defensive tackle Fred Evans; and defensive tackle Remi Ayodele.
-- As expected, Joe Webb took the first-team reps at quarterback with Christian Ponder and Rhett Bomar behind him.
MANKATO -- A couple pieces of important news from the opening day of the Vikings training camp.
1) Left tackle Bryant McKinnie has opened camp on the non-football injury list, but coach Leslie Frazier refused to go into specifics of why the move was made.
2) Wide receiver Bernard Berrian agreed to restructure a contract that called for him to make a base salary of $3.9 million this season, with a salary cap number of $6.3 million. He said the contract will now expire after the 2012 season.
The McKinnie item is the most interesting and was revealed on the same day the Vikings signed free-agent offensive lineman Charlie Johnson. Johnson had been the starting left tackle for the Indianapolis Colts.
McKinnie spent Monday's practice working out with right guard Anthony Herrera, who opened camp on the physically unable to perform list. Herrera tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last season and then this offseason underwent surgery to repair a triceps muscle.
The reserve/non-football injury list means that McKinnie was not hurt in a Vikings practice or game. Players are allowed to come off the list at any point in camp, but their pay (and bonuses) can be withheld. McKinnie is due a $500,000 roster bonus and $250,000 workout bonus this season. His base salary is $4.9 million for this season.
McKinnie and Frazier both had little to say on the subject. McKinnie said he just had "some issues." When asked if his conditioning was the issue, McKinnie said: "My conditioning would help me get better." He would not say if he had suffered an injury.
Frazier said he would be able to get into more details about McKinnie in the coming days. "We’ve got to be able to get a little more information," he said. Asked if McKinnie's weight is where the Vikings wanted, Frazier would only say that the team is working on that. The 6-foot-8 McKinnie is listed at 335 pounds and has struggled with weight issues in the past.
While conditioning would seem to be the logical reason for why this was done, Frazier said that the NFI list can be used for multiple reasons.
Berrian, meanwhile, said he wasn't upset at all that his contract was reworked. He had a disappointing 2010 season, catching 28 passes for 252 yards with no touchdowns. It became obvious that something was going on with Berrian's contract because he did not practice Monday. Players who signed as free agents or redid their deals are not allowed to practice until the new collective bargaining agreement is certified on Thursday. Berrian, wide receiver Michael Jenkins and quarterback Donovan McNabb fell into a group of about 16 Vikings who sat out Monday.
"It was kind of up the air," Berrian said of his contract being redone. "I knew the media had been talking about it, but when I got word from them then that’s when we went in and met and got the deal done.”
So will this serve as motivation for Berrian? “No, I don’t let contracts try to motivate me," he said. "I just get motivated for myself."
Also, running back Adrian Peterson left camp today -- no there is no contract issue -- to be with his fiancee, who went into labor. Peterson likely will miss a couple of days.
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