The Vikings could use another receiver like the one Bill Belichick quietly plucked from the bottom of Joe Gibbs' roster 30 seasons ago.
It was the 1992 offseason, and the last of the NFL's four "Plan B" free agency periods was underway. Belichick's Browns needed a receiver. Gibbs' receiver-rich Washington squad had just won the Super Bowl.
Plan B, which contained none of today's breathless signing hoopla, was the NFL's initial foray into free agency before a Reggie White lawsuit forced in the current system in 1993. It favored the owners mightily because each team essentially had 37 free franchise tags with which to limit player movement.
With 47-man rosters at the time, only 10 inexperienced greenhorns or ready-to-retire veterans were made available each year. The 22-year-old greenhorn heading from Washington to Cleveland in 1992 was a wiry 6-1 receiver named Keenan McCardell, now the 51-year-old receivers coach for the Vikings.
"I got a $30,000 signing bonus, guaranteed!" McCardell said with a laugh. "That was big money."
The end of McCardell's NFL journey had him catching the last of his 883 balls as a 37-year-old in his 18th season. The beginning was much humbler for the scrappy and football-savvy kid from UNLV's spread offense.
In 1991, Gibbs selected him 326th out of 334 players chosen over 12 rounds. McCardell spent that season on injured reserve.
He arrived in Cleveland in 1992 wearing No. 2, not the No. 87 he would wear every other year.
"They signed Jamie Holland, a bigger name from the Raiders, and he got No. 87," McCardell said.
Holland played four games that season. He caught two short passes and never played again. McCardell, meanwhile, needed just a few open practices before reporters began asking themselves and Belichick, "Who the heck is No. 2?"
But a shoulder injury late in camp stalled things again. Belichick ended up cutting McCardell three times in 10 weeks as McCardell caught one ball in two games that year.
"And the next year, [running back] Kevin Mack came out of retirement after we got back from playing the Raiders in L.A. in Week 3," McCardell said. "Belichick cut me to make room. I ended up in Chicago on the practice squad for two weeks.
"Then late in the year Lawyer Tillman got hurt in Cleveland. The Browns needed a receiver. Belichick brought me back. And the rest is history."
After four NFL seasons, McCardell had only 24 career catches. Today, he ranks 24th in NFL history in career catches.
"I think the man upstairs wanted to see how much I really wanted it, wanted to go through adversity and stay focused," McCardell said. "It made me the player I was and the coach I am today."
Minnesota is McCardell's fourth stop as a receivers coach. He coached in Washington (2010-11), the University of Maryland (2014-15), where he mentored Stefon Diggs, and the Jaguars the past four seasons.
It's safe to say players aren't likely to roll their eyes when a guy like McCardell shifts into coachspeak and says things like, "You got to work your butt off and prove yourself every time your feet touch the grass."
Not when he was the 45th of 46 receivers drafted in 1991. Not when 41 of the 44 receivers drafted ahead of him never made the Pro Bowl. Not when McCardell made two Pro Bowls and collected two Super Bowl rings, the last one coming when he caught two touchdown passes as the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII in the 2002 season.
"My mind-set never changed," McCardell said. "I knew I was better than a lot of guys who were drafted ahead of me. I just needed a shot. Bill gave me my first shot. And I learned so much from him. How to work hard and to work the right way."
Then Tom Coughlin gave McCardell a chance to become a starter in Jacksonville in 1996. And by then the money was getting much better for players, even though the salary cap was $40.7 million — about $1.3 million less than what Dak Prescott will average in the first three years of the deal he signed this month.
"I signed with Cleveland for $500,000 over two years," McCardell said. "Jacksonville was nice. It went up. Over a million."
McCardell is a big admirer of the Vikings' top two receivers — Adam Thielen, the undrafted rags-to-riches veteran, and Justin Jefferson, the first-round draft pick who's coming off a record-breaking rookie season.
"Justin is a guy that has a big ceiling," McCardell said. "He can be there with the greats. And the thing I love about him is he's a competitor and he loves to play football. You can see the energy in him and it's pretty infectious, too.
"And Adam has gone so far because he still carries that chip on his shoulder. I know all about Adam's story because I've been there."