Just about everybody involved with the football side of the Vikings operation is on vacation through the July 4 holiday, and yet the rumors continue to leak out of Winter Park.
Especially on the subject of the Vikings' future home. Is it in Minnesota, where prospects of a new stadium continue to look dim? In L.A., where the Vikings -- among a few other NFL teams -- see great possibilities?
Well, a local report over the weekend likely raised the eyes of anyone believing there is a conspiracy to move the Vikings.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press asked three local law professors to analyze the team's lease with the Metrodome. Now, this lease -- along with the so-called Rozelle letter guaranteeing a team would stay in Minnesota -- is generally viewed as the most iron-clad reason for believing the Vikings would stay in Minnesota at least until that lease expires in 2011.
But in the eyes of the three experts, the Vikings would appear to have a chance at breaking that lease.
Of course, it's not that easy. Once litigation were to get started, who knows what a court would do. But the Vikings' lease contains some wording that could make the lease more breakable than, say, the lease the Minnesota Twins hold. That's important, because a little more than a year ago, when Major League Baseball was threatening to contract the Twins, had a local judge rule that the Twins had to remain at the Dome.
The provision in the Vikings' lease that some say make it breakable is a damages provision that would require the Vikings to pay the Metropolitan Sports Commission -- which operates the Dome -- an amount each year that's equal to the average rent, concession, parking and ticket-tax revenues generated by the Vikings games since 1982. That annual figure is estimated to be about $5.5 million per year. That means if the Vikings were to leave before the coming year, they would owe about $44 million for the remaining eight years of the contract.
Now, it doesn't appear the Vikings are set to move anywhere for this season. But the signs continue to point towards something happening in the fairly near future. Owner Red McCombs -- who has been mum on the subject for about a month -- has been trying to sell the team, but hasn't had anyone come close to his asking price of about $600 million. McCombs has met in New York with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in a meeting believed to be the first step in convincing the league that the Vikings are no longer viable in Minnesota, despite five straight years of sellouts. McCombs asked about the L.A. market at that meeting.
Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has also had a meeting with Tagliabue. In it he stressed his desire to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. But wanting to and being able to are two different things, especially in a state where the voters don't want to subsidize such a project. Besides, it appears the Twins are first in line for a new facility.
Meanwhile, McCombs just sold off the catering part of the Vikings corporation, something he inherited when he bought the team in 1998. It is a move generally viewed as a precursor to some sort of sale; McCombs made a pretty penny on the deal, yet selling the catering business wouldn't affect the price of his team.
This much is clear. McCombs is growing impatient, and he continues to constrict the cash flow to his team; the Vikings ranked near the bottom in actually salary outlay.
At the end of last season's 4-12 disaster, the Bears had 11 players on injured reserve. Ten of them were starters at one time or another. At least six were considered full-time starters.
How well that sizeable group rebounds this season will have a lot to do with how well the Bears bounce back from their worst one-season drop-off in franchise history. With everyone all the way back, the Bears could have the kind of team they did in 2001, when they went 13-3.
It's possible the Bears will need everyone fully recovered just to get back to respectability. The good news for coach Dick Jauron, who could quickly find himself on the hot seat if his team starts slowly, is that the prospects are good for a healthy team heading into training camp on July 25.
"They're all serious enough injuries that they kept them out for a year," Jauron said, "but none of them seem to be injuries that will affect their football-playing abilities in the short term or the long term. So when they come back, they should be ready to go. Most of them are back now, and a lot of them will be back at the end of this month and certainly by training camp."
Defensive tackle Ted Washington missed 14 games with a torn ligament in his left foot and a fractured left fibula. Linebacker Warrick Holdman missed 12 games with torn cartilage in his right knee. Guard Rex Tucker missed 11 games with a dislocated left ankle and fractured fibula. Wide receiver David Terrell, a starter in three-wide receiver sets, missed 11 games with a fractured left foot. Offensive tackle Marc Colombo missed six games with a dislocated kneecap. Quarterback Jim Miller missed six games with shoulder and elbow injuries.
Tight end Dustin Lyman suffered what was presumed to be one of the most serious injuries -- a ruptured ACL graft in his left knee on Dec. 1. But he was back by the first minicamp early in May and looked as good as ever -- maybe better. Even though UFA Desmond Clark was brought in to be the starter, a healthy Lyman would provide depth.
The same is true of other injured players like safety Bobby Gray and cornerback Todd McMillon. And with so many backups forced into playing increased roles last season, the Bears may have better depth than at any point in Jauron's four-year reign.
"I believe we're a deeper team than anytime I can remember since I've been here," Jauron said.
Defensive tackle could be one of the team's deeper positions with Bryan Robinson moving inside full-time to join veteran run-stuffers Keith Traylor and Washington. But Traylor (33) didn't participate in the first week of spring practices because of what the coaching staff called a minor knee irritation. The 6-foot-2, 340-pound tackle practiced on a limited basis during the second week of workouts. Washington, 35, participated, but he is not 100 percent recovered and will be handled delicately by the coaching staff. "We'll use common sense," Jauron said. "But, on the other hand, Ted's a big part of our football team. He needs to be on the field as much as he can and around our football team."
QB ready to prove his worth
Lions rookie quarterback Curt Anes is battling the perception that Division II quarterbacks are a cut below major college quarterbacks in NFL potential.
Anes, who led Grand Valley State to the NCAA Division II national championship last winter, believes he can compete.
``I know I can play with the big guys,'' Anes said. ``I proved that in the all-star games. I made the all-star dream team but it doesn't matter. I was playing with the elite competition of Division I and I'm outplaying the other quarterbacks -- the Ken Dorseys, the Brian St. Pierres and others -- and still the big question was: Well, he played Division II, what can he do against better talent?''
'Diamond in the rough'
There wasn't much that James Davis didn't do for the defense in his four years at West Virginia. Although he played most of his college career at 220 pounds, he lined up -- at various times -- at defensive end, strong safety and linebacker.
In the Lions minicamps it became clear he will get his chance to play in the NFL as a linebacker. Lions president Matt Millen doesn't expect immediate results from Davis, he expects eventual production.
"He's gained weight now," Millen said. "He's like 238 pounds so I'm going to put him in the middle to have him learn that and I'm going to have him learn the outside spot.
"He's going to sit there for a year, run down on kickoffs and punts, and then hopefully next year he's going to compete for a starting spot -- inside or on the strongside. I think that kid's kind of a diamond in the rough."