Of the frenetic pace of the last week, it would seem the stamp that Sidney Rice is going to have on the Vikings franchise is one of unfulfilled promise and betrayal to the guy who needed to make him a true superstar.
In Rice's first two seasons with the Vikings, in which Tarvaris Jackson was being force-fed as the team's starting quarterback, he not only battled injuries, but when he was active, he and T-Jack never really connected. Then Brett Favre showed up in 2009.
While it can be effectively argued that Rice did more to give Favre a career year in the twilight of his career than Favre gave Rice a career year, it was clear that both benefited from having the other. Favre was able to bring out the best in a talented young receiver and Rice was able to acrobatically retrieve some of the gunslinger's stray downfield bullets. It was a symbiotic relationship.
Which brings us to Rice's legacy as a Viking. In June 2010, an innocuous tweet from Drew Rosenhaus, Rice's agent, said that the receiver was recovering from an undisclosed hip injury. Some in the media jumped on the speculation that it was a Rosenhaus strong-arm tactic. Ironically, on the day it was announced that Favre was coming back (hostage-style on a private plane that stealthily dispatched with a rag-tag Seal Team 6 of Vikings veterans), it was later announced that Rice was going to have hip surgery that would take him out of action for three months.
One of the first questions asked of Favre is whether he would have come back had he known his top receiver was going to be gone. Favre gave his standard four-minute answer, admitting about 2:40 into his monologue that he might have had second thoughts (or, in Favrespeak, ninth thoughts) about coming out of retirement.
Flash forward one year. Favre isn't coming back and the Vikings were looking at re-signing Rice. The best way to get Rice to commit long-term would be to get a veteran QB to bridge the gap between Favre and Christian Ponder. By Wednesday, the Vikings, Redskins and Donovan McNabb had all agreed on the parameters to finalize a trade and bring that veteran quarterback to Minnesota. Later Wednesday, Rice signed a five-year, $41 million deal with Seattle.
That announcement came at the same time that Adrian Peterson appeared on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine as the editor of the annual "Revenge of the Jocks" edition. In it, he claims Rice is his closest friend in the league and that they became friends prior to the 2007. When they became teammates following the draft, they were road roommates. You would think that would be enough of a bond for Rice to stay, especially with word out that McNabb was coming to town.
Rice's legacy with the Vikings will now involve going away on the same day the quarterback came that could have expanded on his outstanding 2009 season. However, given he is going to the Seahawks knowing he will be Jackson's top target, his career legacy may be as the latest victim of the Hutchinson Conspiracy.
When the Vikings signed Hutchinson as a restricted free agent in 2006, they introduced the term "poison pill" into the NFL lexicon. The Vikings put a provision in Hutch's contract that said if he wasn't the highest paid offensive lineman on his team, the remainder of the deal would be guaranteed. The Seahawks had just made Walter Jones the highest paid left tackle in the NFL. Pro Bowl left tackles are always paid more than Pro Bowl left guards. Seattle couldn't match the contract because, if Hutchinson blew his knee in the first year of the deal and never came back, the team was on the hook for the entirety of the contract. They passed and were none too happy about it.
There began the Hutchinson Conspiracy.
Seattle decided to get back at the Vikings by dropping a poison pill of their own on the Vikings, signing wide receiver Nate Burleson to a contract that made his contract guaranteed if he played more than four games in Minnesota. Clearly, the Vikings passed and Burleson went on to be a pedestrian receiver for the money he was paid.
Flash forward to 2009. The Vikings are looking to sign a go-to wide receiver and T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a hot free-agent ticket. The Vikings brought Housh to town unsigned and the feeling was that he wouldn't leave the Twin Cities without a contract to become a No. 1 receiver. He was chased around town by local media in unmarked sedans. We found out where he ate and what he ate for dinner. They wined him. They dined him. They did everything but sign him. Instead, Seattle jumped in with a big offer and, when the dust settled, Housh chose Seattle because he liked their QB situation better. The irony there is that T-Jack was the anticipated Vikings starter at the time (pre-Brett) and Houshmandzadeh believed his chances with Matt Hasselbeck were better.
As most fans know, the Housh Era in Seattle was little more than an expensive joke. He only lasted one season and got shown the door with a ton of Seattle money in his pocket. Not only did the Vikings save tens of millions of dollars by not signing him, they still needed a wide receiver heading into the draft and got some guy named Percy Harvin – a win-win in hindsight.
Two years later, Rice becomes the third wide receiver that should have been a Viking that wasn't and has headed west. Burleson was pedestrian. Houshmandzadeh was one of the biggest free-agent busts in recent memory. Will Rice fare any better? Seeing as Jackson's next good season will be his first good season, they will both get paid to continue hanging out with Bevell, but, for Rice, it may have been a tragic career choice and something that may forever alter his career legacy.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Plenty of irony in Rice's decision
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