What do Bryant McKinnie and Steve Smith have in common? Not the Steve Smith who did his best impression of boat rowing on the same day Daunte Culpepper's life took a severe downward turn. The "other" Steve Smith.
A funny thing happened last week. The Eagles signed former Giants wide receiver Steve Smith, who just two years ago set a franchise record in New York with 107 catches. He was an unrestricted free agent and, thanks to trying to come back from a significant knee injury, he may not be ready by the start of the season. Philadelphia technically made two roster moves with the signing of Smith – one to announce the signing and one immediately following that placed him on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
In the foamy-water feeding frenzy the Eagles undertook when the lockout ended – signing one big-name free agent after another and being linked to interest in many more – Smith went largely unnoticed.
Why? Because, at the time he was signed, he wasn't close to being in physical condition to play football. Yet, the Eagles, with their eyes rolled back like a great white shark taking yet another bite out of the bloated free agent market, signed Smith.
Initially, the rationale given was that the mystery mononucleosis type setback suffered by Jeremy Maclin, who has yet to practice, was the impetus to sign Smith. But, after saying that out loud, those same rationalists had to ask themselves, "Why would you replace a guy who would potentially miss the start of the season with a guy who is just as doubtful?"
The reasonable inference is that the Eagles had the money and saw Smith as a commodity. In the previous version of free agency and the salary cap in the NFL, it's doubtful that any team would have signed a player that couldn't pass a physical to a contract.
But this is 2011, where presidential hopefuls mistake the anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley with his death. In the Bizarro world of the NFL in 2011, things are taking place that don't make rational sense. Which leads us to the comparison between Smith and McKinnie.
McKinnie showed up at Winter Park in dismal shape before heading to Mankato and was summarily dismissed from the team that had him as a building block at left tackle for over the better part of the last decade. McKinnie turns 32 in September. He would be over the hill at most positions, but savvy offensive tackles are a notable exception to that rule. A top-end offensive tackle routinely plays into his mid-30s. A player at McKinnie's age and experience could expect to have up to five years left on his career.
However, McKinnie needs someone to champion his cause. Enter Mike Tice, stage left.
Tice was the head coach when the Vikings drafted McKinnie, even though they momentarily thought they had DT Ryan Sims – in hindsight a stroke of luck that changed the franchise for the better. Tice, a former offensive line coach turned head coach, knew talent when he saw it. He was able to push McKinnie to become acclimated to the game quickly after he held out until the 11th hour to sign a rookie deal. He has been a starting left tackle ever since.
If McKinnie has any desire to reclaim his career, Tice may be the guy that can get that done. Few people in the NFL know McKinnie better than Tice and, if anyone can talk sense into him to get the most out of his potential, it might be the guy who brought him into the league.
Given their current space under the 2011 salary cap, the Bears could sign McKinnie to a team-friendly deal, put him on the PUP list and have a couple months to see if the reclamation project is worth undertaking. If it works, it could be a masterstroke for an offensive line that allowed nine sacks in its first preseason game – prompting the family of Jay Cutler to begin a prayer vigil for his health during the regular season.
We likely haven't seen the last of McKinnie. He won't be a Viking again, but that doesn't mean he won't be potentially hanging out in the NFC North this autumn.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Could McKinnie be Tice's reclamation project?
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