Faced with decisions as the Vikings convened for training camp, and even in the days between the lockout ending and training camp starting, Leslie Frazier made some hard choices, ones he likely knew would diminish the talent but would get rid of players he didn't feel were buying into the program.
When he picked up the pieces of the 2010 season, he was left with an aging roster without a proven quarterback and a salary cap situation that required trimming. As the Vikings stare humbly at their 2-7 record, it's time to admit what Frazier never wanted to: This is a rebuilding project. Last week, for the first time I can remember, Frazier said he isn't approaching this as a one-project – and he shouldn't. It wasn't a full admission to rebuilding, but it certainly showed he is thinking long-term and big picture.
The one-year, all-in approach is what got the Vikings to this point. Brad Childress felt the lure of the Super Bowl with Brett Favre as his quarterback – it would have been hard not to – but, ultimately, that philosophy caught up with the organization in two regards. The roster had become old and when the salary cap came back into play this year they were perilously over the line, having to cut more than $10 million from the time the lockout ended until the salary cap went into effect the week before the regular season.
Madieu Williams? Gone. Bryant McKinnie? Cut. Bernard Berrian? Salary slashed and eventually cut, as well.
Frazier tried to take some of the sting out of the rebuilding effort, believing that the Donovan McNabb he knew from his days in Philadelphia was still the McNabb that would step on the field this September. Behold, McNabb no longer had the arm or the legs to make him effective.
As the weeks pass and the losses pile up, Vikings fans are realizing the extent of the teardown, but still don't want to accept the consequences. Cars aren't driven when the engine is being rebuilt and the Vikings aren't winning consistently while the most important position on the team, with Christian Ponder at quarterback, is essentially acquiring his coordinates while driving a car with bent-up rim and a fender dragging.
Blame can be spread everywhere and the picture looks even worse when easily the hottest team in the league is the opponent two out of three weeks in a row. Frazier can surely share in the blame, but mostly because he may have been trying too hard to convince himself that contending this year was possible, and thereby the expectations were set too high. Still, there have been some off-base criticisms of late as frustrations reach fever pitch. One of those theories is that Frazier is too calm on the sidelines.
Fans had the exact opposite view of former Vikings coach Mike Tice. He was too emotional, too much of an ex-player. And now Frazier's approach of treating his players like men – something NFL players always lobby for – and expecting them to be accountable for their play is also coming under fire.
"Everybody's style is a little different. I am who I am and our guys know what I expect. My personality is my personality," Frazier said when asked about the idea he might be too calm on the sideline.
He could act like Tice, but he never does. He could be full of boastfulness and bluster, but he's not Rex Ryan either. Frazier has seen the composed approach in action standing next to Tony Dungy. He has also worked alongside the regimented, strict school-teacher ways of Brad Childress. Frazier knows that there are a variety of ways to accomplish the winning goal, but he firmly believes that the only way he can do it is by staying true to who he is – a calm, collected act that expects his players to be responsible for their actions on and off the field.
"It's more your players, their respect and what you're asking them to do," he said. "If you try to be something that you aren't, it's not a good thing. It's better to be who you are. Tony is great example of that. Tom Landry is a great example of that. There are other guys who are going to do it a different way, but you've got to be true to who you are."
Frazier is ultimately responsible for the game-day decisions that he makes. Some of those have been questionable. He is also at least partially responsible for some of the roster decisions that have been made over the last 11 months since he took over the job full-time.
Releasing McKinnie might have been the most controversial among fans, but players saw the lack of dedication. If McKinnie has turned it around in Baltimore, the decision looks bad now, but his release might have been the wakeup call he needed. He given numerous chances in Minnesota, yet never lived up to the immense talent he possessed.
With his own players, there are a couple of decisions that could be creating tension. He has called out the pass rush of his interior defensive linemen without talking to them first, according to Kevin Williams.
"I only know what you guys wrote (about Frazier's statements). That's a conversation you all had," Williams said, referring to reporters and Frazier. "I asked him why he didn't come to us. He feels how he feels. I think we're getting pretty good pressure, but I don't know."
"… I've been doing the best I can pushing the pocket. Jared (Allen) has a bunch of sacks. He ain't running up the middle too much."
The interior sacks aren't there. The stats are there to prove that. But only Frazier and his linemen know for sure how many times, if at all, it has been discussed amongst themselves.
"We talk every week that we play a game about the importance of being able to rush the passer with our front four and trying not to expose our secondary by being a blitz-happy group," Frazier said. "We're always challenging our guys up front to win those one-on-ones when we have an opportunity to do so. Otherwise, it puts us in jeopardy to be able to play the style of defense we want to play."
Another controversial decision was to reinstate Chris Cook to the 53-man roster before any move was necessary. Cook could have been suspended for four games under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it appears he was only docked pay for two weeks (he missed the first Green Bay game the day after his arrest but wasn't suspended at that point). Cook may have needed the money to pay his presumably expensive legal bills, but it shouldn't be incumbent upon the team to make up for his alleged transgression.
Frazier has preached consistency with discipline but says he also looks at every decision individually. Declining to get into details of the McKinnie release or Cook's roster reinstatement is Frazier's prerogative. However, that also opens the door for the critics to question them if they don't know the facts. Ultimately, though, he has to more concerned that his players hear his explanations.
The reality is that the Vikings are in the midst of a painful transition period. Frazier will stay true to his beliefs, his personality and his guidelines to building toward a winner. Now the question is if fans, including the team's biggest fans in owner Zygi Wilf, can accept not only the idea of rebuilding but the short-term consequences that come with it.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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