Best Signing May Not Play

With all the changes the Vikings have made since losing at Philadelphia in January, none may be more important than the decision to pay a player who, if everything works out as it should, will never see the field in any meaningful way.

The love the Vikings have received over the last couple of months has been tied into free-agent signings. While the Vikings have spent top dollar on players to move into starting roles, perhaps the best signing is one that, if everything plays out as it should, will never result in a significant role.

Of whom do I speak? Brad Johnson. Ideally, Johnson will never take the field. Realistically, the Vikings couldn't have done better.

Rewind to the Year 2000. The Vikings were a playoff team that had reached the heights with QB retreads like Randall Cunningham and Jeff George. Denny Green had gone against every other War Room voice to take Daunte Culpepper on the first round of the 1999 draft. That being said, when push came to shove, Green tried to woo Dan Marino into playing one more year. That didn't happen, so he was stuck.

His recourse was to go with the unproven kid as his starter, but he had a secret weapon – Bubby Brister. Who? Exactly. That's the genius of the deal. When Culpepper had a veteran QB of the NFL wars talking in his helmet and breaking down game-time photos of opposing defenses on the sideline, Culpepper was a Pro Bowler. When Brister left, so did the largesse of Daunte.

In the 2001-02 seasons, Culpepper had Todd Bouman as his primary backup. While Bouman was a capable backup – more than likely with better game skills than Brister – he lacked the tangible game experience to make the needed adjustments required to be the voice in Culpepper's helmet and his ally on the sidelines. The result? Daunte regressed in the two years that Bouman was his backup. That isn't a shot at Bouman – it was more an indictment of Culpepper's inability to be a franchise QB.

Enter Gus Frerotte. While Gus was remembered by the history books more for his ill-advised head-butting of a brick wall while playing the Redskins than anything else, he was a calming influence for Culpepper – still not anointed as one of the NFL's top QBs. With Frerotte behind him, Daunte became a Pro Bowl QB once again.

So, it should have come as no surprise that the Vikings made a solid push to keep Frerotte in the offseason – when Scott Linehan fled to Miami and Frerotte figured his last chance at being an NFL starter was locked into knowing Linehan's offense. Gus ended up getting on the bus and leaving the Vikings where they were in 2001 – lacking a voice in Daunte's helmet that knew what he was talking about.

Enter Johnson, stage left. In an ironic twist, the pick the Vikings received from the Redskins to draft Culpepper was given in a trade for Johnson. His role is going to be to keep Culpepper calm in harried times and highlight deficiencies in opposing defenses. Brister did it. Frerotte did it. Bouman couldn't do it.

Do the math. Count the number of Pro Bowl appearances by Culpepper and check out who his backup was. The result is clear and without argument. While those of us at VU applaud the signings of guys like Fred Smoot, Pat Williams and Darren Sharper, the best signing of the offseason is Johnson – whether he plays a down or not.

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