Who's On First

Over the past couple of months, ego battles in both Tennessee and San Diego have played themselves out -- with one person being the last man standing. The Vikings went through a similar power play last spring. With Rick Spielman preparing for free agency and the draft, the question arises as to who will have final say on the future of the franchise -- Spielman or head coach Brad Childress?

The future of the Vikings will, in large part, be determined over the course of the next two-plus months. With free agency opening in two weeks and the draft coming the last weekend in April, the Vikings and the other 31 teams in the NFL are going to be reloading for the 2007 season – each team looking to win a championship.

A year ago at this time, few people would have believed that the Saints could go from being in the second position on draft day to the conference championship game in the span of nine months. Yet, they did it. This is a time where teams build a foundation, scrap the old-school nucleus of the team and roll the dice on a player or two that the franchise is convinced can get them over the hump.

The Vikings are no exception. If some anticipated cuts are made, the Vikings will be able to compete with just about anyone in the league for the top free agent players available. But the question that will play itself out over the next 80 days is who is making the final call?

The Chargers showed all too well how much a clash of egos can have on a franchise. Marty Schottenheimer had the best record in football in 2006, but clashes with General Manager A.J. Smith became sanctimonious and, despite having the best team in the league and winning 14 of 16 regular season games, Schottenheimer was fired.

When personalities clash, someone has to go. Why is Daunte Culpepper no longer a Viking? He and Brad Childress had a clash. It should go unnoticed that, in the middle of the Marty-Smith debacle was Fran Foley – hired by the Vikings only to be relieved of his duties scant hours after the 2006 draft. Do you think he expressed his opinions in the war room? Uh, yeah.

With that in mind, observers are looking on with great interest as to how the new dynamic with Childress and Rick Spielman will play itself out. Spielman believes there is little difference between a V.P. of player personnel and a G.M. Childress clearly believes that a head coach should have a loud voice when it comes to stocking the team.

Will one win out over the other? That will depend on if there is a significant difference of opinion on a free agent or a draft pick. It may take time, but we will eventually find out who has the final say on personnel decisions. Perhaps even those involved aren't 100 percent sure just yet.

For the second straight year, we enter the offseason portion of the football season with a new management team at the helm of the Vikings. Last year's configuration didn't work. This year is expected to be different. How it plays out is still up to speculation. But it will be interesting and, for those initiated to the business of football, it will be clear within a couple of months who is running the store at Winter Park.

* Despite still pinning their hopes for a Super Bowl championship on Rex Grossman as their quarterback, the Bears made a business decision Friday that showed they are expecting a Super Bowl repeat. The team slapped the franchise tag on Lance Briggs. Briggs, who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, was offered a six-year, $30 million extension during training camp last year. The offer was turned down. As a franchise player, he is set to be paid $7.2 million in the 2007 season. Had he reached the free agent market, Briggs was likely to get an eye-popping signing bonus – likely in the region of $15 million in guaranteed money. From the business side of things, the Bears did what they had to do. Of their free agents, which include DTs Ian Scott and Alphonso Boone and guard Ruben Brown, Briggs was the one player that had the chance to break the bank. While Briggs and Rosenhaus likely aren't happy with the decision, the Bears stepped up as an organization and accomplished what the Seahawks refused to do with Steve Hutchinson – accept that the market will pay more for your guy than you can. A year from now, the Bears may let Briggs go. But for now, the big dog in the NFC North made sure that it's going to remain the favorite to three-peat as division champs.
* The Patriots aren't known for backing up the Brinks truck even when it comes to a perennial Pro Bowl player. So it came as a surprise – and a disappointment – that the Pats slapped the franchise tag on CB Asante Samuel, who would have commanded enormous money on the free agent market.
* From the Contract Stipulation Department comes this: Even prior to Ben Roethlisberger's near-death experience on a motorcycle, teams put potential injury-type clauses into contracts with players. The Vikings did it with Randy Moss – forbidding him from playing in organized basketball competitions after sustaining a high ankle sprain in a quasi-professional league Moss felt obliged to play in. Friday night, any Saints fan who was among the dozens watching the celebrity basketball game festivities at the All-Star weekend saw their hearts skip a beat when Reggie Bush doubled up in pain after rolling an ankle. The first indications are the injury isn't serious, but you can bet all 32 contract brokers for NFL teams will forbid 2007 first-rounders from participating in such appearances. And for good reason.
* ESPN is reporting that the Vikings have shown no interest in signing QB Jeff Garcia. Considering that speaking to a potential free agent before the free agent period begins is a violation of league rules, saying the Vikes have expressed no interest is tantamount to saying the sun will rise in the east – where's the surprise? For fans one year into Chilly Nation (quite possibly the last time the "Nation" card will be used by VU), even if the team had Garcia locked an loaded as their priority signing in free agency, do you think they would blab out their interest? Not a chance. While the report may end up being accurate, the "competitive advantage" interest in Garcia would indicate something the Vikings regime would never let out. A month from now, see if the same dismissal is being reported.

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