Who's the Face of the Franchise?

The Vikings are more than three weeks into the free-agent process and word out of Winter Park has been sparce at best and nonexistent much of the time. The result has been a chance for team detractors to have a field day with insults and put-downs and, for the most part, the Vikings have done nothing to refute those notions.

For the last few years, the offseason for the Vikings has been marked by excitement over the team. In 2005, Red McCombs spent money like a drunken sailor to sign a flurry of free agents – knowing full well that he wasn't on the hook for the signing bonus money. That same year, the team traded Randy Moss and were in the national headlines for weeks.

In 2006, the Vikings were again making headlines. Mike Tice was axed as much for the public perception of the boat scandal as for a lack of success on the field, and Brad Childress was hired. The Vikings again were active in free agency and made news by shipping off Daunte Culpepper for a magic bean (or Ryan Cook depending on your point of view). The team was also in the news almost daily when hope sprung forth that the Vikings might get piggy-backed on a stadium bill after the Twins and Gophers made it through the State Legislature with their own bid packages.

Fast forward to 2007. The Vikings have seemingly been in media hibernation. There has been little to no stadium talk. Free agency has been almost nonexistent, as the only signings to help the offense are a wide receiver few people outside of hardcore fantasy football players know and a blocking tight end who was best known as Jeremy Shockey's backup. The team itself has been little help, as it has curled up in a media cocoon and forced many in the talking business of TV and radio to dwell on the 2006 season – which isn't what the Vikings would likely prefer to have them talk about.

The situation has gotten so bad that one Twin Cities columnist proposed a conspiracy theory that the Vikings are intentionally shooting themselves in the foot in order to make it easier for the Wilf ownership family to throw up their hands, say "we've done everything we could here" and move the team to L.A. While few people have bought into this theory, the Vikings have done little in the way of self-promotion of their product while teams like the Twins and the Wild have captured the imaginations of sports fans in Minnesota and have them excited about their prospects in the coming months.

There's no magic formula for getting fan interest in the Vikings. There shouldn't have to be. The Vikings have been the kings of the local market for years and, even in down times, they've still been the top dog among fans. But the alienation of the media types has taken on a life of its own. Many of the same people who are in the print media also do radio and/or TV spots. If you offend them in one medium, they can take their venom to even more outlets thanks to the crossover from print to radio to television. The result is that the negative press associated with the Vikings continues to increase, and with no dissenting voices coming out of Winter Park, fans can take the one-sided arguments as near-gospel.

It's time for the Vikings to step up – whether in defense of what they think are the positives of the organization or to go out in free agency or the trade market and add a face or two that can be recognized by fans. There are hundreds of thousands of Moss and Culpepper jerseys sitting in dresser drawers and closets that haven't seen the light of day in a couple of years. As of now, who is the face of the franchise? Matt Birk? Unproven Tarvaris Jackson? Kevin Williams? For now, it would appear that the face of the team is Childress, which isn't the ideal marketing image for a team. Even Bill Parcells was overshadowed by T.O. When a coach is the most identifiable person on a franchise, you get the feeling he won't remain the coach for that much longer.

* The Steelers opened up their first offseason training program this week and it appears Mike Tomlin is taking much the same approach that Childress has with the Vikings – either the players come on board or else and the media can take a flying leap. It was estimated that 85 percent of the Steelers players were in attendance for the "voluntary" workouts and that the other 15 percent have been put on notice that can benefit themselves much more by being at the team's facility than working out on their own. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was the only player that was made available to the local media and he echoed Tomlin's words about everyone being on the same page. Sound familiar. When Chilly came to town, Daunte Culpepper didn't buy into his rhetoric and was traded. The Steelers' Joey Porter showed similar questioning of authority and was cut. He has since signed a megabuck deal with the Dolphins and punched out an offensive lineman at a Vegas blackjack table.
* Jermaine Wiggins met with the Jaguars Tuesday and could be signed with the Jags as early as today or tomorrow if the two sides can agree quickly to contract terms.
* Bobby Wade has been assigned No. 19 with the Vikings and TE Visanthe Shiancoe will wear No. 81 – a jersey that should have been retired after Carl Eller was done with it.
* Another potential wide receiver that could help the Vikings is off the board. Brandon Stokley signed a one-year deal with the Broncos for $1 million that is loaded with incentives.
* Yet another veteran wide receiver who has been available on the free agent market – Seahawks vet Bobby Engram – sounds like he will be re-signing with the ‘Hawks. After finding little on the open market, Engram and Seattle officials have re-started contract talks.
* The NFL Network will re-air the Vikings 19-16 loss to the Bears Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET. The Vikings had a fumble late in the game that prevented them from improving to 3-0. There's no telling how different the Vikings season would have been had they won that game, but it still wouldn't fully explain losing eight of their last 10 games.

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