Fonoti Added to the List

When the Vikings traded a late-round draft pick for Toniu Fonoti, the hope was that he would be a building block on the Vikings offensive line. Unable to sign him to a long-term deal after the 2005 season, Fonoti sought his fortune elsewhere. Despite likely having a starting job waiting for him in Minnesota, he went elsewhere. Saturday, he found himself out of work for the second time this year.

The NFL is a fickle game where yesterday's stars are today's afterthoughts. Saturday's release of guard Toniu Fonoti is just the latest example of a player who had a good thing going with one team only to see it go up in smoke somewhere else.

The Vikings made an investment in 2005 by trading a seventh-round pick in the 2006 draft to the Chargers during the season to get Fonoti, who the Vikings envisioned as an immediate starter who would be a glove fit for their system. While injuries severely curtailed what Fonoti had hoped to accomplish, it was clear the Vikings had a roster spot open for him at guard and were willing to spend the money to keep him. Instead, Fonoti tested the free-agent market and signed with the Dolphins.

Like so many others in the short-lived Nick Saban regime, he didn't work out and was released by Miami. He sought a new lease on life with the Falcons, but that came to an end Saturday with his release from that organization. The Fonoti situation is indicative of many we've seen in recent years – a player who had a good thing going with one team that never lived up to anything close to that success when he moved on to another organization.

Despite the coaching change that took place before Fonoti left Minnesota via free agency, he had a position waiting for him. When he was signed away, his spot went to Artis Hicks, for whom Brad Childress and the front office traded away a sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft to acquire. Hicks moved into a starting job that he still maintains, while Fonoti finds himself looking for work for the second time in six months.

While hindsight may be 20/20, it would seem that Vikings players that have gone to other organizations haven't enjoyed nearly the success that they had with the Vikings. Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Bennett were all star-quality players while with the Vikings. Now each is looking to reclaim his career and has never approached the sort of stature they held in the league while they wore purple.

Whether merely coincidence or not, the shelf life of NFL players is short and always liable to change. Fonoti is just the latest in a long line of players whose future was dictated by money. In the case of Culpepper and Moss, the perceived headaches they would cause outweighed their value. In both of their cases, their initial landing spots couldn't have been bigger disasters. In the case of Fonoti, wanting a bigger contract outweighed the security of likely having a starting job with the Vikings. He took the chance and got burned.

Had he stayed, there was every likelihood that Fonoti would be starting on the right of Matt Birk when the Vikings open preseason play against the Rams Friday. Instead, he finds himself out of work and waiting by the phone as the other teams in the league look to finalize their 2007 rosters. It's the chance players take in the NFL. Sometimes it results in a windfall. At other times, it turns out to be a disastrous career move.


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