Personnel Analysis: The Childress Era, Part I

The much-talked-about "triangle of authority" makes the key personnel decisions for the Vikings, but head coach Brad Childress initiates the process by identifying what he wants. Here's a closer look at Year One (2006):

One do-over please?

A move the Vikings did NOT make in his first year at the helm continues to haunt the team to this day, that being the decision NOT to pursue Drew Brees, an unrestricted free agent from the San Diego Chargers at the time.

True, he was somewhat damaged goods at the time coming off shoulder surgery, but not even pursuing Brees, who ended up choosing New Orleans over Miami, was clearly the quarterback who got away.

Brees has started all 16 games in each of the three seasons he’s been with the Saints and compiled a passer rating of 96.2 (in 2006), 89.4 (in 2007) and 96.2 this past season as he completed 65.0 percent of his passes for 5,069 yards with 34 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

One can only imagine the difference he might have made in the team’s loss to Philadelphia in their first-round playoff loss, when the play of Donovan McNabb vs. that of Tarvaris Jackson was so clearly the major difference in the two teams.

In fairness to Childress, he fully expected Daunte Culpepper to at least be a willing pupil in the equation when he inherited his initial Vikings roster.  But once forced to unload the self-represented PR whiz, Childress perhaps overestimated his ability to coach up marginal talent at the quarterback position.

Given the circumstances at the time, there was little choice but to get what they could for Culpepper, a second-round pick from Miami.  But pinning their hopes on Brad Johnson, who could not make enough plays with his limited arm to make the team’s offense anything but painful to watch that first season, was inadequate.  Trading for Brooks Bollinger was a stopgap move at best, and the team gave up at least a serviceable backup in defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, who has had three relatively productive seasons providing depth for the New York Jets.

Bumper free agent crop

The Vikings scored a major coup in prying All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson from the Seattle Seahawks.  They bent the rules to do it, but Hutch has been a stalwart on the offensive line and has gone to three straight Pro Bowls since joining the Vikings.

The addition of linebacker Ben Leber, placekicker Ryan Longwell and running back Chester Taylor in that first year of free agency have also been absolutely golden.

Leber has been a solid, steady, consistent, underrated performer at strongside linebacker.  Longwell has been clutch and dependable.  Taylor carried the team his first year in Minnesota and has been an outstanding change-of-pace, all-purpose back since being relegated to second fiddle.

Fullback Tony Richardson was also a solid addition in his two seasons with the Vikings and probably should have been re-signed prior to last season instead of the direction Childress went.

One-for-three on trades

Picking up Artis Hicks from the Eagles was a solid move, given that he’s provided depth and been able to start at both guard and tackle, and the price was modest.

The aforementioned Bollinger deal was short-sighted at best, desperate at worst.  Bollinger was familiar with the system but never had the physical tools to be anything more than a journeyman.  For a team supposedly building to become perennially competitive, this was simply a bad move.

Another ill-fated trade from Childress’ inaugural season was swapping undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Hank Baskett for “proven” veteran Billy McMullen.  In three seasons with the Eagles, Baskett has played in every game (starting 11) and caught 71 passes for 1,046 yards (14.7 avg.) and six touchdowns.  McMullen caught 23 passes for 307 yards (13.3 avg.) and two touchdowns in his lone season (2006) with the Vikings.  He did not play in 2007 and had a brief stint with Seattle in 2008.

Who wouldn’t prefer Baskett today to McMullen, or Marcus Robinson, or Travis Taylor, or Bethel Johnson, or Troy Williamson, or Robert Ferguson?

The Fran Foley draft

The single draft conducted under the helm of one-and-done personnel chief Fran Foley has proven to be a mixed bag, with most initial impressions coming to fruition for the most part.

Top pick Chad Greenway was a safe, solid choice at the time.  An injury wiped out his rookie season, but he came back to start in 2007 and turned it up another notch this past season (115 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed), performing right at or near a Pro Bowl level throughout the season.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin was drafted about where expected at the time (Round 2).  He’s had his detractors, but he’s been a three-year starter who has contributed from the beginning.

At the time, Ryan Cook and Tarvaris Jackson were considered major reaches in the second round; Cook with the pick acquired for Culpepper and Jackson for two second-round picks to move up.

Cook has started at right tackle most of the last two years, but he is not the long-term answer.  He might be an adequate swingman who can provide depth at several positions along the offensive line, but he has been inconsistent as a starter, especially on an island at tackle against premier pass rushers.

The development of Jackson has been well-chronicled.  He remains a talented player with tremendous tools and potential, but he may never provide the consistency that is required to be a dependable, playoff-caliber quarterback.

Ray Edwards (fourth round) has been a solid pick for where he was taken, starting the past two seasons while posting an okay single-digit total of five sacks each year.

Other moves

Cornerback Charles Gordon and defensive end Jayme Mitchell were good undrafted free-agent acquisitions.  Both finished this past season on injured reserve, but both have been reliable backups and role players when healthy.

The Vikings also picked up a decent role player in fullback Naufahu Tahi, whom they signed off the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad in 2006.  Tahi became the team’s starter this past season and has developed into a decent complementary-type fullback.

One lesser-known player who got away was offensive tackle Donald Penn, an undrafted free agent whom the Vikings allowed Tampa Bay to sign from their practice squad in 2006.  Penn has gone on to become a reliable starter at the critical left tackle spot the past two seasons and has probably been every bit as consistent and reliable as Minnesota’s starter there, Bryant McKinnie.

Next time:  2007

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