The Vikings haven't used Marcus Johnson in a significant role since 2005, the same year he was drafted along with a handful of other Vikings no longer with the team. The painful 2005 draft could come to a close for Minnesota this week if Johnson signs with another team (he was visiting the Titans this week).
Marcus Johnson has been a forgotten man with the Vikings, but apparently he is being remembered by the Titans.
Johnson, an offensive tackle taken in the second round of the 2005 draft, is an unrestricted free agent who has had little to no talk with the Vikings about returning to the team. On Tuesday, he met with the Tennessee Titans in hopes of getting a new contract, according to The Tennessean
Johnson has seen his Vikings career take a steady downward turn since the Brad Childress era began. Drafted in the second round in 2005, Johnson started eight games as a rookie, replacing an aging veteran Mike Rosenthal. Since Childress took over the reigns of the team in 2006, Johnson hasn't started a single game, despite injuries and the suspension of Bryant McKinnie
last year. In 2008, he was inactive for 10 games, including the Vikings playoff loss to the Eagles.
If Johnson does sign elsewhere, it will close the book on the 2005 draft class. Despite having three of the top 49 picks in the 2005 draft, the Vikings will have nobody left from that class if Johnson leaves. Troy Williamson
(7th pick overall) was traded to the Jaguars after being viewed as one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history. Erasmus James (No. 18 overall) was traded to Washington after the team was able to rescind his release papers. Third-rounder Dustin Fox
never actually played with the team. Fourth-rounder Ciatrick Fason was released after a couple of seasons. Sixth-rounder C.J. Mosley
was traded to the Jets as part of the Brooks Bollinger
trade. And, finally, seventh-round cornerback Adrian Ward didn't make the team in training camp.
The 2005 draft, which opened with QB Alex Smith and went steadily downward from there, is viewed as one of the worst draft classes in NFL history. The long list of first-round busts included RB Cedric Benson
(No. 4, Chicago), RB Carnell Williams
a.k.a. Cadillac (No. 5, Tampa Bay), Adam "Pacman" Jones (No. 6, Tennessee), Williamson (No. 7), CB Carlos Rogers
(No. 9, Washington), WR Mike Williams
(No, 10, Detroit), LB David Pollack (No. 17, Cincinnati) and WR Matt Jones
(No. 21, Jacksonville).
While many teams have regrettable picks in the 2005 draft, if Johnson signs elsewhere, the Vikings will have nobody remaining on the roster from just four years ago – a time in which some of their rookie contracts wouldn't even have expired yet.
The Vikings have a pretty fair shot to be the Thursday night opener for the 2009 NFL regular season. Typically, the defending champion opens the season with a Thursday game as part of the league's Kickoff Weekend celebration. Last year, the Giants hosted the Redskins. In 2007, the Colts hosted the Saints. In 2006, the Steelers hosted Miami. And the list goes on. It would seem almost guaranteed that the Thursday opener will be a Steelers home game. Their opponent can be one of eight teams, but it isn't likely the league wants to jump back on the Browns' prime-time bandwagon, and the Bengals and Raiders are all but out of the questions. The Steelers' other five home opponents are the Ravens, Chargers, Titans, Packers and Vikings. While the Ravens may be the front-runner, the Vikings are going to be a team that gets more national exposure next year as Adrian Peterson becomes more prominent as one of the faces of the league. If they want to play on the Mike Tomlin-coaching-against-his-former-team angle, which the league has done often in the past in prime time, the Vikings might end up playing in the first "real" game of the 2009 season. The prime-time games for Week 1 will be announced at the annual owners meetings, which start March 22 in California.
Things got bad for the Packers in 2008, going from playing host to the NFC Championship to third place in the NFC North. The team hasn't been active in free agency. But that doesn't mean they haven't been losing room against the salary cap. The Packers are a franchise that incorporates a lot of escalator clauses in contracts to reward performance. Despite a poor showing as a team, four team members saw their cap numbers swell, thanks to hitting escalator clauses. Safety Nick Collins was the big winner, triggering a $2.5 million escalator that increases his 2009 base salary to $3.045 million and his cap number to $3.428 million. Cornerback Charles Woodson hit a $1.5 million escalator that increases his 2009 base salary to $5.5 million and his cap number to $7.41 million. Offensive lineman Jason Spitz hit an escalator of $1.07 million to take his base salary to $1.6 million and his cap number to $1.79 million. A fourth player, offensive tackle Tony Moll, saw his salary increase to $1.01 million after hitting an escalator that would take his salary to the lowest restricted free agent-tender amount for 2009.
In a similar boat are the Carolina Panthers, who saw escalators placed on the contracts of five players – OT Jeff Otah, LB Thomas Davis, LB Jon Beason, RB Jonathan Stewart and DE Tyler Brayton – taking away $3.6 million from the Panthers' 2009 salary cap.
The Vikings likely won't be immune from significant escalator cap hits in the coming years. Adrian Peterson's rookie contract was filled language that would greatly increase his salary based on such things as being Rookie of the Year, winning a rushing title, 1,000-yard seasons, etc. At this point, it appears he will reach numerous incentives in his contract. While NFL teams don't like to chew up additional cap space, the Vikings will likely gladly pay more for A.D. because he has earned his contract like few other rookies who ink monster deals in the NFL.
Another player who at one time was rumored to be on the Vikings' radar prior to free agency has signed with another team. CB Leigh Bodden, who played with the Lions after being traded by Cleveland in the Shaun Rogers trade, signed with the Patriots. The Patriots have made two CB signings in free agency, adding veteran Shawn Springs last week.
With free agency in full swing and momentum building toward the draft, it seems strange that one of the biggest stories of the week center around a security guard. Dan Leone, 32, has become something of a media darling in the Philadelphia area. A game-day employee at Lincoln Financial Field, Leone made an entry on his Facebook page that expressed his "devastation" at the Eagles not re-signing beloved veteran Brian Dawkins, who signed last week with Denver. In his Facebook post, Leone wrote (his spellings and punctuation) "Dam Eagles R Retarded!!" Someone with the Eagles front office became aware of the post and Leone was fired. The team quickly distanced itself from Leone and there has been a groundswell of outrage and media attention over his firing. Aside from the lack of political correctness in the use of the phrase "retarded" to describe the Eagles, since when does an employer have to keep someone working their games who badmouths them on the Internet? It will be interesting to see how the matter plays out, but given the hooliganism of Eagles fans, Leone may be best advised to go into the same Witness Protection Program that currently houses Cubs-fan-turned-recluse Steve Bartman.