John Crist: I can't believe we're talking about this again, but here we are wondering if Brett Favre is going to be wearing a Vikings uniform this coming season. Most everyone in Chicago is sick to death of this story and just wants him to go away once and for all. What's the feeling in Minnesota?
Tim Yotter: There is a good portion of Minnesota that would like for it to go away, but I think they'd also like to see it happen. So if that means putting up with the more-than-occasional twists and turns to get to that point, so be it.
The interesting thing to watch is the divergent opinions on who wants it to happen and who doesn't. There is a decent contingent of Minnesotans that are Packers fans, dating back to the pre-1960s before the Vikings arrived on the scene. Those Green Bay fans obviously don't want to see Favre in purple. The fan base is relatively split, although I think probably 75 percent of them would like to see Favre as a Viking and hope it gets done soon. Those that don't want to see it have concerns about his durability and stamina at his age, but there is also a segment that feels like they could never cheer for Favre to lead the Vikings. Any potential Super Bowl with Favre under center would be tainted in their eyes.
Favre is again being wishy-washy with regard to his retirement from professional football.
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JC: Personally, I thought Minnesota made a quality upgrade at the quarterback position already this offseason by trading for Sage Rosenfels. Sure, he's a career backup and rarely been more than a short-term injury replacement, but he's not bad. Is he clearly ahead of Tarvaris Jackson?
TY: Not clearly. My opinion is that Rosenfels is the favorite because they are paying him like a favorite and allowing Jackson to enter the final season of his rookie contract. I fully expect this battle to go at least halfway into the preseason.
The deciding factor will come down to performance on the field. Jackson keeps saying that he needs to loosen up and just play, but he hasn't been able to do that consistently. Rosenfels was pretty inconsistent last year as well when filling in for Matt Schaub, but he believes he can become better with the surrounding cast of the Vikings, who have a better running game and better defense than the Texans, thereby allowing Rosenfels to not have to take so many chances.
JC: Last year, the Vikings made some major moves on both sides of the ball, first signing Bernard Berrian away from the Bears in free agency and then trading for Jared Allen. Obviously, those two transactions were worth it. Who's come and gone in free agency so far this year?
TY: It's mostly a case of who has gone. The only signings the Vikings made outside of their own free agents were former Broncos CB Karl Paymah and former Bengals receiver/return man Glenn Holt. Both of them will be in battles for roster spots, not to earn starting jobs.
The biggest loss is center Matt Birk, who signed with Baltimore after the Vikings didn't make a big enough effort soon enough in the free-agent game. They will miss his experience, as the early favorite to win the job is second-year pro John Sullivan, formerly of Notre Dame. The Vikings like his focus on learning this offseason, but he still has to prove it on the field. They also lost safety Darren Sharper, but they made no effort to keep him. Instead, they will rely on 2008 second-round draft pick Tyrell Johnson, who started the first seven games last year while Madieu Williams was out with a neck injury. Johnson proved adequate early in his rookie season and should be better this year with more experience under his belt.
JC: Minnesota rolled the dice in Round 1 by taking Florida's Percy Harvin, who immediately made headlines by missing rookie minicamp for curious reasons. Any buyer's remorse with him yet? And I know Chicago liked Phil Loadholt from Oklahoma. Does he start immediately at right tackle?
TY: On Harvin, no buyer's remorse yet. The story of him catching a virus and being severely dehydrated on his way to Minnesota – he was hospitalized after vomiting several times at the Atlanta airport – holds true. Now if that is just the start of a history of problems, obviously the risk overtakes the reward. But right now, it's too early to say if he has his act straight or not.
As for Loadholt, he is expected to win the starting job at right tackle, but he will have some competition.
Harvin has legitimate talent with the ball in his hands but brings a lot of baggage with him.
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JC: I picked the Vikings to win the NFC North last season, and I'm most likely picking them to take the division again this season. Build us a case for this team making it all the way to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV. Conversely, give us a scenario where they miss the playoffs altogether.
TY: If they would make it to the Super Bowl, it would have to be because of improved quarterback play. The defense should be solid as ever – maybe better with the return of E.J. Henderson in the middle – so it will be up to the offense to take the next step. The Vikings didn't blow too many teams out last year, electing to play it relatively close to the vest as they tried to get by with Jackson and Gus Frerotte. However, when it came to going against tough and aggressive defenses in the regular-season finale against the Giants and the playoff game against Philadelphia, Jackson struggled badly. That can't happen again this year, no matter who the quarterback might be, if they expect to be in the Super Bowl.
On the other side of the equation, there is always the chance they don't even make the playoffs. How could that happen? Well, in what is still likely considered a weaker division, it could be that only the NFC North champion advances to the playoffs. So what if Chicago takes off with Jay Cutler? I'm not convinced the Bears have enough weapons surrounding him or that the defense will be any better, but it could come together if Cutler lives up to the hype in a different offense. Or maybe the Vikings can't put it together on their end either. What if the loss of Birk sends the offensive line into a state of confusion? Two fifths of the line could be new (center and right tackle), so it remains to be seen how the first line of protection for the quarterback holds up. It's possible the Vikings don't make the playoffs, but I tend to agree with you at this early stage: Minnesota would be my favorite to win the division, as well.
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