The Vikings released their leading receiver of the last two years, Bobby Wade, and signed a street free agent to replace him. Why? According to Vikings coaches, it was all about Greg Lewis' versatility and familiarity with the system.
The whispers on the first days of training camp started circulating that if there was a veteran player who wouldn't be on the opening-day roster for the Vikings, it could be Bobby Wade.
The rationale made sense, despite Wade leading the team in receptions each of the last two years. At his best, Wade is a slot receiver – a position ideally suited for first-round rookie Percy Harvin
. Considering Wade's $3 million salary, it also made fiscal sense to cut loose a player whose role was going to be severely limited if everything went to plan.
That seemed to change last week when Wade restructured his contract to cut his salary in half and make him an unrestricted free agent after the 2009 season. When the final cuts came down, Wade was still a Viking.
That was until the New England Patriots announced their final cuts. Among them was Greg Lewis
, a veteran who spent his entire NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles and, until 2006, under offensive coordinator Brad Childress. When Lewis became available, his ability as an outside receiver able to stretch a defense was enough for the Vikings to pull the trigger on signing him and releasing Wade.
Head coach Brad Childress said that, when the positives of both players were weighed against one another, the pluses that Lewis brings to the table outweighed those Wade could provide – despite being the most consistent pass-catcher on the roster.
"I just think at the end of the day we look at it and just felt like it made us better," Childress said. "I'm appreciative of everything he's done for us here the last couple of years. But we felt like we had a chance to make ourselves better with Greg. I have some background with him. I think he'll be able to come in here and get up to speed relatively quickly."
Childress said that Lewis' famiarilty with the Vikings offense and his versatility were the primary motivation for bringing him to the Vikings and, in the big scheme of things, Wade was the logical choice to get rid of.
"It's always a factor," Childress said of the versatility Lewis brings to the offense. "The more you can do the better off you are. The old (saying), everyone is useful, no one is necessary. He has done those things. He's played in the slot, played as an outside guy, played as No. 1 guy, played as a gunner. (He's a) tough guy (with a) tough background from the standpoint of he was a walk-on at Illinois who earned a scholarship – was basically a street free agent who came to Philadelphia and found his way. He was a quick study, contributed and had a catch for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. If I'm not mistaken, (Patriots head coach) Bill (Belichick) said somewhere back in the summertime that he had been trying to trade for him for two years and finally got him. He was there, he was on the street and (we were) just glad that he was available."
While Wade was the victim of a numbers game – another harsh reminder of the business that the NFL has become – he won't be unemployed for long. In his two seasons with the Vikings, he was never expected to be the No. 1 receiver. Yet, in both years, he led the team in receptions. Expect to see him signed with another team, maybe after the first weekend of games so his full season of salary isn't guaranteed.
Brett Favre's candor had his old Jets pallies going "homina, homina, homina" on Thursday. At his Wednesday press conference, Favre admitted that, with more than a month left in the regular season, the Jets knew that he had a torn biceps tendon in his right arm, yet never listed him on the injury report. As the new head honcho in Cleveland, former Jets head coach Eric Mangini said he did nothing improper. Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum fell on his sword, taking blame for not listing Favre on the injury report, but, likely on the advice of counsel, adding that he wasn't getting daily treatment and the organization knew he wasn't going to miss time. It's hard to imagine he wouldn't have been receiving some kind of treatment for a pretty severe injury and the intent of the injury report isn't to dismiss players from competing in a game, but to provide integrity to the league. The injury report started as the result of accusations that gamblers were receiving inside information about injuries to players and betting as a result. Considering the high-profile nature of the New York Jets, anyone who had inside dope on Favre having a serious throwing arm injury could have benefited from that information – especially in 20/20 hindsight that the Jets lost four of their last five games after the injury. As a result, the NFL is now investigating the Jets and, with Tannenbaum essentially providing the corroboration needed, the organization could be subject to a hefty fine.
The Vikings announced their captains Thursday for the 2009 season. They will have six – Favre and Steve Hutchinson on offense, Kevin Williams and E.J. Henderson on defense and Ryan Longwell and a rotating week-to-week selection to represent special teams.
The Friday injury report for the Vikings was identical to that of the Thursday injury report. Erin Henderson (calf) did not participate and both Bernard Berrian (hamstring) and Jim Kleinsasser (hand) were list as having limited participation.
The Browns' injury report was a little more serious. Offensive lineman Rex Hadnot (knee) was listed as out for a second straight day and backup running back Cedric Peerman (thigh) did not participate for a second straight day. Four other players were listed as limited in practice for the second consecutive day – RB Jerome Harrison (knee), DT Shaun Rogers (foot), LB David Bowens (knee) and defensive back Eric Wright (knee).
Perhaps as a protest to the release of Wade, Berrian was wearing Wade's No. 19 in the locker room Thursday but put his regular No. 87 on during practice.
The rumor mill has it that Wade's comments attributed to Brian Urlacher disparaging new QB Jay Cutler could have contributed to his release. Don't buy that for a minute. If a player has talent or the team has a need, there isn't much he can do to get kicked off the team – just ask former Vikings safety Dwight Smith.
The Browns announced Thursday that rookie Alex Mack will start at center over veteran Hank Fraley, meaning Sunday's game will feature a pair of centers making their NFL debuts against two of the toughest run-stuffing nose tackles in the business – Shaun Rogers for the Browns and Pat Williams for the Vikings.