Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Bears, Pt. I

Our experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Tim Yotter of Viking Update, are going Behind Enemy Lines looking at what each team did in the offseason and their prospects for 2010.

John Crist: I'm assuming Brett Favre is coming back, just like everybody else, so let's forget about No. 4 and instead focus on the other QBs. Tarvaris Jackson is still Tarvaris Jackson, but Sage Rosenfels may be an ex-Viking soon because of Joe Webb. How did a sixth-round passer out of UAB – one supposedly ready to switch to receiver – make such an impression at QB?

Tim Yotter: The Vikings were impressed with Webb's athleticism at the Senior Bowl, when he was working as a receiver, and acknowledged that he had some work to do in improving his routes. They drafted him with the intention of him playing receiver but decided to give him a look at quarterback at the end of their rookie camp. He impressed enough there that they made the switch back to quarterback.

I've got to say, I was pretty impressed with him from what I saw at organized team activities and minicamp. He has good size, great athleticism and a strong arm. Jackson and others like his personality and potential, but what we don't know yet is how quickly he will grasp the offense – he seems to be making the right reads early on – and how he will handle it when defenses are coming at him live. Once we find that out, we should know a lot more about his possibilities at the position. But as far as physical attributes go for the position, he definitely has those.

JC: Minnesota was hoping to bring back Chester Taylor because he had been so valuable as a backup to Adrian Peterson, but the Bears managed to steal him away. If the Vikings supposedly wanted to keep Taylor so badly, why didn't they make him a better offer to stick around, especially in a year with no salary cap? Is there more to the story that Chicago football fans haven't heard yet?

TY: Not really. Taylor was a good teammate who professionally accepted playing behind Peterson a year after being obtained as a free agent to be a starter, but the main reason he left was for the opportunity in Chicago. It's obvious he has the chance at more playing time next to Matt Forte than he did with Peterson. There was also an element in Taylor's camp that was a bit put off by the Vikings sticking with Peterson through his fumbling struggles, while Taylor's role remained much the same.

As for the money, the Vikings could have offered more without a salary cap this year, but there could have been a few problems with that. First, it would have been a long-term deal, and nobody knows how the salary cap is going to shape up in future years. That could have eventually eaten into an extension for Peterson. Also, the Vikings don't have the cash flow of the other teams in the NFC North, so wild spending without equal stadium revenue probably isn't going to happen.

JC: Lots of Bears fans were sad to see Bernard Berrian go, especially since the depth chart was so weak at receiver once he packed his bags. The fact that he went to a rival in Minnesota certainly didn't help. While Berrian has been good in a Vikings uniform, now he appears to be tumbling down the depth chart. Do you think the Vikings considered dumping him because of the uncapped year?

WR Bernard Berrian
Andy King/AP

TY: No, but only because there isn't enough certainty behind him. Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin were more productive than Berrian last year – more catches, more yards, a higher average and more touchdowns. But Rice has struggled with injuries two of the last three years and is in the final year of his contract. Now he is dealing with a hip injury that could limit him in the preseason. Harvin was solid in his first year, but his migraine headaches provided an uncertain status for him before a number of games last year, and there isn't a lot of quality depth behind those three.

That said, if the Vikings can get Rice extended some time this season, I wouldn't be surprised to see them consider trying to trade Berrian in the next year or so. His base salary stays under $4 million for 2010 and 2011, but he has additional incentives that could total nearly $1.5 million in 2011 and his base escalates to $6.9 million in 2012 and $7.9 million in 2013. The fact is, Berrian was one of the best options on the free-agent market when the Vikings were more desperate for a receiver. If they can secure Rice and Harvin for the future, it makes Berrian less valuable to them in the coming years.

JC: Is there any new news on the StarCaps case involving Kevin Williams and Pat Williams? This story simply never seems to go away, and by the time it gets straightened out and suspensions may finally be in order, the "Williams Wall" will have long since retired. Putting the legal proceedings aside, do you feel the case has had any effect on the way these two have played recently?

TY: I don't think it has affected their play at all. They were taking the pills to meet a weight clause in their contract, and no one has accused them of actually taking steroids. They went from being part of the best rushing defense three years in a row to the second best, so there hasn't been a big drop in their effectiveness.

However, in talking with them, it's clear they want the case to be over. According to the timeline of the appeals, it doesn't appear that's going to happen anymore this year, and that could mean Pat will never be affected by a suspension. He's in the last year of his contract and has talked about retirement for the last year.

Frankly, this situation was handled poorly by the NFL, since the league knew about the presence of bumetanide in the StarCaps pill but didn't inform players or teams of the unlisted ingredient. According to testimony in the case, several other players had tested positive in previous years, and the league didn't do anything about it then. I completely understand the NFL's desire to have their collectively-bargained drug policies override individual state laws, but I think the fair course of action here would be to write that into a new CBA and start fresh. There are no winners in this case.

JC: Give us an update on the roster turnover since last season. Taylor appears to be the biggest loss in free agency, while Lito Sheppard is probably the most noteworthy addition. Are there any other now-former Vikings this team may miss in 2010? Were there any players on the open market that Minnesota was really hoping to sign, yet they still slipped away for one reason or another?

TY: Taylor is the most widely recognized loss, but versatile backup offensive lineman Artis Hicks will also be missed. He signed with the Redskins. Both Hicks and Taylor were backups, and all 22 starters from last year are under contract again this year. The bigger issue (besides Favre) is the players that are coming back from injuries.

I view Sheppard as a stopgap insurance policy at cornerback, and there is no guarantee he is the starter if Cedric Griffin isn't ready. The team drafted Chris Cook early in the second round, Benny Sapp filled in for Antoine Winfield last year and second-year cornerback Asher Allen has been looking pretty good. Although Sheppard seems like the most likely option because of his experience, it will all get straightened out in the preseason.

As for other free agents, the Vikings pursued LaDainian Tomlinson, but, like Taylor with the Bears, Tomlinson decided he had a better shot at more playing time with the Jets behind Shonn Greene. After that, the team drafted Stanford's Toby Gerhart in the second round and recently signed Ryan Moats for further camp competition. Overall, it wasn't a big offseason of acquisitions of the Vikings, and they seem pretty secure in the returning roster from last year.

Be on the lookout for Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answers five questions from Tim, on Thursday.

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