Favre Experiment leads to further uncertainty
Senator Julie Rosen, R-Minn., doesn’t need Minnesota Vikings ownership to verbalize the dreaded R-word: Relocation. A mounting deficit, currently at $6 billion, continues to be the state’s top priority, and legislators have repeatedly delayed the Vikings’ decade-long pursuit of a new stadium to replace the Metrodome.
But with the lease set to expire this year, and the roof collapsing on Dec. 12, the Metrodome doesn’t figure to be the Vikings’ home much longer and Rosen senses the team’s patience is wearing thin.
“I am convinced,” Rosen told Yahoo! Sports, “they will move, if there is not a sincere and concentrated effort on this stadium. We need to work hard on figuring out a solution.
“He’s not throwing a threat around, and he’s not saying, ‘Do something, and do something now,’ ” Rosen said of team chairman and majority owner Zygi Wilf. “But he doesn’t need to say anything out loud.”
Unlike their predecessor, the always outspoken Red McCombs, the Wilfs have avoided any talk of relocating to Los Angeles and counted on diplomacy at every turn.
“We’re really focused on getting the stadium solution with the legislators in Minnesota,” Vikings president Mark Wilf said. “We’re confident. We have a new governor in place, a new legislature. We’re focused on getting this done in Minnesota.”
In football terms, though, the Vikings are scheduled to become a free agent next offseason, before the next legislative session, which provides the state and the club a clear-cut deadline. To that end, applying an all-in mentality, the Vikings turned to a future Hall of Famer with the belief that unprecedented on-field success would ultimately result in a coveted new stadium. As it stands now, though, the Brett Favre(notes) Experiment did nothing more than leave observers wondering if the team’s hefty investment in him helped or hindered the franchise.
“I appreciate that they tried and made a major investment. But was he worth it?” senator Tom Bakk, D-Minn., said. “I grew up in the Purple People Eater days. Not a lot of people are going to remember [this stint]. This team will be defined by someone other than Brett Favre.”
After the Vikings played far below expectations and the legendary passer had the worst statistical season of his storied career, don’t expect Favre in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Part Three.
“It’s been a wonderful ride for me,” Favre told reporters after the Vikings’ finale in Detroit on Sunday, reiterating that he’s played his last season. “I hope that people admired the way that I played – my passion for it – because I hold no regrets.”
Publicly and privately, the Vikings’ organization doesn’t either, but – with the exception of a surprising performance by sixth-round pick Joe Webb(notes) in an upset of the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16 – the franchise isn’t any closer to a long-term solution at the quarterback position. Brad Childress, who was dismissed in late November, cycled through several quarterbacks, most notably Tarvaris Jackson(notes), whom the club traded up to select at the end of the second round in the 2006 NFL draft.
Leslie Frazier, who was named the team’s eighth head coach on Monday, has made it clear that the Vikings won’t be calling on Favre to come back, a point Wilf reinforced to Yahoo! Sports.
“Brett is a great player, and he’s done a lot for our organization,” Wilf said. “We appreciate everything he’s meant to our franchise, and we wish him well.
“But we’re setting our sights forward, and getting that championship.”
So close, then so far
The Favre Era in Minnesota couldn’t have started any better.
How the top five players compare in many of Favre’s career leading categories.
Many fans didn’t welcome his signing given his prolific career with the Green Bay Packers. But Favre quickly replaced hard feelings with grandiose ones, leading the Vikings to a 6-0 start in 2009, including a remarkable last-second victory over the San Francisco 49ers on a 32-yard touchdown to Greg Lewis(notes). His jersey was the league’s top seller, and he put up MVP-caliber numbers, the best of his career.
He also swept the Packers.
But in the NFC Championship, while driving his team toward a game-winning field goal, Favre threw an interception and the New Orleans Saints, on the first possession of overtime, advanced the ball and kicked a 40-yard field goal for the victory.
Asked if a first-ever championship would have helped the Vikings’ stadium push, Bakk said, “Clearly, people love a winner.”
But Rosen said a ring likely wouldn’t have meant a thing.
“You’re not going to see the movement, because the dome collapsed or we win the Super Bowl,” she said. “Our priorities are still set: Budget, job creation, and these other issues can come along.”
With their on-field goal seemingly within grasp, the Vikings continued to spend despite being one of the league’s lowest revenue-generating franchises.
They were loaded with talent, with nine of their Pro Bowl players under contract. But they wanted their 10th, too – and they paid dearly, restructuring Favre’s contract and ultimately agreeing to a reported $20 million deal for the 2010 season.
Though Jackson had shown flashes of potential, the Vikings didn’t want to entrust their championship team to him.
“Brad was the only guy who had any confidence in him,” one source close to the situation said. “But, in the end, even he didn’t have confidence [in him].”
“We had everything in place. I feel I could have won a lot of games with that team,” said Jackson, who suffered a season-ending turf-toe injury after starting in place of the sidelined Favre in Week 14 this past season. “But nobody will ever know.”
What we do know is that the ’10 season was a wreck. The Vikings started 2-5, and Favre was under siege for alleged inappropriate cell phone communication with a sideline reporter while with the New York Jets in 2008. He was ultimately fined $50,000 by the NFL for failing to cooperate with the league’s investigation.
The Vikings’ desperation was punctuated by their decision to send a third-round pick to the New England Patriots to bring back receiver Randy Moss(notes), the team’s first-round pick in 1998. But within a month, Moss was unceremoniously dumped by Childress, a move that accelerated his own demise following a 31-3 loss at home to the Packers in late November.
The madness didn’t stop.
The team played a “home game” at Ford Field in Detroit following the roof collapse; their next game against the Bears was moved to TCF Bank Stadium; and their Dec. 26 game against the Eagles was pushed back two days because of a blizzard in the Northeast. Then, in the finale, they were defeated 20-13 by the Lions and finished 6-10, last in the NFC North.
The real challenge
To a man, the Vikings are frustrated by the endless drama they’re mired in. When they hired Childress, the Wilfs were looking to polish the club’s image following the Love Boat scandal.
Since then, however, the Vikings have counted on more than just coaches to play offense and defense to cover up vulnerabilities. Non-football executives like vice president of public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley and Kevin Warren, the vice president of legal affairs and the chief administrative officer, have had to help clean up the team’s many off-the-field messes and distractions.
Childress was a lighting rod, in many ways, and the Wilfs quickly addressed their coaching vacancy by promoting former defensive coordinator Frazier, who went 3-3 as the interim head coach.
“We feel great about Leslie,” Mark Wilf said. “He’s a natural leader, and he’s going to lead us to bigger and better things.”
The Wilfs also made clear that vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and Rob Brzezinski, the vice president of football operations, would work alongside Frazier in making football decisions.
The trio has plenty of work to do.
Jackson is set to be a free agent, and he won’t rule out the possibility of returning (“I’m not going to say there’s no way I won’t go back,” he said), but the team is expected to move on from him and Favre.
“Putting a championship team together is a complicated puzzle, and obviously the quality of the quarterback is certainly critical,” Wilf said. “We’re confident in Leslie, Rick and Rob, that we’re moving in the right direction.
“We feel real good about the future in Minnesota.”
But therein lies the team’s greatest challenge, one they can’t control: Will they get a new home?
They didn’t produce the momentum they yearned for on the field, but the Vikings are banking on the momentum that’s built at the Minnesota State Capitol.
Outgoing governor Tim Pawlenty, whose eight-year tenure ended Monday, continually sidestepped the Vikings’ stadium push while the state approved new homes for the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota football team. But governor-elect Mark Dayton highlighted the Vikings’ stadium during his campaign, and the house and the senate are both controlled by Republicans, the latter for the first time in 40 years.
“It’s been a long, hard climb, and the discussion has been difficult,” said Bagley, who, among other duties, has spearheaded the team’s stadium drive since joining the team as a consultant in 2000. “The frustration has been the lack of engagement from state leaders, more than anything.
“We need to resolve this now.”
The Republicans are open-minded to talking about the issue, but they have stated the stadium isn’t a priority, and they’ve insisted adding to the deficit isn’t an option.
“I’m absolutely going to be working on it,” Rosen said, “but I’ve got a full plate.”
And so do the Vikings.
Sean Jensen is the Bears/NFL beat writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. He previously covered the Vikings.