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Brad Childress relinquished control in August. And four months later, it's a little late to ask for it back.
Maybe that's what the Minnesota Vikings coach is just now figuring out, that when he chauffeured quarterback Brett Favre(notes) from the tarmac to his practice facility, he wasn't just celebrating the arrival of the missing piece. Indeed, Childress was making a landscape-changing hire. Favre wasn't just a new quarterback. He was a small franchise unto himself: an icon, a brand name, an offensive coordinator, a figurehead … and if things went well, the new boss. Looking back now, it's unmistakable. Childress may have been driving on that unforgettable August day, but Favre always held the keys.
Now in December, we're dissecting the layers of authority, with Childress having finally attempted to penetrate Favre's control of the Vikings offense in last Sunday's 26-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Childress has suggested it was merely a "stream of consciousness" moment, and that it wasn't a clear-cut attempt to remove Favre from the game. Favre painted it in less ambiguous and more unpalatable terms: that his coach suggested he sit down before the game had been decided. Something that likely sounded, in Favre's mind, like a benching.
But while we all argue over who should be giving orders and who should be taking them, one fundamental question is left on the table: Leading 7-6 in the third quarter, and still needing to lock up the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race, why was Childress even thinking of pulling Favre in the first place? Moreover, why would Childress have tried to bench Favre in two other games, as reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press?
Don't buy the reasoning that Favre was getting hit too much against the Panthers. He has suffered a similar amount of punishment in other games this season. Indeed, look no further than the Vikings' first loss of the season to the Pittsburgh Steelers, when Favre was sacked four times and took a handful of other hard hits. Childress apparently didn't attempt to pull Favre out of that game, which was every bit as close as the Carolina affair, and possibly more physical.
However the Vikings want to frame the latest issue, this is about control. And as pointed out in the story by the Pioneer Press, it likely centers around Favre's penchant for changing plays at the line of scrimmage, which has not been something that quarterbacks in Minnesota have enjoyed under Childress.
But isn't it a little late to be arguing over that point? Isn't it likely this was something that, in Favre's mind, was already settled before he came out of retirement and took over? If you're Favre, and the team has bent over backward to get you into the front door, you rightfully have a feeling of self-entitlement – particularly when you're running an offense that you have been so familiar with, and working with an offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell who knows precisely how you like to operate.
Through all the spin, this smacks of Childress trying to change a deal that, like it or not, he agreed to months ago. Brett Favre wasn't coming out of retirement to be molded into what Childress wanted. He was coming to Minnesota to put his stamp on the team. Not the other way around, which is why so many scoffed at the notion of Favre spending 16 regular-season games throwing 20 passes and acting as a game manager.
Regardless of what was happening against Carolina – whether Favre was moving the team out of running plays or the offense simply wasn't functioning – Childress picked the wrong time to attempt to rein in Favre. That time passed in the preseason. It passed at the negotiating table, when (assuming the conversation took place) Childress spelled out to Favre what his role would be.
If this team were 3-11 or 7-7 or even fighting for the NFC's last wild-card spot, Childress would have some solid ground to stand upon. But he had to know the deal when Favre was brought in. He had to know that he was selling some of his real estate as a decision-maker. And when Favre led the Vikings to double-digit wins and solidified Minnesota as a Super Bowl contender, he had to know the time for bargaining or demanding had passed. The power of decision has been turned over, and Favre isn't giving it back. Not in December. Not at a critical juncture of a game. Not ever.
The new regime shouldn't be feeling heat in Kansas City
Amazingly, there already appears to be pressure building in Kansas City over the perceived lack of progress by the Chiefs under the new regime of coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli. And frankly, it's a head-scratcher. Part of the perception is being fueled by impatient media, and at least part of it by a fan base that has watched in disgust as the Chiefs have lost four straight games, including a pair of blowout losses to the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.
Haley (right) with Derrick Johnson.
(John Rieger/US Presswire)
But here is the reality that Chiefs fans have to face: the talent level on this team ranks among the worst in the NFL. And that doesn't fall at the feet of Haley or Pioli. It falls on a previous regime that won six games in two years, and got progressively worse under the soft hand of Herm Edwards and personnel mistakes of former GM Carl Peterson. Anyone who thought Haley and Pioli were going to arrive and turn this into a postseason franchise was kidding themselves from the start.
When I saw this team in training camp, it was clear the roster churning was going to continue all season. Not only was the team moving to a 3-4 defense alignment – typically a three-year transition for talented teams – but too many vital parts of the team were in disarray. The offensive line looked like it was going to need three new starters, from center to right tackle. Beyond Dwayne Bowe(notes), the wideouts looked as pedestrian as any group in the league. Left tackle Branden Albert(notes) was already struggling immensely. Defensive end Glenn Dorsey(notes) was out of shape and being thrust into a new position. Linebacker Derrick Johnson was freelancing too much. And a number of players weren't adjusting well to the firmer tone of practices, from Bowe to running back Larry Johnson(notes).
Indeed, there was nothing to suggest a quick turnaround was in the cards for this franchise. And Haley and Pioli were sending unambiguous signals about that from the start. I distinctly remember sitting with Haley at one point and pointing out numerous roster flaws and expecting him to come back with some positive spin. Instead, he nodded and said, "We're going to have to scrap to figure out ways to win games. We've got some work to do."
Did the regime expect to be 3-11 at this point? Not likely. Haley and Pioli both have a supreme confidence, and I believe they hoped to pull some rabbits out of a hat this season. But I also think that even in their optimism, they knew it was going to be a rough 2009. I think they hoped for the best from Larry Johnson, but knew he was going to become a problem. I think they thought Bowe would get his act together, but didn't anticipate the four-game suspension. I think they wanted more out of quarterback Matt Cassel(notes), but knew the problems with the offensive line were going to create problems in his development.
Deep down, I got the sense this was a regime that expected a large part of what has happened this season. That's not to say there isn't disappointment and frustration, particularly on Haley's part as he has pushed a roster and clearly felt the roster push back at times. But this was going to be a season of assessment, struggle and change. There were just too many pervasive problems that needed to be attacked. And anyone who thought otherwise had stopped paying attention long before Pioli or Haley arrived.
Thompson has bounced back in a big way
Don't look now, but Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has found a way to quietly bounce back as former quarterback Brett Favre has been thriving in Minnesota. After a number of inconsistent NFL drafts, and the '07 nightmare pick of Justin Harrell(notes) that continued to dog the franchise, Thompson's 2009 draft has developed into one of the best hauls in the NFL.
The class has been a big part of Green Bay's 5-1 surge since starting 4-4, particularly on defense, where both of Thompson's first-round picks have shown star potential. Nose tackle B.J. Raji(notes) struggled early with an ankle injury, but recently has flashed the strength, power and quickness necessary to be a top-tier lineman in the league. Consistency and stamina are still an issue, but he has improved significantly as the season has progressed. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Clay Matthews(notes) is already playing like a star, notching 10 sacks and 47 tackles and playing like a prototypical pass rusher in the 3-4 alignment.
Further down, fourth-round offensive lineman T.J. Lang(notes) has platooned at both guard and tackle, and should eventually settle into a starting role. Seventh-round linebacker Brad Jones(notes) has also shined after being pressed into the starting lineup by injuries, while defensive end Jarius Wynn(notes) and cornerback Brandon Underwood(notes) have both contributed in limited roles.
The developments with Raji and Matthews are particularly key, since both give Green Bay some young anchors in their continued transition to the 3-4. Hitting on two first-round picks in one draft isn't exactly easy, either. Take into consideration that Thompson, who has been in the position since 2005, made the fairly rare move (for him, anyway) of trading a bounty of valuable draft picks (a second and two thirds) to take Matthews 26th overall. And from a New England Patriots team that could badly use Matthews right about now.
While the rest of the season has yet to play out, that draft success could prove fairly vital to Thompson's survival. The 4-4 start was tough a tough pill for many Packers fans, especially with Favre flourishing with the Vikings. And some of Thompson's higher-profile draft misses – Harrell, quarterback Brian Brohm(notes) and running back Brandon Jackson(notes) – looked particularly damning. And while he has had some very solid middle- to late-round contributors during his run (tight end Jermichael Finley(notes), wideout James Jones(notes), defensive tackle Johnny Jolly(notes), etc.), you'd have to go back to linebacker Nick Barnett(notes) in 2003 to find a first-round pick that has come close to the immediate impact of Matthews.