The Vikings tried their best to find a punter/kickoff specialist a year ago before releasing Gary Anderson. You would think they would have learned from that mistake, but, from all indications, they're ready to ride that slippery slope again this year. What's worse is that it's needless.
Almost a year ago, you could see the pain on Mike Tice’s face when the Vikings announced the signing of Doug Brien as their new kicker. The respect Tice had for Gary Anderson was VERY apparent and his begrudging rationale for not bringing him back was specific. There are only so many spots you can allot for special teams “specialists” – kickoff man, field goal kicker, punter and long snapper. Three is an acceptable number. Four is not – at least not in April.
With the signing of kicker Ryan Elling, many in the local media are again saying that Anderson is done. Maybe they’re right, but the bottom line is that, in lieu of getting a young proven gun like Paul Edinger, who the Vikes forced the Bears to overspend for, kicker remains an open question on the 2003 roster and Anderson remains -- in our opinion -- the best option.
While Anderson clearly is not a kickoff guy, in the age of parity, how many games each year come down to making or missing a critical field goal? Anderson is the leading scorer in the history of the NFL, which is a monumental achievement. The dumbfounded look on Cris Carter’s face when Anderson beat the Dolphins with a 53-yard field goal should be worth another year in and of itself. But, all indications are that Anderson will be sent packing again – until the kicking situation sucks badly enough to bring him back once again.
Why fight it? While the Vikings are clearly a team on the rise, they aren’t stacked enough that the 51st, 52nd or 53rd man on the roster is so necessary that you can’t burn a spot on a kickoff specialist. What Tice and Co. need is a KICKING specialist, not a KICKOFF specialist. They have one already. They jacked him around last year and guess what? When they needed him, he came through. Anderson got offers from other teams, but wanted his children to have stability -- a gesture more admirable than these words can convey. He's still in the same position -- an inherent advantage for the Vikes, but something that shouldn't be an issue.
The team didn’t get Edinger, despite their efforts. Whomever they bring in to replace Anderson will suffer a similar fate as Brien. Unless he's perfect, there will be comparisons -- none favorable. Kickers costing teams games are kickers that learn that "NFL" stands for “Not For Long.” Anderson is worth every penny he is paid because, when he misses, people are stunned -- he's that automatic. You don’t get to be the all-time leading scorer by blowing hot and cold.
Memo to Tice and whomever else is in the decision-making process to determine a final roster: think clearly. Take a look at your final 53-man roster from 2002. How many of those players won’t be with you in 2003? How many of those players weren’t the cause of winning or losing games? How many uniforms don't get dirty during a typical game?
It’s time for the Vikes to be proactive instead of reactive. You have a team that can make a playoff run for the Super Bowl. Don’t let one roster spot come between you and at least one more unnecessary loss. Sign Anderson and let some strong-legged guy serve as the latest reincarnation of Mitch Berger. Last year, an overtime loss to Buffalo wasn't the difference between making the playoffs and watching. This year it could be.
Perhaps the “Paul Harvey: Rest of the Story” version is that, in all reality, if Berger would have been smart enough to shut his pie hole after he was signed (and was subsequently released) by the Rams, this would all be a moot point. He’d be kicking off and punting, Anderson would be kicking field goals and Doug Brien would be the answer to a trivia question -- instead of being the Mini-Me version of Bill Buckner for Vikes fans.
* While word among the Twin Cities print media is that the Vikings haven’t made an offer to WR Oronde Gadsden, VU has been told that a three-year deal worth $3.5-4 million has been extended. From what we’re told, the hangup would be the up-front money. The best news to come out of his visit with the team, from what we're hearing from those close to the situation, is that the visit was very positive and a signing is possible -- if a compromise is reached.
* The Vikings' off-season conditioning program begins Monday. Almost all of the veterans are expected to be part of the program – which isn’t the case in many NFL cities.
* When the Vikings signed CB Ken Irvin, he was in competition for a roster spot on the team with former Titan Donald Mitchell. Mitchell signed with Dallas, which could have draft implications of interest to the Vikings and their fans. Many draft analysts have projected the Cowboys taking CB Terence Newman with the fifth pick in the draft. While VU still maintains that Newman won’t be available when the Vikings pick at No. 7, it would seem to be a further indication of what we’ve speculated for the last month – Dallas will trade out of the No. 5 spot. Whether the team moving into that slot takes Newman or is one of the teams interested in QB Byron Leftwich remains to be seen. But a mental note should be made of the Mitchell signing, because it could have significant ramifications on what the Vikes do with the No. 7 pick.
* Houston, it would seem, has become a southern destination for former Vikings. In the last 24 hours, the Texans agreed to contracts with former Vikings Shawn Worthen and Antonio Wilson.
* Finally, from the “What the (fill in the blank)?” Department comes this: a rumor (with legs) has circulated that the Vikings are one of the teams in the running to trade with the Rams for Orlando Pace. Are the Rams looking to move Pace? Yes. Trading for Kyle Turley – and inking him to a long-term deal – is a clear indication that Pace’s days in St. Louis are numbered. When the Saints signed Wayne Gandy, the handwriting was on the wall there for Turley. Two completely unrelated VU sources asked us if there was any legitimacy to the rumors. Our answer was concise – none. Why would the Vikes hand out the double-edged signing bonus money to Bryant McKinnie (both checks signed by Red McCombs and paid out) to trade for Pace – who hit a contract standoff with the Rams when his agent insisted on a $20 million signing bonus? Long story short, if the Rams are going to move Pace, it will be for a second-round pick and not to a team that went through the heartache the Vikings did to get McKinnie signed, sealed and delivered. If you’ve already heard this rumor, laugh it off like we did. Ain’t happening. A team can only have one left tackle and the Vikes have invested too much in McKinnie to ruin TWO drafts as a result.