The Vikings sent a clear message with Tuesday’s release of Bryant McKinnie – if you’re not with us, you’ll be gone.
Team officials were reportedly pretty stunned to see that McKinnie, who vowed in January that he was going to have a personal trainer with him in the offseason, joking, “I could get away with not working out in the offseason when I was younger. I’m too old for that now.”
One has to assume that either he fired the personal trainer or the personal trainer bloated with him. McKinnie showed up at camp close to 400 pounds, according to the Star Tribune, and it was clear that he had done little in the offseason to commit himself to the 2011 season, leading to his release. Officially, the Vikings listed the reason for his release as a failed physical.
Few Vikings survived the “Love Boat” scandal, but McKinnie, who was one of the ringleaders of the Mayhem on Minnetonka, was spared. He was suspended in 2008 for his role in a bar melee in Miami in which he was quite clearly an instigator in the escalation of the dust-up. But, perhaps most famously, after being selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career – a case many Vikings observers in the years prior said was an honor long overdue – McKinnie embarrassed himself, his teammates and the organization by blowing off practices in his hometown of Miami after tweeting in the early morning hours that the local party was off the chain. He was kicked off the Pro Bowl squad and it became permanently apparent that he would never be voted in by coaches or his peers again.
McKinnie was always a big man on campus in Mankato, but this year he was a morbidly obese big man on campus. McKinnie told the website TMZ that he asked for his release, claiming he was suffering from high cholesterol.
While McKinnie claimed he wanted out, at practice, Leslie Frazier was doing just the opposite, avoiding the topic as best he could. He was asked about McKinnie armed with the knowledge of what was going to happen, but not wanting to spill the beans.
Frazier, who almost assuredly had to sign off on the release, was just as likely in the loop when the decision was made to sign Charlie Johnson. Yet, showing he has the acumen of diversion of pretty direct questioning about the inner workings of the team, Frazier was asked after Tuesday’s morning practice what progress he was looking for from McKinnie in the coming week. With the benefit of hindsight, his answer was appropriately cryptic.
“When I sit down and talk to our staff this afternoon and learn a little bit more about how things went today for him, along with Anthony [Herrera, who is recovering from knee surgery], we’ll continue to progress from there.”
The contingency plan came Monday when Charlie Johnson showed up from Indianapolis, where he had protected no less than Peyton Manning’s blindside the last couple of years. From the business side of things, it was a brilliant move that was made prior to bringing down the hammer on McKinnie.
In the real world, $4 million this year, $3 million next year and $3.5 million the year after represents outstanding money. People have killed for much less. However, in the world of the NFL, an average of $3.5 million a year for a left tackle is either an incredible bargain or a recipe for disaster.
As many teams have first-round left tackles starting as first-round quarterbacks, including first-round draft picks D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jake Long, Michael Oher, Joe Thomas, Anthony Costanzo, Duane Brown, Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert, Ryan Clady, Trent Williams, Bryan Bulaga, Jeff Backus, Gabe Carimi, Sam Baker, Jordan Gross, Joey Staley, Russell Okung, Levi Brown and, until Tuesday, McKinnie.
That isn’t a coincidence. When 19 of 32 teams have a first-rounder at left tackle and a handful of others simply haven’t had the opportunity to replace the 10-year veteran who had manned the spot, it shows the value of the position.
This was a decision that was made hastily – between the time the team saw McKinnie and how woefully out of shape he had become during the lockout and releasing him – but wasn’t made hastily in terms of being thought out. The business side of football kicked in, a replacement was found and McKinnie was sent packing.
Perhaps the front office needed a better excuse than bad behavior at the Pro Bowl to cut ties with McKinnie. Johnson living up to the standard McKinnie set for the last nine years – playing every game and consistently grading out well at his position over the course of those nine seasons – is a tall order.
Cutting McKinnie sent a message to the players, the fans and the rest of the NFL that business as usual from 2010 won’t be business as usual in 2011.
The Eagles continued their plan to amass the free agent all-star team of all time by casually adding running back Ronnie Brown, one of the more multi-dimensional backs in the league, to be a role player in Philly.
With the Vikings having to get under the salary cap by 3:01 p.m. Central on Thursday, if the team can agree on a contract extension for Adrian Peterson or Chad Greenway, they could get back into the free-agent signing sweepstakes as the regular season remains five weeks away.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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