Chris Cook (Rob Grabowski/US Presswire)
Leslie Frazier and the Vikings plan to make an announcement on Chris Cook’s roster status Monday, but there is no easy answer for a coach looking for consistent discipline, but also having to weigh the locker-room reaction and the depth chart.
We will likely have a definitive answer when the Vikings return from their bye week Monday as to whether Chris Cook is a team member, a team member on unpaid leave or a former teammate.
Head coach Leslie Frazier said on KFAN Radio this week that the Vikings will make a decision on the status of Chris Cook early next week when the Vikings return to Winter Park to begin preparation for the second half of the 2011 season.
While some situations can be viewed as a “win-win,” this one has “lose” written all over it, regardless of what approach the team takes.
From the NFL investment standpoint, reinstating Cook would make the most sense – even if it means keeping him sidelined without pay for another three games. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Vikings can suspend Cook up to four games without pay before making a decision, but, at that point, they would have to either reinstate him fully or release him, leaving a two- to three-week timetable window for the Vikings to complete their due diligence in doing their own investigation.
The second option would be to reinstate Cook when the Vikings return from the bye week, but that could have its own set of problems. The Vikings have shown a heavy hand this season when it comes to dealing with players that fail to live up to team expectations. Bryant McKinnie was out of shape when he arrived at training camp and was unceremoniously released and subsequently signed by the Baltimore Ravens and inserted into the starting lineup. Donovan McNabb lost his starting job because he failed to deliver the wins so many thought he would bring with him to the purple and gold. Bernard Berrian lost his roster spot for similar reasons. To make an exception for Cook because of his youth and his talent could set the kind of double-standard that helped divide the locker room to bring down then-head coach Dennis Green. Green had sets of rules for some players (Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper, etc.) that didn’t apply to the rest of the team and it caused, as history buffs recall, a schism within the team.
To simply reinstate Cook might have a detrimental effect on teammates who felt betrayed that, when they needed Cook the most in their home game vs. the Packers, he was in jail. Like it or not, many players view the process of playing NFL football as being akin to being a platoon in a military situation. To have one player go off the grid because he wasn’t “with the program” is sure to provide animosity from at least a few of his teammates – given the gravity of the charges he is facing, you could tell by some of the comments made by his teammates after the fact that there is some animosity in place. While the legal system has the mantra of “innocent until proven guilty,” the NFL has no such requirement. Suspensions are handed down before the legal process is completed in many instances and, if there is the perception that the team is giving him a “free pass” because of his talent and the investment the franchise has made in him, there could be internal problems. Keep in mind that McKinnie was the only survivor of the Love Boat scandal despite his role in it. His talent and team need gave him a pass while others, like Daunte Culpepper, Kelly Campbell and Moe Williams, were sent packing.
The third option would be to simply release Cook. For the long-term health of the Vikings as a football team, this option is the least favorable. The Vikings drafted Cook with the first pick of the second round in the 2010 draft because they felt a glaring need at cornerback. Cedric Griffin was coming off knee surgery and Antoine Winfield wasn’t getting any younger. Since then, Griffin has had surgery on his other knee and Winfield has been sidelined for the last four games with a neck injury. If not for his arrest and subsequent felony domestic assault charges, Cook would have been in the starting lineup the weeks leading up to the bye and, given the Vikings’ record, would probably have kept his starting job and the franchise would move forward with him as a starting cornerback much in the same way it is moving forward with rookie QB Christian Ponder as its quarterback. Those plans took a serious hit when Cook was arrested.
While there has been a clamor from fans to simply cut ties with Cook, it isn’t always that easy in the NFL. The bottom line is to win and no team is filled with choirboys. Hall of Famer Ray Lewis was in the middle of a shooting that led to him pleading guilty to reduced charges, but the Ravens never considered cutting him. While Cook isn’t of that stature, his role with the team is clearly one of importance and to cut him and get nothing in return would make his pick an even bigger waste than the third-rounder the team surrendered to acquire Randy Moss from the Patriots.
Any way you look at, there are going to be people who aren’t pleased with the decision Frazier and the front office ultimately make. If Cook is released, it will set the franchise back at a position that is already razor thin in terms of depth and starting-quality talent. If his suspension continues, it will simply delay the decision that needs to be made. If he is reinstated Monday, there will be cries from some that the team has run amok and that there isn’t enough personal accountability for the players.
When Frazier’s decision becomes public next week, there won’t be a win-win scenario among them. Somehow there will be a “lose” as part of the equation. It’s unclear whether Cook, if he is ultimately reinstated, will be welcomed back by teammates who felt in some way abandoned when the Vikings still had a glimmer of hope to turn their season around after a 1-5 start. If he is cut, it will be as if the Vikings traded away their first-round pick in the 2010 draft for a fourth-rounder. No matter how you slice it, there won’t be a perfect resolution to this problem. Frazier will make his decision and the franchise will move forward next week. The only remaining question is whether it will be with Cook or without him.
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.