Of all the players to talk to down in Mankato for training camp, the one that could really provide some interesting answers if honest is a guy who “officially” has never played for the Vikings.
He’s never been on a game-day roster. He’s never played a snap for the Vikings. Yet, this is technically his third go-round with the Vikings.
Quarterback Sage Rosenfels is one of the more interesting stories coming into the 2012 Vikings training camp – even though his job is not in question and his role is not in doubt. According to the NFL record book, Rosenfels has never “officially” played for the Vikings.
Rosenfels has been in the NFL for more than a decade. Selected by the Washington Redskins in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, Rosenfels’ career has had more than its share of twists and turns.
When Rick Spielman was the general manager in Miami trying to find a solution to “post-Marino malaise,” but he never got his shot. Vikings castoff Jay Fiedler and Ray Lucas took care of that in 2002. The Dolphins hoped to recapture South Beach magic with Brian Griese in 2003, but he was beyond pedestrian. A.J. Feeley wasn’t the answer in 2004. Then is got weird.
In 2005, future Viking Gus Frerotte was reunited with Spielman and given the shot at greatness. It seemed like Rosenfels couldn’t win for losing. With the departure of Spielman in favor of Nick Saban (anyone who is a Dolphin fan prefers to pronounce the “B” in his last name to what sounds more like a “T”), Rosenfels had to go. He was “Spielman’s guy.” He had no place in the new playbook, “The Sabanic Verses.” Rosenfels went to Houston and Houston had a problem.
David Carr was touted as the “next big thing” when the Texans were granted an expansion franchise and he was the first “in house” player Houston got. By 2005, it was clear that decision was a tragic mistake. Carr wasn’t a franchise QB, he was an anchor dragging down the franchise. Rosenfels might have a shot.
The Texans were fed up with Carr and, for all appearances, it was Rosenfels’ job to win. Then came “the trade.”
Ironically happening shortly before Michael Vick’s penchant for dog fighting, Matt Schaub had etched enough of a history to get teams to consider getting into a bidding war for him. Rosenfels watched the Falcons trade Schaub to the Texans and his days in Houston were numbered. He started 10 games in 2007-08 because Schaub, who was limited in his experience, folded like a card table in consecutive years.
Enter the Vikings … and Spielman. The Vikings were willing to part with a fourth-round draft pick to acquire Rosenfels to compete with Tarvaris Jackson, another injury-prone QB who ran hot and cold. The Texans held out for a second-rounder. Thanks to the (lopsided) trade that sent a first-rounder and two third-round picks to Kansas City to land Jared Allen, the Vikings weren’t willing to give up their only pick in the first three rounds to appease Spielman’s belief system.
As it turned out, the Texans needed Rosenfels. Schaub was once again injured. Rosenfels stepped in and start five games. In 2009, the Texans agreed to a trade that would reunite Rosenfels and Spielman in Minnesota.
A press conference was held and it can be argued that it was the greatest day in Rosenfels’ professional life. He was going to compete with T-Jack for the starting job. The Vikings had the ammunition to send a fourth-round draft pick to Houston and the deal was done.
He was given a two-year, $9 million contract extension beyond the $1.35 million he was going to be paid in 2009. He was willing to take a decent signing bonus in exchange for the chance to compete with a guy who had already been benched by his head coach and wasn’t drafted by Spielman. It was a dream come true.
That is, until a hurricane from the Gulf Coast blew into Minnesota. The initial plan in “The Competition” was to have Rosenfels start the first and third games of the preseason. In reality, it was his job to lose. Why? Because that third preseason game was going to be nationally televised and he was going to face his former team with every reason to believe that a first-half outing would lead him to being the starter when Week 1 of the regular season began.
Just days before what was to be Rosenfels’ coming out party, the Gulf breeze blew the Kid from Kiln into town and Rosenfels’ dream of proving his NFL largesse was Mafia-style eliminated. His feet were put in cement. Brett Favre started the game in Houston and T-Jack had thrown more passes in the preseason. Rosenfels became No. 3 in Week 1 and there was no reason to change. In the official NFL history books – the ones that start with games played (they all do) – Rosenfels never played for the Vikings.
Then came an obscure wide receiver.
In 2010, while Minnesota was technically held hostage but nobody believed Favre wasn’t coming back, Rosenfels’ job had regressed from a potential starter to roster casualty. On the first day of rookie minicamp, Joe Webb didn’t don a red practice pinnie – the jersey that tells defenders in practice that, under no circumstances, are you to be touched. A college QB, Webb was viewed by old-school thinking as being a late-round project as a wide receiver. He couldn’t possibly translate to an NFL quarterback. It was going to be the same old, same old – Favre, T-Jack and a well-paid Rosenfels.
But the players and coaches saw Webb throw passes. 24 hours later, he was switched to quarterback and has donned a red practice jersey ever since. Suddenly, after a strong preseason, Webb wasn’t the type of player the Vikings could hope to sneak by on waivers. There were enough dismal No. 3 QBs around the league that the Vikings weren’t going to risk it. Brad Childress had already been burned trying to slide Tyler Thigpen under the radar and he became the “new Rosenfels.”
Favre came back and the Vikings had a problem. The Giants were willing to offer a low-level trade to the Vikings to bring in Eli Manning insurance.
For the record, thanks to a situation that resulted in Rosenfels holding for extra points and field goals, he “officially” played 12 games for the Giants. His only offensive stats were to take a knee three times at the end of a game – becoming one of the only players whose career numbers actually regressed from one season to the next.
Not willing to take on the heavy lifting of Rosenfels’ contract, he was released by the Giants and signed with Miami. An injury sidelined him early, but he was healthy at midseason when (go figure?) Schaub got hurt again. Attempts to trade for Rosenfels were rebuffed. He was eventually released – ironically (to most) coinciding with the release of Donovan McNabb. Spielman made a waiver claim and the Vikings got him back.
However, by that point, the Vikings had moved on and Christian Ponder was the new sheriff in town. Webb remained his loyal deputy ready to step in if someone laid a shot on the sheriff. In five games in uniform on the Vikings roster, he never saw the field.
The streak has gone to 21. Rosenfels has suited up for 21 games as a Minnesota Viking, but has yet to be acknowledged by the league as ever being a part of the team when stats are kept and preserved.
He is officially Victim One of the Brett Favre Syndrome. It cost him his job. Several more veterans have followed.
As he enters training camp as a 34-year-old – a dying breed on the new-look Vikings roster, Rosenfels has signed contracts with the Vikings three times – when he signed his extension in 2009, after he was claimed in 2011 and as a free agent signee in March after he hit the open market.
Yet, according to the NFL and its historians, Rosenfels has never “really” played for the Vikings. Odds are, barring injuries, Rosenfels won’t see the light of day on Sundays in 2012 either. But he’s ready when a call to arms is issued. Such is the life of a quarterback in the NFL. If Rosenfels is honest in training camp, his is a story worth noting – not necessarily for what he’s accomplished, but for the ride that has him where he’s at.
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.