Bryant McKinnie (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY)
No transaction of an NFL starter comes without risk, but Rick Spielman has made some bold moves in recent years with the trading of Percy Harvin and releasing of Bryant McKinnie. Parting ways with them looked like genius Thursday when both players couldn’t practice with their new teams.
For a couple of players that put Vikings general manager Rick Spielman under the media microscope – or more appropriately, being the ant trying to outrun a rotten kid with a magnifying glass – Thursday’s news came as quiet justification for a pair of moves he made.
Neither Percy Harvin nor Bryant McKinnie practiced at the opening of their respective training camps. While neither was expected, both were all too familiar.
Harvin is sidelined with, depending on whose sources/speculation/opinion you tend to believe, a hip injury that may/may not/might be a torn labrum (slight or significant subject to debate). The severity of the injury will determine if it will require surgery similar to the procedure Sidney Rice had in 2010 that sent the Vikings’ Super Bowl expectations into the initial stage of its downward death spiral. Rice didn’t come back until past the midway point of the regular season with his injury. If Harvin needs surgery, it could be a crippling blow to the lofty plans they have in Seattle.
McKinnie is a separate, but familiar story. Wind the clock back to 2009. The Vikings are riding high and McKinnie is named to his first Pro Bowl – an honor that seemed overdue. But McKinnie became one of the first significant examples of the social media age coming back to take a big public bite out of a player. In Miami, where he lives in the offseason, he went down to the Pro Bowl practices a returning hero. He tweeted hours before he was scheduled to be at his first team meeting that the party down in South Beach was “off the chain.” When he didn’t show up for the first sessions of Pro Bowl week, he was dismissed from the team. It went downhill from there.
In 2010, McKinnie showed up troublingly out of shape. Fortunately, he was young enough that with the prodding and chiding of his coaches (and teammates), he dropped enough weight in the August heat to be back toward his natural playing weight by the time the regular season started. In one of the ironic moments of Vikings history, Viking Update was interviewing McKinnie at the end of the 2010 season and he made the comment that he was, for the first time in his career, hiring a personal trainer to lead his offseason regimen.
“I’m not getting any younger,” McKinnie said with a smile, saying that he needed to keep himself in shape in order to be effective and kickin’ back in the offseason was no longer an option.
Before the NFL work stoppage hit in 2011, the Vikings’ coaches and front office told their players in no uncertain terms that the key during the lockout was to stay in peak condition and work out on their own. The potential loomed that a work stoppage would get resolved a week before the scheduled start of the regular season and “real” games might get played on very short notice. When the two sides kissed on made up on the eve of the start of training camps around the league, McKinnie showed up in Mankato and the shock and awe was too much for the Vikings to take. He was so out of shape that the medical team feared the level of conditioning – even under the new relaxed practice rules – would be medically unsafe to put him out on the field. Considering it was the 10-year anniversary of Korey Stringer dying in heat indexes that had farmers moving their cattle indoors, the medical staff wasn’t willing to take any chances.
The team signed Charlie Johnson before announcing the move. Johnson is a good left guard, but he was signed to play left tackle and McKinnie was released. The team didn’t try to make a trade. The Band-Aid was ripped off and he was cut.
After being released, McKinnie signed on with Baltimore. In his first offseason, he made good on his promise to work out and helped lead the Ravens to an improbable Super Bowl ring. As recently as the early June minicamp for the Ravens a month-and-a-half ago, he was in decent enough condition to be viewed as on track for training camp – head coach John Harbaugh heaping praise so deep that he claimed McKinnie was in the best early-summer condition he’s experienced in years. Seven weeks ago, all was good.
On Thursday, the Macy’s Day Parade came early once again. McKinnie showed up at Ravens training camp so out of shape that Harbaugh said he is “too heavy” – ominously following it up with not being sure whether he or McKinnie was more disappointed. Translation: Harbaugh was considerably more disappointed.
When Spielman was taking the bullets from fans for cutting McKinnie, allowing Rice to leave for Seattle via free agency or orchestrating the Harvin trade, he did so with the firm belief he was making the right decision. The history book isn’t written just yet, but, as the pages turn, right now he’s looking pretty smart … and perhaps smiling a little bit for reasons he won’t explain.
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.