LaDainian Tomlinson left New York without a contract, but had a reported offer of $5 million over two years. He remains undecided whether to move East to the Jets, come to the Metrodome turf or wait for another potential offer. L.T. is the latest in a line of competition between the Vikings and Jets that some say dates back to a critical phone call in 2004.
The LaDainian Tomlinson saga continues today after he spent two days in New Jersey visiting with Jets officials before flying home to San Diego to mull over the offers and see if anyone else gets into the bidding. He left New York without a contract, but word is that the Jets offered him a two-year deal worth about $5 million. There hasn’t been any word if the Vikings and L.T. talked numbers.
The Vikings and the Jets getting into competition is nothing new. The greatest tale of these two cities came in the spring of 2004 and doesn’t get a lot of attention outside the two organizations, but a insider feud is said to have been the result.
As the free-agent period began in 2004, nobody in Minnesota had heard of Zygi Wilf and only a few more knew of Brad Childress. These were the Vikings days of Red McCombs and Mike Tice. They were going to bring the Vikings back to prominence. They wanted to upgrade the secondary and had their sights firmly set on Antoine Winfield. A visit was scheduled, but there was a problem. He had a visit first with the Jets and it appeared all but certain he would never come to Minnesota.
As Winfield explains it, the Jets and his agent had agreed to numbers and were in the process of finalizing the contract. He and his wife were at the Jets facility awaiting the documentation to come through and Tice made one last move. He made a call. Not to Winfield, but to his wife. Word had made the circuit that she didn’t want to raise a family in the New York City metroplex. She would prefer a smaller community like the Twin Cities. The call was made and a plea was given just to listen to the offer.
Tice wasn’t done. An old horse player who can be found every year at the Kentucky Derby, he rubbed elbows with enough muckedy-mucks that he was able to call in a favor to have one of his Kentucky horse buddies send his private plane up to New York to pick up Winfield and his wife. They were whisked away from the Jets facility in a limousine and were flown to Minnesota. He didn’t leave the area until a contract with the Vikings was finalized.
As would be expected, the Jets were none too pleased and, as the conspiracy theorists have it, they have sought revenge since. The Jets are rumored to have moved in front of the Vikings at least twice in the early rounds of draft weekend to get a player they believed the Vikings coveted that they also wanted – kicker Mike Nugent and quarterback Kellen Clemens. Many of these same types think the Jets were all too enthusiastic about getting Brett Favre to help keep him away from the Vikings – not knowing that once they committed to Mark Sanchez the Minnesota-Favre love affair would begin anyway, just a year later.
It seems ironic that the Vikings and Jets once again find themselves in a position where they are pursuing the same player. At this point in his career, the chase for Tomlinson isn’t as huge to both teams as getting a five-year veteran cornerback who had already established himself among the game’s elite. But it has two teams with a quiet rivalry going head-to-head for the same player. They’ve wined him. They’ve dined him. They’ve everything but signed him. Who wins? Probably the first one to increase an offer and say, “Let’s get this done or we’re moving on.”
It should come as no surprise that Jimmy Kennedy came back to the Vikings because they could offer him one thing he’s never had in his career – stability. In the offseason last year, Kennedy said it was the first time in his career that he had the same head coach, defensive coordinator and position coach two years running. When asked what difference the constant turnover of coaches had on him, Kennedy theorized that he would have had a career much closer to that of Kevin Williams, taken shortly before Kennedy by the Vikings in the first round of the 2003 draft. He hated the Vikings at the time, feeling he was only being used to disguise the Vikings’ true interest in Williams by publicly bringing Kennedy in as the only defensive tackle visit, but said he loves the current Vikings and the coaching staff. You get the feeling he listened to what Buffalo had to say but, when faced with the prospect of yet another new system, new teammates and new coaches – much less with a team that doesn’t have a pressing need at DT – he decided staying with the Vikings was the better move.
For a while on Saturday, there was a jersey being displayed for sale on the NFL’s official website of a purple Vikings Tomlinson jersey with the number O. There were no such products for him in a Jets jersey. Whether foreshadowing – nobody has O for a number in the NFL – or waiting to see if Asher Allen, who wears L.T.’s famous No. 21 with the Vikings, is bought off (remember what happened to J.D. Booty and his No. 4) in the event he signs with the team, it seemed a little different that the league’s shopping website would have an L.T. jersey in purple. A check back late last night saw that the item has been removed from the e-shelves. Gone, but not forgotten.
The NFL has a system in place called a performance-based pay system, which allows for players drafted in the middle to late rounds that signed small contracts but became regular starters or contributors to get additional pay as acknowledgment of their contribution. Vikings center John Sullivan was the biggest beneficiary of the PBP system for the 2009 season. The former sixth-round draft pick received $397,555 – $42,000 more than second place Zack Bowman, a cornerback for the Chicago Bears. A total of 12 players received PBP system payments of $300,000 or more for their play in 2009.
A signing Saturday could have big implications on the draft next month. The Cleveland Browns signed quarterback Jake Delhomme to a two-year contract that will pay him an absurd $7 million this year. Many have speculated that a Delhomme-to-Cleveland scenario would result in Brady Quinn being traded. If Quinn should go to the Rams for their second-round pick, that could turn the draft on its ear, with both Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen potentially sliding down the charts. With that kind of money being thrown at Delhomme, much less trading for Seneca Wallace a week earlier, it would seem both Quinn and Derek Anderson will have bad things to say about Cleveland.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Delhomme looks to make out like a thief this year after being a walking bad-joke punchline last year. With $12.7 million in guaranteed money still owed him by the Panthers, Delhomme was cut anyway. He was apparently worth more to the Panthers gone than trying to win his starting spot back. With the ransom he held up Cleveland on top of that, Delhomme is set to make almost $20 million this year … and is still viewed by most as a lower-echelon quarterback. Clean livin’, Jake.
Keep an eye open tomorrow for Version 3.0 of the Viking Update mock draft. There are plenty of changes, from the No. 1 overall pick to the Vikings at No. 30.