Losses, injuries and frustration continue to mount for the Minnesota Vikings. They fell to 2-9 with their 24-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons Sunday and criticism is being lobbed in several directions.
On message boards, fans are increasingly calling into question the capabilities of head coach Leslie Frazier and are becoming increasingly critical of several areas of the roster. Where does the highly emotional and off-the-cuff reaction by the fans end and the real possibilities for change start?
Here are several talking points bubbling to the surface over recent days and weeks and the opinion here on what is realistic for the ramifications ahead:
The take: Leslie Frazier should be fired at the end of the season and the whole coaching staff dismissed.
The reality from this view: Frazier went through seven interviews for an NFL head-coaching opportunity, but after leading the team to a 3-3 record through the final six games of 2010 on an interim basis, he was the only person interviewed by owner Zygi Wilf. Frazier's biggest mistake may have been his public stance that the Vikings weren't rebuilding in 2011. But after six starts, he replaced veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb with rookie first-round pick Christian Ponder, signaling the start of a new era and a move away from aging veterans to promising, younger players.
On the field, Frazier has made some curious calls about when the team is going for a first down or touchdown instead of taking the points or punting. The most recent of those was Sunday. With the Vikings trailing 24-14 and facing third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, they handed off to Percy Harvin, who was ruled down at the 1-yard line, but replay shows that Harvin got the ball across the goal line before he was down. Frazier wasn't told to challenge the spot by his assistants in the coaching booth, and he said that portion of the operations will be examined.
If the Vikings at least remain competitive, as they have for most of their games, there is little chance Frazier is fired for three reasons. First, Frazier was hardly given a fair chance for his players to learn a new offensive system and get used to several new coaches and coordinators because the NFL lockout prohibited coaches from having any contact with players. Second, Wilf is still paying former coach Brad Childress and isn't likely to want to eat two head coaching salaries and adding to the instability. Third, injuries, salary-cap constrictions and an aging roster left over from the Childress era increased the difficulty of Frazier's first year.
The more likely scenario is that Frazier makes a few changes in the coaching ranks below him. He already swapped out the offensive and special-teams coordinators, but he could also look to make more changes with the defense, where he hired his former Bears teammate and long-time friend Mike Singletary to coach linebackers. One of the possibilities he could consider would be elevating Singletary to a coordinator's role.
The take: Change the structure of the organization and hire a general manager.
The reality from this view: It's a scenario that has gained traction with the public recently and is something that Wilf should at least consider. Coaches want to win now, but the long-term development of the roster has to be a top priority. As Vikings fans witness the rebuilding projects of the Detroit Lions and especially the Green Bay Packers through the draft, a long-term vision set by a buck-stops-here decision-maker could help with that process in Minnesota. Without that consistent vision, the franchise has been stumbling around at quarterback since the departure of Daunte Culpepper in 2005. That might have finally been rectified with the drafting Christian Ponder, but there are other positions that need help, too.
The take: Trade Adrian Peterson as part of a rebuilding project while he still holds value.
The reality from this view: This might be the most misguided sentimentwild speculation going. So the Vikings are going to trade their most productive player, their most marketable player to sell jerseys and tickets, during a time that is typically the prime of a player's career? People saw how the Vikings offense operated Sunday without Peterson, right? With the star running back left at home because of a high ankle sprain, the Vikings averaged a paltry 2.7-yard average on 24 rushes. Peterson's replacement, Toby Gerhart, averaged 2.6 yards on 17 carries. There are no Hershel Walker trades out there anymore. Mike Lynn was the last of the general managers to get snowed into giving up that many picks. And let's not forget the money element of it. If he were traded, the Vikings would have the remainder of his 36 million signing bonus accelerated on their salary cap, meaning they would be forced to cut other players to comply with the cap rather than add talent.
The take: Trade or cut other veteran players who have high salaries.
The reality from this view: Whether it is letting go of aging veterans with expiring contracts or trying to find a trade partner for those nearing the end of their contract and their career, there could be some merit to those considerations. A few options: E.J. Henderson is in the final year of his contract and has been dealing with a sore knee that has limited his effectiveness and availability. Because the swelling is due to the metal rod inserted two years ago when he fractured his femur, he will likely have to cope with issues there for the rest of his career, whatever is left of it. He may have to accept a lesser deal than the 4.7 million he made this year. Tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser are also in the final year of their contracts. Kleinsasser says he hasn't decided if he will retire or not, but Shiancoe probably has a few solid years remaining, although he may have to accept less than his current 3.5 million average.
Veterans on the high-end earning scale with declining production or health who might be considered for trade, restructuring or release could be guard Steve Hutchinson, who is scheduled to make 7 million next year, and cornerback Antoine Winfield, who will average 7.125 million over the next two seasons.
Among a whirlwind of disappointments and failures over the last three months, suggestions for improvements have been blowing in like the winter winds. Some of them are full of hot air, but among the bluster are some suggestions to consider as the Vikings continue not just start their transformation in the coaching and front offices upstairs and in the locker room downstairs at Winter Park.