Minnesota's roll-the-dice decision to commit to unproductive, unproven Tarvaris Jackson as their starting quarterback this year was probably the worst move of the off-season.
After all, the Vikings seemingly gave a vote of confidence to Jackson over the spring and summer, by refusing to upgrade at the position, on a team that appears fairly well stocked everywhere else on the field. As we've noted several times, including last week
, the Vikings of 2007 were one of the most fascinating teams in NFL history: probably no single team had ever run the ball as well on offense and stuffed the run as well on defense.
As a result, the Cold, Hard Football Facts intended to follow the Vikings very closely this year, as a case study in conventional football wisdom
: could a team win with a great running game but without a great quarterback?
Minnesota mismanagement certainly sent a clear message to Jackson and the football world over the summer: "We're going to win with Tarvaris. We're going to ride him here in 2008."
Benching him two games into the year – for 37-year-old journeyman Gus Frerotte – is a quick and knee-jerk admission that they made the wrong decision by choosing to stick with Jackson in the first place.
Vikings mismanagement gave the impression in the off-season that they had Jackson's back. But they didn't have Jackson's back. Instead, they stabbed him in it, just 1/8th of the way through the new season.
All of which is not to say that Jackson is a legitimate NFL starter. At least he hasn't proven it yet. And now, it seems, he won't get that chance.
The third-year Alabama State quarterback made some token appearances, including starts in the last two games of the year, during his rookie season of 2006.
He started 12 games of the 2007 season, too, when he really got his feet wet as a No. 1 quarterback.
The results were mixed, but held some promise. Jackson last year completed 171 of 294 passes (58.2%) for 1,911 yards, 6.5 YPA, 9 TD, 12 INT and a 70.8 passer rating.
The numbers were hardly impressive – especially the all-important efficiency numbers (TD-INT ratio, YPA and passer rating).
But the Vikings were 8-4 in his 12 starts. They were 0-4 when he didn't play (Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger handled the offense with Jackson on the sidelines.)
Again, the results were mixed. But the results for a lot of quarterbacks are mixed after just 16 NFL starts.
Still, whether you agree that Jackson is a legitimate No. 1 or not is not the point. The point is that the Vikings gave all indications that they believed he was their No. 1.
But you don't pull the plug on a player you believe in just two games into the new season, even if you are 0-2. And if you didn't believe in him in the first place, why didn't you do something to upgrade the position in the off-season?
Minnesota made only token moves at the QB position this year. They dumped Holcomb (now out of football) and Bollinger (now with Dallas). They picked up retread Frerotte, who has been in the NFL for 15 years with seven different teams, and is now in his second stint in Minnesota (2003-04). Frerotte is not a guy you bring in to put pressure on your young No. 1.
The Vikings also drafted John David Booty out of USC in the fifth round. Fifth rounders aren't brought in to scare the No. 1 QB out of his job, either.
As shaky as Jackson was at quarterback, Frerotte hardly represents a major improvement. The efficiency numbers say it all:
- Jackson has completed 57.1 percent of his career attempts. Frerotte has completed 54.2 percent of his career attempts.
- Jackson has averaged 6.2 YPA. Frerotte has averaged 6.8 YPA (actually pretty decent for Frerotte, about slightly below the league-wide average).
- Jackson has thrown 12 TD and 17 INT. Frerotte has thrown 102 TD and 91 INT.
- Jackson has rushed for 402 yards and 5.0 YPA. Frerotte has rushed for 308 yards and 1.7 YPA.
But if the free-agency/salary cap era has proven anything, it's proven that the winners are teams with great management and great quarterbacks.
The Colts have had great management and a great quarterback. The Patriots have had great management and a great quarterback. The Steelers have had great management and a great quarterback. The Cowboys have had great management, and they've been a champion or a contender when they've had great quarterbacks (note their sudden resurgence under Tony Romo, who's poised to become the all-time passer rating leader
Right now, the Vikings have one of the most exciting running backs since Gale Sayers. They have a defensive front with the potential to be dominant. They have stars across the offensive line.
Sadly for success-starved Vikings fans, the Sayers-type phenom in the backfield and the Pro Bowlers in the trenches are merely window dressing on a house without a foundation. They divert the eyes from the fact that the Vikings don't have a great quarterback or great management.