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Vikings missing key ingredient and what 'FBI' has to do with football

Lost amidst the buzz of the recent Jay Cutler-to-Chicago trade is the lack of an experienced starter at a critical position for the other top contending team in the NFC North. Yes, I am talking about the Minnesota Vikings but no, I am not focusing on the quarterback position like everyone else. The Vikings should be almost as concerned about their center as they are about the guy who will eventually take snaps from him.

The Minnesota Vikings allowed six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk to leave the Twin Cities for Baltimore where the Harvard grad will fill the void left by Jason Brown's departure to St. Louis. More disconcerting to me than the Vikings losing their leader up front was the press release issued by head coach Brad Childress about a month ago when the move went down:

"The Minnesota Vikings thank Matt for all he did for the organization both on and off the field over the past 11 years. Matt has done a great job and we wanted him to return to the Vikings in '09, but at this point Matt wanted a change of scenery. We wish him the best and know that he will always be a part of the Vikings family. We look forward to playing Matt this upcoming season at the Metrodome."

Matt wanted a change of scenery. I highly doubt it. Birk publicly stated on more than one occasion he wanted to finish his career in Minneapolis. He was born and raised in St. Paul. I know he is energized by opportunity in Baltimore but if the Vikings had stepped up to the plate, Birk would still be wearing purple in Minnesota instead of Baltimore.

We look forward to playing Matt this upcoming season at the Metrodome. What is that about? If someone said that to me, I would take that as a personal challenge and a dig. Is there any other way to take it? I wonder if Childress would say the same thing if he had to line up across from Birk instead of Pat Williams.

At a minimum, I thought it was a poor choice of words for Childress when talking about a guy so revered in the community that he has been named the Vikings Man of the Year for seven-straight seasons. That is no typo. Birk, who also owns a couple of restaurants in the area, has been the de facto face of the franchise for the past 11 years while Randy Moss did his thing and the Love Boat scandal erupted.

Just as importantly, Birk weathered the quarterback storm the last couple of years and helped Tarvaris Jackson make the necessary adjustments in pass protection and the run game, a fact that can't be understated. Last year's sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame, John Sullivan, is the heir apparent and his biggest tests will come mentally as opposed to physically.

Though I am surprised Baltimore would value him more highly than Minnesota, I can understand the financial reasons for why the Vikings did not want to pay Birk the $12 million over three years, including $9 million over the first two, that he will get from Baltimore. That being said, I don't think their smug statement did Childress' popularity in Minnesota any favors.

Time for some mail ...

I really enjoy your NFL commentary, frequently it's a cut above most NFL commentary. However, I think you really missed the mark with the article about the Plaxico Burress ruling. You say that you are sick of Larry Johnson, Michael Vick, Matt Jones, Pacman Jones and Terrell Owens casting a bad light on the NFL players, but do you take responsibility as a member of the media for focusing on the negative stories over the positive and the non-issues (like T.O.s decision to stay away from voluntary work outs)?--James, Pasadena, Calif.

That is a very salient point, James, and one I think about often. Yes, as a new member of the media, I do take some responsibility for the amount of attention thrust upon these guys after their mishaps. In fact, one of the biggest complaints I had as a player and get from players now is the media focuses too much on the negative and not enough on the positive such as charity work, community service, etc.

But to blame the media would be foolhardy for multiple reasons. For one, the media didn't commit any of these crimes or initiate any of this divisiveness. More important, if I have learned anything in this industry it is that the public has a tremendous amount of say in how stories are covered. In other words, media outlets try to give the people what they want.

If I talk on my show on Sirius NFL Radio about a player hosting a charity event and bring him on the program to talk about it, we will get one or two people to call in and talk about how commendable that player is and what a fine example he is. If we talk about Pacman or Vick, the phones lines will be jam-packed for hours. The same holds true for the written word. More people will click on the link talking about T.O. skipping the start of voluntary workouts than the story about a player donating jerseys and cleats to his old high school.

So I guess the question could just as easily be do you, James, take any responsibility as a member of the public for all of the negative stories? Think about it.

I am a living example of how people are just so sick of people like Plaxico, Vick, Pacman, etc. While normally reading all of your articles very intently (you do great work!), I simply skip the sections of the article whenever the subject is one of these hooligans. I've got better things to do than read about these fools.--James Liipfert, Marshallville, Ga.

Thanks for totally negating the point I just made to the other James above.

But you at least read enough of it to send me an e-mail, so maybe my theory still holds true.

I wonder if there is a correlation between Wonderlic scores and propensity to get in legal trouble, financial trouble, or press trouble?-- Bob Rahm, Oklahoma City

I highly doubt it because smart people get in trouble all the time. I personally don't even think the Wonderlic, as just one measurement of intelligence, is all that critical. I am much more concerned about what's known in the football world as FBI (football intelligence). I know several Ivy League guys with great Wonderlic scores have struggled with the complexity of picking up the different schemes and gotten cut as a result of it.

FBI is what really matters but any measure of intelligence like the Wonderlic is simply another part of the evaluation and something to consider. Whether it is vitally important or not wasn't even my point. My contention is these test results should be as accessible as the physical testing numbers generated at the combine.

How much personal interaction is there between offense/defense, OL/CB, etc. For example, do offensive linemen hang out with the safeties?-- Alexander, Toronto

It really depends upon the team and the makeup of the individuals but in general position groups tend to hang out with each other because they spend the most time together in the facility and thus there is a certain level of familiarity. Outside of that, guys are more likely to hang out with teammates who have the same interests whether that be bible study or clubbing. Single guys usually hang out with other single guys and players with families tend to socialize with other players with families, just like elsewhere in society.

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