Debunking the conspiracy theory

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan of Minneapolis voiced a common refrain from readers in the wake of Friday's post about Minnesota's plans for quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte.

(To review, coach Brad Childress suggested that his top scenario is for Jackson and Frerotte to compete for the starting job in training camp.)

Kevin -- Does it ever occur to you that possibly Chilly and [Vikings vice president Rick] Spielman are simply playing a little possum? What advantage (I would love just one that you can come up with) would there be in sharing right now that you would like to move in a different direction at QB? Both from a free agent and trade scenario that would simply be ammo that the other side would have to get you to pay or give up more for a QB. I think you are really going to look foolish in about a week when the Vikes announce they have signed or traded for either--Garcia, Warner or Cassel...I'd love to know your thoughts on this... love your blog...keep up the great work.

My short answer: It's likely I'll look foolish in about a week regardless. It's my natural appearance.

The longer answer: It's true, I can't rule out the possibility that the Vikings' message this week has been part of a larger misinformation campaign. I'm sure I've contributed to the perception over the years that you can't always believe what they -- or any other NFL team -- says. And it's only fair to point out that one strategy to lower the price on, say, New England quarterback Matt Cassel is to create the impression that they are willing to stand pat.

I'll also say that at this time last year, the Vikings probably would have been honest if they all but ruled out the possibility of trading for defensive end Jared Allen. The situation changed over the following few months, but at the time of the 2008 scouting combine, there seemed to be no possibility it would happen.

But in this case, I'm not inclined to believe this is a Colombo re-run. Here's where I'm coming from:

  1. Typically, NFL teams which don't want their plans revealed tend to keep the possibilities as vague as possible. You hear a lot of, "We're not ruling any option out." You don't get what Childress said Friday about Frerotte's hoped-for return. ("That could be the source of the competition.")

  2. Look at history. Childress played a big role in drafting Jackson in 2006 and said Friday that he has seen improvement every season. Noting Jackson's improvement over the years has been a staple of Childress' justification for making him the starter. One quote that didn't make Friday's post: Childress said he believes quarterbacks need four years to be full evaluated. Coincidentally, Jackson is entering his fourth season.

  3. There is no obvious alternative, at least not one that comes at a reasonable price. Even if you do believe that Cassel can be your starter for the next 10 years, the cost might be prohibitive. The Vikings decimated their 2008 draft in the Allen trade and aren't eager to give up another series of draft picks this year. Here's Spielman on the topic: "You can't do that every year because if you continue to give away draft picks you're going to weaken your team for future years and we have all our draft picks." I've suggested that Jeff Garcia would be a possibility, but that was when I was under the impression Frerotte wouldn't be back. Frerotte's familiarity with the offense makes him pretty comparable to Garcia as an option.

  4. I've done a bit of background reporting that leads me to believe Childress and Spielman aren't bluffing. (Although if a conspiracy is under way, I suppose even background sources could be infected.)

  5. I suppose you can't let fan reaction make your decisions. But the Vikings are no doubt sensitive to their ticket-buying public after needing deadline extensions and corporate help to sell out five home games last season. If they had plans other than the ones they outlined Friday, I'm guessing they would have avoided the Jackson-Frerotte story line altogether. No need to introduce an issue that could inflame some fans when you know it's not likely. (Of course, if you're a real conspiracy theorist, you could argue that introducing Jackson-Frerotte would heighten excitement for an otherwise middling move that could occur later. But that one's too deep for a Saturday morning.)

  6. UPDATE: Here's one more thought to add to the list. If the Vikings were creating a smokescreen, do you think they would take it as far as trying to talk Frerotte into returning for another season? Because here's the worst/best-case scenario: Frerotte agrees to return in 2009 under the belief he will be competing with Jackson for the job. A month or so later, the Vikings trade for Cassel. It's a cold-hearted business, but reputations can be permanently ruined by a stunt like that.

I'm not willing to say there is a 100 percent chance that Jackson and Frerotte -- or another veteran -- will be the Vikings' top two quarterbacks entering training camp. But based on what I heard Friday, I think it's by far the likeliest scenario.