In 2002, Bryant McKinnie was the No. 7 overall pick of the NFL draft. In 2006, he signed a seven-year contract extension as the Minnesota Vikings sought stability in the first year of coach Brad Childress' tenure.
Those two events gave McKinnie what appeared to be lifetime tenure as the Vikings' left tackle, a position that teams can struggle for years to fill. The Vikings soon forgot the pain of his near-100 day rookie holdout. They never seemed overly concerned about a number of off-field issues. They turned the other way when the NFL kicked him off the 2009 Pro Bowl team and, most important, seemed willing to tolerate some underwhelming seasons -- most recently in 2010.
Finding a true long-term answer at left tackle is arguably as difficult as finding a franchise quarterback. There aren't many of them out there, and in truth McKinnie is better than many of them -- regardless of how short he might have fallen from reaching his potential.
For that reason, if nothing else, I was surprised to hear the Vikings terminated McKinnie's contract Tuesday. He had been placed on the non-football injury list the day before, reportedly overweight and, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times, fighting off the Vikings' efforts to cut his $4.9 million base salary.
No matter McKinnie's blemishes, real and imagined, you can understand why the Vikings stood by him for so long. Although they have a few options for replacement, none of them will play at the level McKinnie could have been counted on this season. Namely:
Charlie Johnson: The Vikings signed him Monday as a free agent who has played multiple positions along the line. Johnson has played left tackle, most recently for the Indianapolis Colts, but at 6-foot-4, he doesn't have the typical frame of a 16-game left tackle.
Phil Loadholt: The Vikings' 6-foot-8 right tackle played on the left side at Oklahoma and reported to training camp in good shape. Loadholt, however, has yet to establish himself as an above-average right tackle. Could he make the switch to left tackle at this point in his career?
Obviously, no team wants to part ways with its left tackle two days into training camp. So why did this happen? Why did the Vikings choose now to battle McKinnie on issues that have been present at various times throughout his career?
Perhaps we'll find out more when coach Leslie Frazier addresses reporters Wednesday morning. But until then, I'll consider it a warning shot from a new coach who wanted to shake up a culture of continuity.
Frazier was the Vikings' defensive coordinator for four years before the Vikings promoted him to the full-time head coaching position. So it would be reasonable for players to expect a comfortable transition, robbing Frazier of the unease that many new coaches project on an underachieving roster. In that regard, who better to chase off than McKinnie, who might be the most stark symbol of the Vikings' problems over the past decade?
Latest evidence: McKinnie's three-word summation of his career via Twitter: "Its been fun."
Without question, this move will cause some short-term pain. It's rare to have a seamless transition at left tackle. You could argue that Frazier might have found a less critical position to sacrifice to make his point. But if McKinnie has lost his tenure, no one on the Vikings roster should feel comfortable. Welcome to Camp Frazier.