What are the Vikings thinking?
Two years ago, they were a trendy Super Bowl pick. They had Randy Moss at wide receiver and Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. Following the 2004 season, both players were 28-years-old and in their prime. Moss was the league's ultimate playmaker, a receiver almost impossible to overthrow and known for making the impossible catch, especially in the red zone.
Culpepper was a freak. The league's biggest starting quarterback at 268 pounds, Culpepper was a load for smaller opposing linebackers to bring down. Plus, he had the speed and moves to run like a halfback. On top of all that, he had a rocket arm and could average 30 touchdowns a year.
Vikings fans slept well at night knowing both Moss and Culpepper were under contract into their thirties. Moss was signed through 2008; Culpepper was signed through 2012.
So what are the Vikings thinking giving up both players within a year for wide receiver Troy Williamson, linebacker Napoleon Harris and a second-round pick in 2006? New owner Zygi Wilf wasn't part of the Moss trade. That was from the Red McCombs era.
The organization decided there were too many incidents involving Moss that were distractions. So the Vikings shopped him in a trade, didn't wait to get value and ended up getting the seventh pick in the draft and Harris, who ended up playing only 25 percent of the downs.
They drafted Williamson with that No. 7 pick last year. He is a fast deep threat, but he played in only 29 percent of the offensive downs last season. Harris' days in Minnesota are probably numbered, because the Vikings spent $4 million a year to get outside linebacker Ben Leber out of San Diego. Plus, Harris is in the final year of his contract.
Championship teams are built around five key positions -- quarterbacks, receivers, cornerbacks, tackles and defensive ends who are playmakers. The Vikings ended up giving up 40 percent of those cornerstone positions for Williamson, who is a fast prospect but caught only 24 passes for 372 yards in 2005, and whatever they get in the second round this year.
What are the Vikings thinking?
Thanks to good cap management, though, the Vikings have the salary space to bring in top players. Williamson might develop into a big-play threat. They hit gold with Koren Robinson, whom they re-signed after his amazing comeback season from alcohol problems (Robinson made the Pro Bowl in 2005 as a return man.)
The organization apparently didn't like Culpepper's contract demands this offseason. Moreover, he didn't hit it off with new head coach Brad Childress by not working out at the team facility. Culpepper preferred to train in Florida. New coaches want their quarterbacks in town.
The Dolphins were so determined to find a potential franchise quarterback that they were willing to give up a second-round pick to get Culpepper sight unseen, even though he had a knee reconstruction last fall. Top quarterbacks are hard to find, which is why it's so curious that the Vikings would give up Culpepper so cheaply.
Back in the Dennis Green days, the Vikings made trips to the playoffs each year, even though Green went through a long list of veteran quarterbacks in the later stages of their careers. Although that strategy might get you to the playoffs, it's hard to win a Super Bowl with what you might consider transitional quarterbacks.
Culpepper, when healthy, has the ability to win a Super Bowl. It's interesting that he's going to the Dolphins, a team, like the Vikings, that had nine wins in 2006. Miami head coach Nick Saban felt he got the most he could out of the aging Gus Frerotte.
The Dolphins juggled whether to trade for Culpepper or sign Drew Brees. Both had problems. Brees had shoulder surgery. Culpepper had a major knee surgery.
But look at the impact of what a quarterback can do.
Carson Palmer put the Bengals on the playoff map in Cincinnati. Fortunately, he went to a franchise that had a coach, Marvin Lewis, who knew what to do with such a commodity. He sat him for a year and let him blossom into a Pro Bowl quarterback.
If Palmer comes back from his knee injury, the Bengals, like the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger, will be Super Bowl contenders every year. The Patriots won three Super Bowls with their franchise quarterback, Tom Brady.
Part of the Vikings' problem was the transition from McCombs to Wilf. They traded Moss, and McComb didn't give former head coach Mike Tice enough money to keep offensive coordinator Scott Linehan (now the Rams' head coach). The one-two impact of losing Moss and Linehan, plus poor blocking in the middle of the line, led to Culpepper having his worst season in five years.
For the Dolphins, Culpepper can pay huge dividends if he's healthy. The Vikings, with Childress as the coach, should make a playoff run with Brad Johnson, but they will be in the market for a franchise quarterback for the next few years.
The Vikings can only hope they can be as successful as the Seattle Mariners were when they went through a period in which they lost Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.
The Mariners won games but no championships after Griffey and Rodriguez left. It's hard to replace franchise players, and the Vikings hardly got value. What are they thinking?
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.