MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Brad Childress and the Minnesota Vikings have another big mess on their hands.
Randy Moss’ abrupt departure was just the latest in what has been a season long on drama and short on success for a 2-5 team that started with Super Bowl aspirations.
From Brett Favre’s late arrival to training camp, through an NFL investigation into improper messages allegedly sent by the quarterback a few years ago and now with Moss’ release, the Vikings have been plagued by distraction and now their season is in danger of spinning completely out of control.
“Every time I come to work I see the news trucks sitting out there,” linebacker Ben Leber said. “I feel like something is going on. I roll in and keep my ears open.”
It all started with another summer-long courtship of Favre, who again considered retirement after leading the Vikings to the NFC title game in January. Childress sent three of his highest-profile players to Favre’s home in Mississippi in August to convince the gray-haired quarterback to make one more run.
Favre has struggled on and off the field this season. His 69.8 quarterback rating ranks 29th in the NFL and he has thrown 11 interceptions after being picked off just seven times all of last season.
He is also in the middle of a league investigation into allegations that he sent a game-day hostess inappropriate messages while both worked for the New York Jets in 2008.
Then Childress, with injuries to Pro Bowl receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, sent a third-round draft pick to New England on Oct. 6 for Moss, a player with a long history of clashing with management and coaches.
“Pull out your number 84 jerseys, man,” Moss said at the time to a euphoric Vikings fan base. “I think this is going to be a fun ride.”
More like a stunningly brief one. This ride didn’t last much longer than an inexperienced cowboy atop a prized rodeo bull, and it may have inflicted just as much damage.
The latest headline-grabbing incident has put Childress in the crosshairs. Owner Zygi Wilf declined to comment through a team spokesman and there is speculation that the coach, despite signing a five-year extension last season, could be in trouble if things continue to crumble.
“That would be somebody else’s call completely,” Childress said on Monday. “I have to worry about this football team next week playing the Arizona Cardinals. That’s plenty for me.”
Childress has not seen eye-to-eye with Favre for much of the past two seasons, and Harvin became the latest player to question the game plan when he remarked about the lack of halftime adjustments on Sunday in the 28-18 loss to New England.
The clumsy way the Moss ordeal unfolded has only increased the criticism.
Childress spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon, but did not mention his intention to cut Moss during an extended discussion of the receiver’s performance. He presumably wanted to speak to his team about it first, and he told his players during a meeting right after his news conference.
That left a smattering of players, primarily Leber, to break the news to the media and try to explain the organization’s motives.
“I don’t know what’s been going on privately or if there’s been stuff going on behind the scenes, something I’m not aware of,” Leber said. “I’m not sure what the motivation was or what they’re thinking, but it certainly is a surprise when you think you trade for a guy a couple weeks ago and then release him a few weeks later.”
Leber wasn’t the only one scratching his head.
“Randy is a good friend of mine, it caught me off guard as well,” left tackle Bryant McKinnie tweeted. “But this is not (in) the players control.”
Even Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher called it “quite unique.”
“I don’t know any more about it than what you know, but you don’t give up a third-round pick for somebody to help you win and then just release him,” Fisher said.
Childress didn’t release a statement until nearly six hours after the news first broke. The Vikings were off on Tuesday and he was unavailable to discuss the decision, including the motives behind it and whether he consulted Wilf, who signed off on adding about $5 million to the payroll when they traded for Moss.
“I think it comes down to the bigger picture of what’s going on in Minnesota as a whole, and everything is going haywire,” former quarterback turned NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner said on Tuesday. “And I don’t think anybody really knows what’s going on.”
Childress is next scheduled to address the media on Wednesday afternoon, which only prolongs the situation and forces players to be confronted with questions about it for another full day while preparing to play the Cardinals on Sunday.
Moss certainly deserves some of the blame as well. He had 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns in four games with the Vikings, never emerging as the dynamic deep threat that he was during his first seven-season stint in Minnesota. He appeared to give up on a pass from Favre near the goal line against the Patriots, acted petulantly in the locker room and delivered a bizarre postgame rant in which he literally saluted Bill Belichick and his former Patriots teammates and criticized the Vikings coaches for not listening to his advice.
“It’s kind of shocking, but at the same time the game of football is a business,” safety Tyrell Johnson said. “It’s about what you’re doing, how you contribute to the team no matter who you are. Really it’s about winning football games. Not saying he didn’t do a great job. I think he did. Honestly I’m not in a management position.”
But the Vikings couldn’t say they were surprised by Moss’ antics. It’s an act that has played twice now in Minnesota and once each in Oakland and New England.
“I think that a whole bunch of things are going wrong in Minnesota, and I look at it as a situation where it’s almost like they’re just trying to stop the bleeding a little bit,” Warner said. “So many distractions, so many things going on, so many things going the wrong direction for them.”
Moss hit the waiver wire on Tuesday, according to two people with knowledge of his status. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information publicly.
The other 31 teams have until 4 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday to put in a claim on him and what’s left of a contract that guaranteed him $6.4 million this year. The team with the worst record will win the claim, with winless Buffalo having the first shot at him.
If no team claims him, Moss will be eligible to sign a new deal with any team and the Vikings would still be on the hook for nearly $4 million in remaining salary.
“I bet every player in the building would come in my back door and say, ‘Go get him, go get him,’” Fisher said.
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Eden Prairie, Minn., Joseph White and Howard Fendrich in Washington, D.C., and Teresa M. Walker, in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this story.