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Huge loss to Giants brings additional questions for offseason

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Posted: Monday January 15, 2001 6:41 PM
Updated: Monday January 15, 2001 9:04 PM

  Dennis Green Dennis Green will have his work cut out for him in the offseason, trimming a bloated payroll and trying to beef up the defense. AP

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings overcame wholesale changes on their coaching staff, offensive line and at quarterback.

Now, the team's defensive problems that were exposed in the Vikings' 41-0 loss to New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game Sunday may prompt another overhaul.

There always were hurdles, some that could be trampled down and others that proved insurmountable. The same Vikings who exceeded expectations by getting off to an 11-2 start were disappointing losers in four of their final five games.

Obstacles are being lined up again, and they might be greater than ever.

In what promises to be an eventful offseason, the Vikings could lose Robert Smith to free agency and Cris Carter to retirement. Randy Moss expressed doubts about his future as a Viking, puncturing the organization's hopes for locking him up to a long-term deal before he becomes a free agent after the 2001 season.

Head coach Dennis Green, who did not talk to reporters Monday, also must trim about $20 million from the roster to get under the salary cap.

That doesn't even begin to address the defensive deficiencies that became obvious long before the NFC Championship Game made them indisputable.

"There's going to be some changes made," free safety Robert Griffith said. "There's no way to get around that, playing defensively the way we did."

Smith and Carter left the Vikings' complex Monday without comment. Carter has said he knows whether or not he will retire, but he has not revealed those plans. Moss also left without comment, though he said plenty after losing to the Giants.

"I'm going to have a Super Bowl ring," Moss said. "I'm not worried about that. I doubt if it's in Minnesota. I can't really say I'm going to be a Minnesota Viking in a couple of years. Hopefully, I would like to win one for coach Green, but I really can't tell the future."

"Purple Daze" graphic Click on image for a larger view.  

The mood among his teammates Monday was that the comments were simply Moss being Moss and were up for interpretation. The outspoken 23-year-old might have been speaking his mind, or he might have been raising the stakes in future negotiations with the Vikings and other NFL teams.

The potential loss of Smith's 1,521 yards rushing or Carter's 1,274 yards receiving would be even more devastating than the hit the Vikings took last offseason, when they let go quarterbacks Jeff George and Randall Cunningham and Pro Bowl offensive linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel.

Two reserves who replaced the quarterbacks and linemen -- quarterback Daunte Culpepper and center Matt Birk -- were named to the Pro Bowl, and the transition was seamless until December.

"With all the changes made in the offseason, nobody would have thought we'd get to the NFC Championship Game," Griffith said. "I think it was very positive and said a lot for our coaches."

The defense became the Vikings' undoing, however. The unit probably will have to be dismantled for salary cap purposes before it can be rebuilt.

Outside linebacker Dwayne Rudd and defensive tackle Tony Williams are unrestricted free agents. Middle linebacker Kailee Wong is a restricted free agent. Defensive lineman John Randle and outside linebacker Ed McDaniel probably will be asked to take pay cuts or restructure their contracts for cap purposes.

The Vikings also clearly need help at the corners, where Robert Tate and Wasswa Serwanga were exposed by the Giants receivers in the NFC title game.

The task will be to somehow get better while spending less. The Vikings pride themselves developing players such as Culpepper and Birk, but the draft and waiver wires must also help them fill holes.

"We certainly won't make any decisions in the emotional state we're in right now," Vikings owner Red McCombs said. "Some days it rains, and some days it floods. We got a flood."

The Vikings remain hopeful that there will be a Super Bowl in their future. After all, Williams said: "We were four quarters away. Four bad quarters away."

Related information
Giants rout Vikings 41-0, going to Super Bowl XXXV
Ravens shut down Raiders to make first Super Bowl
What We Learned: Vikings-Giants
SI's Don Banks: Giants follow Collins' lead
What We Learned: Raiders-Ravens
Closer Look: Oakland's big blown chance's Donovan: Ravens don't need big-number 'O'
Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback: Redemption song
SI's Banks: Giants keep spotlight on The Big Apple
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