Let's get ahead of ourselves and start laying odds on whether Brett Favre will return to Minnesota next season.
Sure, a lot depends on how the Vikings finish and how well they do in the playoffs, as well as Favre's health. But let's narrow the focus to the conundrum that Minnesota now finds itself in following this little tiff -- it's much broader than that, but we'll revisit the matter in a moment -- between No. 4 and coach Brad Childress.
This conversation of Favre's future with the team already has been broached in the locker room and other parts of the building, a league source said. Maybe not by Favre or Childress, but by some of those employed by the team who've watched things devolve over the past few weeks and deduced that the quarterback might not want to return and that the coach might not want him back.
How ironic: Wasn't this supposed to be Favre's dream job? And didn't Favre's success this season help Childress land a contract extension through 2013?
Sure, this looked like a one-year dalliance between Favre and the Vikings when the quarterback hopped off his John Deere this summer to play in Minnesota. But he signed a two-year contract, and just a few weeks ago, some people with the team felt pretty comfortable that Favre would be back, although he'd probably wear everyone out -- again -- with his offseason yo-yoing about retiring, playing again, spending more time with his family ... you know the deal.
What happens over the next few weeks could give us some indication to where things will end up. The potential for more drama than we've already been invited to witness is possible, if not probable, although Favre, at a news conference Wednesday, said things have been "resolved" between him and Childress.
That, ahem, resolution stems from what appeared to be the final straw in repeated disagreements regarding Favre changing plays at the line of scrimmage and Childress wanting him to obey his commands. The crescendo came during Sunday night's 26-7 loss at Carolina when Childress wanted to take Favre out of the game in the third quarter with Minnesota leading 7-6. Favre refused to come out.
The initial rationale was that Childress wanted to protect Favre from injury because he was repeatedly being tagged by Panthers defenders. Reports then surfaced that Favre took some hits because he had changed the play calls from runs to passes and there were protection breakdowns -- and that this wasn't the first time it happened.
Now there is an apparent tug-of-war, even if it's only perception, between Favre and Childress. Favre will win that pull, if he already hasn't. Though there isn't enough of a split in the locker room to say players are taking sides, they have no problem with what Favre has done because they've been successful and they've won, according to a team source.
The Vikings are 11-3, tied with the San Diego Chargers for the third-best record in the NFL. Minnesota also has secured the NFC North title and a playoff berth. Favre has passed for 3,565 yards and 27 touchdowns with just seven interceptions (for a 104.1 rating, which would be a career high). Players love Tarvaris Jackson and they're cool with Sage Rosenfels, but they know that neither quarterback would have the team in the position Favre has it in, the source said.
That's where sentiment tips in Favre's favor.
Though Favre has taken the ball out of Adrian Peterson's hands by changing plays at the line of scrimmage -- the Pro Bowl running back's carries have dropped by nearly three per game from 2008 -- the quarterback has delivered the ball into the hands of emerging star wide receiver Sidney Rice, likely Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
Do you think those guys want Favre to stop doing what he's doing?
Favre admitted Wednesday that the team needs to run the offense more through Peterson, but sometimes defenses simply won't let that happen. As good of a season as Favre is having, opposing defenses' No. 1 priority is stopping Peterson. That, in turn, has prompted Favre to audible to pass plays when he sees favorable mismatches.
"I'm not going up there and saying, 'Hey, you've got to give me more freedom,' because we've been good this year," Favre said. "We've sputtered the last couple weeks, but it can be fixed. I don't think anything major has to happen, other than we have to play better. It's as simple as that. It's the basic fundamentals. It's not about changing the plays all the time."
Here's where things could become interesting: How will Favre respond when he steps to the line of scrimmage Monday night, sees nine Chicago Bears defenders in the box and had a running play called in the huddle? Will he do what Peyton Manning and a lot of other quarterbacks would do and check out of the run, or will he do it Childress' way and give the ball to Peterson?
Players have reacted differently in these circumstances, some stepping out of character to prove a point. In the NBA, Gilbert Arenas, both as a Golden State Warrior and Washington Wizard, responded to teammates' criticism of him not passing the ball enough by not taking a shot for more than three quarters, even though he was the teams' most potent offensive threat. He was doing things the way they wanted but to the detriment of the team.
Favre likely won't do that, the source said. He's 40 and on borrowed time, and frankly, it's in his nature to play the way he plays.
Then there's this: If Childress doesn't want Favre or any of his quarterbacks to audible out of a play, why are there audibles in the first place? Many teams limit the quarterback's ability to change plays by design, and often times, the extent of an audible is just switching the direction of a running play from the right to the left or adjusting the blocking protections when a blitz has been diagnosed.
In reality, most of Minnesota's offensive success has come from the original play call and proper execution. Favre isn't changing plays all the time, and Childress, an excellent offensive play designer and schemer, has made the right decisions.
One of those was bringing Favre on board this summer.
Childress waited out Favre's faint retirement, his biceps surgery and moved in when the time was right to sign him. The acquisition arguably was the best of the offseason. However, Childress allowed Favre to play by a different set of rules, starting with the personal valet in the SUV from the airport to the team facility. Favre enters the Metrodome through a different route than other players and has been afforded liberties that many haven't.
Childress even let Favre trump him Sunday night when he wanted to take him out of the game. That's another card in every Vikings player and coach's mental Rolodex.
Watch how fast this all goes away if the Vikings defeat the Bears. Favre might change 10 plays, and five of them might bust. We might never know because Minnesota won, and all will be well. Things aren't well now, the source said, no matter the public spin.
There is an awkwardness about this devolution that has some folks in the building a little uneasy. This is where Favre needs to look in the mirror. Some form of divisiveness accompanies him everywhere. As many good things as Favre has done in his career, especially with the Vikings, fractures arise at some point.
That's why there's already discussion about Favre's future in Minnesota.