MANKATO, Minn. -- Bryant McKinnie spent nine years as the mainstay on the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line, never really becoming the dominant force he was expected to be but still giving the team almost a decade of solid performances.
When McKinnie showed up to training camp in Mankato woefully out of shape after the summer-long lockout, the Vikings decided to cut ties with the former No. 7 overall draft pick and start over at one of the most important positions on the team.
"This decision, while not an easy one, is in the best interests of our football team as we move forward preparing for the season," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said in a statement issued Tuesday by the team. "We appreciate Bryant's contributions to the Vikings and we wish him the best in the future."
The Vikings placed McKinnie on the non-football injury list at the start of training camp, and Frazier was vague about the reason for it. He hinted that McKinnie's weight had something to do with the issue and said Tuesday morning that he hoped to have the issue resolved soon.
Frazier met with team officials in the afternoon and informed McKinnie of the move, which will save the Vikings $5.4 million against the salary cap this season and help them get below the $120 million limit. The Vikings signed free-agent left tackle Charlie Johnson on Monday, paving the way for McKinnie's exit.
McKinnie's placement on the non-football injury list also means he likely will not be paid about $750,000 in workout and roster bonuses that were included in his contract.
"Its been fun," McKinnie wrote on Twitter.
So ended an era of sorts in Minnesota. The Vikings drafted McKinnie out of the University of Miami in 2002, picturing him as the next great left tackle in the NFL. He held out for half of his rookie season, but he immediately stepped in as the starter after signing his contract.
Incredibly agile for a guy who is 6-foot-8 and over 340 pounds, McKinnie helped make things easier for Adrian Peterson and was partially responsible for six of the top eight rushing seasons in franchise history.
McKinnie was voted to the Pro Bowl after the 2009 season, but he didn't show up for practices and was scratched from the game, eventually having to pay back almost $5,000 in travel expenses to the NFL.
It would be hard to view McKinnie as a disappointment given that he never missed a game to injury during his time in Minnesota and gave the Vikings nine years at one of the most demanding positions in the game. But there always will be the sense that the immensely talented McKinnie could have been better.
Last season, McKinnie appeared to regress during a 6-10 season, and he admitted to being a little too heavy by season's end. He vowed to work hard in the offseason and return in top physical condition, but the lockout prevented him from staying in touch with coaches and doing any work at the team's facility in Minnesota.
McKinnie stayed at his home in Miami most of the offseason, working on his budding music career and prolifically tweeting about his social life on South Beach.
Now the Vikings likely will turn to the 27-year-old Johnson, who started 54 games for the Indianapolis Colts and protected Peyton Manning's blind side in 2008 and 2009. In Minnesota, Johnson will be charged with keeping new quarterback Donovan McNabb clean.
"I feel like that's what they brought me in for, was to come in and compete and try to get one of those five spots on the line," Johnson said Tuesday morning, before the McKinnie move was announced. "So, I'm not going to sit back and try to bide my time and wait. I'm going to come in and compete and see what happens."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press