Holler: Carlson's production needs to improve

John Carlson (Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire)

The storyline has been worn out over the last few weeks, but John Carlson finally had positive yards against Tennessee. Still, his production doesn't meet the expectations of his payday and the question is whether it's Carlson or the Vikings.

Is it the Vikings or is it John Carlson?

When the Vikings made an aggressive move to get Carlson, the free-agent tight end, to sign a contract in March – outbidding the Kansas Chiefs, who put on a full-court press to land him – there were some questions as to the purpose of the signing. The Vikings had invested a second-round pick in 2011 on Kyle Rudolph, a player with a first-round grade who was still available when the Vikings were on the clock into the second round due to an injury in his final year at Notre Dame. The Vikings were convinced they got a great value and, for all intents, they were right.

So why add Carlson? He seemed like a player with a similar skill set to Rudolph – more of a receiving threat than an in-line blocker. The word quickly spread that Bill Musgrave had a plan – something on the order of a cloning of the Gronkowski-Hernandez two-headed tight end beast in New England. After all, no professional sport is more prone to replication than the NFL. Miami pulled a brilliant one-time stunt to give a stinging glove-slap to Bill Belichick – viewed by other NFL coaches as the head of the KGB – and copycats quickly co-opted the Wildcat. The success of that formation seems to have been snuffed out (a hint: they run like 90 percent of the time from that formation, so they may as well send the play into the middle linebacker's helmet). But anything that works in the NFL is stolen. The West Coast Offense? Bill Walsh gets credit, Jerry Burns and Fran Tarkenton deserve it. The shotgun formation? Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys. The 3-4 defense? My money is on Dick LeBeau.

Whenever defensive coordinators do a cartoon-style head shake, it's quickly copied by offensive coordinators. The Carlson signing was a knee-jerk reaction to the incredible success Belichick (the recipient of the Miami glove-slap) had with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez the last two years after drafting both of them in 2010.

So, what's gone wrong? Granted, Carlson sprained an MCL early in training camp that set him back, but to date his contribution has been minimal (and that's being polite). Last Sunday against Tennessee, he caught one pass for two yards. That improved his five-game Vikings total to two catches for one yard.

Given his contract and pro-rating the amount Carlson is being paid to be a producer in the Vikings offense, the numbers are staggering.

Given his signing bonus and salary, Carlson is earning $69,444 an inch when compared to his five-year, $25 million contract.

That contract included a $5 million signing bonus with base salaries of $2.9 million (all guaranteed) this year and $2.9 million ($1.2 million of it guaranteed) in 2013. Beyond next season, there is no guaranteed money. The final three years include base salaries of $3.9 million in 2014 and $4.9 million in 2015 and 2016.

The plan was to have a two-headed monster. Here are the statistics through five games for the number of plays the Vikings offense has run and the number of plays on the field for Vikings tight ends Rudolph, Carlson and rookie Rhett Ellison:

Week 1 – Team: 59 plays. Rudolph (59 plays/100 percent), Carlson (18/31), Ellison (0/0).

Week 2 – Team: 70 plays. Rudolph (70/100), Carlson (18/26), Ellison (8/11).

Week 3 – Team: 79 plays. Rudolph (67/85), Carlson (29/37), Ellison (19/24).

Week 4 – Team: 58 plays. Rudolph (58/100), Carlson (13/22), Ellison (10/17).

Week 5 – Team: 69 plays. Rudolph (53/77), Ellison (22/32), Carlson (21/30).

Winter Park, we have a problem. Whether it's a failure to communicate or holding Carlson in reserve as some sort of secret weapon, five games into the season, Carlson has been on the field for 99 plays. Of those, he has caught two balls and gained one yard.

$69,444 an inch.

Something has to change.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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