McKinnie: Guilty plea doesn't lead to a new contract
BY SEAN JENSEN
MANKATO, Minn. Ã¢â‚¬â€ Bryant McKinnie envisions himself in a Vikings uniform for years, lining up alongside Pro Bowlers Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk to comprise a perennially elite left side of the line.
But McKinnie, the Vikings' starting left tackle, wonders whether the team pictures him in its long-term plans.
"If they're willing to have me back," he said, "then I'm willing to come back."
McKinnie, one of the central figures in the boat party scandal last year, said his involvement Ã¢â‚¬â€ he and cornerback Fred Smoot pleaded guilty in May to disorderly conduct and being a public nuisance on a watercraft Ã¢â‚¬â€ could be why the team has hesitated to sign him to a multiyear contract.
"In my mind, I feel that could be one of the reasons," said McKinnie, who is entering the final season of his original contract that is scheduled to pay him $900,000. "They want to make sure I stay out of trouble and see how I conduct myself."
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has declined all interview requests recently, and coach Brad Childress is not scheduled to address reporters until tonight. Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings' vice president of football operations, declined comment through a team spokesman.
McKinnie and cornerback Fred Smoot are the only Vikings still with the team who were charged in the boat party scandal; running back Moe Williams (who was convicted of disorderly conduct) was a free agent who recently signed with the St. Louis Rams, and quarterback Daunte Culpepper (whose charges were dropped) was traded to the Miami Dolphins in the offseason. But Smoot signed a long-term contract as a free agent before last season.
McKinnie said he wants to rebuild his reputation.
"I don't want to say I want to change my image," he said, "because that was never my image."
Besides, he said, the reports were wrong. Asked if he performed oral sex on a dancer in a public area, as accused, McKinnie said: "I'm going to leave all that alone, because it's over with. But some of the statements are inaccurate. Just because the media puts it out doesn't make it accurate.
Asked why he pled guilty to disorderly conduct and being a nuisance on a watercraft, McKinnie said, "It saved me money and time."
McKinnie said he wanted to put the incident behind him, although he didn't appear fazed last season.
"It was kind of like motivation because more people are going to watch and wait for you to mess up and say, 'Well, you shouldn't have been doing this and that.' It just drove me," he said. "Let me just stay on my job, so I don't have to hear no comments about the boat issue because I had a bad game."
At one point, McKinnie wasn't so sure he wanted to wear purple anymore Ã¢â‚¬â€ after the Vikings traded away two of their stars and his closest friends, Culpepper and receiver Randy Moss.
"They were guys you thought would never get traded, so you try to at least have their back," McKinnie said. "But it's to a point where I just had to get over it and play football. They're taken care of, and they're good. Now I got to make sure I'm taken care of."
Now McKinnie faces a crossroad. If he plays anywhere near the level he did last season, when he was a Pro Bowl alternate, he should attract big money, with guaranteed bonuses that could exceed $18 million.
"Left tackle is a premium position in this league, and Bryant is clearly one of the premium left tackles," said McKinnie's agent, Ben Dogra of CAA. "At some point, he will be compensated for that accordingly. Hopefully, it's with the Vikings."
Not only does he play one of the key positions in football, protecting the blind side of right-handed quarterbacks, McKinnie is scheduled to be the only elite offensive tackle available as a free agent next spring. The other top tackle from his draft class who could have been on the market, Levi Jones, signed a six-year, $40 million contract last month with the Cincinnati Bengals that includes $16.3 million in guarantees.
Jones, drafted three spots behind McKinnie in 2002 at No. 10, now is the league's fourth-highest paid offensive lineman and the highest-paid blocker without a Pro Bowl selection, according to ESPN.com.
"I told him, 'Congratulations,' " McKinnie said of a recent text-message exchange he had with Jones. "He was just like, 'It's your turn.'
"I don't know what might happen. All I can do is just play football and let the season play out. If they decide to get it done, great. If notÃ¢â‚¬Â¦"
McKinnie turns 27 next month and has the ideal mix of size (6 feet 8, 335 pounds) and athleticism. He also has proved to be durable, starting a team-high 55 consecutive games.
"I just want to go out and have a real good season," McKinnie said. "And I want our team to have a real good season, so then I could be in a situation where I could be in high demand."
But the Vikings face some unusual challenges.
Not only did they sign Hutchinson to a monstrous deal (seven years, $49 million, including $16 million guaranteed) that is on par with those of tackles, they also included a clause that ensures the guard is the highest-paid player on the team in 2006 or Hutchinson's entire contract is guaranteed. But there is no such trigger after 2006.
McKinnie said high-ranking team officials assured him that Hutchinson's deal did not affect his situation.
"They were like, 'Don't worry about what Hutchinson signed for. It has nothing to do with you. Just be patient. Have a good season,' " McKinnie said. "I haven't taken it personal. I'm happy for him that he got a good contract and pretty much being set. I'm looking forward to next year, when I can get a good deal."
Asked if he expected to make more than Hutchinson because tackle is generally a better-compensated position, McKinnie said, "I'll let my agent handle that," but immediately added, "I'm not going to sign a bad deal. Put it that way."
Still, McKinnie knows the Vikings hold an important wild card: the franchise tag. If the Vikings tag him, they could match any other team's offer Ã¢â‚¬â€ or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
Asked if the franchise tag scared him, McKinnie said, "Kind of.
"I saw Orlando Pace go through it and Walter Jones go through it," McKinnie said.
Next offseason, the franchise tag for a tackle is expected to be about $9 million.
For now, McKinnie can focus on training camp. He arrived in good shape, and he has been roundly praised by the coaches and teammates, including quarterback Brad Johnson on Thursday.
Beyond that, McKinnie has a clear idea of where he wants to be after six months. First, Miami, site of the Super Bowl and where he owns a home. Then, Hawaii the following week.
"I don't want to settle for an alternate," McKinnie said of the Pro Bowl. "I don't want to sit and wait for someone to say they're not playing."