McKinnie's pay-to-performance ratio is out of balance

The four-game suspension settles it. The Vikings haven't gotten what they paid for, on the field and off, when they committed to the big offensive tackle in 2006.

Three days before Brad Childress coached his first game with the Vikings in 2006, the franchise rewarded Bryant McKinnie with a seven-year, $48.4 million contract extension that included $18 million guaranteed.

The deal was significant for two reasons: It indicated the Vikings felt McKinnie was becoming an elite left tackle. And it showed they were confident his off-the-field troubles were behind him.

They have been proven wrong on both counts.

McKinnie was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2007 but has yet to join the NFL's elite at one of the most difficult and important positions in the game. More important, he isn't going to ascend to that until he gets his act together away from football.

McKinnie's most recent transgression -- a brawl outside a Miami nightclub in February that led to him facing four charges -- caused NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend him Friday for the first four games of the regular season. It marked the fourth time McKinnie has been in trouble with the law since the Vikings selected him in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Childress has not been available for comment since the announcement, but this is exactly why he told reporters in March that he faced a potentially "difficult" decision on McKinnie's future. Childress couldn't be faulted then, and he shouldn't be now, if he feels betrayed.

A coach who preaches accountability among his players no doubt had a major role in rewarding McKinnie with that big contract. The thanks Childress received two years later: The Vikings will have to play a quarter of the season without McKinnie, and that doesn't even take into account that his legal case in Miami has yet to be resolved. (McKinnie has pleaded not guilty to all charges.)

If McKinnie is going to change his ways, he must start now. The conditions of the NFL suspension -- which the Vikings appealed but failed to get reduced -- include no contact with the team except to arrange off-site medical treatment.

This means McKinnie theoretically could return home to the Miami area during his mandated absence. But if McKinnie has learned anything, he will spend his time near the Vikings facility in Eden Prairie working out and staying away from anything that even resembles a nightclub.

If Childress is the person most upset with McKinnie, the second person on that list should be quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

Jackson, already hobbled by a knee injury, has said he definitely will be ready to play in the Vikings' opener a week from Monday at Green Bay. He will have to do it without his blind side being protected by a guy who had started 89 consecutive games at left tackle.

The Vikings' plan is to have Artis Hicks replace McKinnie. The good news for the Vikings is that Packers pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila might miss the opener because of a knee injury.

The bad news is that Hicks is still scheduled to face Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney, Carolina's Julius Peppers and Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch in the following three games. The Vikings' plan to start Hicks could change, but keep in mind this is not a position at which teams can easily find a replacement.

"It's a shame because I thought that line had grown some cohesion last year, and everybody knows how important the left tackle position is," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who worked the Vikings' preseason telecasts. "But the good thing is I think the Vikings understood this potentially could happen. From what I've seen in practice and on tape Hicks is a natural left-side player.

"I think they got him a significant number of snaps on the left side [in training camp] just in case. Do you want to open against Green Bay, Indianapolis, Carolina and Tennessee without McKinnie? No way. But I think they are good enough up front to weather that storm. Especially because they run the football so effectively."

If the Vikings are so lucky -- and this is a team that has big expectations entering 2008 -- they can only hope McKinnie has learned his lesson.