EDEN PRAIRIE -- Cris Carter's constant complaining likely won't be aimed at the officials, opponents or Jimmy Hitchcock next season.
His wrath may once again take aim at the Minnesota Vikings' offense, where he and Randy Moss did plenty of sideline squawking when Randall Cunningham tottered his way through Ray Sherman's game plans before Jeff George was beckoned from the bench to save a season and a career.
The recent bloodletting at Winter Park seems to foretell that coach Dennis Green will decline to keep George, one of his 17 unrestricted free agents, and instead try to milk one more year out of Cunningham or even start Daunte Culpepper.
Why else would Sherman have gotten the boot?
Cunningham proved he couldn't handle the offensive coordinator's schemes, but George was a perfect fit and he guided the Vikings to a 9-3 record and a playoff berth.
When reports surfaced last week that George was as good as gone, everyone in the Vikings organization deemed the story erroneous, especially Sherman, who said there was no way it could be true because he would have been told so.
Sherman stood up for his best quarterback and he has an inkling that's why his head ended up on the chopping block along with half of Green's 14-man staff.
''What am I supposed to say? The guy does a great job for us,'' Sherman said. ''It would be ludicrous for me not to back him.''
All Green told Sherman was that he wanted a different chemistry, not a different quarterback.
''When you've got the No. 3 offense, you wonder why you need to make a change,'' Sherman said.
Probably because the quarterback next year won't be George, whose agent is more than willing to be creative to make sure his client fits under the team's tight salary cap.
Green convinced owner Red McCombs that Cunningham ($28 million) and Culpepper ($19 million) were the present and future of this franchise.
Now, he's supposed to go to McCombs and say, ''Oops. George is our guy''?
Probably not, even though McCombs is easily swayed by Green, who convinced him that last year's draft fiasco, in which Green overruled his entire staff and took Culpepper and Dimitrius Underwood instead of Jevon Kearse, was just one of those things.
Green also has McCombs convinced that he should be praised for salvaging the season and reaching the playoffs rather than blamed for goofing up a draft and falling short of the Super Bowl again despite a ton of talent.
It seems McCombs would easily be persuaded to pony up more cash for George. Then the Vikings could release Cunningham and promote Culpepper to backup.
But that would leave Green with two big problems: he'd have to admit he was dead wrong on Cunningham, and he'd have to delay the development of Culpepper.
The sooner he can prove that Cunningham still has some magic left or that the ''Kearse Curse'' isn't true, the sooner the scrutiny slackens.
Sherman's replacement, Sherm Lewis, developed Brett Favre, installing and perfecting the plays that Mike Holmgren called on Sundays.
Lewis was criticized for getting too fancy in 1999 when he finally called the plays himself for Green Bay, but he won't be given much latitude in Minnesota, where he'll tinker with the Vikings' system, not radically change it.
That would be good news for either Cunningham or Culpepper.
But remember how things deteriorated last year when the Vikings started 2-4. There was nearly a mutiny in the locker room when Green stuck with Cunningham week after week when it was readily apparent that he was lost without Brian Billick, Chip Myers and Brad Johnson in his ear all the time and George was ready to take over.
When the season ended in St. Louis, Moss and Carter lobbied hard for Green to keep George.
''We'd have something special,'' Carter said, envisioning more runs at that elusive Super Bowl appearance.
Carter even showed a sliver of repentance for always criticizing his teammates on defense while knowing full well that the Vikings put their financial eggs on offense, which is supposed to carry the team.
Carter broke a well-known code by hollering at Hitchcock all the way off the field and berated Orlando Thomas so much during a game and on the field that the safety replied: ''Don't sell me out like that.''
''We got so much money on offense. Our defense plays well enough for us to win, they really do and it's a team,'' Carter said. ''It's the way the team is built. Denny always wanted a high-powered offense.''
Carter may need that type of sympathetic understanding in 2000 because it very well could be the offense, under Cunningham or Culpepper, that struggles next season.
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