Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wouldn't get into specifics about his players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in less than a month, but he did address some of the top candidates generally.
The Vikings have 10 players that will be unrestricted free agents on March 12 if they aren't signed by the Vikings before then: Tackle Phil Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton, receiver Jerome Simpson, linebackers Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson and Marvin Mitchell, safety Jamarca Sanford, offensive linemen Geoff Schwartz and Joe Berger and receiver Devin Aromashodu.
One of the most interesting decisions will be at linebacker, where both Henderson and Brinkley were starters in 2012. Do the Vikings keep only one of them, both of them or neither of them?
"It's just like any other position. We've been through our Vikings personnel evaluation. The coaches were working on the UFA (unrestricted free agent) evaluations this week," Spielman said, referring to ranking pending free agents from other teams. "I know George (Paton, the team's assistant GM) had all our pro scouts finalizing."
The Vikings are finishing their free agent board while also setting up an initial draft board before they leave for the NFL Scouting Combine next week.
"I've seen most of the UFAs that we may potentially have an interest in, but what we do, after we've met on our particular players, then we meet on particular UFAs," Spielman said. "We build a draft board just like we do with the draft and integrate our players in with the UFA market. Now, it's a little different because you have to take the financial considerations in. Our stance has always been that we're going to have an open door and we'd love to have all our UFAs back."
That isn't going to happen. There is always turnover on a roster, but the Vikings undoubtedly have their priorities among their 10 unrestricted free agents. Felton, who helped lead the charge for Adrian Peterson's 2,097-yard rushing season, and Loadholt are likely among them.
"All our UFAs, we'll talk with their agents about their contracts," Spielman said.
"We just set up some initial meetings. I know Rob (Brzezinski, vice president of football operations) has talked to some of the agents. I think most of the business will start to really hone in when we're down at the combine."
Another interesting case will be Simpson, who signed a one-year deal with the Vikings last year in hopes of proving himself with a big year and then cashing in with a bigger contract. Instead, he was suspended for the first three games and was limited much of the season with a back injury that affected his legs and feet.
"We've talked about Simpson, where you saw in the first Detroit game, you saw what he was doing in the preseason and just the suspension and then the setback with the injury," Spielman said. "He's one of those guys – all those guys – that we would love to have back."
The Vikings hold the leverage with cornerback A.J. Jefferson, who is a restricted free agent. They can simply make him a qualifying offer and likely retain him, unless a team is willing to give up a draft pick and make him a better offer.
The Vikings could also approach some of their higher paid veterans whose careers are in their final years and ask them to restructure their contracts. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams is scheduled to count $7.5 million against the salary cap and cornerback Antoine Winfield $7.25 million. Guard Charlie Johnson is scheduled to count $3.5 million against the cap.
Spielman declined to get into details about those players.
"I'm not going to talk about anything we're going to do in-house with our current players," he said.
The Vikings were originally thought to have eight picks in the draft, but Spielman said there was confusion about whether or not Donovan McNabb in 2011 met the terms required for the Vikings to relinquish their sixth-round pick this year. It turns out he didn't, so the Vikings have their sixth-rounder, giving them nine picks – one pick each in the first, second, third, fifth and sixth rounds, along with two in the fourth and two in the seventh.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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