They were there to see Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, who was introduced to the excited masses three days after being obtained from the Kansas City Chiefs in a blockbuster trade-and-sign.
In order to get Allen, the Vikings had to surrender the 17th overall pick in this year's draft, as well as two third-round selections. Minnesota also moved back in the sixth by agreeing to swap picks in that round with the Chiefs.
That agreement — Kansas City had retained Allen's rights by putting the franchise designation on him — gave the Vikings the privilege of presenting the 26-year-old with a monster $74 million, six-year deal that includes $31 million in guarantees. That is the biggest contract ever for a player on the defensive side of the ball.
In return for their investment, the Vikings are counting on Allen to continue making life extremely difficult for opposing quarterbacks. Last season, he led the NFL with 15.5 sacks in 14 games. The Vikings, meanwhile, were led in sacks by defensive ends Ray Edwards and Kenechi Udeze and linebacker Ben Leber, who had only five apiece.
The lack of a consistent pass rush was a key reason the Vikings' pass defense was at the bottom of the NFL for a second consecutive season and made a pass-rushing defensive end a top priority entering free agency.
The need for help at the position became even greater in February when left end Udeze was diagnosed with leukemia. Although Udeze's leukemia is now in remission, he isn't expected to play in 2008.
The Vikings' pursuit of a free-agent end proved unsuccessful in early March — key target Justin Smith jumped from Cincinnati to San Francisco — but they had quietly been having conversations with Kansas City about Allen and those began to heat up. Allen's relationship with the Chiefs was poor and he wanted out of Kansas City.
Allen's presence should make the Vikings' line one of the best in the league. He will continue to play right end — Edwards will move to the left side — with Pro Bowl tackles Kevin and Pat Williams anchoring the middle. The Vikings already led the NFL in run defense last season.
However, there is an element of risk in giving up three high draft picks and then agreeing to pay Allen so much money. He has been arrested for drunken driving three times and was suspended for the first four games of last season after getting two DWIs in a five-month period in the Kansas City area in 2006. The suspension was later reduced to two games.
Allen said he has quit drinking and has been willing to answer any questions about his past since arriving in Minnesota.
"Like I told coach, God gave me eyes in the front of my head to look forward and not in the back so I don't have to look back," Allen said. "I've dealt with it and I've moved on."
The Jared Allen trade left the Vikings as bystanders for a good portion of the draft's opening day — they weren't complaining — and in the end Minnesota had only five picks. It was an interesting approach for a team that a year ago talked about building through the draft.
It was expected the Vikings would use their top pick on an offensive tackle, especially given the fact that left tackle Bryant McKinnie could face discipline from the NFL after his latest brush with the law this offseason. However, a first-round run on that position resulted in the Vikings taking no tackles.
Instead, the team surprised many by trading up in the second round to grab Arkansas State safety Tyrell Johnson. Johnson, who had not been mentioned in relation to the Vikings leading up to the draft, could be the long-term replacement for veteran Darren Sharper.
Minnesota then used three of its final four picks on the second day to take players on the offensive side of the ball.
Two of those were no surprise and probably solid choices. Southern Cal quarterback John David Booty, acquired when the Vikings traded with Green Bay (surprise, surprise) to move up in the fifth round, likely will beat out veteran Brooks Bollinger for the No. 3 job.
Notre Dame center John Sullivan was taken in the sixth round and could eventually replace veteran Matt Birk. Sullivan, like Birk, is considered a very smart player and his transition to the NFL should be a smooth one.
The biggest surprise pick by the Vikings, or at least the one that could be called a reach, was taking Florida State defensive tackle Letroy Guion in the fifth round. Guion only started 14 games in three seasons at Florida State and came out a year early to try to help his family. At best he's going to be a project.
Jackson State receiver Jaymar Jackson, another sixth-rounder, was the Vikings' final pick of the draft and also will have plenty of learning to do.
BEST PICK: The Vikings appear set at safety this season with veterans Darren Sharper and Madieu Williams. Nonetheless, Minnesota didn't have much depth at this spot and Sharper isn't getting any younger. He will turn 33 in November and is entering the final season of his contract. That means second-rounder Tyrell Johnson could spend one season learning on the job before stepping into a starting role in 2009.
COULD SURPRISE: The Vikings are committed to a second season with Tarvaris Jackson as their starting quarterback. But if Jackson fails to live up to expectations in 2008 — and there will be high expectations for the Vikings this time around — John David Booty could get an opportunity sooner rather than later. It's unlikely Booty would get any snaps this coming season but the kid has dealt with the pressure of USC before and a year of seasoning at the NFL level could make this fifth-round pick look pretty good down the road.
A closer look at the Vikings' picks:
Round 2/43 — Tyrell Johnson, S, 6-0, 207, Arkansas State
The Vikings, who had Johnson as the top-rated safety on their draft board and No. 17 overall, worked a trade with the Eagles to move up in the second round to grab him. Minnesota also sent its fourth-round pick to Philadelphia in the trade and got the Eagles' fifth-rounder. Johnson might not have played at a big school but impressive performances against Texas and Tennessee helped increase his stock. The son of former NBA player Alvin Robertson, Johnson did finish his career as the Sun Belt Conference's leading tackler.
Round 5/137 — John David Booty, QB, 6-3, 213, USC
Booty was the developmental-type quarterback that Vikings coach Brad Childress wanted on his roster. In fact, the Vikings traded up to the second pick of the fifth round in order to take Booty. Childress likes the fact that Booty's father was a football coach. It also helps that Booty is familiar with the West Coast offense, likes playing in it and said before the draft he would welcome an opportunity to go to Minnesota. Booty will compete with Brooks Bollinger for the No. 3 job in training camp behind starter Tarvaris Jackson and veteran backup Gus Frerotte.
Round 5/152 — Letroy Guion, DT, 6-4, 303, Florida State
It's not certain if Guion will end up playing behind 3-technique tackle Kevin Williams or nose tackle Pat Williams. Guion surprised many by leaving college early, had started only 14 games in three seasons and at best is considered to be a raw prospect with plenty to learn. The Vikings, though, wanted to add depth on the defensive line and will do so by drafting the inexperienced Guion.
Round 6/187 — John Sullivan, C, 6-4, 301, Notre Dame
Sullivan could be groomed as the replacement for veteran Matt Birk, who is entering the final season of his contract. So far, the Vikings have not initiated any conversations with Birk about a contract extension and the decision to draft Sullivan could mean Birk's tenure with the Vikings is nearing an end. Sullivan didn't have a great 2007 season for an Irish team that went 3-9 but he was solid throughout his collegiate career and is considered a very smart player. He also has the ability to play guard.
Round 6/193 — Jaymar Johnson, WR, 6-0, 176, Jackson State
Could be a long shot to make the roster but might have a chance at the practice squad. Johnson is a speedy player who could provide big-play capabilities down the line but he will have plenty to learn coming from the SWAC. One thing the Vikings like about Johnson is he can return both punts and kicks. Right now those areas aren't completely settled. Johnson's 66 receptions for 1,140 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two seasons are certainly something to build on.
—Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson, whose brother E.J. is the Vikings starting middle linebacker, was one of 16 undrafted free agents who agreed to terms with Minnesota shortly after the draft. Also on this list was Miami (Fla.) quarterback Kyle Wright. The fact Erin Henderson wasn't drafted was a surprise considering he was projected as a fourth-rounder. Henderson did have some knee issues while playing college football.
—Ray Edwards will move from right to left defensive end now that Jared Allen will has joined the line. Edwards said that won't be a problem because he played the left side in college at Purdue.
—This year's draft marked the first time since 1992 that the Vikings haven't had a pick in the first round. The loss of that selection was the result of the Vikings' infamous Herschel Walker trade with Dallas.
—Center Matt Birk and running back Chester Taylor are the only two Vikings not taking part in the team's offseason conditioning program. Birk, who is entering the final season of his contract and has yet to be approached about an extension, has decided to skip the voluntary portion and work out on his own. Taylor usually works out on his own.
—The Vikings plan to hold a camp for their rookies this coming weekend.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love it. It's all focused on us now. Adrian Peterson got all the pub last year. Adrian Peterson, Adrian Peterson. Now, (the attention is on the) defense. We're going to have some fun." — Nose tackle Pat Williams on what the acquisition of Jared Allen means to the Vikings' defense as a whole.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
—S Mike Doss made little impact in first season with the Vikings; likely will be allowed to find work elsewhere.
—DE Darrion Scott had 2007 season ended early by injury after recording team-high 5.5 sacks the previous year.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
—CB Ronyell Whitaker (not tendered as RFA) was used primarily on special teams.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
—DE Jared Allen (trade Chiefs).
—WR Bernard Berrian: UFA Bears; $42M/6 yrs, $$5M SB/$8M RB; $3M RB '09; 2008 cap: $9.538M.
—S Michael Boulware: UFA Texans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
—QB Gus Frerotte: FA Rams; $4M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
—RB Maurice Hicks: UFA 49ers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
—LB Derrick Pope: UFA Dolphins; terms unknown.
—CB Benny Sapp: UFA Chiefs; $705,000/1 yr, $100,000 SB.
—FB Thomas Tapeh: UFA Eagles; $6M/5 yrs, $1.2M guaranteed.
—S Madieu Williams: UFA Bengals; $34M/6 yrs, $13M guaranteed.
—DL Ellis Wyms: UFA Seahawks; $1.5M/1 yr, $500,000 SB.
—LB Heath Farwell: RFA; $1.47M/1 yr.
—WR Robert Ferguson: UFA; $1M/1 yr, SB unknown.
—QB Kelly Holcomb (released).
—DT Spencer Johnson: UFA Bills; $17.5M/5 yrs, $6M guaranteed.
—RB Mewelde Moore: UFA Steelers; $4.95M/3 yrs, $1.35M SB; 2008 cap: $1.1M.
—FB Tony Richardson: UFA Jets; $875,000/1 yr, SB unknown.
—S Dwight Smith (released).
—LB Dontarrious Thomas: UFA 49ers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
—S Tank Williams: UFA Patriots; $645,000/1 yr, $40,000 WO.
—WR Troy Williamson (traded Jaguars).