While the Vikings have been known to be prudent to secure talent due to the game's increasing salaries, they have been bold of late and are now considered a major player in the NFC North.
In signing free-agent cornerback Fred Smoot to team with Antoine Winfield (the team's big free-agent acquisition in 2004), the Vikings arguably have the best starting tandem of cornerbacks in the NFL. The defensive backfield has been an ongoing issue of inconsistency and poor production, so addressing the issue with the additions of Smoot and veteran safety Darren Sharper should immediately improve an at-times-porous pass defense.
Smoot and Sharper also give the Vikings depth in the secondary. Former starter Brian Williams is now the third cornerback and Ken Irvin can be used at safety and the dime corner when necessary. If Brian Russell is retained, he'll be another former starter in reserve.
Losing linebacker Chris Claiborne to St. Louis in free agency isn't the blow that it could have been due to the team's proactive approach. Napoleon Harris and San Cowart have been acquired via trades to give the Vikings starting quality and depth at linebacker. While neither player should be deemed as saviors for a mediocre defense, both are quality players who should provide an immediate upgrade.
Heading into the draft, few questions remain. With the seventh overall pick, the Vikings would like to select one of the top receivers after trading Randy Moss to Oakland. They are believed to be very high on Mike Williams of USC and Braylon Edwards of Michigan, but there have been some subtle signs that Minnesota might choose a running back – such as Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams or Cedric Benson – even though it appears to be solid at the position. This scenario isn't likely unless the team is open to trading running back Michael Bennett.
The Vikings don't have many pressing roster issues and field quality players at most positions. Going into the 2005 season, they could very well be the team to beat in the NFC North.
Wide receiver – Replacing Randy Moss will not be an easy proposition. Entering his third season, possession receiver Nate Burleson is the team's No. 1 receiver, with veteran Marcus Robinson slotted to be the No. 2. Former Ravens wideout Travis Taylor was signed to add depth, but No. 4 receiver Kelly Campbell is facing potential legal issues. With the seventh overall pick, the Vikings could be in position to select Braylon Edwards or Mike Williams, arguably the top two receivers in the draft.
Defensive end – If there is a weakness along the defensive line it is at the end spots. Kenechi Udeze and Darrion Scott are presently penciled in to start, which should only magnify the concern the organization has regarding the quality and potential at the position. Pass-rush specialist Lance Johnstone and Kenny Mixon backup the young starters. The Vikings have shown an interest in Saints defensive end Darren Howard, but the Vikings are unwilling to trade the No. 7 pick for his services.
Safety – Corey Chavous returns to team with offseason acquisition Darren Sharper, giving the Vikings potentially their best set of starting safeties in years. However, doubt still lingers over Sharper due to his dropoff in play the past couple of seasons in Green Bay. Brian Russell, the starter opposite Chavous in 2003 and 2004, is a restricted free agent and has signed an offer sheet with the Browns. The Vikings can match, but Russell isn't looked upon as being a major loss. Despite the addition of Sharper, the Vikings lack overall depth and should plan for the future.
Linebacker – Sam Cowart and Napoleon Harris certainly upgrade the quality of the starters. The Vikings will give Dontarrious Thomas the opportunity to secure the weak-side starter spot, but they may be best served to seek a veteran to provide stability.
Kicker – This position has been a sore point for the Vikings over the past few seasons. Once again, they may look to secure this position once and for all in the draft.
FREE AGENCY AND OFFSEASON
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FS Brian Russell, CB Brian Williams.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Sam Cowart (Jets), LB Napoleon Harris (Raiders), QB Brad Johnson (Buccaneers), Darren Sharper (Packers), CB Fred Smoot (Redskins), WR Travis Taylor (Ravens), DT Pat Williams (Bills).