It was quiet at Winter Park, headquarters for the Vikings, last week. It was a strange quiet, given the free-agent and off-the-field news this team has made almost daily since the off-season began.
Call it a calm before the storm.
Head coach Mike Tice and the rest of his staff, having traveled the country attending pro days, were given the week off. The free-agent action calmed with the signing of linebacker Chris Claiborne. The Vikings are still about $14 million under the salary cap, and they expect to continue to be players in free agency as the off-season moves ahead. Certainly after June 1, when more veterans are expected to hit the market. They are looking for a new punter (yet another veteran is scheduled to visit this week).
But, for now, the only thing this organization is looking hard at is the draft at the end of the month.
A lot has changed in the year since the Vikings held a less-than-efficient draft last year.
You remember. The Vikings wanted defensive tackle Ryan Sims -- and might have had him if they had move more quickly when the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys took so long to consummate a deal that allowed the Chiefs to move ahead of the Vikings and grab Sims. Now, the Vikings may have ended up better off getting Bryant McKinnie anyway, but owner Red McCombs wasn't happy with what he saw in the draft room that day.
There were other problems. The Vikings perhaps reached when they took linebacker Raonall Smith in the second round. By the time draft day was done there wasn't, in McCombs' eyes, enough to show for the effort: McKinnie is the only member of the group assured of starting this year.
McCombs didn't waste time changing things. He pushed Frank Gilliam out of his role as head of college scouting into a consultant's role, putting Scott Studwell in charge of the operation. Studwell pushed some long-time scouts out of the organization and hired some new blood.
Perhaps just as important, the Vikings invested a lot of money in a new computer system that allows the Vikings to gather, store, sort and study scouting information more efficiently. This new system, head-manned by Studwell and director of football administration Dave Blando, has brought the Vikings into the 21st century. A year ago scouts still filed reports on pen and paper. Now it is sent in by computer.
What's more, the organization has decided to add another week of intense preparation in advance of the draft. In years past, all the scouts and coaches would gather beginning 10 days to two weeks before the draft.
Not this year. When the coaching staff returns to Winter Park Monday, they -- along with all of the organization's scouts -- will gather in a new, larger draft war room and begin the intense debate that always accompanies the process of ranking players by position.
Tice took more trips to colleges than any head coach in Vikings history. He and his staff will be equal players in the evaluation process that will take part in a converted meeting room on the first floor of the team's headquarters. In years past -- especially during the tenure of Dennis Green -- the circle of influence was kept deliberately small. Green, close friend Richard Solomon, Gilliam and a couple others essentially made most of the final evaluations and all the final decisions.
This year the circle has been enlarged. But it will be Studwell and Tice who will make the final decisions come draft day.
That said, look for the Vikings to continue to be quiet on the free agent side of the equation in the next couple of weeks. There may be some end-of-the-roster signings, but unless a bargain falls in their lap, don't expect any seismic signings.
War Room Routine Changes
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