Vikings, new coaches prepped for free agency

The Vikings have gone through the free-agent evaluation process with their new coaches, evaluating more than 700 players. Rick Spielman talked about the process and the advantages of having new coaches involved.

While the business of the NFL is in a state of uncertainty, the plans for the 2011 season at Winter Park go on as usual. Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman sat down with the local media Tuesday to discuss the state of the Vikings, which includes a lot of questions about the free-agent market and several new coaches.

Spielman said that the coaches spent the past week getting about the business of assessing the landscape in front of them – despite the questions about the future of free agency – starting by scouting out the current roster of Vikings players.

"We had all the new coaches in the building (last week)," Spielman said. "They had an opportunity to evaluate our roster, especially on the offensive side. They got a chance to go through our players – what they thought of them. The second part of the process was identifying what they are looking for from a position-specific standpoint. I want to know if it's different from what we're used to as far as the characteristics they are looking for at each position. I know (offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave) and the offensive staff have been very open to trying to get the best players in here and utilizing the skill set we can get in here to tailor the scheme to what player's skill set is. We've been through the initial part of the free agency meetings. We handled that all last week."

That included looking at the crop of free agents, which numbers in the hundreds. As meticulous as Spielman and the scouting staff are when it comes to dissecting potential college draft picks, they have taken that same approach in dealing with the free-agent market.

Not only have the Vikings assigned grades to just about every NFL free agent in the league, they have also compared their own players by those same standards.

"We got a chance to hear the coach speak about the free agents," Spielman said. "(Director of player personnel) George Paton and the pro staff did a great job of writing them all up. We wrote over 700 guys up. We stacked that board very similar to how we do the draft. We actually implemented the guys on our current roster, not only our free agents, but guys that are under contract to see how they stacked with what's potentially out there in free agency … if we do have free agency."

With the unique scenario that may play itself out – the potential that the draft may come before free agency – many teams may be forced to meet their needs through the draft rather than alleviating some of their most pressing needs through free agency. The team is taking an all-encompassing view of the process however it ends up playing itself out. They are looking at free agency the same way they're looking at the draft in terms of prioritizing players and positions to aggressively attack.

"I think you know as you go through (the process) you've got to understand where the strengths are in free agency," Spielman said. "First, you have to understand where your holes are on your roster and where you need to get better. Then you've got to understand what are the strongest positions in free agency. And then, where are the strengths in the draft. Taking all those things – your holes – and then do you to fill it through free agency or can you go ahead and fill it in the draft? Would you rather go with younger (players) and try to build it that way? If free agency comes after the draft or when free agency comes and you go through the draft process, then maybe that determines a different route you go in free agency, too."

While Spielman wouldn't commit if the Vikings will use their franchise or transition tags (or both) on players like Chad Greenway or Sidney Rice, he does believe that it will be something that is done throughout the league. Tuesday alone, Peyton Manning and Michael Vick got the franchise tag and more are expected to come in the next week.

He said the Vikings are weighing their options, but added there is still time to make that decision. He is mindful, however, that in the past applying the franchise designation to star players has often led to animosity between the players tagged and the franchises that kept them from hitting the open market, which makes those types of decisions a little more delicate.

"We may not and we may use the franchise tag – we haven't ruled it out, but we haven't (said yes either)," Spielman said. "Potentially, it can, because of the restrictions, you have (problems) getting some extensions done on these guys. It puts you in a bind a little bit. I don't want to speak for other teams because I don't know what they're thinking about, but you're seeing some (players) that are getting tagged pretty early in the process."

The Vikings are going to have their free-agent priorities and their draft process locked up in advance, despite the uncertainty of whether the process will go on as scheduled or be significantly delayed, creating the potential for a Wild West type of atmosphere if the threatened lockout takes hold and drags on into the summer. The first step, Spielman said, is making sure who the organization wants back and what new players will be arriving at Winter Park.

"We're going to know who's going to be here and not be here next year on our roster," Spielman said. "Then it's going to be how are you going to fill those needs? I know this is where we're going to get (players) in the draft, so we're not going to look at that in free agency. I know if we want to fill this need, we're going to have to wait until free agency comes – when and if it comes – so let's say free agency comes after the draft. You take the best players that are going to fill needs and then react accordingly after that."

He said the free agency portion of the equation will be markedly different than in past year. Adding coaches like Musgrave and Mike Singletary, who have been around the league with other teams and have insight on players the Vikings aren't as familiar with can be an invaluable tool once free agency begins. While the Vikings can look at tape of a player, the intimate knowledge the new assistant coaches bring to the process can give the Vikings a much fuller perspective of what they can expect if they sign a player.

"A lot of these guys coached some of these guys that we talked about in free agency or know them inside and out because they played against them twice a year. It was a benefit to have some new coaches come in and (give) some of their inside knowledge that maybe we wouldn't have had if they weren't here, because they coached some of these players in the past."

Spielman may be an eternal optimist – he isn't convinced that the next collective bargaining agreement can't be settled prior to draft weekend, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. He said the team will be prepared for any eventuality and, like the rest of the league, take what comes and make the best of it.

"Is the draft going to be before free agency?" Spielman asked with a smile as if surprised by the notion. "I don't know. All we're doing is just preparing. I don't know whether there's free agency or not free agency or what's going to happen with the CBA. I don't know what's going to happen with that. Our job is to go through our normal procedures, our normal timeline on making sure we have everything in place regardless of what's going to happen in the future. If something gets done or something doesn't get done for a while, we're ready. I know there's no change in the draft procedures or when the draft is going to be. We're doing our normal process and normal procedures on that side as well."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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