When the Vikings start the free-agent process, it is still unclear whether the team will be a big-time player or stick to its general time-honored strategy of letting other teams throw out the eye-popping contracts that typically mark the opening of the unrestricted free-agent sweepstakes.
More than likely, the Vikings will take the latter strategy. Considering they don't currently have a ton of cap space and might only end up with an average amount if they restructure some contracts, they will likely be looking more to the draft than free agency to get the job done in bringing the team back from the depths of a 3-13 low-water-mark season. They won't be signing the massive nine-figure contracts.
A lot of names are going to get thrown around as potential free-agent signees over the next month. The Vikings may have legitimate interest in some. Others will be pure speculation. But if you want to make book on one player the Vikings will be likely to sign – or, at a minimum, give a long look to – it's offensive lineman Vernon Carey.
Rick Spielman is now the general manager and, as such, he will begin wielding more power once the Vikings have the opportunity to start making significant roster decisions for 2012. For the first time in his Minnesota career, he will have the final word on the major decisions as to who will comprise the 2012 Vikings roster. He is now the voice in the war room that matters.
With his newfound power, comes newfound responsibility. Among those duties is to bring in players he is convinced can get the job done. No player exemplifies that more than Carey.
A couple of years ago during one of the moments in the House of Childress that Spielman was able to speak freely with the media without a harness or leash, I decided to go for an "off the board" question with him. In 2004, Spielman was the general manager in Miami. He really wanted Carey – as in REALLY wanted Carey. So much so that he swung a trade with the Vikings to move from No. 20 to No. 19 in the 2004 draft to assure that he got the guy he coveted.
Spielman threw the Vikings a fourth-round draft pick, which the team used to draft Mewelde Moore, but he said it was worth it. He believed in Carey and, even years later, broke from tradition in his praise of the player he couldn't let get away.
Spielman is a master in speaking in generalities and vagaries. He is a pro's pro in giving an answer that doesn't give the questioner any deep insight that he or she is seeking, yet the answer comes across as if he has answered the question before. In dealing with the media, it's a brilliant, subtle strategy. Without showing his hand, Spielman can give the impression that he's already been down that road and answered that question. However, when it came to discussing Carey, the curtain got pulled back and Spielman showed a side of his persona rarely seen.
The Vikings were happy with the outcome – Mike Tice beamed when he met with the media because he got the player in the first round he wanted all along (Kenechi Udeze) and Moore was a gift. But, from Spielman's end of things, he was happier. Carey blossomed into a very good offensive lineman and, in discussing the move from the "other side of the fence," Spielman wasn't shy about his pride in moving up one spot in the draft to get the guy he would have kicked himself had he got away.
Fast forward three years. Carey, now 31, has battled injuries and has been shuffled across Miami's offensive line, playing both guard positions and right tackle over the last four seasons. He is an unrestricted free agent and, from the sounds emanating from South Beach, the Dolphins likely aren't going to make the kind of 11th-hour re-signing move they did the only other time Carey was slated for free agency. Not only will he hit the market, he likely isn't going to have the leverage to command too much more than a veteran minimum salary. He could be the type of Week 2 signing that marks the second wave of free agency. Despite Carey's age flying in the face of the Vikings' general free-agent philosophy of going after younger players, Spielman could be on Carey's trail.
It isn't unusual for coaches to bring in players they scouted, coached and became professionally enamored with. Look at Bill Parcells. Wherever he went, so did players he used to coach in previous stints. Familiarity is a big deal in NFL circles and Spielman is as familiar with Carey as any free agent guard on the market.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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