However, until they are done evaluating the 2012 draft class and comparing that to the strengths and weaknesses of this year's free agency, general manager Rick Spielman indicated the team hasn't made any final decisions on which of their own free agents the Vikings will keep and which ones will be allowed to look elsewhere without an offer coming the team's Winter Park headquarters.
"You take your team, you take what's going to be available on the market and then you take what's going to be available or what you think you're going to be able to get in the draft and kind of tie those all together so you know, if you have needs to fill, where you're going to be able to fill those needs," Spielman said. "That kind of gives you an overall big picture and an overall game plan as we start to head into the combine."
Naturally, Spielman wouldn't go into specifics about which free agents are highest on the team's priority list and said they haven't even approached their own crop of 17 remaining free agents. That list includes starters like TE Visanthe Shiancoe, LBs E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson and safety Husain Abdullah.
"We're never going to shut the door on anyone. There are some guys that we will specifically target to try to keep if we can," Spielman said. "But we will always keep the door (open) on all our guys, because you never know, even if we can't get something done, if that comes back at some point that they do return."
The Vikings already avoided having some other key players reach free agency when they signed LB Chad Greenway and RB Adrian Peterson to contract extensions just before the 2011 regular season began, along with center John Sullivan during the season.
Still, Spielman admitted that the team still has "a couple of areas where we think we have big needs. More than one."
Filling those will be a process between the 10 draft picks the team anticipates receiving after compensatory picks are awarded and free agency. While the Vikings have just under $116 million dollars currently dedicated to 2012 salaries and a cap that is expected to be around the $121 million range, Spielman said the team will have the ability to go after a big free agent if desired.
"There will be some good players there. We're comparing them to guys on our roster. If there is a big splash, we may be able to do that, but we're also going to see if we can fill that in the draft as well. We'll explore all those options as we go forward," Spielman said.
"… Whether we make a big splash or not, if there's someone out there that we think can help us, that we're willing to spend a lot of money (to get), we'll definitely look at those options."
The Vikings could create more cap space by restructuring deals with a few of their own high-dollar players. Among the options are guard Steve Hutchinson and cornerback Antoine Winfield, both scheduled to count $7 million against the 2012 salary cap; cornerback Cedric Griffin, who is still trying to regain his form after two torn ACLs and counts $4.65 million against the cap; and defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who could count $8.4 million against the cap.
"We'll evaluate (restructurings)," Spielman said. "I have a pretty good idea of what we're going to do going forward. I'm not going to share that right now with you. The closer it gets to the kickoff of the new league year (March 13), we'll have a good indicator of who we'll want to keep and who we'll want to move on from. Sometimes, when you move on from guys, it has nothing to do with their character and what they brought to the team. Sometimes you just have to make some tough business decisions."
He said the team hasn't approached any of those players or their agents yet because "you want to make sure you have everything evaluated and kind of stacked so when you do make those final decisions on players, how are you going to replace those players?"
CONCUSSIONS A FREE-AGENT CONCERN
While the Vikings can look at magnetic resonance imaging tests and X-rays to evaluate rehabilitation progress with other injuries, progress with concussions isn't as apparent. Abdullah has suffered four concussions in the last two years.
"It's a lot more – I don't want to say concerning – but you're a lot more aware of that. So, you have to rely on your doctors and medical people. I know there's a lot more research out there," Spielman said. "But that is becoming a significant concern, just the way the NFL handles it, and it should. It's a significant injury, so those do weigh into your decision factors. But, again, just like if a guy's coming off an ACL, you've got to rely on what your medical people are telling you.
Abudullah visited a specialist in Pittsburgh in January and said he was cleared to resume his NFL career, but he is a free agent and his history of concussions could be a concern for teams, including the Vikings. Spielman said Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman has received medical reports from Abdullah's specialists in Pittsburgh to help the team monitor his progress.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.