Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wasn't ready to completely write off some of his own free agents and the players with bigger contracts that could be under consideration for a restructuring or release.
The Vikings have 16 unrestricted free agents to sign and a handful of contracts from players who dropped in production and have large contracts. General manager Rick Spielman admitted that some of those players could be approached about restructuring or simply be released, but Frazier appeared to still be holding out hope.
"We've got to go back and we're doing it now, looking at all of our guys as we're trying to ascertain what free agents are going to be the guys that we're going to target prior to March 13," Frazier said, pointing to the start date for free agency. "Just trying to determine if we're going to approach any players or if we're going to say, ‘OK, we're not touching this guy, because we're going to do whatever we're doing with this guy.' So we still have some things that we have to go through to determine how we want to do it so that financially we can be somewhat aggressive when free agency begins."
The Vikings are currently about $2.5 million under a projected salary cap of $120.375 million, but there are several adjustments that could be made to put them in a position to start free agency in the middle of the pack, where Spielman estimates they could reside in three weeks.
"We'll just have to see what happens with some of the things that we're doing," Frazier said of cornerback Cedric Griffin. "But we're optimistic about his return. He was coming off of a major knee surgery a year ago, and sometimes guys need a year under their belt before they can really get back to (the production) they had before. It remains to be seen if he's one of those guys."
Griffin, who was benched at one point during the 2011 season, has a cap number of $4.65 million and would save at least $2.5 million against the 2012 cap if released.
Despite a rocky season as he recovered from his second knee surgery in two years, Griffin had a strong finished to the season, according to Frazier.
"I think the last couple weeks he did that. He really had the right approach, and he played hard for us," Frazier said of the former full-time starter. "I think he's in the right frame of mind. We've just got to get him to where he's 100 percent healthy and confident about the things he's capable of doing."
While injuries have been an issue for Griffin, injuries and age are both catching up with former Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, who has a $7 million cap figure in 2012. Hutchinson finished each of the last two seasons on injured reserve.
"Steve can still play in this league. I really believe that. … I know he still wants to play, but yeah, I think he can still play," Frazier said.
Neither Hutchinson nor Griffin are scheduled to be free agents, but linebackers E.J. Henderson and his brother, weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson, are scheduled to be free agents on March 13.
"Only thing that's difficult is they're both up at the same time," Frazier said when asked if having brothers be free agents at the same time made things more difficult to negotiate. "That's a little odd. But both are still good football players, both are capable of making plays for us, but in our division, having to make those tough decisions, we're going to have some decisions that we'll have to make in the next few weeks."
The Vikings' philosophy with aging free agents likely means E.J. won't receive a big contract offer. Could that mean Erin would be a consideration for middle linebacker?
"He's one of those guys who has the flexibility to play all three (linebacker spots)," Frazier said. "He's unique in that way, and we just have to make sure we're doing the right thing by him, but he has the ability to swing at all three. But he's probably best at the weak-side linebacker position."
Strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway won't be a consideration for middle linebacker.
"His body frame – he's right where he needs to be, behind Kevin Williams," Frazier said. "When Kevin is really rolling, it really helps Chad's game, and … Chad's cover ability on tight ends, to line him up on the tight end side, it's a plus for us. So, we think we have him in the right place."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Frazier holds out hope to retain talent
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