Sunday slant: Roster rebirth nearly here

The NFL draft is only 18 days away and one more "Spielman Special" could complete the overhaul of the roster that began when Brett Favre retired. The majority of the Vikings are entering or in the prime of their career, leaving a near-term future full of hope.

For NFL fans, it may be time for spring cleaning, that dead time between the excitement of free agency and the drama of the draft. Nobody does offseason drama better than the NFL, but the Vikings are hoping to build only positive theater with their spring roster-improvement project.

If general manager Rick Spielman has his way, the rebuilding is nearly done and the draft that is only 18 days away will be more about reinforcing the foundation and putting the finishing touches on the interior design. He's spent the last two drafts in rebuilding mode following the exit of Brett Favre. Quarterback may still be in question, but the number of queries at other positions is starting to dwindle.

A look at the depth chart after free agency shows only three front-burner issues – middle linebacker, receiver and cornerback – and a need to continue to build through the draft. With 11 picks overall, and six in the top 120, there are numerous ways the Vikings can go and come away with all their needs filled and a lot of depth for the future. According to one draft analyst, there are 125 quality players in the draft, ones that could be starters. Certainly the Vikings have better intelligence and resources and could take the safe picks in the first round rounds and find a sleeper or two later, like they did with Blair Walsh last year.

In a deep draft, the Vikings are in prime position to fill their needs and set themselves up for the future with quality young players that continue to breathe life and energy into the lineup for years to come and put the Vikings in a solid salary cap position into the future.

Spielman has certainly done the job with that to this point. In the course of two years he has taken one of the oldest rosters in the league and turned it into one of the youngest while flipping the win-loss script from a 6-10 season in Brett Favre's final NFL stand to 10-6 and a playoff berth two years later with a quarterback not even close to as accomplished as the Ol' Gunslinger. Why? Because there is a better surrounding cast.

The youth of the roster is the strength, too.

There is no doubt CB Antoine Winfield will be missed for both his stellar play and the knowledge he brought to the secondary if he isn't re-signed, but scheduled to make a $7.25 million there were questions about how much longer he can last. He's well worth bringing back at a lower salary, and Kevin Williams is the only other player on the roster with more than 10 years of experience.

Michael Jenkins (nine years) is gone and Jared Allen (nine years) has a contract set to expire after 2013. Cullen Loeffler (nine years) and Chris Kluwe (eight years) play positions where age isn't as much of a factor. After that, it's a roster of either players in their prime – Chad Greenway, Adrian Peterson and Brian Robison with six years of experience and Jerome Felton and John Sullivan with five years – or those performing well in the early stages of their career. WR Greg Jennings brings seven years of experience, effectively replacing Michael Jenkins in that respect in the receiver corps and easily outdoing Jenkins in production.

Consider some of the top players on the team: Harrison Smith and Matt Kalil were stars on defense and offense, respectively, and they were both rookies, and so was Blair Walsh, giving the Vikings two Pro Bowlers in their rookie class. Additionally, they might end up with Josh Robinson as a starter if he is able to replace Winfield this year.

Christian Ponder still has to prove his value after two years in the league, but giving him a more complete and talented wide receiver corps should help the final evaluation on him. For now, Kyle Rudolph, a second-rounder, is the gem of the 2011 draft class as another Pro Bowl player.

Cris Cook, a starter, and Everson Griffen, a rotational but key contributor, are both entering their fourth season, as is A.J. Jefferson, who should compete for a big role in the secondary once again.

Phil Loadholt, Jamarca Sanford and Erin Henderson are all starters entering their fifth season while John Sullivan, Jerome Felton and Letroy Guion are in the same position heading into their sixth NFL season.

The Vikings have less than $4.5 million left on their adjusted salary cap for 2013, so don't expect many more quality starters to be signed in free agency, but there should be at least two immediate starters to come out of this year's draft – and if it's anything like recent drafts they could be stars early in their career.

The gloom and doom of 2011 is over. Only two years later, the rebirth of spring also applies to the Vikings' roster and hopes.

QUICK SLANTS

  • Former Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards will be back in the region Saturday with a fighter's chance to gain a modicum of credibility in the fight arena. After getting a win Feb. 9 against "The Fargo Flop," Nick Capes, Edwards is expected to have real competition April 13 at Wessman Arena in Superior, Wis. According to the Superior Telegram, Duluth promoter R.J. "T-Rex" Laase is vowing Edwards will have a legitimate opponent for his next fight, even if he wasn't sure who that opponent would be last week.

    "We want Ray to get a real test. We don't want another Fargo incident happening," Laase told the Telegram, referring to Capes flopping and being suspended after that farce. "I'm 100 percent confident we'll be able to get a good fighter lined up, and we're willing to pay a little extra for it. We still have plenty of time to find a quality guy."

    Edwards has long had an interest in boxing, but to date he hasn't had a legitimate test to see if he has any sort of future in the sport. At this point, it doesn't appear he has an NFL future after being released mid-season by the Atlanta Falcons.

  • Linebacker Erin Henderson donated $5,000 to the National Geographic's big cats education and conservation program, $1,000 for each sack he had in 2012. Henderson is hoping to raise awareness about the decline of lions, tigers, cheetahs and other big cats in the wild.

  • Adrian Peterson is in the semifinals of the "new school" bracket to be on the cover of Madden 25. He is going against Redskins QB Robert Griffin III in fan voting taking place online.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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