Familiarity common in Vikings' big interests

The Vikings have expressed interest in a few of the top free agents at positions of need, but there is a common theme: They have first-hand knowledge of their top targets.

The Vikings were busy in their first day of being able to legally talk with representative for other free agents, and they expressed interest in some of the best available players at positions of need.

NFL teams could start negotiating with agents of unrestricted free agents from other teams at 11 a.m. Saturday and it didn't take long for the reports of interest to start piling in, although none of them were a surprise.

CB Alterraun Verner was a natural connection, given the Vikings' need at the position (Chris Cook is scheduled to be a free agent) and there is familiarity with him. Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray coached Verner – the top-ranked cornerback on the market, according to Scout.com – with the Tennessee Titans.

The Vikings also expressed interest in nose tackle Paul Soliai, the fifth-ranked defensive tackle on Scout.com's list but one of the best pure nose tackles. The Vikings are looking for more of an anchor type in head coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme and Soliai fits that mold much better than Letroy Guion, the starting nose tackle for the Vikings last year who was released Thursday. New Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, who coached linebackers for the Miami Dolphins last year, will give the Vikings all the information on Soliai they need to make an informed decision.

Staying with the defensive line, it should come as a surprise to no one that the Vikings also showed interest in Cincinnati Bengals DE Michael Johnson, ranked third on Scout.com's listing of free agents at the position. Once again, familiarity came into play. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was Johnson's defensive coordinator in Cincinnati and, despite not being given a full-time green light to rush the passer, Johnson still had 11½ sacks in 2012 and has produced more than 50 tackles in each of his last two seasons.

There will be heavy competition for all of them, and ESPN reported that seven teams expressed an interest in Johnson in just the first six hours of being able to negotiate with him.

With about $36 million under the salary cap after signing Matt Cassel, the Vikings have the flexibility to strike deals with a few of the upper echelon free agents, but simply expressing an interest is far from being the leader in negotiations.

Teams can negotiate with free agents from other teams, but they can't execute a contract or visit with them until the official opening of free agency at 3 p.m. Tuesday, so expect the reports of interest to keep coming but no announcements (except for re-signing their own free agents) until Tuesday at the earliest.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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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