Vikings Start Thinking ‘Offseason'

Head coach Mike Tice and the Vikings have a number of decisions to make this offseason. It starts with the hiring of a defensive coordinator (with some well-credentialed candidates) and continues with the free-agent and draft evaluations of their own roster. Here are the early returns.

Now that it's been determined Mike Tice will return in 2004, the Vikings' No. 1 priority is finding a defensive coordinator to replace George O'Leary, who already accepted the head coaching job at the University of Central Florida.

The Vikings also want to hire a defensive line coach. O'Leary also coached defensive line. Tice wants the new coordinator to focus entirely on the defensive game plan.

Candidates include former Bears coach Dick Jauron and former Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis, a close friend of Tice's.

Tice probably won't make a decision until after the Senior Bowl. That's where Tice found offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

Players expected to become unrestricted free agents are TE Jim Kleinsasser, NT Fred Robbins, P Leo Araguz, C Cory Withrow, OL Lewis Kelly and OL Everett Lindsay. CB Eric Kelly and RB John Avery will be restricted free agents.

Kleinsasser probably will be the toughest to re-sign. He was the team's franchise player in 2003. The Vikings won't designate him as such again this season, even though he's had his best season, because they would have to give him a hefty raise to do so.

Rookie Kevin Williams has made Robbins expendable. Araguz will have no other offers. Withrow is expendable. Lewis Kelly and Lindsay are important backups that need to be retained. Especially Kelly, the heir apparent at right guard.

Eric Kelly is a valuable special teamer and dime back. Avery showed promise as a kickoff returner and receiver out of the backfield.

The Vikings will draft 19th in the first round. Depending on moves they make in free agency, the Vikings priorities for that first pick will be: Defensive end, outside linebacker, receiver, tight end or cornerback.

LB Chris Claiborne, who missed three of the past four games, is expected to have surgery on his heel. Claiborne was having the best season of his career until heel, ankle and shoulder injuries slowed him.

LB Henri Crockett also might require shoulder surgery. Other players may have minor surgeries.

WR Randy Moss played the final four games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. He never appeared on an injury report because he didn't miss practice. Moss might have to miss the Pro Bowl. He also missed the Pro Bowl following the 2000 and 2002 seasons because of injuries.

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