How Good is 2004 DE Crop?

The Vikings have targeting defensive end as one of their off-season priorities, but the question begging observers is how will they get it done?

The good news, bad scenario is facing the Vikings as the 2004 free agent period opens Wednesday. The good news is that one of their primary needs -- a shut-down cornerback -- is deep and available in both free agency and the draft. The bad news is that defensive end -- the other targeted position -- isn't deep at all.

Many believe if the Vikings are to snag one of the two projected first-round defensive ends in April's draft -- Kenechi Udeze of USC or Will Smith of Ohio State -- they will have to move up from their No. 19 spot to do so.

But what about free agency? That doesn't look promising either. There are two true blue-chippers at DE this year -- Jevon Kearse and Grant Wistrom -- but both will be expensive and Kearse is viewed as a huge injury risk. Aside from them, the talent drops quickly or comes with some baggage. Here's our take on the second level of available free agents at DE.

* ADEWALE OGUNLEYE, Miami -- He's a restricted free agent, so he would require compensation to be given. Some fear he is a pass-rushing one-hit wonder like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, but, with Miami facing some salary cap trouble, a team like the Vikings could make an offer that would be tough for the Dolphins to match.

* ERIC HICKS, Kansas City -- He is big and aggressive, but, with the Chiefs bringing back defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham -- who loves Hicks -- he may be hard to pry away.

* REGGIE HAYWARD, Denver -- He could be a guy the Vikings target. He's 6-5, weighs about 275 and had 8-1/2 sacks last year -- exactly what the Vikings are looking for.

* JOHN ENGELBERGER, San Francisco -- Another big pass rusher who can be disruptive, he has the double free agent dilemma of potentially staying put with the 49ers or following his former defensive coordinator Jim Mora to Atlanta -- neither good scenarios for outsiders looking to sign him.

* BERT BERRY, Denver -- Not an every-down player, many people think his best option is to stay with the Broncos where he is familiar and comfortable in their system.

* AL WALLACE, Carolina -- A lunch pail kind of player who happens to be stuck behind the best defensive line in the NFL. Sound familiar, Lurtsie?

* EBENEZER EKUBAN, Dallas -- He's been given every chance to be a difference-maker with the Cowboys, but has been too erratic for many teams to put a lot of faith in.

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