Team Surprises Observers With Early FA Plunge

The Vikings had their early free-agent priorities in place and did all they could to make sure they got what they felt was needed. The fact that they were so aggressive so early might have surprised some.

There were questions concerning the Minnesota Vikings' commitment heading into the offseason. Disturbing thoughts reigned as the organization was believed to be wavering regarding obtaining talent to upgrade an improving roster.

Striking quickly with a surprising vigor, the Vikings have suddenly become more than the pretender which the organization appeared to be in the days leading up to the free-agent player signing period.

Sporting the salary-cap space to add talented players to the roster, Minnesota wasted no time in addressing the pressing needs within the roster. Acting upon the basis of a demoralizing end to the 2003 season, the Vikings showed the aggression and passion of an organization wanting to win.

"It has been our intent all along to improve this team and take the next step in the progression," a team source said. "The makeup of the roster has improved over the past two years, and with the desire to win displayed by the coaching staff we are headed in the right direction.

"Heading into the offseason, we determined the areas we wanted to address and prioritized our direction."

The direction was clear, as the team re-signed potential free agent tight end Jim Kleinsasser to a five-year contract prior to the kickoff of free agency.

"Coach (Mike) Tice strongly wanted to retain Kleinsasser. Being a vital part of our offense, he (Kleinsasser) perfectly complements what we want to do as an offense," the source continued. "Running the ball is critical in our offense. Kleinsasser is a very strong blocker and he has shown the ability to be productive in the passing game.

"We evaluated the players at the tight end position which would have become available in free agency in the event we were not able to re-sign Kleinsasser and there was not one player near his caliber."

Defensively, the Minnesota Vikings were a hot and cold team last season. Off to a quick start, the defense was surprising and opportunistic. Creating turnovers and capitalizing on the miscues of the opposition provided optimism. Safeties Corey Chavous and Brian Russell were the glue that held together a questionable defensive backfield.

"In free agency last year, we looked to improve the situation at the cornerback position, which we did show some improvement, but we were not nearly as good as we thought we needed to be at the position," the source elaborated. "Having a true shutdown cornerback in this league is very important, and we did not have the ability to lock down and stop the opposition's number one receivers.

"Our number one priority heading into free agency was to obtain a shutdown cornerback to team with Brian Williams, Corey Chavous and Brian Russell in the defensive backfield."

From the onset of the free agent signing period, the Vikings were locked onto Antoine Winfield, the superb cornerback from the Buffalo Bills. Knowing the market for Winfield would be busy and high-priced, the Vikings did not want to get into a bidding contest for his services.

"We let his agent know immediately when free agency started that we were extremely interested in Antoine, and we wanted him to visit in Minnesota. The organization was up front in letting his representative know the cornerback position was a priority for us," the source said.

"When news filtered from New York that he agreed to a contract with the Jets, we really did not become concerned because his representatives assured us he would be coming into Minnesota for a visit. The negotiation process was quick and efficient. The player wanted to play here and we wanted him."

Though far from the end of re-tooling the team, the initial steps are gratifying.

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