Vikes As Improved As Anyone

The Vikings have been active in free agency, targeting positions they believe need to be reinforced. In the process, they may have become the favorites to win the NFC North.

Last season, the Vikings led the NFC North every week up until the infamous "Fourth-and-24" play vs. the Cardinals. It was only after that play that the Vikings were no longer in first place, losing out to the Packers for a playoff spot.

It's obvious that moment has stuck with the Vikings, as their recent free agent signings reflect a change of philosophy as well as a re-stocking of talent. Consider the following.

ANTOINE WINFIELD -- The Vikings, and several other personnel scouts rated Winfield as the top cornerback available in the free agent market. The Vikings got aggressive in signing Winfield, worked his roster bonus into the first year of his deal and are left with an All-Pro caliber talent with a relatively low cap number after this season.

JIM KLEINSASSER -- The only of their own free agents the Vikings feared losing, the team stepped up its offer to five years, $15 million and made sure Kleinsasser couldn't hit the free agent market.

MARCUS ROBINSON -- Mike Tice is convinced the Vikings haven't had a top notch WR opposite Randy Moss since Cris Carter retired. Derrick Alexander and D'Wayne Bates were both washouts. It's hoped Robinson can bring the big-play attitude needed across the line from Moss.

DARREN BENNETT -- The Vikes had one of the league's worst punters in Eddie Johnson last year. Now they go to one of the best in Bennett. His booming punts are legendary and his numbers shouldn't suffer playing most of his games in domed stadiums after spending his career kicking outdoors.

JERMAINE WIGGINS -- With the suspension and subsequent release of Byron Chamberlain last year, the Vikes were missing a key ingredient to their offense -- a pass catching tight end. Wiggins' big-game experience -- two Super Bowls in the last three years -- and ability to get downfield are keys to giving the Vikings an extra weapon on offense.

STEVE MARTIN -- The Vikes lost Fred Robbins and, while Martin is a journeyman, he is a favorite of new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and should fill the same role Robbins did the second half of last year.

The Vikes still have some holes left to fill, especially at pass rushing defensive end and linebacker, but the moves they've made in the last three weeks have sent the clear indication that this team wants to win now -- and has the personnel to do it.

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