Team Officials Well Aware Of Budget Constraints

The Vikings will have all kinds of options during the 2005 edition of free agency, but team officials know all too well that their budget will limit the full extent of what they can do. They saw that philosophy in action last year as they were forced to watch playmakers pass them by.

Being a Minnesota Vikings fan may be a tough proposition this time of year. In spite of themselves on many occasions, the Vikings advanced to the Divisional Playoff round this season. For many a team, this would be recognized as a significant accomplishment.

Within the ranks of the Vikings' organization, the playoff appearance and subsequent loss to the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles is really just an afterthought. Another talented Vikings team suffered through another midseason crisis, a meltdown if you will. The 2004 Minnesota Vikings may go down in history as a team that let its golden opportunity slip away.

Questions regarding the status of head coach Mike Tice and his contract were evident. Would the known tight-fist owner Red McCombs open up the vault and let vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski spend some of the available millions of salary-cap dollars at the team's disposal? Did the organization do enough on the defensive side of the ball to let this team have a realistic chance of being a serious contender?

No, the organization failed miserably.

"Again, it is the customary story here. While we have a significant amount of space under the cap to sign players, we do not come close to utilizing the tools to make the playing field level," a team source said. "There were questions about our strength, depth, and overall ability at linebacker. Questions about the weakside and middle were prevalent, and we did not do much to improve upon our position.

Look at the teams (New England, Philadelphia) which remain in playoff contention…. Good defensive football teams, with some being very opportunistic and physical. In Philadelphia, they were having significant issues stopping the run until Jeremiah Trotter stepped into the middle midway through the season."

Trotter was a free agent looking for a team heading into the 2004 season. Released by the Washington Redskins following a successful run with the Eagles, many in the game questioned if Trotter had the ability to be a top-quality middle linebacker any longer. Others wondered if the Washington defensive scheme was not a good fit for the active and spirited Trotter.

"Things didn't work out in Washington as I would have liked. Injuries were a part of the problem, coming to a new system and hurting my knee was a huge setback," Trotter said after his release from the Redskins. "I would like to stay in the NFC. There has been some interest from a few teams, but until they know I am healthy, nothing will happen."

The Vikings, looking for a veteran to solidify the middle of the linebacker corps showed a mild interest in Trotter. With an obvious need at linebacker, defensive end and cornerback heading into the 2004 free-agent signing period, the Vikings recognized the issues and players that could accelerate the performance of the team.

"There was an interest in Trotter, but he was coming off another knee injury and we weren't sure if he still could play the game at its highest level. Looking at him on film, he didn't appear to be the same player as he was in Philadelphia (the first time around)," the source said. "In the end, we didn't make a move on him because we were looking at developing the youth on the roster and was not in the position to take on an additional salary that was deemed ‘not necessary.'"

While an opportunity to sign a veteran linebacker that had been successful in the game passed, unanswered questions remain regarding the Vikings' non-attempt to solidify the defensive end position.

"Our priority heading into the last offseason was to improve the overall defense. Cornerback was the position we established as the priority, followed by defensive end and linebacker. With the numbers we had to work with, getting a top-notch cornerback was what we really had the budget to secure, and that was Antoine Winfield," the team source continued. "Winfield was an acquisition we believed would make an immediate impact on our defense and he did. He had a solid season and proved to be a solid shutdown corner for us. As a whole, the defense was not nearly as opportunistic as it was in the 2003 season, but we improved.

"There was not a single personnel type within the organization that didn't want to get a defensive end like Jevon Kearse in free agency. He would have been such a force, a complement to what we have been trying to get done here; he is the type of defensive end we want."

Evaluating the roster and planning for the season, the organization seemed satisfied to make a quick splash in free agency and depend on developing players from within. The Minnesota organization, known for its questionable commitment when dollars and cents are involved, can't shake the premise of being cheap, if such is possible in the National Football League.

"Bottom line, we only have so much (dollars) to work with and we do what we can with the figures that come down from the owner of the team (Red McCombs). If approval would have been given to seek a Kearse or Wistrom (Seattle), you don't think we wouldn't have explored those options? Getting a pass-rushing end is a key, a benchmark to a winning team or good defense," the source stated. "No, we weren't in the position to make a run at a high-profile defensive end. So, take a look, we selected a defensive end in the draft. This is how we have to do business."

At last look, Trotter and Kearse are on their way to Jacksonville to play in the Super Bowl. As for Wistrom, he had an injury-marred 2004 season for the Seahawks. … And that defensive end the Vikings selected in the draft, Kenechi Udeze, may have to undergo shoulder surgery this off-season.

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