Free Agency Talk Heating Up

The Vikings are thought to be about $36 million under the salary cap, and they will surely have to spend some of that money. Here is where their priorities stand entering the start of free agency tomorrow.

The Vikings started the free-agent ball rolling by offering tenders to six of their restricted free agents. Most important among them was a higher tender of $1.43 million to cornerback Brian Williams. That means if another team bests that offer and the Vikings decide not to match it, Minnesota would receive a first-round draft pick from Williams' new team.

Expect the Vikings to have Williams on their team in 2005, but it may be in a nickel role.

Williams had an average season last year and the Vikings will be looking for value in the free-agent cornerback market, trying to find a player who can start in place of Williams but won't break the bank.

Besides trading for Oakland's Charles Woodson, which isn't likely to happen, the Vikings aren't sure that value cornerback is out there.

But cornerback isn't the only need the Vikings have entering tomorrow's start to free agency. Besides cornerback, here are probably the top three positions the team needs to fill in what is expected to be the post-Moss era.

1. Safety. Although the Vikings aren't exactly set at linebacker, the Randy Moss trade with Oakland does bring a starter in Napoleon Harris. He isn't Ray Lewis, but he'll be the Vikings' best linebacker. The team will continue to look for another linebacker, but safety, particularly at free safety, will be a big priority. Brian Russell, the starter the past two seasons, has done the best he can, but he's basically a special teamer who has overachieved mightily. The Vikings need a playmaker back there. They also need a vocal leader who can get this defense excited. The two best players on the defense, tackle Kevin Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield, hardly say a word.

2. Wide receiver. The Vikings needing a No. 1 receiver sounds as strange as the 49ers needing a No. 1 QB in the 1980s. But the post-Randy Moss era begins this offseason, assuming the trade agreement reached with Oakland doesn't hit a snag before the March 2 trading period. Nate Burleson might be able to pull off being the No. 1 receiver. He did OK in that role when Moss was hurt last season. Burleson would be an average No. 1. He's an outstanding No. 2. The rest of the receiving corps is thin with Marcus Robinson and diminutive Kelly Campbell as the only other NFL-caliber players on the roster.

3. Kicker. It's easy to overlook kicker. But the Vikings shouldn't fall into that trap for the third consecutive year. Morten Andersen is an unrestricted free agent and too old to re-sign unless it's an emergency situation. Aaron Elling, who was cut as the place-kicker and re-signed as a kickoff specialist last season, is coming off a broken leg, and might not have the emotional makeup of an NFL kicker.



UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: PK Morten Andersen; LB Chris Claiborne; C Billy Conaty; OG David Dixon; QB Gus Frerotte; DT Chris Hovan; LB Keith Newman; TE Jermaine Wiggins.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Kelly Campbell; PK Jose Cortez; OL Adam Haayer; QB Shaun Hill; S Willie Offord; FS Brian Russell.

PLAYERS LOST: CB Terrance Shaw; C Cory Withrow.

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