Vikings Contemplate Free Agents

The Vikings aren't saying exactly who they prefer among the players expected to hit free agency tomorrow, but they know who the top players are at their respective positions. A team source gave us that much at a couple of key positions of interest.

With the Vikings' desire to improve their standing in a number of areas comes the in-depth look into free agency. Near the top of the priority list is the cornerback position, where the Vikings offered a $1.43 million, first-round tender to restricted free agent Brian Williams but still want an upgrade.

Several intriguing prospects are out there for the taking — to the highest bidder, of course.

The Vikings know their top three prospects. Aside from recently released and still-injured Ty Law, the free-agent market is likely to render three top prospects — Washington's Fred Smoot, Baltimore's Gary Baxter and Seattle's Ken Lucas — when free agency starts tomorrow. Oakland is also shopping franchise cornerback Charles Woodson in a trade.

"Those are guys that are recognized to be good players," a Vikings source said of Smoot, Baxter and Lucas. "I think Woodson is the best player out there and he was franchised."

Woodson surprised the Raiders by signing his tender for $10.5 million, and now Oakland may be looking to move him via trade because they are in a bad salary cap situation.

Even if he is the best player available, that price tag may keep the Vikings from feeling he's worth it.

"He's a good football player, but I don't know if there's anybody worth $10.5 million," the source said. "And with the Vikings, is that ever going to happen?"

The Washington Redskins have reportedly all but given up on retaining Smoot, partly because they are stretched by the salary cap and partly because they have other priorities in free agency and trade possibilities.

Baxter is a big, physical cornerback who was reportedly being considered for the Ravens' franchise tag. He may not be that good — which would have cost them $8.816 million — but he will certainly create a lot of interest in free agency.

Lucas has somewhat flown under the radar as far as garnering heavy mention in talks of the NFL's best cornerbacks. Like Smoot with the Redskins, he is a solid cover cornerback, but his team had plenty of other priorities when it came to free agency, doling out contracts to players like Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck.

Cornerback is also considered one of the deepest positions in this year's draft, so that is another route the Vikings could take in upgrading the position.

Defensive tackle isn't considered that deep in the draft, and neither are there a lot of big names available in free agency. But Vikings coach Mike Tice is on record saying he'd like to upgrade the position this offseason.

With Chris Hovan expected to be gone via free agency and Spencer Johnson thought of more as a reserve or part-time starter, the Vikings will be looking to add more of a pure nose tackle next to Kevin Williams.

Two stand out to the Vikings in free agency.

"The names are (the New York Jets' Jason) Ferguson, and he's probably going to sign with the Jets. (Buffalo's) Pat Williams has been around a while, a big nose tackle," the Vikings team source said. "I don't know that we can dramatically improve what we have with what's out there. We might be able to, but I don't know that we can."

If safety is a concern, the Vikings have many options. Strong safety Corey Chavous is under contract for only one more year, and restricted free agents Brian Russell and Willie Offord both come with question marks. Denver's Kenoy Kennedy, an unrestricted free agent, is said to be an interest of the Vikings, but he is known more for his hard hitting and run support than his support in pass coverage.

With $36 million in salary cap room expected to be at the Vikings' disposal tomorrow, they have so many options it's mind-boggling. But with the ownership situation in doubt, their task will be more difficult than ever.

"Our (philosophy) is business as usual. Let's go after it like we did a year ago and take the same attitude. Let's do all the same legwork," the team source said.


The Vikings do have a few quality free agents of their own, like linebacker Keith Newman and tight end Jermaine Wiggins. They also released backup center Cory Withrow and were hoping to re-sign him at a lesser price. What are the possibilities of signing them?

"We're going to try to get those done. But if they go out in free agency and get something better, more than we feel they're worth, then that's the way it is," the source said. "Some of them really want to see what they're worth in the market. Wiggins is probably going to look around. Withrow is probably going to look around."


Besides the Randy Moss trade to Oakland, another area the Vikings can look to deal is at running back. The backfield is loaded with talent in Michael Bennett, Onterrio Smith, Mewelde Moore and Moe Williams.

But each of those players comes with questions, and that makes a trade a bit risky. One rumor that seems unlikely but has nevertheless surfaced is dealing Michael Bennett to Miami for cornerback Patrick Surtain. Unlike the Moss trade, the Vikings would seem to get the better deal there.

Still, it seems unrealistic from a value standpoint and much more of a rumor than reality, and the Vikings may be satisfied with holding onto their own at that position anyway.

"Mike (Tice) indicated that he was very, very happy with the depth situation of his running backs," the source said. "He felt that was in place, so we really haven't addressed (a trade)."

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