Vikings Looking For Value

The Vikings made a splash at a position that was limited in talent when they signed defensive tackle Pat Williams. But with their other positions of need, the market is still holding a number of options, allowing the team to look for value. We take a look at the top interests still out there.

Linebacker Chris Claiborne agreed to a five-year deal with the St. Louis Rams on Thursday. After missing four games with a calf injury in 2004, Claiborne became expendable to the Vikings when they agreed to trade Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for two draft picks and linebacker Napolean Harris. Harris is more of a strongside linebacker in the Vikings' estimation and is younger, cheaper and probably more athletic than Claiborne.

The two are similar players in that each can play either middle linebacker or on the strong side. Claiborne signed a three-year deal to play middle linebacker.

With wide receiver Derrick Mason off the board, the Vikings are showing stronger interest in Pittsburgh Steelers free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Burress' name surfaced as a possibility late Wednesday, once Mason signed with Baltimore. But as time has passed, there have been more hints that the Vikings are seriously considering Burress.

Head coach Mike Tice said he would have to do a character check on a free-agent wide receiver that the Vikings are considering. That would most likely fall on Burress' reputation in Pittsburgh as a sometimes-lazy receiver who drops too many passes.

Burress had his lowest output of the last four years in 2004, catching only 35 passes for 698 yards while playing in only 11 games. He had back-to-back career highs in 2001 and 2002, catching 66 passes for 1,008 yards and 78 catches for 1,325 yards respectively.

Burress is the last remaining high-quality wide receiver on the free-agent board after Mason signed and T.J. Houshmandzadeh re-signed with the Cincinatti Bengals.

The Vikings also have the option of making an offer to Ravens free-agent receiver Travis Taylor, who visited the Vikings Thursday. Tice said Taylor's agent contacted the Vikings because the wide receiver thinks he'd be a good fit with the Vikings offense. If the Vikings would sign Taylor, a first-round pick in 2000, he probably would be used a No. 3 receiver. His best season came in 2002, when he caught 61 passes for 869 yards and started 15 games. Like Burress, Taylor's lowest output of the last four years was in 2004, when he caught 34 passes for 421 yards.

The more Tice drops the name of Southern California wide receiver Mike Williams, who might be a candidate for the Vikings to select with the seventh overall pick in Apirl's draft, the more his repeated references seem like a red herring.

Tice said the Vikings are confident Burleson could be a No. 1 receiver if necessary.

On defense, the Vikings had to move quickly with their only free-agent signing to date because Pat Williams and Jason Ferguson were the only high-quality defensive tackles on the free-agent market when it opened Wednesday. When Ferguson was signed quickly by the Dallas Cowboys Wednesday, the Vikings knew they needed to sign Williams if they wanted to make a significant move to upgrade their defensive line.

The market isn't dwindling quite so quickly on top talent at the Vikings' other positions of need.

At cornerback, the Vikings have shown an interest in Andre Dyson of the Titans and Ty Law of the Patriots, while other high-quality options like Samari Rolle (Titans), Fred Smoot (Redskins) and Gary Baxter (Ravens) are still available. Charles Woodson and Ken Lucas, two of the top three cornerbacks according to a Vikings source before the market opened, are no longer available via free agency. Lucas, formerly of Seattle, signed with Carolina on Thursday. Woodson signed a $10.5 million tender from the Raiders, but Oakland has reportedly been looking to trade him to create more cap space. That price tag is probably too much for the Vikings to spend, according to one team source.

Safety is another area of need for the Vikings, but only one of the top eight safeties, according to Scout.com's rankings of the position, has been signed. Donovin Darius, the top safety that was franchised by the Jaguars, is looking for a trade and the Vikings are thought to be monitoring that situation.

At kicker, the target most often mentioned in Vikings circles, Atlanta's Jay Feely, is still available, as are the rest of the top five kickers in Scout.com's rankings.

According to one Vikings source, the team will continue to look for value in the market and expects to add a few more free agents in the coming weeks. However, that source said they can't manufacture players, meaning the team won't pay top dollar for a free agent who isn't a top-quality player.

In other Vikings-related free-agent news, former Vikings safety Robert Griffith is visiting Dennis Green and the Arizona Cardinals. Griffith, a strong safety, was recently released by the Cleveland Browns.

The Cardinals also signed former Vikings cornerback Rhett Nelson and running back Larry Ned, both who played deep reserve roles with Minnesota last year at their respective positions.


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