Last year, the Vikings set their offseason priorities as such: re-sign tight end Jim Kleinsasser and sign free-agent cornerback Antoine Winfield.
Winfield had Pro Bowl numbers, even if he didn't make the honorary game. As the Vikings' biggest outside free-agent signing to that point, team personnel have never been disappointed in his work ethic or production.
So when the Vikings brought in former Washington Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot on Tuesday, they felt he compared favorably to last year's big signing at cornerback, rewarding him with a six-year deal believed to be worth $34 million with a $10.8 million signing bonus – very comparable to Winfield's deal last year.
"I think he's a good, little player. He's not a big guy. He's 170-some pounds. But he's a ballhawk, he's tough, he's got a chip on his shoulder, he believes in himself," a team source said of Smoot. "He's probably the same kind of attitude that we got from Winfield a year ago. He was one of the guys that we identified that could come and truly make a difference in the defense, which we need. He's a good tackler. He's not going to go up and stack up a guard at 170-some pounds. Neither does Winfield, but Winfield make a lot of tackles."
The Vikings had shown interest in former Seattle cornerback Ken Lucas, who signed last week with Carolina and Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson, who was franchised by the Raiders before he hit the open market.
So if Smoot didn't sign with the Vikings, who was the next cornerback on their radar?
"I don't think he (anyone) was there. I don't think we'd have upgraded ourselves," the source said, explaining how much the Vikings thought of Smoot's ability. " Lucas is gone. The Raiders franchised their guy. If you're trying to do something special for your football team, you might draw the line at Smoot."
The Vikings certainly could have entered the season with Antoine Winfield and Brian Williams as their starting cornerbacks. Or they could have entered April's draft with cornerback as a high position of need. If they hadn't signed Smoot, the other available cornerbacks on the free-agent market might not have been an upgrade over Williams, who was tendered as a restricted free agent.
"Your not going to upgrade this team by fractionalizing the position up an inch. Who knows if that guy (the other cornerbacks on the market) is going to play as good for you anyways. Maybe your guy will play better anyway," the source said.
Former New England Patriots cornerback Ty Law is still on the market, but he's coming off of recent foot surgery and that scared away the Vikings. "I think you'd have to watch out, and that's part of our deal here. We try to look into chemistry and durability, big-play skills. There are a lot of factors you have to have in looking for somebody. You have to know exactly what you're doing and what you're getting, and there are still no guarantees."
The Kansas City Cheifs were just waiting for Smoot to fly out of Minneapolis and visit them Tuesday night. He skipped one flight while negotiating with the Vikings before he finally signed. The Chiefs are expected to bring in Law on Wednesday.
There were also rumors that the Vikings might be looking to trade for disgruntled Miami Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain, but that wasn't a prevalent option at Winter Park, according to our source.
So the Vikings found convincing flaws with each of the cornerbacks left, but Smoot offered much in many areas, including his attitude, according to the source. "Cocky -- that's what people say about him. He's believes in himself, and I think that's pretty important at that position. You've got to back it up, but you've got to believe too."
"In our research, he's really a good person."
Vikings Pushed Hard To Sign Smoot
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