Smoot In; More Upgrades On The Horizon?

The Vikings entered the offseason with the money to make a splash. Despite impatience from the outside, within the organization they appear to be making many of the right moves and probably have more on the way, if indications from Winter Park are accurate.

Vikings officials publicly assured the fans that they would be players in free agency, despite a delicate ownership situation. So far, so good.

The team introduced it's newest biggest signing, cornerback Fred Smoot, at a press conference this morning. Smoot, according to one report out of Washington, is a great locker room presence and his appearance Wednesday did nothing to change that opinion locally.

He is a confident cornerback and is optimistic about Minnesota's future on defense.

"It is just a big day for me," Smoot said. "Coach (Mike) Tice, he really had a lot to do with me signing with the Minnesota Vikings, the conversation I had with him and what he expressed to me, what he wanted to do on defense.

"They've had a high-powered offense these last couple of years, and now he understands that offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. Right now he is using me as part of the building block to get there. I just really love what is going on with the Minnesota Vikings right now."

The Vikings added big defensive tackle Pat Williams last Wednesday evening, on the opening day of the free-agent signing period. Then they watched as other cornerbacks and wide receivers — both positions of need — went off the open market. But their patience was rewarded early Tuesday evening with the signing of Smoot to a six-year, $34 million deal.

"What really caught my attention was them going and signing Pat Williams, and we already have Kevin Williams and Napoleon Harris," Smoot said of the Vikings building what appears to be a much better defense. " Then (Tice) said today I might spend my next pick on a defensive player. That lets me know that he is expressing his demeanor and what he loves about the defensive side of the ball. Like I said before, it wins championships."

The Vikings have publicly said they are interested in Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius, who was franchised in successive years and has been given permission to look into trade scenarios. Darius upped the ante with an e-mail to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Miami Herald, saying he thought each team would be a good fit for him.

Smoot would approve of the Vikings trading for Darius.

"That would be lovely," he said. "Any time you've got a guy like that, putting a roof over my head, it would be nice. That's a whole another story. Coach Tice said he's trying to beef up the defense; it would be a good thing to do."

In introducing Smoot, Tice said the Vikings still have work ahead of them in free agency.

"Certainly we're not finished yet. We have some other things that we are continuing to work on," Tice said. Later, he added, "We still have lots of picks. We still have lots of things in the fire free agency-wise."

Darius could be one of "things in the fire," but the hard-hitting safety would probably cost the Vikings a first- or second-round draft choice and maybe another player. Also at issue would be Darius' salary. With the franchise tag, he is scheduled to make $4.97 million in 2005 and wants a long-term deal.

With the signings of Pat Williams, Smoot and the re-signing of tight end Jermaine Wiggins, the Vikings are slowly eroding the fans' perception of being a frugal team. So far, owner Red McCombs has allowed vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski and his staff to invest in significant upgrades. Acquiring Darius would fit into that mold.

"That's going to be a different deal. That's a trade," a team source said of Darius. "You're not just going to call him out of there for free. You're going to have give up something to get him."

Is it realistic for the Vikings to dole out perhaps $5 or $6 million a year for a safety?

"It might be. I think it's still a possibility," the source said.

If they would be able to add a safety the caliber of Darius, it might spur an even more aggressive approach for defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell.

"Once I got around the coaches, Coach Cottrell, I met Coach Tice, (defensive assistant Kevin) Ross, they sold it to me," Smoot said. "Point blank, I kind of grew on them and they showed me what type of defense they want to play — and this is my type of defense. Go after people and put me on that island and I'll handle the rest."

Whether or not the Vikings can pull off a trade for Darius, at this point they've put together significant upgrades at each level of their defense — on the line with Pat Williams, at linebacker with Harris and in the secondary with Smoot.

And Smoot pairing with Winfield as the starting cornerbacks is a huge upgrade from the where the Vikings defense was a little more than one year ago, pre-Winfield. Smoot has been part of some impressive pairings in the past, but he said doesn't think there is a better pair of cornerbacks currently in the league.

"I'll go on the record as saying we will be the best tandem in the NFL," he said. "The funny thing about it is I kind of find myself lucking out and falling into those types of situations all the time. I came into the league and it was Champ Bailey and Darrell Green, and then I went on to play with Shawn Springs, and now I've got Antoine. Right now, I'm just a lucky guy."

The Vikings defensive staff has to be feeling the same way.

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