Checkbook Opens, Players Fly In

The Vikings had the most salary-cap space of any team in the NFL, and they used the past week to dramatically change the complexion and talent level of their defense. In many cases, they got the best player available at the position, according to a team source. Now their options are wide open.

Much has been said of the Minnesota Vikings' lack of commitment in spending the funds necessary to improve the team. As stories of financial issues regarding team and owner Red McCombs are written, there is absolutely no question the organization has stepped up to the plate.

Just a week ago, fans were wondering what to expect from the Vikings in spending and attaining free agents. From many different story angles, the Vikings have been in the spotlight.

The truth is the front office of the Minnesota Vikings has done a remarkable job in re-tooling the roster. This off-season the organization has been on a mission.

Early in the free-agent signing period, the Vikings have been an active participant. Securing the services of cornerback Fred Smoot was a major coup for the team. Arguably, the Vikings can stake the claim they have one of the best starting pair of cornerbacks in the league (Antoine Winfield and Smoot), and now the team has addressed an issue at safety.

The acquisition of former Green Bay Packers standout Darren Sharper makes the entire defensive backfield of the Vikings a solid and athletic unit. Sharper, released last week in a salary-cap related move, wasted no time in jumping ship to a division rival.

Adding to the promise heading into the 2005 season, the team recently re-signed tight end Jermaine Wiggins to go along with the earlier signing of nose/defensive tackle Pat Williams.

All the activity comes on the heels of the Vikings' blockbuster trade with the Oakland Raiders featuring wide receiver Randy Moss. In dealing Moss, the Vikings may have lost a legitimate star player but received a viable player in Napoleon Harris to add to a less-than-stellar linebacker crew. With the seventh selection in the draft, which the team secured in the deal, the Vikings have the opportunity to improve most any position on the team.

"For all the talk of having a problem signing players due to the method we are utilizing in player contracts, we have had one hell of an early offseason," a team source said. "We have been able to go out and gotten the best player each position had to offer that fit the need we have.

"You look at the players we have in here — Smoot, Sharper, Williams, and Harris — we have completely changed the complexion of the defense, filled major needs, and we are not done yet."

With wide receiver Plaxico Burress and safety Donovin Darius noting a desire to join the Vikings, the team has suddenly become the one-stop shop for players looking to play for a potential winner. As the Vikings have a void at the wide receiver position with the Moss trade, the interest in the lanky former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver appears to be minimal.

Darius is an intriguing possibility, but the signing of Sharper eliminates the urgency to get a deal done for the hard-hitting defensive back, though the potential of adding yet another significant player to the Minnesota defense has to be enticing.

"Our interest in Burress and Darius is not what the interest of the player is, to put it mildly. Sure, anytime you have an opportunity to add complementary pieces to the puzzle, you take notice, but neither are considered a priority or must-have player," the team source said.

With an enormous amount of space available under the salary cap, the Vikings forged ahead this off-season. The quality of player acquisition has been solid, and on paper this Minnesota team appears to be a much-improved entity.

With the ability of a strong Minnesota front office making deals and McCombs opening up the checkbook, the Vikings have left the remainder of the NFC North division on the outside looking in at a much improved team … even if it is on paper at this time.


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