Vikings Free Agency Has Others Scrambling

While the Vikings sign players and bring in others for visits, the free-agent circle of life in the NFL has other teams playing the waiting game and answering questions about why they lost out on players. And the Vikings await the decision of another player.

The sharks are circling outside Redskin Park, where the loss of Antonio Pierce, Fred Smoot and Laveranues Coles in the first week of free agency had fans and media commentators going wild.

The tension was palpable at the team's headquarters. At one point, coach Joe Gibbs even called a news conference to sooth the masses.

"Fred and Antonio were important players to us," Gibbs said. "We wanted to keep them. ... We made a commitment and part of our commitment as I stood up in front of the players and everybody else is that we (would) do our absolute best to keep our players together."

The prices on those two simply didn't make sense in the club's new cost structure, Gibbs explained.

"If it comes to a point where we feel like as an organization that you are going to pay somebody substantially more than somebody else is paying a similar type position on the team, obviously that would affect the team," he said.

In Pierce's case, Washington didn't want to bid higher than Marcus Washington's six-year, $22.5 million deal (Pierce got six years, $26 million from the Giants). As for Smoot, his pact could go no higher than the six-year, $31.3 million one that Shawn Springs got (Minnesota lured Smoot north with a six-year, $34 million offer).

Beneath such reasoning also is the internal thinking that assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams can find or develop a pair of players to take over for Pierce and Smoot, and that the real money in Washington needs to be spent on offense.

The fact that the Redskins finally might be getting some fiscal discipline, though, doesn't settle the natives. People outside the organization are wondering whether Gibbs needs a true general manager, and even inside the club there are surprising pockets of doubt where Gibbs once went unquestioned.

Each of the three moves could be defended on a case-by-case basis (money, money and a two-year toe injury that sapped Coles' big-play ability). But put together, they've created the first real crack in Gibbs' previously impervious CEO armor.

From Chicago: Free-agent quarterback Brad Johnson doesn't see much difference among the three teams he auditioned for before coming to Minnesota for a visit Monday.

Johnson, who led the Tampa Bay Bucs to a 48-21 victory in Super Bowl XXXVII, worked out for the Lions on Wednesday and then left for Chicago, then Miami Thursday night. He realizes he won't be the starter for any of those teams, but he still wants an opportunity to play.

"I'm on the attack mode," said the 36-year-old Johnson, who has yet to receive an offer. "I want to play; I want to be the starter. But right now there's a different situation that's been thrown (at) me. But I've played in this league, I've won in this league — won a Super Bowl at one time. I still feel like I have that in me."

Detroit is off his radar after signing Jeff Garcia. Miami is no longer a consideration because the Dolphins signed Gus Frerotte Monday. If Johnson chooses the Bears, he'll have to beat out Rex Grossman, the 22nd overall pick in 2003.

"All the situations are very similar," Johnson said. "In (Chicago's) situation, Rex has played six games. He's played pretty well when he's had a chance to play. (He's) coming off an injury (but) you want to give those guys that have been here the first chance to play, and they earn that respect. I think you have to prove your worth in this league, and I feel like I still have that."

But there are some major differences.

Johnson began last season as the Bucs' starter but was replaced by Brian Griese after going 0-4 for a poor offensive team that finished 5-11. He finished with 3 TD passes and 3 interceptions, completing 65 of 103 passes for 674 yards for a passer rating on 79.5, better than 14 NFL starters last season and also better than the four Bears: Grossman (67.9), Chad Hutchinson (73.6), Craig Krenzel (52.5) and Jonathan Quinn (53.7).

Johnson threw for his suitors to allay fears that the two-time Pro Bowl pick has lost something off his fastball.

"They've all been on the money with a lot of zip," Johnson said. "It's funny how it kind of snowballs when something is said. I still feel like I'm the same guy that played at 28. I make quick decisions, I get the ball out of my hand fast, hit my second hitch, and I'm looking for a check down, (then I) throw it away. I don't take a lot of sacks, try to get the team in manageable situations, give the team a chance to play."

In his previous three seasons with the Bucs, Johnson threw for 10,266 yards, 61 touchdowns, 38 interceptions and completed more than 60 percent of his throws each season with passer ratings of 77.7, 92.9 and 81.5.

Because he will be 37 on Sept. 13, Johnson might be more willing to accept a backup role than a younger player, but he doesn't sound like he's ready to settle for holding a clipboard full time.

"Obviously (in Chicago), Rex is the guy until something else were to happen," Johnson said. "He deserves the first chance to play, and that's kind of the way it is right now. I'll be Rex's biggest fan. But I'm not somewhere for my health. You know there's a reason (I'm still playing). I'm trying to get my second Super Bowl win, so hopefully it happens."

He would be Daunte Culpepper's backup if he signed with Minnesota and Matt Hasselbeck's backup if he signed with Seattle.

Johnson flew to Seattle Monday night to meet with Seahawks representatives and is expected to make a decision between Chicago, Minnesota and Seattle in the coming days.

From Oakland: Said wide receiver Randy Moss. "I've switched back to Number 18. That's the number I came into the NFL with. I'm going back to the number that got me into this league dangerous. I want to get back to being a dangerous football player and not just a wide receiver."

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