Wiggins The Forgotten Man Of Free Agency?

The accolades are flowing toward Winter Park after the acquisition of defenders Pat Williams, Napoleon Harris, Fred Smoot and Darren Sharper and the return of Brad Johnson on offense, but the Vikings also signed one of their own last week. The re-signing of tight end Jermaine Wiggins keeps consistency and pass-receiving production on board, and Wiggins and the Vikings are equally as pleased.

Last year, the Vikings had re-signing tight end Jim Kleinsasser as their top priority in (or before) free agency. This year, the Vikings' top priority was upgrading the defense, but they also wanted to keep their top regular-season pass-catcher in the fold.

After testing the free-agent waters, tight end Jermaine Wiggins officially returned to the team last week in a deal that works well for both sides.

"If you would have told me five years ago that I would get this deal (five years, $7.3 million), I would have said you were crazy," said Wiggins, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and was given little chance of succeeding in the league.

Wiggins signed a one-year deal with the Vikings last off-season in hopes of proving himself as a reliable pass-receiving tight end. After spending time with the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, he thought the Minnesota Vikings offered him the best opportunity to do that, and they probably did.

Wiggins easily eclipsed his career totals with 71 catches in 2004, becoming the team's leading receiver in the regular season, and added five catches in two playoff games.

"What we do here is ideal for him. We've seen that with players. There is more to life than money," said Paul Wiggin, the Vikings' director of pro personnel. "He ended up being a great player for us, a really productive player."

The Vikings weren't so sure they'd have a chance to reunite with Wiggins. The organization and Wiggins tried to reach an agreement before free agency started on March 2, but the two sides had different views of worth before he hit the open market.

When the Vikings started exploring their other options by visiting with Freddie Jones, a free-agent tight end with the Arizona Cardinals, and talked about bringing in the Seahawks' Itula Mili for a visit, suddenly things heated up on the Wiggins contract front.

Before Jones had a chance to visit his next option, the Vikings and Wiggins had agreed to terms.

Wiggins wasn't surprised it took more than a week into free agency to get it settled.

"You know that's how the business is. Nothing is ever on time so it's kind of like everybody in the NFL is fashionably late. That's just the way it is," the tight end said.

The interest in Jones was serious, however.

"Freddie Jones is probably a little better blocker, but the position we had Wiggins in last year wasn't really a blocking position," Wiggin said. "You've got to believe that Kleinsasser is going to come back and be healthy. I think Wiggins is a good receiver. I think he is a great fit for what we do here."

The blocking aspect might not be as critical to Wiggins this year. Kleinsasser, considered an excellent seal blocker, is expected to return to full strength, along with right tackle Mike Rosenthal. Those two additions alone should improve the blocking game on the edges.

And Wiggins doesn't worry that Kleinsasser's return might take reception opportunities away from him.

"My expectations are to just keep going out there and helping the team and making plays. I think me and Jimmy are going to be a terrific tandem and we'll be able to do a lot of different things. So, I don't see anything different, just going out there and making plays and doing what they expect me to do which is making plays every Sunday," Wiggins said.

And what about not having Randy Moss stretching the field down the sidelines?

"I definitely think you're going to lose an explosive guy, but we proved last year when he was out for five games that we still can put up 30-plus points and still be in the top of the NFL in total yardage," Wiggins said. "We're obviously going to lose an explosive player, but there are still guys on this team that are going to make plays — Nate (Burleson), Marcus (Robinson), Pep (Daunte Culpepper), who is a tremendous leader as our quarterback. Guys are just going to have to step up and that's what it comes down to."

The return of Kleinsasser and Rosenthal is expected to help on the offensive side of the ball, and Wiggins and his 71 catches from 2004 can't be forgotten when discussing the Vikings' successful foray into the 2005 free-agent market.

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