Free Agency Begins Today

The Vikings enter the 2002 free agency period this year with something they haven't seen since ... well ... ever. They have as much money to spend as just about anyone.

March 1 has been an important date in the NFL for years. It marks the beginning of free agency and, for the first time since the imposition of the salary cap, the Vikings have plenty of money to spend.

At the start of this week, 18 teams had to make cuts just to get under the cap. Just five days ago, the Ravens were $25 million over the cap, followed by Tennessee ($15.3 million), Miami ($14.5 million), Atlanta ($13.7 million) and the Jets ($11.6 million).

Meanwhile, the Vikings were $12.5 million under the salary cap. Only the expansion Houston Texans had more money to spend under the cap.

While the Vikings are still interested in using their available money to retain free agents Robert Griffith, Dale Carter, Byron Chamberlain and Kailee Wong, with none of them signed it could become more difficult to get into a bidding war with another team. However, with so many teams struggling just to get under the cap, the Vikings could find themselves in a sweet position.

VU is being told the Vikes are in no hurry to make signings, since the market is going to be so tight that a lot of signings may wait until after June 1, but an unprecedented number of big names have been exposed to free agency because of cap ramifications, including TE Ken Dilger, LB Jessie Armstead and a host of other veterans with high price tags from previous contracts.

The Vikings are hopeful of signing three of their four free agents, but have money set aside for all four, meaning if one or more signs away, it adds more money to the pool to sign other players.

In addition to having money to keep their own players, the Vikes expect to sign at least three impact players in free agency -- a defensive lineman, a wide receiver and possibly a linebacker, offensive tackle or cornerback.

After years of simply being observers in free agency, the Vikings have a chance to make a big splash and, with the climate bad for the free agent market, perhaps making a big splash.

* The Vikings re-signed FB Harold Morrow Thursday, keeping another valued special teams player and situational fullback who could see much more action next year with Jim Kleinsasser projected to move back to tight end.
* Gary Anderson may not be back next season. VU is being told that, with the release of Mitch Berger, unless the Vikings can find a punter who handles kickoff duties, it may be impossible to burn four roster spots on specialists -- a punter, long snapper, kicker and kickoff specialist. With his high price tag and shortening leg, Anderson may become the victim.
* Kicker is being viewed as a much more valued position this year. Two teams -- New England and Denver -- slapped the franchise designation on their kicker.
* Nine teams used the franchise designation this year -- historically a move that enrages players. In the history of the franchise tag, the Vikings have never exercised it on a player.
* The NFL rescinded its $7,500 fine levied against Vikings center Cory Withrow initially handed out for a takedown in the second game vs. the Bears.
* VU has been told the early plan for the 2002 schedule is to open the regular season with a Thursday night game Sept. 5 with the San Francisco 49ers playing the New York Giants on ESPN. Fortunately for the NFL, the anniversary of Sept. 11 will come on a Wednesday, which won't interfere with the NFL schedule and give the league a chance for individual reflection.
* VU has also been told that the Vikings may get snubbed by Monday Night Football, which would snap the longest active streak of consecutive years with at least one game on MNF. The Vikings have been on the Monday slate every year since 1987, the longest continuous streak of any team in the league.

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