Draft Talks Starts Heating Up

The Vikings are making their lists and checking them twice, as players continue to move up the draft board for the April 20 college draft.

The hallways of Winter Park are pretty silent today, as coaches and staff are taking the Easter weekend off, but it doesn't mean that work is being completely ignored.

The Vikings' draft strategists are at work in the second phase of the draft planning. While the word is that the coaches and scouts have ranked players by position, now comes the time to start cross-comparisons to come up with the rankings of players regardless of position.

That is where the disagreements are starting to emerge, as different personnel people have differing opinions on players.

Perhaps no player is more indicative of that than DT Albert Haynesworth of Tennessee. After spending most of February and early March climbing up teams' draft boards, Hayneworth had a lackluster performance at the Volunteers' Pro Day workout, showing little in the way of functional weight-lifting strength -- often used as a main criterion when evaluating defensive and offensive linemen.

While some in the organization are telling us they are very interested in Haynesworth, others are expressing some doubts that he can be the real deal. But, there are other players who have emerged in the picture for the Vikes too.

Perhaps the most intriguing is whether somebody will make a trade to move ahead of the Vikings at No. 7. Houston has already begun talking to QB David Carr, and Carolina looks to have Julius Peppers in their sights. After that, it gets a little cloudy.

At No. 3, some draft analysts have the Lions taking CB Quentin Jammer, S Roy Williams or QB Joey Harrington. Buffalo could also be in the running for Harrington, but, if Buffalo signs Jeff Blake or trades for Drew Bledsoe, it seems apparent that both the Bills and San Diego at No. 5 will take big offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Mike Williams.

If the latter scenario happens, it will take OT off the board for the Vikings with their first pick and could lead to a whirlwind of trade calls, since Mike Tice has said straight out he will listen to any trade offers to stockpile draft picks.

With Dallas at No. 6, barring a trade, the Cowboys will likely grab secondary help -- either Jammer or Williams -- or a big defensive tackle to line up next to free agent signee La'Roi Glover, leaving the Vikings with a number of choices.

If Mike Williams or McKinnie should somehow fall to the Vikings, early indications are that the team would go in that direction. Roy Williams or Jammer would also be attactive alternatives. Defensive tackle is also a very real option, with Haynesworth, Tennesee teammate John Henderson, Wisconsin's Wendell Bryant and North Carolina's Ryan Sims all possibilities.

And a new name has entered the discussion -- Tennessee WR Donte Stallworth. If the Bears match the Vikings' offer for D'Wayne Bates (see below), the Vikings will consider looking at wide receiver and getting their choice of potential game-breakers, and Stallworth leads that list -- the Vikings are very impressed with his skills.

What does it all mean? As we enter the final three weeks before the draft, the Vikings are still far away from locking in on any player at No. 7 and will still be listening to trade offers.

* The Bears have until Wednesday to match the Vikings' three-year, $2.85 million offer sheet to Bates and from what we're hearing out of Chicago, while no decision has been made yet, the Bears are leaning heavily toward matching the deal. The rationale is that the team is concerned about the size of oft-injured WR Marcus Robinson's contract and that signing Bates can give the Bears the leverage to talk tough about lowering Robinson's cap number. If he balks at a lower salary, he could be released June 1 and Bates climbs up the depth chart. The Vikings didn't put a "poison pill" in the contract -- which pays a big amount of a contract in the first year to deter teams from matching offers -- and the Bears have adequate cap space to afford the deal, which is set to pay Bates $1.1 million this year.
* In an on-line poll of Bears fans in a Chicago newspaper over the weekend, of the 4,700 respondents to a poll asking if the Bears should match the offer on Bates, only 55 percent think the Bears should meet the offer sheet.
* While the Vikings are hoping to sign punter Matt Turk, Miami is still in hot pursuit and Turk isn't sitting still. He visited the New York Jets on Friday.
* The Rams have offered Mitch Berger a one-year contract, but he has yet to accept or reject the deal. Instead, he's going to visit Tampa Bay this week and is expecting an offer from the Indianapolis Colts as well.

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