The Vikings head into the final four-game stretch of the 2005 regular season with high hopes of keeping their current winning streak alive and making a push to the playoffs. But behind the scenes, these final four games could go a long way to determining what potential free agents will be staying or going following the season.
In all, the Vikings have more than a dozen unrestricted free agents -- Michael Bennett, Ralph Brown, Corey Chavous, Sam Cowart, Paul Edinger, Toniu Fonoti, Melvin Fowler, Shaun Hill, Lance Johnstone, Keith Newman, Willie Offord, J.T. O'Sullivan, Raonall Smith, Brian Williams, Moe Williams and Cory Withrow.
While the team went on a spending binge last year and, thanks to getting Randy Moss' signing bonus off the books after the 2005 season, they should have money to spend in the free agent market. But the bigger question is how much of their money are they willing to spend to keep their own guys?
Barring huge offers from other teams, Brown, Edinger, Fonoti, Fowler, Newman, Offord and Smith will all likely be re-signed. But as for the rest of free agent crop, it's anyone's guess.
For the last year, there has been talk of Bennett potentially reuniting with Dennis Green in Arizona. Both Chavous and Williams sat out the team's minicamps in protest of not getting their contracts restructured -- which means at a minimum they're likely to test the free agent waters. Cowart and Johnstone have been key contributors to the improved Vikings defense, but if they command too much money, they too could become casualties of the cap.
The biggest concern could be Nate Burleson, a restricted free agent. The Vikings can tender him a first-round offer, but for teams with picks late in the round that are starving at wide receiver, that could be enough to have them formulate an offer sheet that could be difficult for the Vikings to match.
In the end, if the Vikings play well in the final four weeks, much of the staff -- both on the field and off -- will likely be retained. But fans that are hoping the team spends like drunken sailors again this off-season may be in for a surprise. If anything, the Vikings are likely to allocate resources primarily to keep what they already have and not go outside the organization to load up again.
* Mewelde Moore is expected to start Sunday, but Bennett is expected to share some of the time. Bennett was removed from the injury report with an ankle sprain Friday.
* Erasmus James was added to the injury report with a right knee injury. He's listed as probable.
* Longtime VU contributor Judd Zulgad has the cover story in this week's issue of USA Today's Sports Weekly on the resurgence of the Vikings.
* In a recent copy of Pro Football Weekly, the magazine listed the best and worst free agent signings and trades of 2005. Two of the three worst moves were credited to the Vikings -- No. 1 was the signing of Fred Smoot and No. 3 was the trading for Napoleon Harris.
* Onterrio Smith is saying all the right things in hopes of returning to the team after the season. Because of his suspension, he's still technically under contract with the team for two more years.
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