Countdown Begins to June 1

The countdown begins to Saturday, as the final stage of free agency begins and, with more money than most NFL teams, the Vikings are ready to fill a couple more holes through the newly created free agent market.

There have already been a record number of free agents changing teams this off-season in the NFL and, with a dozen signings, the Vikings have been among the most active of any team out there.

But, there is one remaining stage of free agency -- the final scramble that begins June 1 when NFL teams start ridding themselves of expensive veterans to come under salary cap limits in order to sign rookies. With the Vikings still budgeting about $4-5 million for additional signings under the cap, it is expected that at least a couple more signings -- potentially starters on both sides of the ball -- will be included after June 1.

Whether you're a nationally syndicated NFL reporter based out of New York or sending out Internet missives from cow towns, the names and potential signings are numerous and the debate over who will get released and where they may end up has been the topic of considerable offseason debate and discussion. For the Vikings, it starts with wide receiver.

The talk has been rampant around Minnesota for weeks that the Vikings have their sites set on Derrick Alexander, but others in consideration are likely cap casualties Keenan McCardell from Jacksonville or Antonio Freeman from Green Bay. To date, few teams have jumped at Alexander, while McCardell is in the cross-hairs of three or more teams, which may preclude the Vikings from getting in a bidding war.

Other positions that may yet be addressed are safety and linebacker. While the Vikings have made significant signings in both areas, there is still room for improvement and, as the June 1 date comes and goes, players may be willing to lower their demands and the Vikings could looking at filling needs at bargain prices.

We've said for years that there really is no offseason in the NFL anymore. Saturday starts the next wave of activity, and expect Winter Park to be buzzing as the Vikings put the final tuning on the lineup that will take the field when it all starts up in August for the 2002 season.

SUNDAY NOTES
* A team source has said the Vikings, as of now, are expected to be about $27 million under the 2003 salary cap -- a whopping total that is by far the most in the league. Seattle is currently second with about $18 or $19 million. Even considering that Priority One after this season will be to lock Daunte Culpepper into a long-term deal, seeing how contracts are structured, even after signing Culpepper, the Vikings will still likely have $20 million or more available for free agency as they take the fast track to reversing the fortunes of 2001.
* OT Lewis Kelly has been very impressive in NFL Europe, where he plays for the Frankfurt Galaxy. Before drafting Bryant McKinnie, Mike Tice hinted that Kelly could be his starting left tackle -- his confidence was that high. All reports coming from Europe are that Kelly is improving his technique quickly and may have a future at right tackle once he returns.
* Neither Gary Anderson nor special teams coach Gary Zauner are with the Vikings anymore, but both will continue to run Anderson's kicking camp at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. The camp gets underway June 8 and Anderson, one of the true class people in the NFL, may continue to make his home in the Twin Cities and continue doing such camps into the future. For those interested in his kicking camp, information can be obtained by calling 1-800-228-5613.
* Moe Williams is already being mentioned as a potential short-yardage/goal-line back for the Vikings in 2002.
* With the retirement of Cris Carter, even if the Vikings land Derrick Alexander, much of the passing load is expected to be shifted to the two tight ends that will be part of most base packages. Tice feels both Jim Kleinsasser and Byron Chamberlain could be 50+ catch receivers this season.
* For those worried about Red McCombs moving the team, keep this in mind: he has owned two professional teams before buying the Vikings -- the NBA's San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets. When he sold both of them, he did so to local buyers and, if he is frustrated, he will give serious consideration to selling to local interests -- at a profit, of course. With the potential legal problems he could face if he tries to relocate to Los Angeles -- both from the local authorities who believe they have an air-tight agreement signed by then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle or the other owners, who may not want to surrender the Los Angeles market just to benefit a new member to the old boy's network -- the initial "the sky is falling" mentality that accompanied last week's announcement of McCombs being upset with the Legislature not doing enough to get a new stadium moving is dying down and perhaps cooler heads are starting to get their voices heard. The Vikings are still here and it will be very difficult for anyone -- McCombs or a new owner -- to move the team.

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