Vikings Readying For Free Agency

The Vikings may have the salary cap room to spend and an owner willing to dish out the dough, but that doesn't mean they are committed to an all-out shopping spree.

The Minnesota Vikings are expected to enter the March free agency period with an estimated $25 million under the NFL-imposed salary cap. That cap number is expected to approach nearly $90 million this year and could go over $100 million in the next year or two.

For now, however, the Vikings are reportedly in the best cap shape of any team in the league with an owner who is on the record that money won't be an obstacle to acquiring free agents.

"I think everyone here who has gotten to know me knows that my goal is to get a championship here," owner Zygi Wilf said earlier this month. "I will do whatever it takes within the guidelines. Money will not be an object to get myself a championship."

Wilf's comments came before the hiring of new head coach Brad Childress, who might be putting a damper on fans that expect the organization to just go and throw money around. Team chemistry is an important aspect, as Childress found out last year in dealing with discontented wide receiver Terrell Owens in Philadelphia. And, Childress said, there isn't a direct correlation between winning teams and the biggest spenders on free agency.

"We certainly have enough ammo financially, but I don't think you spend just to spend. In the free agent business the last few years, we've done lots of studies on (teams) that spend in free agency and there isn't any direct correlation to winning and how much you spend. Those things really don't line up necessarily. I just think it's a whole need thing – does the guy fit athletically and also does he fit personality-wise, as much as anything team-wise," Childress said. "Have I been given any indication? We'll do what we need to do, but again I'll just say it's a thing where you feel like you're getting a guy at the right value.

"There is always that initial wave of free agency and then things slow down. Then you see that the market kind of gets established a little bit. Nothing says you've got to run out the first day and go shopping. There may be those guys that you're really eyeing as you go 10 days, two weeks, three weeks into free agency."

Last year, the Vikings rode both waves, the initial wave of free agency and then a few weeks later. It started with the signing of nose tackle Pat Williams to a three-year, $13 million contract about 18 hours into free agency. Williams turned out to be one of the team's best defensive players last year.

Then they pursued former Washington Redskins middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who reportedly was scared away by the Vikings' request to defer his signing bonus until the summer, when Red McCombs wouldn't be on the hook for paying it.

The busy month of March continued with the signing of free agent cornerback Fred Smoot, formerly of the Redskins, to a six-year, $30 million deal. The Vikings had inquired about several top cornerbacks during the first week of free agency, and Smoot may have been the last option to really try to upgrade.

It continued with the acquisition of safety Darren Sharper, quarterback Brad Johnson and wide receiver Travis Taylor, as well making a trade for middle linebacker Sam Cowart.

The Vikings were aggressive initially and found value later in March, and they could follow that same approach this offseason.

Childress must first decide which of his own free agents he wants to keep, and he has 16 unrestricted free agents to consider – QB Shaun Hill, RBs Michael Bennett and Moe Williams, WR Koren Robinson, OL Cory Withrow, Melvin Fowler and Toniu Fonoti, DE Lance Johnstone, LBs Keith Newman, Raonall Smith and Cowart, CBs Ralph Brown and Brian Williams and safeties Corey Chavous and Willie Offord, as well as kicker Paul Edinger.

"I do feel like if you want to keep some of those guys, you should probably take care of the guys that are in-house," Childress said.

A new director of player personnel likely would influence some of those decisions, and Childress might like to see that decision made soon so he and the director could start plotting the scouting process, from next week's Senior Bowl to the NFL combine in late February to free agency in March to the NFL draft in April. Childress, however, is expected to have the most say in the personnel triumvirate that includes vice present of football operations Rob Brzezinski.

"You're going to have the combine that comes up here… you're going to kind of be in lock step for certain parts of the days where you're looking at players together when you're getting closer to the draft," Childress said about working with a new personnel director. "I think the first thing is what your needs are team-wise, where do you need to augment things, where do you need to pop a young guy in there because you're getting a little bit older or you don't have a player there. I think those needs will be pretty easy to ascertain. You spend a lot of time looking at tape together. That doesn't mean you always agree, but you kind of can see, ‘Oh, OK, that's the kind of guy you're looking for in this offense. That's a kind of guy you need to have there at that position. (Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin has) got some strong ideas, too, in terms of what specifically they need in terms of defensive line, linebackers, secondary, so Mike will be actively involved with this too."

The chain of command seems to be set and the purse strings at the ready. Now the team just has to wait until March to see which free agents make it to market.

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