Free Agency, Phase Two: Offense

What's left to accomplish in filling holes on offense through free agency? There are a few positions left to fill, but really only one starting position (at fullback) if they end up with guard Steve Hutchinson. We've received some indication where they are looking.

The Vikings have made four moves that should provide new starters in signing running back Chester Taylor, linebacker Ben Leber and kicker Ryan Longwell, as well as inking Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson to a monster offer sheet that the Seahawks will have a difficult time matching.

Now comes "Free Agency: Phase Two," and indications are pointing us to where the team feels it needs to go from here.

First, the Vikings seem very pleased with the additions they made. Taylor will get first crack at the feature back role and Leber will play on the strong side. The big offer to Hutchinson was made because he was far and away the best guard available (he was the second-ranked free agent overall by before the start of the signing period).

The other option might have been to make a more aggressive move for Toniu Fonoti, who started one game for the Vikings in 2005 after injuries delayed his availability and then cut his season short. Conditioning issues and Fonoti's willingness to play in Minnesota became factors in not making a lucrative offer to him, with the team opting for the more reliable and talented Hutchinson. If the Seahawks match the offer sheet to Hutchinson following an arbitrator's ruling Monday morning, then the Vikings seem prepared to look elsewhere, likely signing Patriot free agent Stephen Neal.

But if Hutchinson ends up a Viking, that means the team could end up with one of the best left sides in an offensive line in the NFL, with Pro Bowler Matt Birk at center, Hutchinson at guard and Bryant McKinnie at left tackle. Recently signed Jason Whittle, Chris Liwienski, Adam Goldberg and Anthony Herrera are all expected to compete for a starting role at right guard. The latter three all made starts in 2005.

The Vikings are pretty well set at tight end with Jermaine Wiggins and Jim Kleinsasser the top two options, but they are searching for a fullback. They met with Packers free agent William Henderson last week, but his $3 million request for a signing bonus sent him back to Green Bay. There are plenty of other strong options available in free agency, including Seattle's Mack Strong, Kansas City's Tony Richardson and Cincinnati's Jeremi Johnson. The Vikings are showing the strongest interest in Richardson and a deal there could get earlier this week if they find value in negotiations.

With the trade of Daunte Culpepper, the Vikings are in the market for a veteran quarterback to backup Brad Johnson (they've already met with Green Bay's Craig Nall) and probably will end up drafting one in the early rounds of the 2006 draft. They originally considered Gus Frerrotte, released by Miami when the Culpepper trade went down, and Brian Griese. However, Frerotte quickly signed with St. Louis and Scott Linehan, and it appears the Vikings are concerned with Griese's injury history. That could lead to a return to Nall if he is still available when they decided to make a move.

Wide receiver has been speculated as an area of need at other media outlets, but indications we're getting is that the Vikings feel confident with their receiver corps after re-signing Koren Robinson and tendering Nate Burleson, as well as seeing a bigger role for Troy Williamson in 2006 and having Travis Taylor and possibly Marcus Robinson in reserve. The wild card is that Burleson is visiting with other teams and could receive an offer sheet from them. If the Vikings don't match an offer he might receiver, they may to need a mid-round receiver in the draft in order to replenish the youth for the future or look for some of the remaining receivers in free agency, although that list is getting pretty slim after Keyshawn Johnson.

In short, the offense appears to be pretty well set, eliminating the need to go searching for front-line starters during the rest of the free agent period besides fullback and guard (if Hutchinson isn't with the Vikings).

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