The Fourth of July means celebrating the independence of the United States of America. In the NFL, independence comes through trades and free agency, and a number of former Vikings received their freedom of choice this offseason.
As we celebrate our country's independence from its former Motherland on this July 4, there are football players around the NFL celebrating their independence from a former team.
Some of those players were jettisoned by the Vikings; others wanted their independence. Since we spend the vast majority of the year writing about players currently with the Vikings, today we recap the players who were in purple in 2005 and now have their checks signed by someone other than Zygi Wilf and vice president of finance Steve Poppen.
When running back Michael Bennett was told that Brad Childress was a candidate to become the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, he supported the hiring of the former Wisconsin Badgers assistant. But Childress and the Vikings didn't make an attempt to keep Bennett in the fold, allowing him to sign a two-year, $5 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. Since the Saints drafted Reggie Bush, Bennett has become the subject of many trade rumors.
Wide receiver Nate Burleson didn't pander for his release from the Vikings, but when his hometown Seattle Seahawks came calling with a seven-year, $49 million offer in revenge for the Steve Hutchinson signing, Burleson, a restricted free agent, was more than happy to accept the generous offer. In reality, Burleson's contract likely will be voided after a few years, but he still probably got more from the Seahawks than he would have with the Vikings.
Safety Corey Chavous seemed unhappy with the Vikings ever since news broke about the team pursuing safety Donovin Darius last offseason—or probably more accurately, Darius was pursuing a big contract from any number of teams and tried to work the media machine for a Vikings deal. Chavous played the good soldier during the 2005 season, but when former Vikings coordinator Scott Linehan was hired as the head honcho in St. Louis and came calling on Chavous with a five-year, $16 million contract (including a $4 million signing bonus and $1 million roster bonus), it was bye-bye Chavous.
Cornerback Brian Williams, who joined Chavous in a 2005 offseason holdout of voluntary workouts to express his displeasure with the signing of Fred Smoot, was originally tagged by the Vikings as a free agent they wanted to keep. But when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed and the value of Williams' offer was raised, the Vikings elected to give Williams his freedom instead of more money. Jacksonville, with new assistant coach Mike Tice on board, signed Williams to a six-year, $32 million contract with a $10 million signing bonus.
Quarterback Daunte Culpepper worked the hardest for his independence. He and Childress just couldn't get along, and Culpepper worked the disgruntled employee angle to a T and got his wish—a trade to the Miami Dolphins. Childress wasn't happy with Culpepper's commitment (or lack thereof) to the team and to his rehabilitation of three torn ligaments in his knee, and Culpepper worked the system to get exactly where he wanted to be—close to his roots in Florida.
As the 2005 season ended, center Melvin Fowler said he wanted to be a starter, whether that was in Minnesota or not. With the return of Pro Bowler Matt Birk, Fowler's opportunity to start was going to come elsewhere, and he received a handsome contract of $7.2 million over three years from the Buffalo Bills.
Other Vikings didn't necessarily seek their independence, but the Vikings gave it to them anyway.
QB Shaun Hill was not tendered as an unrestricted free agent and eventually signed with the San Francisco 49ers.
DE Lance Johnstone signed a two-year deal with the Oakland Raiders after the Vikings showed no interest in him coming back.
The same happened to LB Keith Newman, who spent a while on the free agent market before signing with the Dolphins.
LB Raonall Smith joined Chavous and Linehan in St. Louis when he signed a relatively modest one-year, $750,000 contract.
The Vikings did sign four of their own free agents this offseason and acquired more than a dozen veteran free agents from other teams, but there were at least three—Culpepper, Chavous and Brian Williams—of their own that wanted out for various reasons and received their independence. Time will eventually be the judge on how good those decisions were.