The Vikings have been a busy bunch of campers this past week. Getting rookie draft selections under contract and raising the anticipation level for the team and fans as the 2002 training camp opens.
As this column spoke of last week, the Vikings would have all of their draft selections from the third round on under contract this week. The real issue is when offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and linebacker Raonall Smith will come to terms with the team.
The Insiders has learned that third round draft choice, defensive back Willie Offord, has agreed in principle to a contract and will be in camp on time.
Late last week The Insiders had learned that Smith was close to an agreement with the Vikings on a four-year deal and he is expected to be signed early next week.
McKinnie, on the other hand, is a quite puzzling story as told to The Insiders by a source close to McKinnie.
"Bryant (McKinnie) is ready to go, he is eager to continue to work and make his mark in the NFL, in Minnesota," the source said. "There are things happening with his contract talks that have slowed the process down that his representatives are not comfortable with.
"Minnesota is only offering Bryant (McKinnie) a contract comparable to that of last year's seventh selection in the draft, with a very minimal increase in overall dollars. The one problem is that they (the Vikings) have put some money into bonuses that would make the contract less in value to that of the seventh slot from 2001 if he weren't to achieve them."
League sources that monitor high-profile draft signings offer a differing opinion of the circumstances surrounding the negotiations between the Vikings and representatives for McKinnie.
"A player and their representatives have argued for years that because a player was paid at a certain level in the same drafted spot a year previously should not be a lock for a similar deal," the source said. "The Vikings have offered McKinnie a better deal than that of the 2001 seventh selection, but representatives for McKinnie are looking for money more in line of the fourth or fifth selection in the draft."
"What they are doing right now is trying to drive the market price up at the draft slot. The players drafted around McKinnie in the 2002 draft, Ryan Sims a defensive tackle at number six and Roy Williams a safety drafted at number eight have yet to come close to closing deals with their teams. It is obvious that the representatives are attempting to raise the bar for their clients, but the one problem is that many teams cannot afford to pay an extra 20 percent above the slotted rate to these players. For one, teams do not have the salary cap space available and the rookie pool money available will not permit a team to break the bank on one or two players."
All told, a representative close to the Vikings believes the chances of getting McKinnie into camp on time with the rookies is remote. Negotiations are continuing and a compromise is expected late next week.
Players To Watch: A player personnel evaluator in the NFC North Division dropped some interesting tidbits on this column this past week regarding Vikings players to watch in the 2002 season.
"Look for wide receiver D'Wayne Bates to emerge as a very viable component in the Vikings offense. He is a player that needed time to develop and should achieve in Minnesota."
"Head coach Mike Tice is a no-nonsense guy, with his attitude and coaching, the offensive line will become more physical. Running back Michael Bennett has been told that he is not there to be Robert Smith and the team will utilize his talents better."
"The signing of defensive back Corey Chavous was the biggest deal they (the Vikings) made in the off-season. He is a hitter that has the ability to play safety. The Vikings should have retained Robert Griffith to team with Chavous, that secondary would have been much improved, but Chavous is an upgrade over the displaced Dale Carter and Orlando Thomas."