On Saturday, defensive tackle Kevin Williams became the latest player to benefit from the Vikings' aggressive in-season pursuit to lock up players whose contracts were nearing expiration.
The next came on Christmas Eve when veteran receiver Marcus Robinson was released for mysterious reasons. Robinson led the Vikings with four touchdown catches but was a surprise inactive for two games this season, including the Dec. 17 meeting with the Jets. Robinson played sparingly last Thursday against the Packers and didn't seem to ever connect with coach Brad Childress.
Named to his second Pro Bowl last week, Williams has been rewarded with a seven-year contract extension that could pay him up to $50 million and includes multi-tiered bonuses of $16 million.
Williams was under contract through 2007 but the Vikings did not want him to go into next season with the prospect of becoming a free agent. The team's desire to re-sign Williams became even greater as he returned to the form he showed in his first two seasons when he had 22 sacks.
Williams was named an All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl after an outstanding 2004, but a knee injury suffered toward the end of that season clearly he affected his performance in 2005. Part of the problem was Williams off-season workout program had been curtailed and that left him gasping for air and doubled over after many plays.
This year, though, Williams has returned to form, and combined with nose tackle Pat Williams to lead the Vikings to the NFL's No. 1 ranking in rushing defense. Kevin Williams ranks second on the Vikings with five sacks.
"Kevin has been productive as an interior player on the defensive line," Vikings coach Brad Childress said in the statement. "He's one of the building blocks of that defense. We're happy he's going to be a part of the Minnesota Vikings long into the future."
Since the start of training camp, the Vikings have signed six veterans to contract extensions worth a combined $133 million. This includes more than $47 million in guaranteed bonuses.
Four of those deals have been done with pending free agents, including two (E.J. Henderson and Jeff Dugan) this month. The list includes:
Barring any more deals being completed before Sunday, the Vikings' biggest-name unrestricted free agent this offseason will be middle linebacker Napoleon Harris. Defensive end Darrion Scott will be a restricted free agent.
As for Robinson, he was let go with one game remaining in the regular season and finishes with 29 catches for 381 yards. The Vikings were 0-5 in the games he has missed -- he sat out three because of a back injury -- and 6-4 in the games he played.