It might be a good thing for the Vikings that center isn't one of their pressing needs this offseason.
Two of the better established centers went off the board before it every really got established. New England's Dan Koppen singed a five-year contract extension that included a $7.5 million bonus and Seattle's Robbie Tobeck announced his retirement.
With Matt Birk making his fifth Pro Bowl this month and the Vikings' long-term plans for surprise second-round pick Ryan Cook still uncertain, center isn't a top priority. Birk's days in the NFL may be numbered by his own choice, but as long as he's still producing at a high level – which he is – he should have a place on the roster. He is signed through the 2008 season.
The selection of Cook in the second round last year shocked nearly everyone not in the team's war room, and that included Cook himself, who wasn't expecting to be picked so early in the draft. The Vikings originally slated Cook as Birk's backup, and he worked at center during minicamps and developmental camps, but during the latter part of the preseason he began to make the transition to right tackle, where he started the final two games of the season.
Jason Whittle, an unrestricted free agent who filled in at guard, can also play center.
The Vikings definitely have in-house options, but here are some of the free-agent centers that could hit the market on March 2.
Shaun O'Hara, New York Giants – The Giants would like to re-sign O'Hara and have been discussing contract numbers with his agent. O'Hara has been a full-time starter with the Giants and Browns the last five years.
Andre Gurode, Dallas Cowboys – Gurode has spent his entire five-year career with the Cowboys and has started 60 of the 76 games played, with 14 of those non-starts coming in 2004. He was named to the Pro Bowl team as an injury replacement, and the Cowboys have made attempts to get him re-signed before free agency starts.
OTHER FREE-AGENT CENTERS
Eugene Amano, Tennessee Titans (restricted)
Rich Braham, Cincinnati Bengals
Lennie Friedman, Cleveland Browns
Tyrone Hopson, Detroit Lions
Al Johnson, Dallas Cowboys
Austin King, Atlanta Falcons (restricted)
Nick Leckey, Arizona Cardinals (restricted)
Jeremy Newberry, San Francisco
Mike Pucillo, Washington Redskins
Wade Smith, New York Jets
Alex Stepanovich, Arizona Cardinals (restricted)
Larry Turner, St. Louis Rams (restricted)
Cory Withrow, San Diego Chargers
Future Free Agents: Centers
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