Scout.com first broke the news last week of the Vikings' interest in New England Patriots tight end Daniel Graham, who is expected to become an unrestricted free agent at 11 p.m. Central on Thursday.
While Graham remains a primary focus of the team's newfound ability in free agency this year, the team also has a backup plan, according to a league source.
If Graham ends up signing with another team – the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints are also expected to make bids for Graham – then the Vikings would look to Cincinnati Bengals free-agent-to-be Reggie Kelly.
Kelly is known more as a blocking tight end, and in four years with the Atlanta Falcons and four more with the Bengals has 133 receptions for 1,300 yards. While Kelly is reportedly ready to meet with Bengals officials this weekend, if Graham goes quickly to a team other than the Vikings, Kelly could be Minnesota's next option – one that might come cheaper than current blocking tight end Jim Kleinsasser and could be a better all-around fit in the team's West Coast offense that was implemented last year.
The Vikings are rumored to be ready to release at one of their two starting tight ends – either Kleinsasser or pass-catching tight end Jermaine Wiggins – before free agency starts or shortly thereafter. The Vikings have been looking for a tight end that better fits Brad Childress's West Coast offense since he became their head coach last January.
Kleinsasser had only seven receptions last year and Wiggins' production dropped from 71 and 69 catches the previous two seasons to 46 in 2006.
Graham only had 21 receptions last year and has never had more than 38 in a season, but his production has been overshadowed by injuries and the emergence of Ben Watson. Watson caught a career-best 49 passes in 2006 while Graham missed four games due to injury. In 2005, Graham missed five games, and he has never played more than 14 games in a season in his five-year career with the Patriots.
The Patriots declined to place the franchise tag on Graham, which would have cost $4.31 million, and the more well-rounded tight end appears set to hit the free agent market with several teams ready to make a move.
On the defensive side of the ball, top-ranked free-agent defensive end Patrick Kerney is now expected to get inquiries from the Vikings, according to the source. However, the Vikings are not interested in getting into a bidding war over Kerney, who is expected to seek a signing bonus between $10 million and $15 million.
In eight seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Kerney has become known as a solid all-around defensive end. He has 356 tackles and 58 sacks. However, for the first time in his career, he missed time in 2006, registering only 16 tackles and 4.5 sacks in nine games before a torn pectoral muscle caused him to be placed on injured reserve.
The Broncos and Titans are both reported as good fits for Kerney as well.
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