Free Agency Notebook: Calling on Curtis

The Vikings were working on a starting wide receiver while there was plenty of other intriguing movement around the league on Friday.

CALLLING ON CURTIS

While unrestricted free agent wide receiver Kevin Curtis didn't make his visit to the Twin Cities early on Friday, the first day of free agency, he was reportedly meeting with the Vikings by the evening.

Depending on which talent evaluator you talk to, Curtis is either the top unrestricted free-agent wide receiver on the market or one of the top three.

Curtis had a cap number of $1.577 million last year with the St. Louis Rams and is expected to be one the top-paid receivers in free agency this year. If the Vikings don't sign him, he is expected to visit the Detroit Lions on Saturday. Curtis played for Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz when he was the head coach in St. Louis.

However, early in free agency last year, the Vikings typically signed a top free agent when they visited with him, so it's possible a signing could be announced as early as today.

The Rams are not expected to re-sign Curtis and were meeting with potential replacement receiver Drew Bennett (Titans) on Friday.

In the last three years as the Rams' No. 3 receiver, Curtis has caught 32, 60 and 40 passes, respectively, with a career-best 801 yards in 2005.

The Vikings are also expected to meet with Ashlie Lelie on Monday if he doesn't sign with another team before then, but if they sign Curtis their appointment with Lelie could be cancelled.

SIGNINGS, VISITS AROUND THE LEAGUE

As expected, several players around the league were visiting potential new employers on Friday, the first day of free agency.

The Redskins, who are interested in bringing back former Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot as a nickel back, signed linebacker London Fletcher-Baker.

The Buccaneers signed former Vikings and Broncos linebacker Patrick Chukwurah to a five-year, $5.5 million contract.

Linebacker Napoleon Harris visited with the Chiefs and Friday and was scheduled to travel to Tampa Bay on Saturday.

The Lions were expected to meet with Bucs defensive end Dewayne White, another potential Vikings interest.

Besides guard Eric Steinbach, Cleveland entertained defensive tackle Ron Edwards, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and DE Antwan Peek.

Jacksonville was working on offensive tackle Tony Pashos, and New England was entertaining tight end Kyle Brady and running back Sammy Morris. If Morris doesn't sign with the Patriots, the Vikings have shown an interest in him.

San Francisco signed cornerback Nate Clements (Bills) to an offer that will reportedly guarantee him $22 million to $23 million, and the 49ers also added safety Michael Lewis. The 49ers had more than $30 million under the salary cap in early February.

SETTING THE BAR

Remember the uproar last year at how the Vikings overpaid guard Steve Hutchinson in their poison-pilled, seven-year, $49 million offer sheet?

It's looking like the top three guards in the free-agent market this year will be getting nearly identical deals.
Scout.com learned that sources close to the situation say they do not expect free agent OL Kris Dielman, who was touring the Seattle Seahawks practice facility Friday, to leave Seattle without signing a contract. It's believed Dielman will be looking to sign for about what Hutchinson signed for last year. Although published reports indicate that the San Diego Chargers were hopeful of re-signing Dielman during the regular season, sources say both sides weren't close to an agreement.

Cincinnati Bengals guard Eric Steinbach signed a seven-year, $49.5 million deal with the Cleveland Browns, but Steinbach is expected to be moved to tackle, and it's possible the Browns would make a run at Dielman to play guard if he doesn't sign with Seattle.

The Bills also signed guard Derrick Dockery (Redskins) to a seven-year, $49 million contract with $18.5 million guaranteed. Former Vikings guard Jason Whittle also signed with the Bills early Friday.

RELEASES AROUND THE LEAGUE

The Atlanta Falcons released two players Friday that might be worth a look.

Linebacker Ed Hartwell (6-1, 250) is a six-year veteran from Western Illinois (Vikings coach Brad Childress graduated from Eastern Illinois and coached at the University of Illinois). However, injuries have plagued Hartwell since his heyday with the Ravens. He has played in 13 games with 11 starts the in the last two seasons with the Falcons after being acquired as an unrestricted free agent from the Baltimore Ravens in 2005. Hartwell recorded 56 tackles last year in six starts and 31 stops in 2005 through five starts. Hartwell suffered an Achilles injury after five games in 2005, ending his first season in Atlanta, and had arthroscopic knee surgery on both knees before the 2006 season.

Linebacker Ike Reese (6-2, 222) is generally considered a backup but also is an accomplished special teams player. The nine-year veteran from Michigan State played in 32 games in Atlanta after being signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005 and recorded 22 special teams tackles. Reese earned his reputation at Philadelphia while Childress was offensive coordinator there.

The issue with those two is their age and Hartwell's recent injury history.

Another former Eagle who would be an interesting consideration for the Vikings is cornerback Rod Hood, but he'll likely be off the market soon.


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