Coaching Ties Not as Strong in 2007

Last year, the Vikings acquired several players via trades and free agency that worked under Vikings coaches when player and coach were with another team. So far this year, their pipeline to the recent past hasn't been as strong.

In the NFL world of musical-chairs coaching assignments, it's become commonplace for a new head coach—or even coordinators—to join a team and start plucking players from his old team.

The Vikings were part of that process several times last year.

Although head coach Brad Childress said when he was hired by the Vikings that he had an understanding with his former boss, Andy Reid in Philadelphia, that he wouldn't raid the Eagles' coaching staff, Childress did swing trades for players with the Eagles.

First was a 2006 draft-day trade that brought guard Artis Hicks to the Vikings in exchange for fourth- and sixth-round draft picks. Hicks was inserted as the starting right guard and the position became one of uncertainty for the Vikings throughout last season, as Hicks struggled to make the transition to the right side of the line and missed two games with injuries.

Next was a mid-May trade that sent undrafted rookie receiver Hank Baskett to the Eagles in exchange for wide receiver Billy McMullen. In a depleted wide receiver corps in Minnesota, McMullen caught 23 passes for 307 yards, both career highs. Meanwhile, fighting for playing time behind Reggie Brown and Donte Stallworth, Baskett caught 22 passes for 464 yards in Philadelphia.

The Vikings' only other trade in 2006 involved another player with which Childress was readily familiar. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger was acquired as a veteran presence behind Brad Johnson after former Philadelphia quarterback Mike McMahon struggled during the preseason, and Childress was the one who recruited Bollinger to the University of Wisconsin.

Free agency in 2006 started with the Vikings signing linebacker Ben Leber, kicker Ryan Longwell and running back Chester Taylor on the opening weekend of unrestricted player movement. Leber played in San Diego, where Fran Foley, the Vikings' former vice president of player personnel, worked before coming to Minnesota. Longwell came from Green Bay, where offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had been before joining the Vikings.

The Vikings also ended up signing free-agent defensive backs Ronyell Whitaker and Dwight Smith, both of whom played under former assistant coach Mike Tomlin when the three of them were with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But so far this season, the pipeline with coaching-player connections appears to be closing.

New defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who was hired away from the Indianapolis Colts to replace Tomlin, wasn't able to get either cornerback Nick Harper or linebacker Cato June, both former Colts who were on the free-agent market. Each of them was reportedly shown interest by the Vikings, but neither even visited the Vikings, and if an entry on is any indication, June might have come cheaper than originally thought (signing a contract for three years, $12 million that could be undone or redone after 2007).

"It appears his agents did a terrible job for a linebacker who went to the Pro Bowl [and] Super Bowl," quotes a league source as saying about June's contract. "Guys like E.J. Henderson and Pisa Tinoisamoa each got five years, $25 million with $10 million guaranteed. E.J.'s first year pays out a little less than Cato's three-year deal."

June had 45 starts in 56 games during his first four seasons and was credited with 399 tackles, one sack, 10 interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 18 special teams tackles.

He made the 2005 Pro Bowl roster and led the Colts—who used a Tampa-2 defense similar in style to the Vikings—in tackles during two of the last three seasons, including 162 in 2006.

Harper, who has six years of NFL experience, signed a three-year deal with the Tennessee Titans believed to be worth about $9.5 million. The Vikings never set up a visit with Harper, and Terry McCormick of Nashville City Papers reported early last week that the Titans were Harper's first choice.

The Vikings might have had a difficult time meshing those players into their current roster anyway. Harper likely would have been a nickel cornerback behind Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin in the Vikings' scheme, and Dovonte Edwards should be battling for the nickel role as well.

The Vikings' linebacker situation isn't quite as set with the free-agent departure of Napoleon Harris to Kansas City, but Ben Leber and E.J. Henderson will return as starters even if their exact position in the linebacker corps hasn't been determined yet. Last year, Henderson easily led the team with 142 tackles from the playmaking weakside spot while Leber had 62 tackles on the strong side. Either of them could move inside to play middle linebacker, allowing 2006 first-round draft pick Chad Greenway to start on the outside; or Dontarrious Thomas could challenge for a starting role at middle linebacker.

So far in this year's version of free agency, the only move the Vikings have made to acquire a player with ties to a Minnesota coach is standout special teams linebacker Vinny Ciurciu, who was a leader on the Carolina Panthers' special teams in 2005, when current Vikings special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro was a special-teams assistant with the Panthers.

For the Vikings in 2007, it's been no former Colts, Eagles, Packers or Bucs … at least not yet.

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