Notebook: Wheels Keep on Turning

Free agency has slowed considerably around the league, but players the Vikings had shown a reported interest in continue to sign with other teams.

According to data released by the league on Monday, the Vikings are slightly above average in signing unrestricted free agents from other teams, but that is of little comfort to many who wanted the team to spend lavishly and land some of the top free agents in a market generally considered to be talent-poor.

With $31.5 million in available salary cap space before free agency began, the Vikings landed three unrestricted free agents – wide receiver Bobby Wade, tight end Visante Shiancoe and linebacker Vinny Ciurciu. They still have plenty of salary-cap room to spend, but according to league data on free agency, they were slightly ahead of the NFL average of having 2.7 unrestricted free agents signed.

As of Monday, 87 unrestricted free agents signed with new teams.

In the NFC North, the Chicago Bears, who made it to the Super Bowl, haven't signed any unrestricted free agents (although they did trade for safety Adam Archuleta). The Green Bay Packers signed just one unrestricted free agent – cornerback Frank Walker. The Detroit Lions are the only team in the division to have the Vikings beat in signing unrestricted free agents, as they have inked running back T.J. Duckett, cornerback Travis Fisher, wide receiver Shaun McDonald and defensive end Dewayne White. The Lions have also signed guards Zach Piller and Edwin Mulitalo, but those contracts weren't reported to the league office by the time the free-agency stats were released.

In addition, 70 unrestricted free agents have signed with their old team. The Vikings contractually locked up left tackle Bryant McKinnie and linebacker E.J. Henderson during the 2006 season before they could make it to the free-agent market. They also extended the contracts for defensive tackle Kevin Williams and long snapper Cullen Loeffler, which has led in part to the team not re-signing any of their own unrestricted free agents to date.

Only two restricted free agents have signed with new teams this year, and 12 have already signed their offer sheets with their old clubs.

The Vikings have had only five unrestricted free agents in for visits since free agency opened earlier this month and signed three of them. Wide receiver Kevin Curtis was one on them that got away, signing a six-year, $32 million contract with $9.5 million in guarantees with the Philadelphia Eagles. Vikings coach Brad Childress said he believed the Vikings offered him a better deal but that Curtis wanted to play for the Eagles.

Defensive tackle Ian Scott, the only other free agent the Vikings have had in for a visit that hasn't signed with the team, remains on the market after visiting with the Atlanta Falcons on Friday. However, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that he is likely to re-sign with the Chicago Bears.

But there are other free agents the Vikings showed an interest in.

  • Cornerback Nick Harper (formerly of the Indianapolis Colts) never made a visit to Minnesota and eventually signed with the Tennessee Titans, where he will have a better chance to become a starter. He signed a three-year contract believed to be worth as much as $10 million with $3 million in guarantees. With the Vikings, he likely would have labored behind Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin as a nickelback.

  • Fellow former Colt Cato June, a linebacker, signed a three-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly worth more than $12 million.

  • Guard Edwin Mulitalo (Baltimore Ravens), who told the Vikings inquired about him shortly after he was released by the Ravens, signed a three-year deal with the Lions.

  • Fullback B.J. Askew, a former New York Jet who signed with Tampa Bay, told that the Vikings were also interested in him. However, with Tony Richardson on the roster, Askew likely would have had to wait until Richardson retired to earn a starting job.

    "We had a list of teams that were interested, and this one was the one that suited me the best," Askew said of Tampa Bay. "It wasn't really about the money for me, I just really wanted to get into a great position where I knew I could make an impact and basically show the NFL what I can do."

  • Not only have the Vikings shown an interest in adding to their fullback depth, but the same holds true at tailback. They inquired about the services of veteran Sammy Morris, but the versatile back never made it to Minnesota for a visit and ended up signing with the New England Patriots to offer depth in an uncertain backfield after shoulder surgery to Laurence Maroney and the release of Corey Dillon.

  • With Scott still out on the market, it would have been interesting to see if the Vikings had an interest in Eagles defensive tackle Darwin Walker, who, along with a conditional seventh-round pick, was traded to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Takeo Spikes and quarterback Kelly Holcomb.

    Walker won the starting job with the Eagles in 2002 after being drafted and subsequently released by the Arizona Cardinals in 2000. He was expected to lose his starting job in Philadelphia after the Eagles signed Montae Reagor.

    The Vikings' pursuit of Scott indicated they are looking for a defensive tackle to back up Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, and Walker might have been a trade consideration for them, although it's unlikely they would have put together a deal as enticing as the Bills did with a solid starting linebacker and a backup quarterback.

    So while the Vikings have signed only three unrestricted free agents, and no one that has captured the imagination of Vikings nation, they are still ahead of the league average, if only barely. And they have also shown interest in several other players, but to date their net product has fans concerned about how much improvement they've really made.

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