And They're Off!

Word that Zygi Wilf has sent a plane to get Bernard Berrian is just one of the stories that is flying around the opening of free agency. The big question is whether the Vikings will be willing to spend (or even overspend) to land a big-time player or two as the free agent period begins.

For teams that have been off since the end of December, it's been a long, cold wait for two months to pass and the new NFL season to "officially" begin.

The new season is on – free agency has begun and the long-ignored practice of teams and agents exchanging pleasantries before free agency has begun will manifest itself. By midnight tonight, there will likely be a handful or more of free agents that have already signed with new teams. For anyone who has seen a big-money NFL contract, you know that all of the clauses, details and performances bonuses could not possibly have been worked out in such a short period of time, but everyone is expected to turn a blind eye to that and just think a team made an offer and agent said "O.K." without much in the way of back and forth discussions.

With free agency now allowing every team to talk to every available player, the question becomes who will be the first to make the monster splash – like the 49ers did with a mammoth contract to cornerback Nate Clements last year. The discussion as it pertains to the Vikings is two-fold – what needs will be addressed and how much of the estimated $30-35 million under the salary cap will the team be willing to spend?

Those are big questions indeed. The free-agent market has been flooded with several expensive veterans that have been off-loaded because of their huge contracts, and the Vikings have to weigh the potential of adding them to the free-agent equation. For example, 10-year veteran Jevon Kearse was released from the Eagles Thursday. Would the Vikings look to give a player closer to the end of his career a deal loaded with incentives or be more in the frame of mind to give a younger player like Justin Smith of the Bengals or Antwan Odom of the Titans a bigger deal?

The good news for the Vikings is that the talent level of the top free agents at two key positions – wide receiver and defensive end – are among the strongest positions for the 2008 crop of free agents. Help at quarterback may only come via the trade option because the top QB in free agency (Daunte Culpepper) likely won't be looking to come back to the Vikings.

Last year, Vikings fans got their hopes up only to have them dashed as the Vikings were modest participants at best. The teams made a run at wide receivers Kevin Curtis and Wes Welker and missed out on landing both. The team said it was unwilling to "overspend" on free agents. Unfortunately, with the additional salary cap money teams gained over the last two free-agent periods following the extension of the collective bargaining agreement, everybody has some money to spend and half the league has tens of millions in available money.

The race is on. Will the Vikings be big players? It sounds like they will, but until the signings are made, we'll have to wait and see.

* The Vikings are said to have sent Zygi Wilf's private plane to pick up Bernard Berrian Thursday night. It sounds like the team may have an offer ready and they might pull the trigger on a deal extremely fast if the numbers can match up.
* The 49ers have reportedly reached agreements with a pair of former Vikings early this morning, signing LB Dontarrious Thomas and QB J. T. O'Sullivan. Neither signing has yet been made official.
* The Redskins reached a deal with veteran QB Todd Collins to take him off an already weak quarterback free-agent market.
* Wide receiver Jerry Porter is already in Jacksonville to meet with Jaguars officials, which has some speculating that a deal may already be in place.
* The Vikings are said to have had discussions with the Bills about trading for disgruntled QB J.P. Losman.

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