The Vikings' two first-round defensive ends in the last four years both have their playing futures in doubt, which left them hoping to visit with one of the top defensive ends on the free-agent market this weekend, according to a league source.
But ESPN is reporting that former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Justin Smith has signed a six-year, $45 million contract that includes $20 million in guaranteed money.
Among the other teams that were expected to show an interest in Smith were the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, but San Francisco had the first shot at him and locked him up before he could make a second visit, which was expected to be with the Minnesota Vikings.
Smith is known as a high-motor base defensive end who gives maximum effort in stopping the run and rushing the passer. He was the fourth overall pick of the Bengals in the 2001 draft and has 43 ½ career sacks in seven seasons, missing only one game during that span.
The Vikings are balancing a fine line these days when it comes to their issues at defensive end.
First and foremost, their support is going out to Kenechi Udeze, a 2004 first-round draft choice who was diagnosed with leukemia, a form of cancer, last month. Head coach Brad Childress said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that he had seen Udeze three times since that diagnosis and that he would probably be in the hospital for a couple of months while continuing to have chemotherapy administered.
Childress praised Udeze's courage and said he has the necessary attitude to try to beat the disease.
While Udeze's immediate and potentially long-term football future have been halted while he fights a more important battle, the Vikings are also left to wonder about their other former first-round draft pick at defensive end, Erasmus James, the 18th overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft. The most explosive end off the snap of the ball has also been the most fragile, suffering two season-ending knee injuries in consecutive years.
Vikings Lose Out on DE Justin Smith
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