Vikes Make Free-Agent Statement

The Vikings of 48 hours ago are considerably different than the Vikings as they sit Sunday afternoon. With plugging holes at two of their primary need positions, the team can now refocus on free agency and target players that can fill specific needs with the must-sign players out of the way.

Free agency has been a boon for teams like the Vikings and Dolphins in the early stages, as Bill Parcells has taken a firm hand on the reigns and convinced a lot of players that the 1-15 Dolphins are a place they should be. The same can be said for the Vikings, who addressed three key needs in the first 48 hours of free agency.

For the Vikings, free agency has been a simple case of addition by subtraction. At the fullback position, it became apparent that, armed with his selection to the Pro Bowl, Tony Richardson could command more on the free-agent market than the Vikings were willing to spend. Because of his age and the likelihood that he would be seeking a multi-year deal the Vikings would be unwilling to match, it was clear the team would have to go in a different direction. Locking down the much younger Thomas Tapeh was a move the Vikings needed to make. Whether fans consider that move to be an upgrade, a lateral move or even a step backward is up to debate, but Brad Childress once again went to the Eagles well, where his familiarity with Tapeh was obviously a turning point, which is why he was the first free agent the Vikings locked down.

Safety was also a concern and many of us in the days leading up to free agency pointed at Madieu Williams as a prime prospect to be targeted by the Vikings. first pointed out the Vikings' interest in Williams at the NFL Scouting Combine. While the numbers of his contract may have been a bit surprising for as high as the deal was, with Dwight Smith being released and neither Mike Doss nor Tank Williams under contract, this was a need area that the Vikings had to address and couldn't go low-ball to get it done. The team stepped up, and while other organizations were still weighing the options of what positions to allocate their money toward, the Vikings made the offer Williams and his agent couldn't refuse and two of their projected priorities were taken care of.

Next up was wide receiver. There were mixed messages being sent out as to whether the Vikings would get Bernard Berrian or not. Reports out of Chicago Friday had Berrian on a plane Friday night to talk with the Raiders about potentially signing there – a report that included paraphrasing Rick Spielman as saying nothing would get done until Saturday at the earliest and tended to re-affirm that Berrian was in fact on his way to the West Coast. It turned out that report was completely wrong and Berrian had never left the Twin Cities.

Much in the same way the Lions never let Dre Bly leave their facility without a contract in 2003 – his next scheduled visit was to be with the Vikings – the Vikings were bent on not letting Berrian get away. The logic in both cases was simple: If we don't sign him, someone else will and we simply can't let that happen. In the Bly case, it was a matter of not letting a division rival get a chance to take him away. In the Berrian case, it was a matter of crippling a division rival by keeping him in the NFC North, just wearing a different color.

Just 48 hours into free agency, the Vikings had attacked two areas of clear need (wide receiver and safety) and one area they were convinced was going to be a need (fullback). Two days into free agency and the Vikings have plugged three big holes. While quarterback remains a bone of contention and defensive end is still an area of need, the Vikings have come a long way in a short time and, while more than half the league hasn't made a single free-agent signing, the Vikings have stocked their shelves and now can go about the job of picking and choosing mid- to upper-level free agents that they will target after the early blitz on the market.

While it may be too early to make an accurate assessment on what the Vikings have or haven't accomplished, there's no doubting that they have taken huge strides to being a factor in 2008.

* Fan interest in free agency has been a boon for blog sites. Several football blog areas report a record number of hits to their websites, as fans don't have the time or inclination to wait for their daily newspapers to report on the free agent comings and goings. In an instant-information world, the old ink-on-the-fingers newsprint just doesn't cut it and, with no more afternoon newspapers, news is often no longer news by the time it runs in print.
* Randy Moss is apparently getting pretty tired of the Patriots' lack of movement on his contract. After losing talents Asante Samuel and Donte Stallworth in the same day, one would think the Pats would move quickly to lock down Moss. Instead, he's reportedly considering visits to teams that have the quarterback and the ability to make a Super Bowl run – including the Packers, Steelers, Giants, Colts and Saints. This one will have a lot of people following it, especially if Moss gets on a plane and starts making visits.
* There was some sentiment that Spencer Johnson would be difficult for the Vikings to keep in free agency because of the Vikings' commitment to the Williams Brothers and the likelihood that other teams in need at defensive tackle would be willing to offer up plenty of money to provide incentive to sign. The Bills did just that – taking a Vikings DT much in the same way the Vikings took Pat Williams away from them – turning a liability into a strength in one day by signing Johnson and trading with the Jaguars for Marcus Stroud. Johnson's deal was five years for $17.5 million - $6 million of that guaranteed.
* The Vikings have a visit scheduled for with 49ers RB/return specialist Maurice Hicks for Monday.
* The Vikings are said be looking at Titans DE Antwan Odom after losing out on Justin Smith. Odom has visits scheduled with the Bengals today and the Cardinals Tuesday. No visit date with the Vikings has been scheduled … or at least not announced.
* The Vikings have committed $30.2 million in guaranteed money on the three contracts they signed this week, including $16 million in guarantees to Berrian.
* Rumors are circulating that Jabar Gaffney, who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus (Berrian's agent), may be looking for a free agent visit with the Vikings as well. But it would be hard to believe that the Vikings would invest more at wide receiver after signing Berrian this year, signing Bobby Wade last year and using a second-round draft pick on Sidney Rice. It would seem to be a little bit of overkill for a team that still has a lot of question marks at quarterback.

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