Players Encouraged By Free Agency

Several returning Vikings expressed their satisfaction with the team's efforts in free agency, adding starters on both sides of the ball. See what they had to say about their new teammates and the message being sent.

In Brad Childress' first foray into free agency as a head coach in 2006, linebacker Ben Leber was among a trio of players signed on the first full day of free agency. Earlier this week, Leber was among the returning Vikings praising a similar effort in free agency this year.

The Vikings signed wide receiver Bernard Berrian to a six-year, $42 million contract and fullback Thomas Tapeh to a five-year, $6 million contract on offense. They also added safety Madieu Williams with a six-year, $33 million deal on defense. It all happened within 48 hours of the start of free agency.

"I think everybody as a whole is pretty happy with the people we brought in," Leber said. "They were smart additions. They weren't trying to go out and put somebody that didn't fit. I think all the guys are pretty happy with the guys that are going to fit our system and fit in around here."

Leber is among dozens of players who returned to Winter Park since the start of the offseason conditioning program on March 17. He said the new additions haven't completely "come out of their shells" to show their personalities just yet, but he said that "the guys that we've met are pretty cool guys so far."

Fellow linebacker Chad Greenway said the team's free-agent efforts build on the momentum that the players felt last year after rebounding from a 2-5 start.

"It's exciting for us to be moving forward. I think last year around here the feeling grew that we weren't very far away from being a pretty good football team," Greenway said. "But having said that, you have to do that every year. Last stands on its own merits and now we go into this year and hopefully we can build on what we did last year and the people that we have back. Obviously, the new additions will help out as well."

Leber said he spent about three months at his home in San Diego and added a week's vacation in The Bahamas with his family before coming to Minnesota last week. Greenway said he took more time off this offseason to rest his body. Last year, he was trying to rehabilitate a surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament that ended his rookie campaign during his first preseason game.

Players participating in the offseason conditioning program spend about an hour lifting weights and 30 to 40 minutes conditioning in addition to about 45 minutes of film work four days a week, Leber said. But, just as important as the physical and mental ramp-up to full-team workouts following the draft is the opportunity to get to know new teammates.

"Now is the time to sit back, hang out with the guys in the locker room more, do stuff outside of the locker room, with their families. I think once you develop that bond, you develop a trust on and off the field," Leber said.

The new player Greenway and Leber will be working with the most is Williams, who will take over for Dwight Smith. After two seasons in Minnesota, Smith was released before the start of free agency and has since signed with the Detroit Lions.

"I guess Dwight is out now and he's in," Greenway said of Williams. "I guess he's going to take on more of a leadership role maybe, and he'll probably lead in a little different way than Dwight did – I'm guessing. From what I've heard, he's a great player and he's a high-character guy and I know that's what Coach Childress has been stressing to the team."

"He'll be a great addition to us – help us continue to be No. 1 in the run and also help us improve the pass defense too," Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams said of Madieu Williams.

The safety said it is still too early to get a feel for his role in the defense, but he praised the players on defense from last season and said he's looking forward to seeing first-hand how good Kevin and Pat Williams are.

"This is a very good team, a very good defense. We have a lot of playmakers, a top-10 defense from last year," Williams said. "Solid guys up front with the Williamses. Those two guys anchor the defense up front and they do a good job of neutralizing the run, and we've got some young guys in the secondary and in the linebacker corps."

But even the players on the defensive side of the ball seemed intrigued to find out how the addition of Berrian might help the offense.

"Any time you get a playmaker like Bernard Berrian, that's someone we've seen last year and the last couple of years and you just know it's going to bring some more excitement to our offense and hopefully will maybe improve our passing game," Greenway said. "With our running game the way it was last year, it could be a pretty deadly tandem, but you've got to see it on the field before it really matters. It all looks good on paper, but we've got to see it in action."

Greenway was part of a defense that played against Berrian twice last year. In the first outing, the former Bear had five catches for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings at Soldier Field. Two months later, at the Metrodome on Dec. 17, the Vikings defense held Berrian to two catches for 23 yards.

But Greenway said Berrian is a player that defenses have to recognize.

"When you turn on the film, he's a guy that's going to flash for you," Greenway said. "He can get down the field vertically. I think he's a pretty well-rounded receiver. He's not just known for going down the field and catching deep balls, but he's become more of a well-rounded receiver as he's gotten into the league a little bit."

Leber knows well how quickly an NFL player's team and address can change in free agency, and Berrian found that out on March 1.

"So much doesn't happen for a long time and then all of the sudden in a few hours the phone is ringing and you're all the sudden jumping on a plane," Leber said. "It is a crazy time, an exciting time, but it's a lot of sitting around and waiting. It's all speculation. … For a long time, no, you don't hear a thing, and then all of the sudden the next thing you know you're on a plane and signing a piece of paper. It's quick."

Which might have made the opening 48 hours of free agency for the Vikings almost as satisfying for the returning Vikings players as it was for the new ones.

"It was great," Leber said of the Vikings' aggressive free-agent approach again in 2008. "I think it shows the public, it shows the players that they are willing to go out and get the missing pieces, get some pieces that we need to make us better. We're excited that the people upstairs are putting the message out: This is going to be a great year for us and we're going to add some key pieces, and that's what they did."


  • NFL Network's "Path the Draft" featured the Vikings and Viking Update on Tuesday. The video from that segment has been posted here on

  • Former Vikings linebacker Raonall Smith visited the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday. Smith was a 2002 second-round pick for the Vikings. He played his first four seasons in the league with the Vikings and then joined former Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan with the Rams. Smith played in only four games for the Rams last year.

  • The Buffalo Bills re-signed exclusive-rights free agent Dustin Fox, a former Vikings defensive back. Fox was a third-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2005 who was released during the 2006 offseason.

  • Former Vikings guard Toniu Fonoti signed with the Carolina Panthers. The Vikings gave up a seventh-round draft pick in 2006 to acquire Fonoti, but he was released after one season. Atlanta signed him last year, but the Falcons released him during training camp.

  • The Vikings re-signed linebacker Heath Farwell on Tuesday. Farwell led the team with a career-high 32 special teams tackles in 2007, which is tied for third in team single-season history. He set a team single-game record with seven special teams stops at the N.Y. Giants last year and has recorded 70 special teams tackles in 39 career games.

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