Even if the Vikings get wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh signed – which could be a big step in the right direction for their offense – there is still work for the team to accomplish in free agency. But the Vikings are taking a somewhat measured approach, which could be wise with this free-agent class.
Both Vikings coach Brad Childress and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman have indicated that the 2009 class of unrestricted free agents isn't quite as talented overall as the 2008 version, when the franchise committed big bucks to wide receiver Bernard Berrian, safety Madieu Williams and traded for defensive end Jared Allen.
This time around, it's been a more patient approach from the team.
"The concepts are the same, where (there is) the initial wave and the initial surge, with all the money. But I think as this goes down the road here that it's going to have a significant drop, because I think guys will start scrambling for jobs here, and you may be able to get some guys at bargain basement prices, that are still very good players," Spielman said Friday after the completed the trade for quarterback Sage Rosenfels. "But I think … most of the teams, if there is a blue-chip type guy out there, they'll go ahead and make that surge and pay what they have to pay to get him, because you still have to get guys to go out and win games if they're that significant. Then you fill in on the back end, as the market dries up."
So far, the Vikings have traded for quarterback Sage Rosenfels, surrendering their fourth-round draft pick to the Houston Texans to obtain competition for the starting quarterback job. Shortly thereafter, they signed their own unrestricted free-agent tight end, Jim Kleinsasser, to a similar three-year, $9 million contract.
The Vikings had other options in free agency and the trade market at quarterback – the Chiefs gave up a second-round draft pick to acquire Matt Cassel on Saturday – but Spielman said he wanted to seize the opportunity for Rosenfels when they had it.
"My job and our job is to get the best players and continue to do that regardless of the position. So when there is an opportunity that presents itself and you think it's the right deal to get in place, then you go ahead and do it at that time because you'd hate to say, ‘Well, I'm going to wait for this or wait for that,' and then all of a sudden that opportunity has left and now you're left with nothing," Spielman said. "So we always, when there is an opportunity on a player that comes up that we think would help us, then we go ahead and try to follow through to get that done."
With Rosenfels in the fold, the Vikings are working on improving his and Tarvaris Jackson's receiving options. Team officials were visiting with Houshmandzadeh, the top free-agent wide receiver on Scout.com's ranking at the position, on Saturday and the receiver was hoping to have a decision on which team he would sign with by Sunday night.
After that, there are other positions to address.
The Vikings still haven't reached an agreement with center Matt Birk and he could begin visiting other teams tomorrow. When Childress was asked on Friday if he had any idea who would be snapping the ball to Rosenfels or Jackson, he quipped, "A center, probably."
Childress also said at the recent NFL Scouting Combine that the team has to get better at the right tackle position. So far, they aren't known to have any visits arranged with free-agent tackles. A league source Viking Update that the team is probably focused on the draft to upgrade there, and Spielman hinted at that as well on Friday.
"You're looking at (the free-agent market for tackles), but you also have to weigh what's there and what's in the draft. Potentially, we don't just want to buy something that everyone is not sold on," Spielman said. "We want to be prudent in that situation. And if we don't get one that everyone is sold on, then we'll wait and see what happens in the draft, because it is a very good draft this year, and there is a lot of depth at a lot of positions."
Similarly, Childress cautioned about focusing too much on one position when asked about the tackle position in free agency.
"I think you make a mistake, in zeroing in on any one area, and saying, ‘We got to have this,' when that may not be what's there in this market," he said.
The Vikings also aren't giving up on their own free agents. While re-signing Kleinsasser and continuing to talk with Birk, they also haven't shut the door on linebacker and special-teams ace Heath Farwell.
"I don't think you ever shut anyone out, because you never know. What happens if you have an injury and he's still out there and he's familiar with the system?" Spielman said. "Any player who has been through here and we really like, we always keep an open-door policy."
One advantage the Vikings have is their salary-cap position. They entered free agency with $31 million under the salary cap, with $11 million of that due to cap credits from "likely to be earned" contract incentives from 2008 that weren't met. The cap also increased $4 million before the start of free agency, from $123 million to $127 million because NFL teams hadn't spent enough under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement the previous three years.
"Everyone has so much cap room. Some of them it's, ‘Oh, we got another four million we have to spend.' And some of them are like, ‘Geez, thank god we had that,'" Spielman said of that surprise.
For the Vikings, it just offers them more of an opportunity to work their plan in free agency.
Vikings taking measured approach
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