First, the past.
When it comes to upgrading the offensive line, the Vikings really lost out before they ever had an opportunity. When Carolina's Jordan Gross and Miami's Vernon Carey each re-signed with their original teams before free agency began, the Vikings were denied the opportunity of even getting into the bidding. Gross might have broke the bank, and Carey has been a source of pride for Rick Spielman, the Vikings' vice president of player personnel, since he drafted him when he was working in a similar capacity for the Miami Dolphins.
The other part of the Vikings' past that is influencing their present was their inability to lock down an unquestioned quarterback of the future. With questions still surrounding the top-end potential of Tarvaris Jackson, the Vikings felt the need to trade for Sage Rosenfels to, at the very least, provide competition for Jackson and the starting role.
The Vikings have 12 unrestricted free agents, none of which have re-signed with the team or signed elsewhere. But a few of them could be getting close.
Center Matt Birk spent Tuesday visiting with the Baltimore Ravens and was expected to continue his visit on Wednesday, with a decision that could come by the end of the week between the Ravens and Vikings.
Safety Darren Sharper visited the Saints this week. Linebacker Heath Farwell is visiting the Patriots and could take other visits soon.
In short, the Vikings could be losing a few of their unrestricted players in the very near future.
The future? Well, that's not quite as clear.
The Vikings already lost out on wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a longer (and maybe bigger) offer than the Vikings were willing to spend on a 31-year-old receiver. Former Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington, whom the Vikings were rumored to be interested in, signed with the Tennessee Titans. And wide receiver Michael Clayton, whom Viking Update first reported a Vikings interest in, re-signed with Tampa Bay before the Vikings had a chance to bring him in for a visit.
There are still plenty of options at wide receiver, just not many who would be considered easy starters over players like Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice or even Bobby Wade, and several available options continue to make visits in search of a new employer.
The reality of the situation is that this year's free-agent class didn't have the top-end quality that last year did, when the Vikings struck quickly and signed Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams and Thomas Tapeh in the opening days.
"We probably don't see it as a good a year as last year," Childress said a week before free agency opened. "You could look at ours (last year) and say, 'Well yeah, you got this guy, this guy and this guy.' I would say, in general, that that's the sentiment. That doesn't mean that there isn't money to be spent. So much money has to be spent, by rule."
Childress said the worst thing teams can do is have a need and force a free agent into that spot when he might be overpaid or might not really fit the system.
A couple of teams were noted for doing that last year, like the Raiders and Jaguars shelling out top-end money to average or aging players. Some of those 2008 signings have already been released.
Two years ago, the Vikings signed Bobby Wade, Visanthe Shiancoe and Vinny Ciurciu in the opening week of free agency but didn't make any signings of what were considered elite players because the market wasn't flush with them. After a year of struggles, Shiancoe has emerged as a one of the better pass-catching tight ends, Wade continues to fill a starting role at wide receiver and Ciurciu was released on Tuesday after being only a marginal special-teams player and contributing little on defense.
"Last year, we were very active, but we felt very strong about those guys. This year as you sit here and watch … they also have to fit what we want and most of the guys that we have gone out and spent money on are guys that are younger guys that are 26, 27 years old, coming out of their rookie contracts," Spielman said. "That's kind of the philosophy we have followed. If there is something, like I said, I don't think it's as strong of an overall class as it was last year and the guys that are blue-chip type guys are either going to get signed or going to get franchised."
That happened before free agency even began, as a record 14 players around the league were franchised and players like Gross and Carey were signed to extensions before the market opened.
The Vikings were willing to go after players that were worth it, but the market was weak. That could leave the team in pursuit of depth as much as anything as the second week of free agency approaches.