Lack of talent drove free-agent inactivity

While Vikings fans were antsy for the team to make another big splash in free agency, the lack of activity was driven by a talent of available talent.

As the Vikings begin their offseason workout program, like the other 31 teams in the NFL, it is a chance for them to welcome the new faces that joined the team in free agency and start preparing for the 2009 season.

Oh, wait. There aren't that many new faces to acquaint with their Vikings teammates. In the first month of free agency, the Vikings have added three players – swinging a trade to get quarterback Sage Rosenfels and signing CB Karl Paymuh and wide receiver Glenn Holt to one-year deals with minimal financial investment.

The Vikings have been able to maintain a solid salary cap position over the years because they have lived by a simple philosophy – when there is a good free-agent crop, they get aggressive. When the pickings are slim, they sit back and let other teams overspend for free agents that get monster salaries simply out the lack of competition.

The only free agent for which the Vikings made a push to sign that would have entailed a significant financial commitment was wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Vikings wined him, they dined him – they everything but sign him. In the end, he opted to go to Seattle, leaving the Vikings with a lot of room under the salary cap.

The Vikings have a history of either spending big or spending virtually nothing during free agency from one year to the next. In 2007, they spent virtually nothing. Their biggest outside free-agent signings were Visanthe Shiancoe, Bobby Wade and Vinny Ciurciu. Last year, the team rolled out the checkbook and signed Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams and Gus Frerotte and swung a blockbuster trade with the Chiefs to acquire Jared Allen, who was immediately signed to a lucrative contract.

The Vikings' only major signings this free agent period have been to lock down their own players – re-signing Jim Kleinsasser and Heath Farwell and extending Rosenfels' contract. Why such a boom-bust cycle? Because the Vikings' spending has been dictated by the free-agent class.

Even before free agency began, NFL analysts were bemoaning the lack of star quality talent being made available. A record 14 teams exercised their franchise tags to essentially take players off the market and the class wasn't viewed as that strong to begin with. While some teams, like the Broncos and Lions, have spent money freely and signed a lot of free agents, the Vikings have sat back and waited for a stronger free-agent class to potentially emerge in the future.

Although it may frustrate fans, the Vikings are making a savvy business move that could well pay off down the line. Just because a team has money to spend in free agency, if there aren't players out there that can significantly upgrade the team, spending money simply for the sake of spending money doesn't make sense. The team has showed a willingness to invest millions on players that can help the team. Allen, Berrian and Williams are all examples of that – young players that have a long future in the game ahead of them. The Vikings inactivity in free agency shouldn't really be viewed as a surprise. The market didn't have the type of players that could have considerably upgraded the team. Houshmandzadeh was the exception and the Vikings made a legitimate run at him. They lost out because they wouldn't get in a bidding war. Only time will tell if that inaction was a mistake, but, as the team begins its preparation for the 2009 season today, it would seem that saving money for a brighter free-agent class next year and beyond makes good business sense.


  • One of the upsides of the Vikings' lack of free-agent movement is that they could be in line for at least one premium compensatory pick next year – something that has eluded them in recent years. Losing starters Darren Sharper and Matt Birk, both viewed as premium free agents because of their reputations and recent Pro Bowl appearances, combined with the lack of any significant outside signings, the Vikings could be in line for a compensatory pick as high as a third-rounder next year.

  • Another potential positive of having so much cap room left available is that the Vikings may employ the same strategy this year that they used with Antoine Winfield when they initially signed him as a free agent. When he signed his six-year contract with the team in 2004, instead of giving him the standard signing bonus, which is pro-rated and spread throughout all the years of the contract, they made paid him in the form of a roster bonus. As such, all of it counted on the 2004 salary cap and went away after that. They did a similar move when they signed Steve Hutchinson. That is one of the reasons why the Vikings seem to annually have $20 million or more under the cap prior to the start of a given free-agent season.

  • One position that will likely get a lot of talk over the next three weeks leading up to the draft April 25-26 is wide receiver. With the recent release of Plaxico Burress, you can add the Giants to the list of teams looking for wide receiver help in some fashion. The three names that continue to be hot topics of trade rumors are Anquan Boldin, Chad Johnson and Braylon Edwards. There are teams clearly interested in making a trade to acquire them, which should only make an enticing market for both them. Last year, because of the dearth of talent and lack of a true superstar like Calvin Johnson in 2007, no wide receivers were taken in the first round. Many teams felt that, thanks to the depth of talent at the position, they could wait until the second round and still get a serviceable player. As it turned out, nobody took a wide receiver in the first round, but a record 10 WRs came off the board in the second round.

  • Trading draft picks is always a key part of draft weekend, but it would seem the league is getting more of a jump on that process this year. With just under three weeks until the draft, there are already three first-round picks that have been traded away and five picks in the second round.

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