Vikings place high emphasis on UDFAs

The Vikings are willing to outbid other teams with certain undrafted rookies because they value the potential of the undrafted free agent and realize their contributions on special teams. Who was the big winner this year?

Monday's moves to sign 14 undrafted free agents won't grab the headlines (or the contract value) of the Vikings selecting Percy Harvin in the first round, but the payoff for the team's predraft planning didn't end when the last pick was called Sunday evening.

With approximately 700 NFL prospects ranked by the team and only five selected in the draft, they had plenty of supplementing they wanted to do with undrafted free agents. Some fans think of those signings as throwaway notes, but you wouldn't count the scouts and coaches among that group.

Guard Anthony Herrera has been a starter for a few years after being an undrafted free agent in 2004. The value of 2005 undrafted rookie Heath Farwell was front and center last year when the team lost him to a preseason knee injury and the former captain of the special teams saw his teammates struggle to cover kicks and punts. Even Pro Bowl defensive tackle Pat Williams started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent.

So hours after the final pick went off the board Sunday night, vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, his scouts and Brad Childress' assistant coaches were still in the midst of a telemarketing campaign to dozens of rookies that weren't drafted and bringing their roster to 82 players (the NFL limits roster sizes to 80 players, but the draft picks don't count on the roster until they are signed).

"We always felt if we go above the 80-man roster that we get a free look during the OTAs (organized team activities) and through the minicamps, and then you can go ahead and make your cuts and determinations from there," Spielman said. "That was the situation with (Husain Abdullah) last year. We had actually over-signed at safety and he showed up so much at the OTAs and training camp, so it's kind of like the scenario of putting out a big net and gathering all the fish in and then go ahead and sort them out."

Abdullah not only made the 53-man roster, but he played in all 17 games and led the team in special teams tackles.

Linebacker Erin Henderson also made the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie and played in 11 games on special teams. Wide receiver Darius Reynaud played in three games on special teams and offense after going undrafted in 2008. The Vikings also had CB Marcus Walker, DE Martail Burnett and RB Albert Young make the practice squad.

"We were fortunate to hit on Abdullah last year and he ended up leading our team (in special teams tackles) and he was a free agent," Spielman said. "Usually that's where you're going to get your special teamers. There are certain qualities that you look for on film and watching him on defense because sometimes those guys don't play on special teams because they are full-time starters on defense, but you watch their movement skills, watch how they tackle in the open field and you kind of project potentially what they can be as special teams players."

While Abdullah drew a $10,000 roster bonus for signing with the Vikings, offensive tackle Drew Radovich of USC drew the biggest bonus last year among undrafted free agents at $23,000.

This year, it looks like safety Colt Anderson of Wyoming might garner that prize. He got $20,000 to sign with Minnesota after the draft, according to Scout.com's Ed Thompson, who said of the approximately 30 UDFA contracts he has uncovered across the NFL, Anderson is one of only two players to receive that kind of a bonus.

Oklahoma center Jon Cooper and Boston College linebacker Robert Francois stayed above the mean with bonuses of $7,500 and $8,000, respectively, from the Vikings.

So let the Harvins and Phil Loadholts of the 2009 Vikings draft class generate the headlines over the coming months. Fourteen players acquired a day or two later will be on the same offseason schedule toiling to find their living in the NFL as well.


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