Steady In 2003 Free Agency

The Vikings had good success with their 2002 free-agent signings, including defensive end Kenny Mixon, and they plan to add more talent that way in the coming months — although it may not include some of the biggest names on the market, team officials tell VU.

The Vikings' payroll for the 2002 season ranked near the bottom of the league. Heading into next season, they are projected as one of the teams most under the NFL-imposed salary cap.

Fans hear that and salivate. Like holiday shoppers with an empty cart and charge cards at the ready, Vikings fans hope team management treats the upcoming free agency period like the day after Thanksgiving. Shopping spree.

Not so fast.

The Vikings plan on exercising the same approach to free agency they did last season when they shopped for bargains, rather than big names. Actually, the Vikings might not even sign as many free agents this winter as they did last year.

"The reality is the really, really good players don't get to the market," Rob Brzezinski, vice president of football operations, told VU. "Everybody keeps talking about Player X or Player Y who is a free agent this year, but typically they'll be franchised.

"We're going to be active in free agency, but we're going to be prudent and we're going to look for a guy for the right price."

In one specific case, Brzezinski is right. One the biggest names slated for free agency this year is Baltimore cornerback Chris McAlister, and the Vikings have a need a cornerback. However, former Vikings special teams coach and current Ravens assistant Gary Zauner told VU that Baltimore will place the franchise designation on McAlister if necessary, meaning no other team will have an opportunity to sign him.

The Vikings signed five free agents that all were starters at some point of the 2002 season. Defensive ends Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell cracked the starting lineup, linebacker Greg Biekert could be considered the defensive MVP, and safety Ronnie Bradford, who is considering retirement, was a mainstay in the secondary, as was Corey Chavous. Blocking tight end Hunter Goodwin and running back Moe Williams filled valuable roles as well.

"I think our free-agent acquisitions … (were) very, very good," head coach Mike Tice said. "Although we didn't go out and get any marquee star players, we were able to go out and get some players that built a good foundation for us."

Can't buy me chemistry
Even if the Vikings were to sign a high-priced, big-name free agent, that wouldn't necessarily guarantee success. At least that's how Brzezinski feels.

"Historically, the big-name, big-priced free agents don't pan out," Brzezinski said.

As a player in Seattle, Tice witnessed firsthand how a high-priced player can disrupt team chemistry, something the Vikings said grew stronger this season.

"I saw it happen with (Brian) Bosworth when I played in Seattle," Tice said. "You have guys like Steve Largent, Jacob Green and Kenny Easley, Curt Warner — really great players — and then all of the sudden you bring in a Brian Bosworth and you break the bank with him. All of the sudden we were a 10-6 team that went to 8-8. When we felt we were on the cusp of winning a Super Bowl we went backwards.

"Part of the problem was be blew our chemistry in the locker room. So, my point, when you bring in a superstar player the great part of it is if he's a playmaker and going to make a lot of plays. The negative of it is if he's not the right type of guy and he doesn't fit in with the locker room with the other personalities, now you've created a problem."

Translation: The Vikings feel they may be ahead of schedule regarding personnel. Look for the Vikings to stay the course, follow their three-year plan, spend wisely in the free-agent market and build their team mainly through the draft.

It isn't sexy, but the Vikings think that approach will work and put the team in the playoffs next season.

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