But what Vikings fans will find out Friday is that a lot of the "unknown" players they see playing for the Colts will be a lot of the players who end up on Indy's final 53-man roster. Perhaps no team has spread its cap money to so few players than the Colts. Why? They live by the simple motto that, if a player proves himself, he gets a contract extension. Few organizations make fewer big free-agent signings than the Colts. All their big contracts – and they have plenty – are given to those who have been home-groomed. The Vikings are a complete contrast to that philosophy.
Two organizations couldn't have been built more differently, but both have a chance to achieve the same end goal in the same business. Consider the following:
The Vikings have 22 players on their roster with five or more years of NFL experience – Jared Allen (5), Bernard Berrian (5), Jeff Dugan (5), E.J. Henderson (6), Anthony Herrera (5), Artis Hicks (7), Steve Hutchinson (8), Jimmy Kennedy (6), Jim Kleinsasser (10), Ben Leber (7), Cullen Loeffler (5), Ryan Longwell (12), Bryant McKinnie (7), Sage Rosenfels (8), Benny Sapp (5), Visanthe Shiancoe (6), Chester Taylor (7), Bobby Wade (6), Kevin Williams (6), Madieu Williams (5), Pat Williams (12) and Antoine Winfield (10).
Of those 22 players, with the exception of Kennedy, all of them have been full- or part-time starters for the Vikings – and 13 of them are expected to be opening-day starters. They represent 42 percent of the 53-man roster, making the Vikings a veteran team.
But how many of them were actually drafted by the Vikings? Dugan was a seventh-round pick in 2004, Henderson was a second-rounder in 2003, Kleinsasser was a second-rounder in 1999, McKinnie was first-rounder in 2002 and Kevin Williams was a first-rounder in 2003. That makes a grand total of five. The number swells to seven factoring in Herrera and Loeffler, who were undrafted, but have spent their entire careers with the Vikings. The other 15 were brought to Minnesota from outside the organization. Of the Vikings' 53-man roster, only 13 percent of it is made up of home-grown players with five or more years of experience.
Now look at the Colts. They have just 14 players with five or more years experience – Gary Brackett (6), Raheem Brock (7), Dallas Clark (6), Ryan Diem (8), Dwight Freeney (7), Ryan Lilja (5), Peyton Manning (11), Robert Mathis (6), Bob Sanders (5), Jeff Saturday (10), Justin Snow (9), Jim Sorgi (5), Adam Vinatieri (14) and Reggie Wayne (8).
Of the 14, Sorgi is the only one who doesn't see playing time – Snow is the long-snapper. They represent half of the team's 22 offensive and defensive starters, but just 26 percent of the entire roster. Simple translation: three-fourths of the Colts team is made up of players with fewer than five years of experience – making the Colts a very young team.
So, how many of their vets were actually drafted by the team? Clark was drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft, Diem was a fourth-rounder in 2001, Freeney was a first-rounder in 2002, Manning was the first overall pick in 1998. Mathis was a fifth-round pick in 2003, Sanders was a second-round pick in 2004, Sorgi was a sixth-round pick in 2004 and Wayne was a first-rounder in 2001. That takes in eight of the 14, but five others – Brackett, Brock, Lilja, Saturday and Snow – are all undrafted free agents who have spent their entire careers with the Colts. The only outside hire has been Vinatieri. Despite representing just 26 percent of the total roster (16 percent less than the Vikings veteran total), those who have played their entire career with the Colts represent 25 percent of the roster (almost double the total of the Vikings).
Of the two 80-man rosters, the Vikings have 45 players with two years or fewer of previous NFL experience – 56 percent of the total roster. The Colts have 54 players with two years or fewer experience – 68 percent of the total roster.
You have two organizations that have taken a very different approach to the game. The Colts have built from within through the draft and developing raw undrafted talent. Considering that two of the Colts starting offensive line, a Pro Bowl caliber lineman and the starting middle linebacker, were all undrafted, it's clear the Colts are doing the right thing. Even with a team so young, it has managed to win 12 or more games in each of the last six seasons. The Vikings have done it a different way, adding component parts in free agency, including guys like Allen, Hutchinson, Berrian, Winfield, Pat Williams, Madieu Williams and Leber – all indispensable components of the team. They have seen their win total climb from six to eight to 10 in the last three years and there are those who think that they can be one of the favorites to win the NFC this year.
Their approaches to winning couldn't be any more disparate. But, if the cards fall right – it wouldn't be that hard to imagine – these two organizations could meet in the season's first game and the last. How they try to get to the Super Bowl will be a journey as different as how these two teams were built.