Howard, Sawyer on the Bubble

What you see here is something that has been a rarity -- an action photo of Willie Howard. It looks now like this could be even more of a rarity.

The Vikings have made no bones about the fact that they're looking for a defensive lineman in the first round of this year's draft. While many think the Vikings choice will come down to Penn State DT Jimmy Kennedy or Kansas State CB Terence Newman, the name of Washington State DT Rien Long has also been thrown into the mix.

One of the reasons the Vikings may stray from the typical "best athlete available" to fill a need on the defensive line -- in the draft and free agency -- is because of significant health questions on the defensive front.

VU has been told that Willie Howard, a second-round pick from Stanford, may never play NFL football again. Injured in his rookie season and again last year, Howard has played in just eight games in two years and some in the organization believe his knee injuries are so severe he may never regain the lateral movement skills needed to compete at the NFL level.

Meanwhile, Talance Sawyer has been very slow in coming around from knee and ankle injuries that wiped out most of his 2002 season. Mike Tice is concerned that one or both may not be available for 2003 and will go through free agency and the draft preparation phase under that notion.

What does all this mean? More than likely, if the Vikings find a veteran DL in free agency and draft Kennedy or Long in the first round, either Howard or Sawyer (or both) will be gone in 2003.

* The agent for Jim Kleinsasser is expected to submit a contract proposal to the team Monday. The two sides have been in communication for some time and a deal is expected to be struck, but just when is still a lingering question.
* The Vikings signed exclusive rights free agent CB Carey Scott to a one-year deal Friday.
* The Vikings opted not to sign exclusive rights free agent DT Winfield Garnett, which means he likely won't be back in 2003.
* Veteran punter Leo Araguz will work out with the team next week or the week after in hopes of securing the team's punting job. The Vikings are still looking for a punter who can handle kickoffs so they can keep Gary Anderson on the roster.
* Starting next Thursday, teams can release veterans currently under contract. Expect to see some big names, possibly including RB Emmitt Smith, RB Stephen Davis and QB Kordell Stewart to be among them.
* Every year, large college football programs open workout days for their players for NFL scouts and coaches. The Vikings, especially Dennis Green, rarely attended these private workouts. Tice is expected to visit seven such events next month -- as opposed to just one last year.

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