The Vikings are just getting down to business in Indianapolis, and the multi-tasking Rick Spielman is busy evaluating college prospects by day, interviewing them by night and finding time to talk with representatives about their own free agents.
This week is when the Vikings really get down to business in that respect, as most of the agents for those players will be meeting with the Vikings vice president of player personnel and with Rob Brzezinski, the team's vice president of football operations and their contract guru.
"Sometimes you get into figures. Sometimes you talk about what the player is, where you feel he is, where the agent feels he is, maybe the range they're looking for, where they think his market is," Spielman said of the process over the next few days in Indianapolis. "Maybe we can do that. Maybe we can't do that. Let's kind of regroup over the next week and put some figures together.
"It's the first time that we're actually getting the chance to sit there and speak. We do a lot of listening to the agents and then I'll regroup with Rob and kind of go through where, hey, potentially we could get this thing done and then we'll sit with Brad. And the Wilfs will get involved at that point."
The Vikings have five players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents – RB Chester Taylor, OL Artis Hicks, CB Benny Sapp, DT Jimmy Kennedy and WR Greg Lewis – on March 5.
Spielman said he would have a better feel for which players want to test the free-agent market and which ones they might be able to re-sign before March 5.
"We'll get a better feel for that after we meet with these guys. Sometimes when you get this close to the market, guys are curious just to see," he said. "Player A may go out and look at it just for a week and realize, I see where my market is, and want to come back and see if they can get a deal done with their team or they overestimate what their market was."
He called these meeting with agents a "first date," but the sexiest of the prospects in the Vikings' class is Taylor.
"Chester is a good football player and he's helped us win ballgames, just like Greg Lewis helped us win a ballgame last year, like Jimmy Kennedy helped us win ballgames," he said. "We feel strongly about all our guys and that's why we'd like to have them all back. If we didn't feel strongly about them, we'd just tell their agents that we plan on moving on. But I can honestly say after sitting with Brad and the coaches that we'd like to have all our guys back. We think they're all a valuable part of our football team.
"I don't know where the market is going because it's a whole new deal this year. I don't know what other teams are going to do, if there's going to be lavish spending. If there's not, it's an unknown. Chester is one of those guys that we would definitely want to try to sign back if we can, just like Greg Lewis, just like Jimmy Kennedy, just like Benny Sapp. All those guys I think are a huge part of our success last year."
While Spielman knows his own talent well, he isn't as sure on what the climate of the overall free-agent market will be like this year. With an uncapped season expected, players who would normally be unrestricted free agents after four or five years in the league will now only be restricted free agents, meaning other teams would have to give up a draft pick or two if they signed them.
"I don't know what other teams are going to do," he said. "No one knows what other teams are going to do. I know what our situation is. I know what our restrictions are. That's basically where we're focused. It will be interesting to see, but who knows?"
And Spielman is not even confident just yet on what the expectations are of his own unrestricted free agents.
"I don't know if you have a level of confidence because you don't know. … When we sit down here and meet with these agents, we get a feel for where they want to go. We kind of express how we feel about them as players. We've always tried to keep our players back on the football team," Spielman said.
He has spent the last three weeks in meetings – one week evaluating his own roster with Childress and other coaches, another week evaluating free agents and another week evaluating the draft prospects.
All three of those phases go together to help the team formulate a plan going into each segment of that roster building. Because the Vikings finished among the league's final four teams this year, they will have to lose an unrestricted free agent before they are able to sign one of equal or lesser value.
"If we're unable to sign one of those guys back, where do we go to replace that guy? Is there enough strength in the draft, where it says if we lose this guy we're going to be OK potentially and we could get a replacement in the draft? Even when we did free agency this year, you kind of guesstimate where the market is on those guys," he said.
He said they may have to focus more on the players that he believes will be similarly valued as his own unrestricted free agents. If the Vikings lose only a low-level unrestricted free agent, they won't be able to sign a top-level unrestricted free agent from another team.
But at least Spielman knows he has the financial support of the Wilf ownership group.
"I just know that our ownership since I've been here has always done things to make sure that if there is someone we feel that unique about that we were able to go out and get them," he said. "We are very fortunate, and I think the fans of Minnesota are very fortunate, to have ownership that are willing to go out and put the resources out there to go get the players that we need to win ballgames."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings get started on their own free agents
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