What's next at running back for Vikings?

The Vikings were expected to lose Chester Taylor and they did. But they aren't without options at running back. We explore what's out there (along with the salary parameters), what they have and what would be the best fit for their offense.

When the clock struck midnight (Eastern) on Thursday, it sent more than 500 NFL players into a new phase of their careers – the free-agent phase.

With Chester Taylor becoming one of those 500-plus and quickly signing with the Chicago Bears, the Vikings are left with a void behind starting running back Adrian Peterson. His former teammates know it, too, taking to Twitter with their reactions.

"Lost Chester Taylor to free agency to the Bears. Clutch player. Very big void to fill," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe tweeted.

Wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who came to the Vikings from the Bears via free agency in 2008, knows the routine.

"Chester will be missed. Great part of the team. @ the same time happy for him, he's where he wants to be," Berrian wrote on his Twitter page.

The question, as it always is in free agency, is what now? Where will the Vikings go to replace the player that led all running backs in the NFL for third-down receptions each of the last two years?

One possibility is right on their roster. Former Iowa running back Albert Young has slowly been making his ascent up the depth chart. He began his career by spending the entire 2008 season on the practice squad. Last year, he was active for half of the games and had a 4.4-yard rushing average on 12 carries, mostly in mop-up duty.

"Very good back that hasn't had a chance but is very competitive and explosive," Shiancoe tweeted about Young.

But with very little experience, it's unlikely that the Vikings would feel comfortable enough with Young to go into the season without any veteran presence behind Peterson. Taylor was skilled at picking up blitzes and protecting the quarterback, and young running backs typically struggle in that area.

The Vikings have had almost two weeks to sign LaDainian Tomlinson, who was released from the San Diego Chargers, and to date the team isn't known to have shown any interest. Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel, was vague when asked about Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook at the NFL Scouting Combine last week.

"We stick to the same philosophy we've always had. And regardless of positions, if there's a guy out there that can help then we do it," he said. "If we can fill from within, then we do that as well. I don't think we ever not look at anybody that comes available, but you have discussions about it and you move on."

Brad Childress declined to go in-depth on Westbrook last week because he was technically still under contract with the Philadelphia. Despite the Eagles informing Westbrook that they were releasing him and giving him permission to talk with other teams, that move didn't happen until Friday.

"He's a good running back in a lot of different areas," said Childress, who coached Westbrook during their days together in Philadelphia.

One person who wasn't vague on Westbrook was NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell, who knows the Eagles well and studies about 30 hours of film a week to prepare the on-air talent for the State Farm NFL Matchup Show.

Cosell said signing Westbrook, who has had concussion and knee injuries hamper his effectiveness lately, would be a risk. But his familiarity with Childress' system would also make him a natural fit for the Vikings.

"I see Westbrook as being a very good fit because obviously it's the same offense with the same terminology," Cosell told Viking Update at the Combine. "Westbrook knows it cold. He's been in it his whole career. Brad Childress runs the exact same offense that Andy Reid runs. There's always modifications based on your talent, but it comes down to terminologies and concepts, and the concepts and the terminology are the same. Obviously Westbrook now becomes a satellite player. He becomes a Reggie Bush-type player. He maybe plays 20 or 25 snaps a game. I think in that role, as a perimeter satellite player, Westbrook would still have some value. He's just not a runner anymore, a true runner where you can line him up in the backfield and give him the ball and have him run between the tackles."

Westbrook was scheduled to make $7.25 million in 2010, the last year of his contract with the Eagles, so it would be interesting to see what kind of offer the Vikings would put together if they let Taylor go to Chicago for an average of about $3.1 million per season.

While Westbrook is probably the best fit out there for the Vikings, he isn't the only running back available with name recognition. The New York Jets released Thomas Jones, who played for the Cardinals, Bucs and Bears before joining the Jets.

At 31 years old, Jones had a career year with the Jets, rushing for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns. In fact, Jones has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark each of the last five seasons, but he had a $2.8 million base salary scheduled in 2010 and a $3 million roster bonus, according to Scout.com's Adam Caplan. In 2004, the last year he didn't reach 1,000 yards with the Chicago Bears, he then caught 56 passes. And Jones is said to have a great work ethic, an important characteristic for a player, but the biggest question with him might be his willingness to accept a backup role with his success the last few years.

While the Jets have an interest in re-signing him, Kansas City is also interested, according to NFL.com.

There are other options available for the Vikings, like free agents Larry Johnson, Willie Parker and Jamal Lewis, but none of those seem as good of fits with the Vikings offense as Westbrook or even Jones. Another possibility could be restricted free agent Mike Bell, who received only the right-of-first-refusal tender, meaning the Vikings wouldn't owe any draft-pick compensation to the New Orleans Saints if they signed him. But like some of the backs mentioned, Bell is considered more a between-the-tackles runner who doesn't offer the same dimensions in the passing game that a player like Westbrook would.

NOTES

  • In all, 531 players became free agents when the signing period kicked off at 11:01 p.m. CT Thursday. Of those, 216 restricted free agents received qualifying offers. Six players were given the franchise tag by their club, giving them a salary equal to the average of the top five salaries at their respective positions.

  • Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie, who tweeted earlier that he is dealing with plantar fasciitis in both feet, tweeted on Friday that his treatment is helping. "The feet injury is starting 2 feel better. I get 2 take the tape off 2day. I go back on Wed.," he wrote.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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