In an effort to level the playing field for all teams -- from the rich Cowboys to the inept Bengals -- the NFL imposed a rule on teams that they could contact no more than 60 players at this weekend's NFL Combine. The question for the Vikings is who do you talk to.
VU has been represented at every draft at Winter Park since the team moved its headquarters and War Room there and the past history has been that many players drafted -- ironically almost every first-rounder -- had little to no contact with the team prior to being drafted. Last year, the only contact Mike Tice had with Bryant McKinnie was to tell him he didn't think he'd still be around when the Vikings picked. This year, some of those same rules may apply.
The Vikings don't need to talk to QB Carson Palmer and Byron Leftwich or WR Charles Rogers, since the three will either all be gone or if one is left -- Leftwich -- he won't be on the Vikings' radar scope for their first-round pick.
The dicey part about the player limit for interviews is that first-rounders are not the only consideration. Scouts have submitted their lists and they include sleepers the team may be looking at in the third round and beyond. About the only certainty for the Vikings interview process is that several defensive and offensive linemen are going to be looked at in the event nobody gets snapped up in free agency.
* The buzz around the Vikings continues to be that their first-round pick will be a defensive tackle. While many in the Twin Cities media continue to tout the skills of Rien Long, who had an awful pre-Combine workout in which his 40 times were woeful and his lateral movement was suspect, VU continues to hear the names Jimmy Kennedy and Dewayne Robertson of Kentucky. If Kennedy, a Penn State standout is gone, Robertson, Long or William Joseph (a teammate of McKinnie at Miami) could well be the name called. As many as six defensive tackles could be taken in the first round this year, so, like last season, if the Vikings want to get one, they will likely need to use their first-round pick to make sure they get the one they want.
* Rumor Mill I -- The Vikings chances of getting Orlando Brown are starting to look a little dimmer. VU has been told five or more teams are on his visit list for the first week of March. The best thing the Vikings have going for them is more money to spend on free agents than any of his other suitors, including defending champion Tampa Bay.
* Rumor Mill II -- Word in Houston is circulating that, while the Texans are scared off of going after Jim Kleinsasser because of his franchise tag, had he been transitioned, the Texans, Cowboys and Bengals all would have made a strong push that would have likely included a "poison pill" contract -- a huge up-front bonus that would have made it unfeasable that the Vikings would have matched. Even so, word in Houston is that the Vikings may still look to trade Kleinsasser after signing him to the Cowboys or Bengals -- a proposal Mike Tice denies.
* Rumor Mill III -- What is it about the McKinnie being traded to Cleveland talk? When he was unsigned, the stories in Cleveland was that Butch Davis was hot and heavy for him. The latest rumors that won't go away, have the Vikings trading McKinnie before his April roster bonus is due to the Browns for DT Gerard Warren and then taking OT Jordan Gross in the first round if he's available. The other has the Vikings trading McKinnie to the Browns for WR Kevin Johnson and Cleveland's first-round pick. Don't expect McKinnie to be wearing anything but purple next year -- and for the next decade.
* Rumor Mill IV -- There is a persistent rumor that, if Chicago doesn't draft Leftwich, he will still be available when the Vikings pick at No. 7 and that one of several teams looking to get him may look to move up into the Vikings spot. The cost would likely be a first- and second-round pick, which would probably drop the Vikings first selection into the middle third of the first round, but would also give the team four picks in the top 50 selections. In addition, the contracts of the two players picked up in the deal would likely be less than would be paid the one player taken at No. 7. Still, Tice loves his position and, if a McKinnie type drop of a player they covet happens, a trade likely won't go down. That said, if the draft falls like some think it will -- Kennedy, DE Terrell Suggs and CB Terence Newman being drafted with the three picks in front of the Vikings -- the team will strongly consider any offers.
* Word is getting even stronger that the Vikings are going to make a big-time push for recently-released QB Neil O'Donnell. In light of this interest, VU is being told that Jeff Diamond may try to turn up his efforts to re-sign O'Donnell before the Vikes get a chance to take him away.
* One position the Vikings are looking at seriously at the Combine for the second day of the draft is a punter/kickoff specialist. The team was prepared to take Ryan Zastudil last year on the fourth round, but he was snapped up before their first pick of the second day. Last year, the Vikings kept three kickers on the roster after bringing Gary Anderson back. Tice plans to keep Anderson, which will predicate getting a punter/K.O. guy. Even though Mitch Berger is available as a free agent, after his scathing comments about Tice after being released last year, he's not seen as an option at this time.
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