Chester Taylor and the Vikings were about as close to reaching the Super Bowl as a team can come, having a chance to win the NFC Championship in the final minutes before an interception led to overtime, and overtime led to a New Orleans Saints win.
Taylor, who was an unrestricted free agent, was talking with the Vikings in the week leading up to free agency, but once the clock struck midnight (Eastern on Thursday night), Taylor was on his way to becoming one of three Chicago Bears that were signed in the opening 24 hours.
Taylor told ESPN Radio Chicago that it is the Bears he's hitching his playoff wagon these days.
"The Bears seem like they have a great opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. I want to be on a team that is contending," he said. "They have been to the Super Bowl before and just seem like they have a couple of keys. Plus, ever since I've been with Minnesota, they've given us a tough time."
Taylor's comments may seem a little curious considering the Vikings have made the playoffs each of the last two years while the Bears were on the outside looking in, but Chicago and Minnesota have split the series history 4-4 since Taylor arrived in Minnesota. That includes a 36-10 Vikings win and a 36-30 Bears overtime win in 2009.
Of course, Taylor was also optimistic after the Bears signed star defensive end Julius Peppers, the top unrestricted free agent according to Scout.com, and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.
"Chicago's making all the right moves to win a championship. They want to win here and that's what I want to do. I want to come in here and win. And we've been making all the right moves right now in free agency," Taylor said.
His opportunity also has to excite him. After spending much of the last three years behind Adrian Peterson, Taylor is expected to be a regular part of the game plan for Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz. It's the same system that turned Marshall Faulk into a star in St. Louis.
"Yes, I'm really looking forward to it and can catch the ball and go against linebackers and get open real good," Taylor said. "I just want to be that same back that Marshall Faulk was when he was in Mike Martz's offense."
Taylor wouldn't proclaim the Bears the favorites to win the division and said Brett Favre's potential return to the Vikings is "none of my concern no more. (Jay) Cutler's my new quarterback and I'm pushing for him this year."
Taylor also admitted that not taking the majority of the carries the last few years will help the over-30-year-old running back as he expects more action in 2010.
But Taylor wasn't the only former Viking joining another NFC North team over the weekend. Wide receiver Nate Burleson, who spent his first three years in the league with the Vikings and moved to Seattle for the past four years as a restricted free-agent signing, found a new home in Detroit.
Burleson signed a five-year, $25 million contract with Lions and will be playing his former team (although many of his old teammates are no longer on the Vikings anymore) twice a year. In fact, Detroit may feel more like the Vikings to him than Minnesota would at this time. That's because the offensive coordinator with the Lions – Scott Linehan – used to hold the same post in Minnesota when Burleson was there.
Combined with some other young talent in Detroit, Burleson is hoping the Lions are on the rise.
"With the pieces to the puzzle in Detroit already having a year in the system, Scott Linehan, who was my offensive coordinator in Minnesota, who is a tremendous, tremendous offensive mind, and the pieces to the puzzle that could fall into place talking about free agency now including myself, the number two pick in the draft, following draft picks like that after this year, you would start to think after a while that the puzzle would come together," Burleson told KJR Radio in his hometown Seattle. "That's just me being optimistic because that's the kind of guy I am. But you never know in this league. You've seen what happened to Miami after they had a terrible year after they came back I think it was a couple of years ago. You get a place like New Orleans who's done so much for the city, I think right now Detroit's in a similar situation. They've got a lot of pieces to the puzzle already together and you can do something special for Detroit, Michigan."
Besides having last year's No. 1 overall draft pick throwing to him in Matthew Stafford, Burleson also will have a talented receiver opposite him in Calvin Johnson. But, mostly, Burleson signed with the Lions because they made him feel wanted.
"I think it came down to a team wanting you and making you feel like a priority. I got a call from my agent, started chatting and he was telling me the interest that was out there. Detroit was far more enthusiastic about me coming and being part of their program, more than anybody else, including Seattle," Burleson said. "With that being said, at the end of the day, a lot of this is about being wanted. I think that's what free agency is. When you're drafted, you're selected by a team. When a team wants to trade you, you're sought after. And when you're a free agent, priorities stick out. Being that I was a top guy on their list and they wanted to reach out and make something happen right after free agency started, it kind of charged something inside of me and got me excited."
That seems to be the emotion for a couple of NFC North teams that were active in free agency over the weekend and looking to close the gap between the Vikings and themselves, and they will be relying on a couple of former Vikings in that effort.
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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