Sunday slant: A new free-agent approach

The Vikings haven't been as aggressive in free agency this year and there is a good reason for it. Their roster has been getting better every year and the available talent pool isn't all that much help to them.

Welcome to the new Vikings order in free agency.

Now you know how Colts and Patriots fans feel (minus the Super Bowls, of course). While not much as has changed with the NFL as a whole in their pursuit of free agents, the Vikings haven't been their aggressive selves … for good reason.

First, by now you know about the restrictions placed on them as one of the final four teams in the playoffs. But the fact of the matter is that they could well be plunging into the market for mid-level free agents – isn't that all that's out there now? – if they wanted. Unfortunately, there aren't even all that many of them that are attractive.

Add to that a watered-down pool of talent because more than 200 players who normally would have been unrestricted are now restricted and it further limits the worthwhile free agents out there.

But here is one reason that is really driving the Vikings' lack of aggression in the annual shopping trip: They are already a good team.

When they went big in free agency in 2006, the first year with head coach Brad Childress at the helm, the Vikings were coming off two consecutive drafts that didn't offer them any impact players. The 2004 draft produced DE Kenechi Udeze, LB Dontarrious Thomas, DE Darrion Scott, OT Nat Dorsey, RB Mewelde Moore, LB Rod Davis, DB DeAndre Eiland and TE Jeff Dugan. Only Dugan, the hard-working seventh-rounder is still contributing to the Vikings and is the biggest contributor of those few remaining in the league. The 2005 draft is now infamous for its lack of positive contributions to the Vikings: First-rounders Troy Williamson (WR) and Erasmus James (DE), second-rounder Marcus Johnson (OL), third-rounder Dustin Fox (DB), fourth-rounder Ciatrick Fason (RB), sixth-rounder C.J. Mosely (DT) and seventh-rounder Adrian Ward (DB).

The Vikings could have used those draft picks to contribute to a less-than-stellar lineup in 2006, especially in the passing game, where an aging Brad Johnson was throwing to one of the worst wide receiver groups in the league – Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor were the starting wide receivers and Jermaine Wiggins wasn't as effective a tight end in Childress' West Coast offense.

It was no wonder Childress & Co. were so aggressive in free agency that year, signing Chester Taylor as their starting running back, Ben Leber as a starting linebacker, Tony Richardson as a starting fullback and Ryan Longwell as their kicker. They also got creative and aggressive and stole Steve Hutchinson away from the Seahawks, as well as adding a handful of other non-starting free agents.

The tone was set: The Vikings were going with a different look and outside players were being brought in. In 2007, they added TE Visanthe Shiancoe, WR Bobby Wade, LB Vinny Ciurciu and safety Mike Doss. In 2008, they added 10 players via free agency, with WR Bernard Berrian and Madieu Williams as the starting additions. Last year, that aggression slowed to a crawl, with CB Karl Paymah and WR Glenn Holt, who didn't even make the team, as the main additions. Eventually, they added the key component known as a Brett Favre, a "street" free agent, in August.

As the team has improved and become more and more what Childress is looking for, fewer moves have been made. They have concentrated on re-signing their own, and now nine days into free agency all of their unrestricted free agents are spoken for – with Chester Taylor and Artis Hicks signing with other teams and Jimmy Kennedy, Benny Sapp and Greg Lewis re-signing with the Vikings.

While they wait for a decision from LaDainian Tomlinson – who is mulling his options between the Vikings and Jets – Minnesota has signed just one outside free agent, kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd.

The rest of the league has gone in search in search of additional talent, but the Vikings have been largely unimpressed with the possibilities. In the first week of free agency, 52 unrestricted free agents with at least six accrued seasons have signed with new teams, compared to 39 at that point last year. Only 17 UFAs with six seasons have stayed with their own team, compared to 31 through one week of free agency last year.

Free-agent movement hasn't slowed down across the league, but the Vikings aren't among the active participants yet. With a quality roster intact, they may be more focused on taking advantage of a deep draft class to stay competitive for the long term.

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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