That football saying – "the best moves are sometimes those that don't get made" – is in full bloom when it comes to the Vikings' free-agent attempts in recent years. They have moved for a number of personnel moves over the past few years and failed. And they have been better for it.
What some Vikings fans didn't realize was that Smith wasn't their best option to shore up a notoriously weak position for the team. They had an ace in the hole named Jared Allen they were working on.
The Kansas City Chiefs put the franchise tag on Allen and most figured that was the end of it, but the Vikings knew the history between Allen and then-Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson. It was an acrimonious relationship and Allen felt jilted when Peterson publicly called his star defensive lineman a risk because of his decisions off the field. Allen later admitted that his worst decisions came when he was drinking and has since kept his wild-man ways limited to on-field production.
In the two years since, Allen has rustled up 29 sacks, over 100 tackles and eight forced fumbles and become a fan favorite in Minnesota, just like he was in Kansas City. Smith, meanwhile, has been solid but unspectacular – getting 13 sacks, 90 tackles and three forced fumbles in San Francisco. To make that turn of events look even better, the Vikings have also gotten 13.5 sacks, over 100 tackles and two forced fumbles from their "other" defensive end, Ray Edwards.
You might remember the wine-and-dine the Vikings put on receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh last March. This time, they got their man to visit. Unlike Smith, Houshmandzadeh left the first free-agent city he visited, but like Smith, a teammate of his with the Bengals, he also went to the West Coast, where he got the sea plane ride – and eventually a lucrative contract – from the Seahawks. The Vikings lost out, and consternation among fans started. They needed a receiver to complement Bernard Berrian and they didn't have one.
Six weeks later, they got one in the draft when they took another perceived "risky" player in Percy Harvin in the first round. Thanks to testing positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine, Harvin's stock slipped, but, just like they had done with Allen, they talked to numerous people that knew Harvin well and felt they could trust him. He didn't disappoint. Houshmandzadeh had 79 catches for 911 yards and three touchdowns last year with the Seahawks. Harvin had 60 catches for 790 yards and six touchdowns as the third receiver, but he also made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner and offered more versatility than Houshmandzadeh could have.
Actually, as it turned out, the Vikings found two receivers to not only complement Berrian, but were every bit as productive as him. In addition to Harvin playing the slot just as well as Houshmandzadeh and returning kicks at a Pro Bowl level, fans finally saw what Sidney Rice had been flashing on the practice fields while trying to stay healthy enough to play in his first two seasons. Rice had a breakout, Pro Bowl year, catching 83 passes for 1,213 yards and eight touchdowns.
That, too, could turn out to be a good turn of fortune for the Vikings. It remains to be seen if Toby Gerhart was worth trading up for in the draft, but while Tomlinson will likely be limping out of the league in a couple years, Gerhart is likely to be running over defenders for much less than half the price.
The Vikings have made big, bold attempts at proven veterans in free agency over the last three years with Smith, Houshmandzadeh and Tomlinson, but from this vantage point it seems clear that fate (and solid background research) was smiling nicely on them to end up with Allen, Harvin and quite possibly Gerhart.
That's why it's easy to dismiss overconfident calls that seem to look only at name recognition when saying the Vikings have to go after Albert Haynesworth and should have Marc Bulger on speed dial. Sometimes the best calls are those that are dropped.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.