QB A Sticky, Changing Situation

The Vikings are facing a current QB dilemma that, while not a short-term concern, has some implications that need addressing now.

The Vikings' QB situation has all the story lines of a good (or bad if you hate them) soap opera. Who's in? Who's out? Who might be in? Who might be out? They're all valid questions. Each deserves an answer. Here they are.

The only given is that Daunte Culpepper is the starter. Even that premise has an interesting sub-plot. The Vikings, for one of the rare times in team history and what could be a franchise first, have the current franchise tag on TE Jim Kleinsasser. He has already agreed to a one-year, $3.05 million paycheck for 2003. But, if he isn't signed by next Friday, the Vikings can't negotiate with him until mid-summer and, when they do, if he signs a five-year deal, the team can't use the franchise tag for the duration of his contract.

Why is that important? If Kleinsasser doesn't sign by Friday, he's gone after 2003. The team needs to retain the franchise tag in case it is needed on Culpepper. When asking a "made" member of the Vikings contract team, VU was told the numbers being thrown around for Culpepper are $50-60 million over seven years with $10-15 million of that up front. The franchise tag is needed if Red McCombs is going to sell and doesn't want to be on the hook for that kind of signing money.

Next is Todd Bouman. At a time that Bouman and his agent should be dancing a happy jig over his situation – either a $1 million signing bonus within the next month-plus or a chance to taste the long cabbage of free agency – it has taken yet another turn for the worse. While most national reports refer to Bouman as nothing more than "a material witness" in the rape investigation coming from the February Arctic Blast event, Bouman is portayed in the local media as innocent as Robert Blake or O.J. Whether completely exonerated or not, his reputation has been soiled in this town and he is likely not going to be paid top dollar by a P.R. conscious organization. For comparison purposes, look up "Denny Green" on a search engine and see the phrase "former NFL head coach" as his description. Bad press is bad press and it follows you. Odds of Bouman getting $1 million April 15 are about the same as seeing Gary Coleman's name above the title of a feature film – it ain't gonna happen.

So, who's in? VU has been told that the Vikings have made as good a pitch as they will to Neil O'Donnell. He's already said no, but is visiting Miami and New Orleans – both places he would likely have a better chance to start. Next in line is Gus Frerotte. He's expected to be offered a two-year deal as early as today if the team officially gives up on O'Donnell. But even he is in question, since he's visiting Pittsburgh – where he has a much better chance of being a starter by November. Next in line is former Redskin Shane Matthews, expected to visit this weekend.

What does it all mean? The Vikings will end up with a backup QB and, if Kleinsasser doesn't agree to a long-term deal, he's gone after this year. Confusing, yes. But that's part of NFL free agency in the new millennium.

* The battle to sign a cornerback continues. The Vikings continue to talk with the agents for Tory James, but nothing has given rise to any reason for optimism that a deal is forthcoming quickly. Former Bronco Denard Walker visited Friday but left town without a deal and is continuing his tour of the NFL. Vikings insiders say the team is committed to making a strong offer to get one of those two. Kevin Mathis is coming in early next week, but he is seen more as a contingency than a front-burner option.
* VU has been told the Vikings have been in contact with the agent for Jason Sehorn – released Friday by the Giants. We've also been told that the team's interest in him is as a safety, not a cornerback. VU has also been told that the interest in him has nothing to do with his wife Angie Harmon – the source of most of VU's interest.
* It's looking more like Moe Williams won't be back next year. Despite comments from Mike Tice that the Vikings want Williams back, VU has heard otherwise from Moe's people, and visits are being planned for Carolina and New England. However, VU has been told Brian Billick may have the inside track in getting Moe to Baltimore – which would reunite the two of them again. Williams was a cap casualty with the Ravens and came back to the Vikings last year after one season in Baltimore.
* When the Vikings signed DT Billy Lyon, they said "no thanks" to free agent DT John Thornton, who had been scheduled for a visit. Thornton signed Friday with the Bengals, who ironically are battling the Vikings for James' and Walker's services.
* There hasn't been much about the linebacker problems of the Vikings … yet. Free agent Barry Gardner of the Eagles is scheduled in next week and, if his contract demands aren't outrageous, the Vikings will give him a long look.
* Former Viking Mitch Berger signed a five-year deal with the Saints for $4.2 million – with $450,000 up front. He could have earned more had he stayed with the Vikings. But, his unwillingness to compromise on a roster bonus means he'll be with his third team in three years – for progressively less money.
* TE Hunter Goodwin is mulling offers from both the Vikings and Raiders. He's expected to decide within the next couple of days.
* The Vikes had an interest in WR Derrius Thompson. But, after a tour of many cities, he signed Friday with Miami.

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