What Direction Are Vikings Going?

VU has been behind the Vikings laying back while other teams break the bank in the opening salvo of free agency. But, with fans and media suddenly turning on the Vikes, today's talks with CB Denard Walker could send a clear message to the organization's intent for 2003.

The Vikings won't be on the draft clock for more than a month and a half, but they're finding themselves on the clock with the media and the fans – about a 24-hour clock.

Monday, VU was told that the agent for CB Denard Walker had been told to talk exclusively with the Vikings about a deal before moving on. Tuesday morning, conflicting stories came out that the Vikes' first offer was so offensive that Walker was willing to start up talks with the Rams and Jaguars – his two most recent suitors.

However, VU confirmed that Walker reiterated his position to work out a deal with the Vikings. He hoped that, by the time you read this, we would be referring to him as the newest Viking. Instead, talks are set to resume this morning and, if a deal isn't worked out while the sun shines (or the snow flies in Minnesota), odds are it won't happen.

There has been a recent backlash against the Vikings in the last couple of days. One questions the team's willingness to go after one of the prize free agents that invariably gets season-ticket holders excited. Another questions Red McCombs' willingness to spend more on the team. Having cut big checks for Randy Moss and Bryant McKinnie in recent weeks, there has been suspicion that McCombs wants out before he sets up another owner for success. If that's the case, VU would ask that McCombs find a buyer soon.

Some of the criticism is unfounded. The Vikings targeted four cornerbacks in free agency. From what VU has been told, they were in this order: Dre Bly, Walker, Tory James and Dexter McCleon. The Vikings were never in a bidding war with Detroit over Bly. The fact that the Lions are so moronic to spend $5 million a year on a non-cap friendly deal for Bly is their problem. That's why they're the Lions and they're picking in front of an expansion team in the draft. McCleon preferred to play for Dick Vermeil, the Leo Buscaglia of the NFL (hugs all around).

James has become the sticking point in the minds of Vikes fans. Why would ANYONE want to sign with the Bengals. It's no coincidence that they have had a draft pick in the top four every year since 1998. They suck. Period. But, with yet another new coach – defensive minded Marvin Lewis – the lure of $6 million this season in his bank account regardless of production was hard to turn away from. The Vikings wanted James, but not at that front-end risk.

Don't think VU is apologizing for the Vikings' actions. We're not. We're still trying to find out if McCombs is hamstringing his underlings to low-ball contract offers. Walker has become the line in the sand. He's not asking for Bly money, he's asking for Tory James money. He deserves James money. If he is allowed to slip away, the Vikings will send the message to the rest of the free agent class of 2003. If you compare yourself with the Billy Lyons of the class, you're more than welcome. If you want to put your professional reputation behind a big contract, forget it.

Talks with Walker resume today. Perhaps the knowledge that the local media and Vikings fans – the true life blood of the organization – are getting salty may be enough to get the team to budge on free agents. The Vikings' 3-0 finish to 2002 has a lot of people looking at them as one of the sleeper teams to jump up in 2003. If the Vikings remain inactive in addressing their basic deficiencies on defenses, those same people will remember the Bengalian 8-21 record the Vikings posted prior to their current three-game win streak.

Walker could well end up as the watershed player in the Vikings' ascent to the top. The club publicly targeted four players to shore up the cornerback position. Three are gone and the fourth has gone out of his way to give the Vikings every chance to sign him. If they do, it's an indication of good things to come. If they don't, it may be time to put McCombs on the clock – be an NFL owner or just get out and cash in a nice profit for five years you'll always remember.

* VU has been told that both the Rams and Jaguars are interested in talking deal with Walker. If a contract isn't worked out with the Vikings by today, we've been assured that the Rams and Jags are ready to fill the void … quickly.
* Moe Williams will visit with the Bills today. Despite talk to the contrary, the Vikings are letting Williams hear offers from other teams. While he wants to stay a Viking and VU has been told his agent will relay an offer to see if the Vikings want to match, odds are right now that if Moe gets a solid offer from another team, the Vikings will let him go. You can judge from his impact on the team last year whether that is a mistake.
* Tice was on the road again Tuesday, attending the University of Georgia's Pro Day. The interesting thing for fans to put in their mental Rolodex is that no Georgia players will be gone by the No. 7 pick, but one player in particular – DT Johnathan Sullivan – would be available if the Vikings trade down from their current draft slot.
* NFC North rivals Chicago and Green Bay were both hurt Tuesday. The Bears lost LB Rosevelt Colvin to the Patriots, while the Redskins continue their insane habit of burning money. The Packers announced Tuesday that they wouldn't match the four-year, $6 million offer to RFA safety Matt Bowen. As a result, the Pack will get the Redskins' sixth round draft pick as compensation.
* Anyone who objectively takes a look at the early stage of free agency can see who has been the most active. The Bengals and Lions are arguably the worst-run organizations in the league. The Redskins have an owner who is trying very hard to overcompensate for something (we think you know what we mean). The same guy who spent $15 million in signing bonuses for Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith, spent $9 million last year on head coaches -- $5 million to have Steve Spurrier coach the ‘Skins and $4 million to have Marty Schottenheimer NOT coach the team. As for the Chiefs – the only other free-spenders at this point – with Oakland, Denver and San Diego making signings, they're just trying to keep up. The have-nots are trying to become players. Here's hoping that, as sanity takes over, the Vikings will quit being cautious and start being aggressive. Cautiously aggressive is as oxymoronic as jumbo shrimp.

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