Friday, February 29, 2008

Vikings' 2008 Free-Agency Maneuverings Commence

Like most NFL teams eager to make free-agency moves in an era in which most teams are flush with cap room, the Minnesota Vikings moved quickly to bring players into town that fit pressing team needs. Among those who have visited or who reportedly are scheduled to visit are Cincinnati Bengals' safety Madieu Williams, Chicago Bears' wide-receiver Bernard Berrian, Cincinnati defensive end Justin Smith, and Houston quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

As of this posting, the Vikings appear to have locked up one of their free-agent targets, reportedly having agreed to contract terms with Williams. Though not an elite safety, Williams is regarded as a player with considerable upside and should do no worse on the field for the Vikings than did Dwight Smith in 2007. And, though he arrives from Cincinnati, indications are that he also can be expected to conduct himself more responsibily off the field. Both indicators bode well for a Vikings' secondard in dire need of a bona fide starter unencumbered by off-field baggage that in any way portends possible league or team sanctions.

The questions regarding Williams are two-fold. The first is whether Williams can stay on the field. Williams has missed games due to injury in three of his four seasons in the NFL, costing him twelve games in 2005 and three games last season.

Given Williams' injury history, it is fair to wonder whether the terms of his contract, a six-year, $34 million deal that makes Williams one of the highest paid safeties in the NFL, is worth the gamble, particularly with other higher-caliber and nearly-as-good-as-but-less-costly safeties still on the market. There is also the nagging concern that Williams helped anchor one of the single worst defenses in NFL history.

The Vikings are also believed to be in ardent negotiations with Berrian on the terms of a multi-year contract. As one of the few wide-receivers on the free-agent market capable of claiming both speed and potential, Berrian, too, will command a high salary, and one that probably will dwarf that given Williams.

In addition to the high salary that he is likely to command and the fact that such a commitment runs contrary to the conventional wisdom that teams ought not commit substantial chunks of salary cap space to the receiver position, Berrian carries with him the stigma of dropping far too many catchable passes. That makes Minnesota, a team that just jettisoned an unsure-handed, speedy receiver, and odd choice for Berrian. And that likely means that Minnesota will really have to overpay to obtain Berrian.

The Vikings' moves to add Williams and the team's push for Berrian point to the legitimate concerns within the Vikings' front office that the team cannot settle for the Visanthe Shiancoes of the world and that, if money is going to be spent--as it must be anyway under the league's salary cap rules--the team must get better value for the money than it received in free agency last year.

The moves also point to the team's recognition that the team has many holes to fill, not all of which can be filled by draft picks and June 1st scrap heap additions. If the moves can be made by placing the bulk of the salary-cap hit on the first two seasons, overpaying probably will not be a concern. If not, the Vikings might look back at the 2008 free-agency period as one in which they were compelled to act rashly. Such, however, is the plight of .500 teams struggling to improve in today's NFL.

Up Next: Richardson and Moore likely out. Plus, more free-agency news.

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