Saturday, March 21, 2009

Griffin Signing Suggests End to Vikings' Free Agency

2009 likely will not go down in the annals of Minnesota Vikings' off-season history as one of the more glamorous for franchise free-agent signings. With all but Darren Sharper returning as starters on defense, such glamour arguably was unnecessary. But with several holes on the offensive line and significant questions remaining at quarterback and wide receiver, a little bit of glamour would have gone a long way, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

That the Vikings failed to make a splash in free agency is not entirely the fault of the Vikings' organization. After a strong pitch to former Cincinnati Bengals' wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Vikings lost Houshmandzadeh to the Seattle Seahawks. Houshmandzadeh suggested that his decision had a great deal to do with the opportunity to play with Matt Hasselbeck in a more vertical version of the West Coast Offense. But, clearly, at least as much of his determination had to do with the extra dollars that the Seahawks were offering. With age no longer an ally, the Vikings can be forgiven for passing on an opportunity to over-spend on Houshmandzadeh.

Missing out on Houshmandzadeh, however, left the Vikings beneath the NFL's salary floor in a year in which solid free agents were few and far between. Re-signing tight end Jim Kleinsasser, linebacker Heath Farwell, tackle Jimmy Kennedy and purported safety Benny Sapp, helped bridge the $16 million gap that the Vikings had to make up, as did renegotiating Sage Rosenfels' contract. Still, the Vikings remained approximately $8-10 million under the league salary floor. Matt Birk's departure to Baltimore made meeting that gap without bringing salary forward highly improbable.

Though the Vikings have yet to release the terms of their contract extension with cornerback Cedric Griffin, it is a good bet that the team front-loaded Griffin's contract with a roster bonus somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million. That's a lot of cash for a player who, at times, makes Waswa Serwanga seem like a viable option at corner, but it's in keeping with the Vikings' protection of players selected on day one of the 2006 NFL draft.

Griffin's signing, and the likelihood that the terms of his contract push the Vikings above the salary cap floor, probably means that the Vikings will not sign any additional free agents and that the team will fill the void left by 's departure and Ryan Cook's continuing absence internally and through the draft. With John Sullivan already being anointed the starter at center, the Vikings likely will select an offensive tackle in round one of this year's draft.

For Vikings' fans hoping for a big move in the off-season, there thus appears to be little probability of such an outcome. If Rosenfels and Jackson perform at their career-to-date levels, Sullivan plays like a rookie, the right tackle position is not substantially upgraded, and head coach Brad Childress continues to cordon his hand-selected few while defending his loathsome offensive system, the 2009 Vikings will look an awful lot like the 2008 Vikings.

Up Next: Is Anybody Out There? Plus, hitting the high road.

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