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Thread: Minnesota Vikings using free agency to build for the future without sacrificing prese

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    Minnesota Vikings using free agency to build for the future without sacrificing prese

    Minnesota Vikings using free agency to build for the future without sacrificing present
    By Ben Goessling
    Posted: 03/16/2013 12:01:00 AM CDT
    March 17, 2013 4:52 AM GMTUpdated: 03/16/2013 11:52:14 PM CDT

    Greg Jennings (85) gains yardage against the Minnesota Vikings in a game at the Metrodome. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross, File)

    There was a pragmatic efficiency at the core of the moves the Vikings made in the past week.

    They acquired three draft picks for a talented but temperamental receiver and replaced him with a solid veteran they expect can help their young quarterback develop.

    In case that quarterback falters, they added a veteran backup.

    They re-signed a handful of young players, and let go of a cornerback due to make $7.25 million in his 15th season.

    The transactions all seem straightforward and sensible, until you add the names. Then, what the Vikings did in the past seven days seems like a bold recalibration of the franchise.

    The 2013 Vikings will have Greg Jennings, not Percy Harvin. It appears they will not have Antoine Winfield, and though they have been resolute in their support of Christian Ponder, former Pro Bowler Matt Cassel will back him up.

    In a seismic series of moves that had fans alternately cheering and howling, the Vikings guaranteed they will have a much different look next season than they did during their surprising 2012 playoff run.

    After making a seven-game improvement in 2012, the Vikings returned to relevance sooner than most expected, and their moves in the past week appeared to be guided by two different aims.

    General manager Rick Spielman wanted to continue the financially prudent approach to roster building he has used in the past two seasons. But this also seems to be team geared to win now, with room to spend money on a player who could feed the Vikings' postseason aspirations.

    "To me, he was a unique situation," Spielman said of Jennings. "I'm a very strong believer in building through the draft. But every once in a while, something unique will come about that you just want to make sure you can try to get accomplished."

    There could be more moves coming.

    The Vikings currently have 11 picks in the 2013 draft, and are one of two teams with two first-rounders after the Harvin trade. They still don't know who their middle linebacker will be. They need more depth at receiver, youth on the defensive line and stability in a secondary that Winfield had anchored since 2004.

    When it would have been safer for the Vikings to keep their roster steady, though, they chose another route. Now they'll see whether it will work.

    "The window isn't closing. The window is opening up," Jennings said. "And I saw that with this ballclub last year. They kind of snuck up on everybody, including the Packers, when I was over there. It's exciting to see what they bring to the table. ... To those 10 wins (from 2012), hopefully we can get 11, 12, 13. Who knows?"


    When Harvin was on the field for the first nine games last season, the Vikings' passing game orbited around him. He caught 39.4 percent of the passes Ponder completed in those nine games, and still led the team in catches and receiving yards after missing the final seven games.

    When the Vikings dealt the receiver on Monday, they opened themselves up to the possibility they would head into 2013 without a proven top receiver. But Spielman already had been in contact with Jennings' camp before that, and the Vikings believe the 29-year-old could have a greater influence on the passing game than Harvin did.

    Jennings played a variety of receiver spots in Green Bay, lining up outside and in the slot, and developed a reputation as one of the game's smoothest route runners, able to disguise his intentions from defensive backs until the last second.

    He also excelled at gaining yards after the catch, as he reminded the Vikings when he broke Chris Cook's tackle and gained another 27 yards on a key fourth-down completion during the Packers' NFC wild-card win over the Vikings in January.

    And after playing his entire career with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, Jennings can be a valuable mentor for both Ponder and young receivers like Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, the Vikings believe.

    "I've had success," Jennings said. "I don't have all the answers. I don't plan to ever have all the answers. I want to grow. I'm one that likes to dip into everyone's pot. So when I see a young guy and I see something that he does well, I want to add that to my repertoire. But I also want to bring to the table a standard, a level of play that we're going to be great."


    Signing Jennings, in conjunction with the Harvin trade, might bring another benefit to the Vikings. When they head into the draft this April, they'll have more freedom to fill some of their other needs.

    "It opens up all the doors," Spielman said. "It doesn't force you take a receiver in the first round. We've never forced an issue -- we go right off the true value of our board -- but if there's another need that we have to fill, and you know there's depth in this draft at the receiver position, it doesn't force you to say, 'We need to take a receiver.' We can take whatever we need to fill."

    The strength of the 2013 draft is thought to be in its depth, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines, and the Vikings could use one of their first-round picks on a defensive tackle who eventually could replace Kevin Williams.

    They have not been in contact with Winfield about returning on a cheaper contract, Spielman said Friday.

    With Cook's durability a concern and Josh Robinson only entering his second year, the Vikings could take a cornerback high in the draft. And their need for a middle linebacker -- particularly one who can cover tight ends -- could lead them toward Notre Dame's Manti Te'o or Georgia's Alec Ogeltree.

    However they proceed in the next few months, the Vikings' 2013 roster won't be static. They said goodbye to that idea when they traded Harvin, cut Winfield and signed Jennings. And in some ways, they probably flushed it when they won ahead of schedule in 2012.

    Their moves could help the Vikings keep a healthy culture around the team, stay young and win now. As daunting as it might be to pursue all those goals at once, the Vikings believe they've set themselves up to at least try.

    "The young guys we're going to bring in and that we have, I hope to add to what they bring to the table," Jennings said. "I hope I can help grow them and we can all flourish together."

    Follow Ben Goessling at twitter.com/BenGoesslingPP.

  2. #2
    Hartman: Vikings spend in free agency
    Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune Updated: March 17, 2013 - 12:17 AM
    The person who benefitted the most from all three signings has to be quarterback Christian Ponder.

    Well, those who thought the Vikings didn’t re-sign Percy Harvin because they wouldn’t match the five-year, $65.5 million contract Seattle was willing to pay him learned money wasn’t the problem Friday when the team signed former Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings for a contract that allows him to earn a maximum of $47.5 million over five years, with $18 million guaranteed.

    Harvin’s contract has a guarantee of $25.5 million.

    If Jennings doesn’t get injured, he has a good chance to earn at least $27 million over the first three years of the deal and even more if he makes the Pro Bowl.

    The Vikings must have set some kind of record when it came to spending for free agents when they first signed offensive tackle Phil Loadholt to a four-year, $25 million contract and then added quarterback Matt Cassel for two years, with it voided after next season, guaranteed for $3.7 million for the first year.

    That money was a lot more than was expected for the Vikings to spend so early in free agency.

    The person who benefitted the most from all three signings has to be quarterback Christian Ponder.

    The addition of Jennings gives him the first-class receiver he didn’t have after Harvin got hurt.

    The signing of Loadholt means the offensive line that protected him so well last year will return intact.

    And finally, the signing of Cassel will give Ponder a veteran quarterback who has been a starter for Kansas City and New England and can share the knowledge he has picked up as a starting quarterback the past five seasons.

    “You can just get the sense that he needed a little more around him to give him some help,” Jennings said about Ponder. “Hopefully I can help him a bit.”

    Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave pointed that out when Cassel was signed. Certainly 2012 backup quarterback Joe Webb was in no position to help Ponder with the lack of experience he had playing in the NFL.

    Vikings will face Harvin, Seahawks

    Entering Week 9 of the NFL season, Harvin had 60 receptions to be tied for the league lead, was second in receiving yards and kickoff average return and it was at Seattle where the new Seahawks wide receiver was injured last season.

    Now it is going to be interesting, because the Vikings play at Seattle again this year when Harvin will be on the opposing side. The date hasn’t been set here.

    Incidentally Russell Wilson, the former Badgers quarterback who had a great year in Seattle, is being paid $750,000 for the next two seasons. Sidney Rice, the former Vikings receiver now with Seattle, recently signed for five years at $41 million.

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