By JON KRAWCZYNSKI, AP Sports Writer
April 25, 2006
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings had one of the busiest offseasons in the NFL, all while never losing sight of this weekend's draft.
They signed 10 free agents and traded disgruntled quarterback Daunte Culpepper to Miami, remaking the team's image to fit new coach Brad Childress' philosophy.
"Part of the plan from the beginning was to take pressure off the draft," vice president of football operations Fran Foley said.
The Vikings filled a lot of needs in free agency, but head into the weekend with two glaring holes: linebacker and quarterback. Filling the former would go a long way toward helping them return to the playoffs after missing out last year. Addressing the latter, at least in the first round, would show the organization has an eye toward building for the future.
With Culpepper gone and Brad Johnson ready to begin his 15th season at quarterback, the Vikings are sorely in need of a long-term solution at the position. They signed Mike McMahon to be Johnson's backup, but he hasn't proven capable of being a No. 1 quarterback.
Currently sitting at No. 17, the Vikings almost assuredly would have to trade up to get one of the big three quarterbacks in this draft: Southern Cal's Matt Leinart, Texas' Vince Young or Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler. With three picks in the top 51, and five in the first 95, they have plenty of bargaining power to make that happen.
"If you have a little bit of ammo, if you see somebody that moves you, you'd be able to move up if that person was there," Childress said earlier in the offseason.
Shortly after making that comment, Childress said that linebacker was probably the team's biggest priority heading into this draft. Whether that was a smoke screen or not, there is no arguing the point.
The offseason signing of Tennessee safety Tank Williams, and the return of a healthy Kenechi Udeze at defensive end, give the Vikings strong units at the front and back of the defense.
The one element missing is a playmaking linebacker. Veterans E. J. Henderson, Dontarrious Thomas, Napoleon Harris and Ben Leber all have been decent pros, but hardly stars.
Staying at 17, the Vikings could go for Florida State's Ernie Sims, Iowa's Chad Greenway or Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter. Or they could try to move up for a shot at the crown jewel, Ohio State's A.J. Hawk.
Wearing his best poker face, Childress steadfastly maintained that the Vikings won't draft for need. Their productive offseason, which included signing All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson, running back Chester Taylor and kicker Ryan Longwell, affords them that luxury.
"It is from the standpoint that a lot of times if you have a hole, you have a tendency to grade somebody and elevate them because you have that need," Childress said at the conclusion of the team's first minicamp. "Some people call it a reach. ... I just think it's important, there are going to be a lot of good football players there in the first three rounds and really on down through the draft. It's nice not to have to go for a need, per se."
If a highly touted running back such as Memphis' DeAngelo Williams or Minnesota's Laurence Maroney is available when the Vikings pick first, they could go that route. Just like with their linebacker corps, Taylor and incumbent Mewelde Moore aren't exactly game breakers.
And after losing cornerback Brian Williams to Jacksonville, the Vikings could also use a nickel back -- Clemson's Tye Hill, perhaps -- to support starters Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot.
Whichever player they choose, Childress said he doesn't want to "get seduced by somebody's athleticism and they've got a character flaw or a behavioral problem or something like that."
After a season spent answering questions about players' allegedly lewd behavior on a Lake Minnetonka cruise boat, owner Zygi Wilf has made remaking the team's image one of his top priorities while he lobbies state legislators for a new stadium.
"If you know what you're going to get from them, and you're not going to get any aberrant behavior, I think that that's important," Childress said