Wilf very happy with direction Vikings are headed
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- An incredibly busy free agent season is winding to a close, and Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf couldn't be happier with how his newly hired football bosses pulled it off.
"We did a lot of different changes here. ... It's a big change," Wilf said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "It's exciting because it's really starting to feel like our team," Wilf said. "Before it was someone else's team. Now it's our team."
The Vikings were easily one of the most active teams in the early free agent period, signing 10 new players, including a record contract for guard Steve Hutchinson.
Shortly after the Vikings capped a 9-7 season and missed the playoffs, Wilf installed a completely new regime at the top. He hired head coach Brad Childress to be at the top of a so-called "triangle of authority," working with new personnel man Fran Foley and salary cap guru Rob Brzezinski to remake -- not rebuild -- the Vikings.
They wasted little time getting going, signing Hutchinson, running back Chester Taylor and kicker Ryan Longwell among others.
"We've got together a great group of free agents this year," Wilf said. "The coach is doing what he likes to do, what he has to do, and that's put a team together. It's my job to facilitate that movement."
And facilitate, he has.
The Vikings entered the offseason with $31 million in cap space, ready to compete with the best of them for the top-tier free agents.
They burst out of the gates with three signings on the first day -- Taylor, Longwell and linebacker Ben Leber -- and didn't slow down for the next two weeks.
Initial reports had the Vikings interested in signing Colts running back Edgerrin James, but after they signed Taylor to a relatively modest $14 million deal, it was clear where they were headed.
They threw $49 million at Hutchinson and structured the deal so it made it nearly impossible to match, solidifying an offensive line that was one of the team's weak points last season.
"I'm happy to see that the direction is going the way it has," Wilf said. "Now I think we have to move on and concentrate on the draft. That's certainly the avenue that we will build our team for the future."
The Vikings also signed safety Tank Williams, defensive end DeQuincy Scott, backup quarterback Mike McMahon, fullback Tony Richardson, guard Jason Whittle and fullback Joey Goodspeed.
"Part of the plan from the beginning was to take pressure off the draft," Foley said. "The plan is coming together."
They also parted ways with disenchanted quarterback Daunte Culpepper, sending him to Miami for a second-round pick, and re-signed receiver Koren Robinson.
When Wilf first unveiled the triangle of authority, it wasn't exactly clear how the three would work together. But it became evident that Childress is the lead dog, with significant input coming from Foley and Brzezinski.
"A new coaching staff has to learn to work with each other. And three of us, Rob and Fran and the coach, have to understand what the coaches' needs are," Wilf said. "And so far I have to say that what we've done in free agency, I'm very, very positive. I think we did great in free agency."
And Wilf hasn't just been an innocent bystander, sitting back and signing the checks that those three tell him to sign. In the middle of last season, he pledged to be more hands-on in the football business.
He admitted this week that the bulk of his time is spent with the Vikings now, with the rest of his trusted family doing the heavy lifting with his real estate development business back in New Jersey.
Wilf said Friday that he doesn't necessarily want to be a "hands-on" owner, but a "head-on" owner, meaning he chooses the people to run the show, then lets them do their jobs and directs the traffic when he needs to.
So far, he likes what he sees.
"We spent our money wisely and we were focused and I think we've grown the nucleus of our team to I think greater heights," Wilf said. "Then again, the next couple seasons will tell the story. We're looking long-term here. ... It takes time for a team, both the players and the coaching staff to really meld together, and that's something as a new owner I don't really know how long it will take."
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