Vikings dump Ayodele, agree to terms with Schwartz
The timing of Wednesday's move was curious, if coincidental, coming hours after the NFL's announcement of fines and suspensions for New Orleans Saints officials for their roles in the bounty program that rewarded players financially for trying to injure opponents.
Ayodele won a Super Bowl with the Saints at the end of the 2009 season and played three years for them before signing with the Vikings. The league has yet to issue discipline for specific players involved in the bounty program.
The Vikings also agreed to terms with Carolina offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, re-signed backup defensive tackle Fred Evans and signed running back Lex Hilliard on a busy, if not particularly splashy, day.
Ayodele was given a $3.565 million signing bonus to replace aging stalwart Pat Williams in the middle of the line, but he managed only 15 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks despite playing in all 16 games last season. The 28-year-old was set up for base salaries of $2.2 million in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Vikings officials were traveling and unavailable for comment.
Schwartz agreed to terms on a one-year deal two days after visiting Vikings headquarters. He also visited the San Francisco 49ers and had discussions with the Detroit Lions.
The 25-year-old spent his first three seasons with the Panthers. He made 19 starts in his first two seasons when Jeff Davidson - Minnesota's offensive line coach - coached him with the Panthers. But he missed all of last year with a hip injury, joining tight end John Carlson as free agent acquisitions by the Vikings who did not play in 2011 because of injuries.
In Minnesota, Schwartz will likely compete with Joe Berger for the starting right guard spot on the team's revamped offensive line. The Vikings released veteran guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera earlier this month.
''Minnesota presented a great opportunity for me. I'm excited to help them win,'' Schwartz said on Wednesday night.
Holding the No. 3 pick in the draft, the Vikings are widely expected to take USC offensive tackle Matt Khalil and start him on quarterback Christian Ponder's blind side at left tackle. Under that scenario, veteran Charlie Johnson would move from left tackle to left guard to replace Hutchinson, and either Berger or Schwartz could start at right guard in between center John Sullivan and tackle Phil Loadholt.
Evans has seen spot duty at both defensive tackle spots since joining the team in 2007. Evans played in all 16 games last year and had 22 tackles. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman knows Evans from their days together in Miami in 2006. Another versatile backup defensive tackle, Letroy Guion, was re-signed earlier this week.
Hilliard spent the last three seasons with the Dolphins, rushing for 41 yards and a touchdown in 2011. He played in college at Montana. The Vikings currently have 60 players under contract for 2012.
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.