Vikings don’t have glaring needs, but RB is a must

Chester Taylor joined one of Minnesota’s division rivals Friday,

leaving the Vikings to find a replacement for their valuable,

versatile backup running back.

It was an unquestionable, though unsurprising, loss on the first

day of the NFL’s open market for the two-time defending NFC North

champions.

Taylor and the Chicago Bears agreed Friday to a four-year

contract worth $12.5 million with $7 million guaranteed Chicago,

according to a person with knowledge of the negotiation who spoke

to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity before the deal

was announced.

Minnesota’s strategy for avenging the NFC championship loss to

the New Orleans Saints now must include a replacement for Taylor,

who led all NFL running backs in third-down receptions each of the

last two seasons. The Vikings did gain some leverage, however, from

Taylor’s departure.

Because of rules governing the final year of the collective

bargaining agreement, the four teams that advanced to the

conference championship games were prohibited from signing a free

agent unless one of theirs signed with another club first – in

addition to facing salary parameters on those signings.

The Vikings weren’t going to be very active in free agency this

year, anyway. Since coach Brad Childress and vice president for

player personnel Rick Spielman were hired in 2006, they’ve been

remarkably productive, signing several starters and some Pro

Bowlers. With so many top players already under long-term

contracts, the Vikings don’t have glaring holes to fill.

“Chester was a very productive member of our 2006 free agency

class,” Childress said in a statement posted on the team’s Web

site. “We’re appreciative of his contributions on the field. He

played a number of different important roles as a starter, backup

and third-down specialist. Chester is a great competitor, teammate

and professional. I’m happy for him and wish him all the

best.”

Quarterback, of course, is still an unsettled position in light

of Brett Favre’s insistence on Thursday’s “Tonight Show” that he

won’t announce his status for the 2010 season any time soon. The

Vikings are willing to wait, though, and have maintained confidence

in Tarvaris Jackson and/or Sage Rosenfels as a backup plan. An

addition would likely come from the April draft.

They’re also in need of some help in the secondary, where

starters Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are recovering from

injuries and nickel back Benny Sapp is an unrestricted free

agent.

Taylor, Sapp, backup offensive lineman Artis Hicks, backup

defensive lineman Jimmy Kennedy and backup wide receiver Greg Lewis

were this year’s unrestricted free agents. The Vikings said they’d

try to bring all of them back, but Taylor got a deal that was too

good for them to match.

“He knows how we feel about him, but I’m never going to

begrudge anybody an opportunity to make money,” Childress said

last week at the NFL scouting combine.

Taylor had 42 catches for 389 yards and 94 carries for 338 yards

as a valuable third-down player for the Vikings. He rushed for

1,214 yards in 14 games in 2006, before Adrian Peterson arrived and

took on the bulk of the work in the backfield.

“Chester will be missed. Great part of the team,” wide

receiver Bernard Berrian said on Twitter, adding that he is happy

for Taylor because “he’s where he wants to be.”

Taylor left the Baltimore Ravens four years ago to sign a $14.1

million contract with the Vikings that included $5.6 million in

guaranteed money.

His departure could prompt the Vikings to pursue a discarded

veteran like LaDainian Tomlinson or Brian Westbrook. Former

standouts Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are among the notable

names on the unrestricted free agent list. Albert Young is an

internal option, behind the All-Pro Peterson.

“We stick to the same philosophy we’ve always have, and

regardless of position if there’s a guy out there that can help us

then we do it,” Spielman said at the combine last week. “If we

can fill from within than we do that as well.”

The Vikings also had seven restricted free agents.

They decided not to tender a qualifying offer to backup

cornerback Karl Paymah. They gave fullback Naufahu Tahi the lowest

possible tender, put a fifth-round tender on backup safety Eric

Frampton, a third-round tender on Jackson, a third-round tender on

backup offensive lineman Ryan Cook, a second-round tender on backup

defensive tackle Fred Evans, and a first-round tender on defensive

end Ray Edwards that will pay him $2.521 million.

For about $600,000 more, the Vikings could have put the highest

(first and third round) tender on Edwards, who could entice another

team to sign him to an offer sheet that Minnesota would then have

the right to match. If he leaves, the Vikings would get a

first-round draft pick as compensation, which could scare suitors

off.

“I imagine there will be some interest in a 25-year-old

dominant pass rusher just entering his prime,” said Doug

Hendrickson, Edwards’s agent. “If you’re a team looking for a

defensive end, would you take a chance in the draft or look at

proven player?”