Vikings prepare for talks with own free agents

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has maintained his team has interest in signing its unrestricted free agents.

Avoiding going into detail about any of them, including 10 players from last season’s playoff team who will be reaching unrestricted free-agent status in March, Spielman would only say Friday that, “We’d love to have all our UFAs back.”

Spielman and his staff have been heavily involved in evaluating draft-eligible players recently, but the discussion with agents about veteran players will reach a high point during next week’s annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Spielman said Friday that the team has set up meetings with agents to take place at the Combine, and assistant general manager Rob Brzezinski has had some preliminary talks.

“I think most of the business will start to really hone in when we’re down at the Combine,” Spielman said.

Minnesota enters the offseason with 10 unrestricted free agents, including starters tackle Phil Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton, linebackers Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, safety Jamarca Sanford and receiver Jerome Simpson. Backup offensive linemen Joe Berger and Geoff Schwartz, linebacker Marvin Mitchell and receiver Devin Aromashodu also will be unrestricted free agents. Cornerback A.J. Jefferson will be a restricted free agent.

Before focusing on the draft-eligible players, the Vikings spent time evaluating everyone on the current roster, including the free agents they will have to decide whether to re-sign.

“We’ve been through our Vikings’ personnel evaluation,” Spielman said. “The coaches were working on the UFA evaluations this week. I know George had all our pro scouts finalizing. I’ve seen most of the UFAs that we may potentially have an interest in, but what we do, after we’ve met on our particular players then we meet on particular UFAs. We build a draft board just like we do with the draft and integrate our players in with the UFA market. Now, it’s a little different because you have to take the financial considerations in. Our stance has always been that we’re going to have an open door and we’d love to have all our UFAs back.”

The priority would seem to be re-signing Loadholt, the starting right tackle on an improved line, and Felton, the second-team All-Pro fullback. Spielman said at his season-ending gathering with reporters he’d like to have both back.

On Friday, Spielman spoke highly of Sanford, too.

“He’s really developed not only as a good football player for us but one of our leaders down there in the locker room, both on and off the field,” Spielman said. “So he’s one of those late-round guys that has really developed.”

Spielman also kept the door open for the return of Simpson, who struggled with an injury and finished with just 26 catches for 274 yards.

“We’ve talked about Simpson where you saw in the first Detroit game, you saw what he was doing in the preseason and just the suspension and then the setback with the injury,” Spielman said. “He’s one of those guys, all those guys, that we would love to have back.”

Spielman wasn’t tipping his hand, naturally. Following the Combine, his true feelings about his unrestricted free agents might be better known.

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