Slow rebuild: Vikings keep draft as primary focus
The Minnesota Vikings have been making plenty of roster moves this offseason. They're just not the kind of transactions that get much attention.
Frustrated fans have been pining for more action, still wishing Ryan Longwell had the chance to kick a field goal in New Orleans at the end of the NFC championship game two years ago instead of watching Brett Favre's off-balance pass get intercepted.
But if there were actually any lingering questions about whether the Vikings were in full reconstruction mode, they've been answered by the way general manager Rick Spielman has guided the organization through this spring. The Vikings added to their list of low-profile free agent additions on Monday by signing wide receiver Bryan Walters. He played in college at Cornell and spent the last two years with the San Diego Chargers, appearing in four games last season.
Not the game-breaking guy with burning speed the masses would love to see.
Walters joins tight end John Carlson, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, cornerback Zack Bowman, running back Lex Hilliard and fullback Jerome Felton as free agents with NFL experience who've signed with Minnesota from outside the organization over the past month. Carlson and Schwartz are coming off major injuries that kept them from playing last year. Carlson was the only one who got a contract for more than one season, though his deal is lucrative, worth as much as $25 million over five years including a $5 million bonus.
The Vikings re-signed six of their own players: offensive lineman Patrick Brown, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, defensive tackle Fred Evans, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, wide receiver Devin Aromashodu and linebacker Erin Henderson. Three of them received one-year deals, with Guion (three), Evans (two) and Rosenfels (two) the only ones signed for more.
Just minor tweaks to a roster that, by September, will look markedly different than it did during that epic defeat by the eventual champion Saints after the 2009 season.
Coach Leslie Frazier was asked last week by reporters at the league meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., if he had to preach patience to the public.
''I don't know if me saying anything is going to matter. I know our fans. They want to win now. So the reality of it is we need to make some changes to our roster and do some things to close the gap in our division,'' Frazier said. ''But there's not a lot of patience in the NFL today. People want to see success, and they want to see it like right now.''
Spielman's plan is geared more toward success in 2013 than it is this year. But Chad Greenway, for one, didn't sound worried when he spoke with media members at a charity event last week. Of course, the 29-year-old outside linebacker just signed a lucrative extension and is under contract through the 2015 season, so his window for rediscovering on-field success with the Vikings is open wider than most.
''Obviously, when you're 3-13, the panic button, everybody wants to hit that,'' Greenway said. ''From our perspective, if you want to get back you have to do it the right way. Be consistent and grow your team.''
He added, regarding the team's key decision-makers: ''No matter what they do they're going to be questioned. When you're 3-13 trying to come back and rebuild a team, you're going to be questioned whether you spend more money than anybody in free agency or you're not spending any money in free agency. I think we've just got to trust what they're doing. That's why they're in those positions.''
The Vikings have 10 picks in the NFL draft later this month, still in need of that cornerstone left tackle, a deep threat at wide receiver, a third-down running back, some depth at linebacker and plenty of cornerbacks and safeties. Their slots are high in each round, but one year is not enough to fill all of those holes even if a team hits on each player.
Spielman, in an interview session with reporters earlier this offseason, declined to answer a question about whether the Vikings could realistically contend for the playoffs this year.
''I'm not into predictions, but I know our goal is to get as many good players in here. You have seen that where teams flip this pretty quickly. This is not like we don't have any players on this roster. I think we have some very good blue-chip players on this roster,'' Spielman said. ''Now we've just got to add some young pieces around those blue chippers.''
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