Wilfs have given Vikings permission to shop aggressively

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2008 - 11:42 PM

Minnesota is $30 million under the salary cap, and its owners have told management to go hard after any free agents that will help the club.

The Vikings' 8-8 record and their failure to make the playoffs last year didn't satisfy the owners of the club, the Wilf family.

And being $30 million below the NFL salary cap, the Wilfs gave General Manager Rick Spielman, coach Brad Childress and Co. permission to sign some key free agents.

So media will camp outside of Winter Park this morning to see what top free agents are here to confer with the Vikings brass about signing a contract.

The Wilfs are ready to spend the money it takes to get the team to Tampa next year for the 2009 Super Bowl, and it doesn't appear that too much effort is being made to bring back the bulk of the team's own free agents.

However, Spielman said, "We would love to have all of our free agents back, but that's not a reality either. So, we just have to keep the door open, and we'll just keep working and we'll go from there."

Wide receiver Robert Ferguson is one free agent the Vikings are trying to bring back. But the big surprise is that they have not made any effort to re-sign Tony Richardson, who is a great blocking fullback. They will find a way to bring back special teams star Heath Farwell.

As of 11 p.m. Thursday, the Vikings are allowed to invite free agents in for visits, but they won't say who is coming in to talk.

"Again, that's a hypothetical,'' Spielman said. ''We'll just look at what's out there and compare to what our guys are and as we go ahead and work through this process we'll see where we end up.

"I wish I could tell you, but right now I can't. We'll just have to see, the start of free agency. ... If there are guys out there that become available tonight [Thursday] we will be ready to go. We'll be in contact with their agents after 11 o'clock and hopefully try to get some visits lined up here and get them in here. And if there's guys that we covet out there we want to try like heck to get them to be a Minnesota Viking.

"We'll try to be as aggressive as we can. If we like the players, we will try to sign them.

''Again, we'll have to see what finally comes out after tonight, once we get that final list and we've had everybody evaluated. Once we see the final list we'll be ready to go.''

Spielman said that the Vikings have evaluated every player on every roster.

"That's what our pro scouting does, but we have definitely evaluated the unrestricted free agents, and now that part of the process is done. Now we just have to wait and see who becomes available, and once we're allowed to talk with them we'll try to be as aggressive as we can, once we target those guys."

But he admits that with the higher salary cap clubs are in position to keep their free agents if they want them badly enough.

"I'm sure clubs are working hard [Thursday] to maybe make a last-ditch effort on guys they didn't franchise to try to keep them at home," he said. ''But you know right now it's, like I said, we'll have to see.

"We've been very aggressive keeping our own guys with what we've done over the last two years, and I think we've signed eight or nine of our own guys, that are core guys for us that we definitely build our roster upon."

This Vikings are not going to win the division this year unless they add some key free agents -- a pass-rushing defensive end, a receiver who can catch the ball and run with it when he catches it, at least one good offensive lineman and a young, smart quarterback with a future.

Buy out Ratliff

The word from the Wolves was that they wanted to keep Theo Ratliff around to work with Al Jefferson, but owner Glen Taylor said the team worked out a buyout with Ratliff on Thursday and he will be in another uniform soon.

The Wolves placed Ratliff on waivers Thursday night after settling with him on the remainder of his $11.66 million contract due to expire after this season.

The Detroit Pistons are poised to sign the shot-blocker for the stretch run if he clears waivers within 48 hours, which is expected given that a team taking him off waivers would have to pay $3.7 million. Ratliff would be returning to his first team. The Pistons drafted him 18th overall in 1995, and he played two seasons there.

Taylor also said that he read in the paper about Antoine Walker wanting a buyout but said he hasn't heard from the veteran forward.

Don't be concerned about Randy Moss going anyplace. The former Vikings wide receiver is signed, sealed and delivered with a contract to continue to play for the Patriots.

Give former Vikings head coach Mike Tice, now assistant head coach/tight ends for the Jaguars, full credit for his team giving up a sixth-round draft choice to the Vikings for the rights to wide receiver Troy Williamson. As coach of the Vikings in 2005, Tice was instrumental in drafting Williamson. He wanted to go back to play with Tice and got his wish.

Jottings

Gophers football practice will start March 27 and will be closed to the public, but the big spring game will be at 7 p.m. April 25 at the Metrodome and will be open to the public. ... Mike Rallis, the highly touted linebacker from Edina, is among a group of walk-ons who have committed to Minnesota. Six offensive linemen will walk on at Minnesota this fall -- Curtis James of Edina, Andrew Kersten of Minneapolis Washburn, Mike Harbin of Greenway of Coleraine, Alex Luhring of Metamora Township (Ill.), Connor Lee of Trabuco Hills, Calif., and Austin Hahn of Hartford, Wis. Other walk-ons include Jake Ferris, a running back from Arrowhead High in Hartland (Wis.), kicker David Schwerman from Kettle Moraine (Wis.) and linebacker Jarid Jackson from Champlin Park.

Talk about dominating a sport. The Gophers men's swimming and diving team will be seeking its sixth Big Ten title in the past eight years at Ann Arbor this weekend. The Gophers' top hope for an individual title is David Plummer, a senior backstroke specialist from Oklahoma City.

Andy Richardson, the Irondale distance runner who Gophers track coach Phil Lundin ranks as one of the top five senior high school distance runners in the country, committed to Minnesota.

The Gophers will compete in the Big Ten track meet at Wisconsin this week, and according to Lundin a combination of injuries and youth probably will keep the Gophers from finishing near the top.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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