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NFL LOCKOUT ENDS

Veteran free agency: Negotiations begin today, signings Friday • Training camp: Vikings report to Mankato on Sunday • Preseason opener: Aug. 13 at Tennessee

Vikings' hectic preseason about to begin

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG and JUDD ZULGAD
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • July 26, 2011 - 11:32 AM

Let the chaos commence.

All the twists and turns of a typical NFL offseason will be shoehorned into a tiny, atypical timeline that will rapidly reshape rosters, dispatch hundreds of free agents to and fro and provide a delightful sensory overload to giddy football fans celebrating the settlement that ended the league's four-month lockout on Monday.

"The fans are happy, the players are happy," Arizona Cardinals receiver and Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald Jr. said. "Now we can all move forward."

And what a whirlwind pace it promises to be on the eve of training camps opening. Teams reportedly can make trades and sign rookies and undrafted free agents beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday. They also can negotiate with veteran free agents beginning Tuesday, but can't sign anyone until 5 p.m. Friday.

No team in the league has more on its plate than the Vikings. Besides breaking in a new head coach, three new coordinators and a new quarterback, the Vikings also are reportedly $5.1 million over the $120.4 million salary cap and have 16 unrestricted free agents, including defensive end Ray Edwards, receiver Sidney Rice, outside linebacker Ben Leber, nose tackle Pat Williams and kicker Ryan Longwell.

Throw in the possibility of having to sign or trade for a veteran quarterback and renegotiate the contracts of linebacker Chad Greenway ($10 million salary cap number) and running back Adrian Peterson ($12.775 million) and, well, you get the idea just how chaotic things will be as the Vikings head toward Sunday's reporting date for training camp in Mankato.

"It's going to be bizarre and something that nobody in this NFL has seen before," Greenway said. "So it will be cool in a way because you may be getting key pieces to your team two, three, four weeks into training camp."

The Vikings head into camp having to learn a new offense under coordinator Bill Musgrave. Whether first-round draft pick Christian Ponder directs that offense or the team moves to trade for or sign a veteran such as Donovan McNabb or Matt Hasselbeck will have to play out quickly. Very quickly.

"We've had thousands of different conversations between [coach] Leslie [Frazier] and myself, Bill Musgrave and [quarterbacks coach] Craig Johnson," said Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel. "We have different scenarios and a game plan in place for all the different scenarios. If we can bring in a veteran quarterback, that's what we'll do. If we can't, I know we've talked about making sure the veteran quarterback will be the right fit, too. Not only for us to potentially win ballgames if we go down that route, but also the right fit in the room for Ponder and Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar."

Defensively, the Vikings won't stray far from the Cover-2 philosophy they've employed since 2006. Frazier coordinated the defense from '07 until getting the interim head coaching job during the final six games of last season. With his interim tag removed, Frazier now entrusts the defense to his former linebackers coach Fred Pagac.

Pagac likes to blitz a little more than Frazier did. But the two of them have the kind of relationship that should make for a smoother transition on defense.

"Pug is really not new; we played for him for six games last year," Greenway said. "He's been in that position before, and I have played for him my whole career. Offensively, it will take some catching up, no doubt, but it helps when you have a good running game, and hopefully we'll have that."

With 60 players under contract, the Vikings eventually will add 30 to get up to the new roster limit of 90.

"I think to have 90 guys on the roster that this may be a revolving door every day of training camp on who's coming in, who is going," Spielman said. "It won't end. It will be a continuous motion of circulating guys in and out of here as we go through."

With so many questions, new faces and holes to fill, no team in the league was affected more adversely by the lockout than the Vikings. Whether they can overcome those unfavorable odds well enough to turn a 6-10 season into a return to the playoffs will be interesting to watch for the Purple faithful who are just glad to have football removed from the courtrooms and negotiating tables and returned to the field.

"I can't wait, man," right tackle Phil Loadholt said. "I'm just ready to get back to it."

Frazier echoed that sentiment with confidence later.

"There are a lot of different things going on, but I think we've done a great job of preparing for this moment," he said. "I don't think it's anything that makes us feel overwhelmed at all. I think we're prepared for having success."

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