GARRISON, MINN. -- Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman told a standing-room only crowd at the Blue Goose Inn on Saturday that the team's goal is to retain its own free agents, including running back Chester Taylor, said the franchise would "love to have Brett Favre back for another year," and made the organization's first statements about left tackle Bryant McKinnie being removed from the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
Spielman is one of many members of the organization who is spending time in the lake Mille Lacs area this weekend to take part in the team's 15th annual Arctic Blast snowmobiling event, which benefits the Vikings Children's Fund and makes stops at various points.
The Blue Goose Inn was the center of the action as Pat Leopold, the coordinator of the Vikings Children's Fund, spent much of the day at the microphone overseeing the activities and former and current players signed autographs for a crowd that everyone with the organization said was the biggest they had ever seen for this portion of the program.
The most informative portion came when Spielman fielded questions from the audience and Vikings radio play-by-play man Paul Allen. Spielman echoed what coach Brad Childress had said a few days after the Vikings' loss to New Orleans in the NFC title game, making it clear that Favre was being given time to make a decision about whether to return and that no pressure was being applied from Winter Park.
"I think you go ahead and let Brett decide what he wants to do," Spielman said. "I know the organization, from our ownership, from our coaches and I think from our fans out there, we'd love to have Brett Favre back for another year and see if we can make another run at this."
Spielman said the Vikings are continuing their organizational meetings and that things remain very fluid. Spielman and his staff spent time last week going over the unrestricted free agents who will be on the market as of March 5 (even though as a final four team the Vikings can't sign any of those players unless they lose one) and beginning Monday will start their draft meetings before heading to the NFL Scouting Combine the following week. The Vikings scouts are scheduled to arrive on Sunday.
Asked if waiting on Favre was going to impact the Vikings' potential pursuit of a quarterback, Spielman said: "I know from an organizational standpoint, everybody would love to have Brett Favre back. But I don't think that will influence what we're going to do at the quarterback position either."
That's because, according to Spielman, the Vikings will be as thorough as ever in examining their options even if Favre is back.
"We are in the process of all our meetings," Spielman said, "so we'll evaluate any potential trades out there, we'll look and see if there's anyone who gets cut, we'll look and see what we have and re-evaluate where we are at with Sage [Rosenfels] and T-Jack [Tarvaris Jackson]. We'll also evaluate this draft very closely. If there is a young, talented quarterback out there. I don't think we'll see Sam Bradford, I don't know about [Jimmy] Clausen. [The Vikings are slated to select 30th overall in the first round.] We're going to be looking at [Tim] Tebow, [Colt] McCoy, all those top quarterbacks. And if any of those guys have the potential to come in and help us then we'll definitely look at that in the draft as well."
Here's what Spielman had to say on various other subjects:
On McKinnie being removed from the Pro Bowl team after failing to show up for practices (the fan who asked the question called it a "total embarrassment."): “I know from an organizational standpoint it should be – and these guys up here [former players were signing autographs at the time], these players that have played in Pro Bowls, the great players of the past – to get an honor to go play in the Pro Bowl is something that’s unique and something that should be cherished. It’s a privilege and honor to go there and play in a game like that and I know from an organizational standpoint that we were disappointed as well as a lot of our fans were how things turned out.”
On retaining Taylor, who will be a free agent on March 5 but can be re-signed by the Vikings: “That’s one thing that we’re in the process of discussing right now. Chester Taylor brings so much to this football team. He’s like the unsung hero of the offense. You hear about Sidney Rice and Shank [Visanthe Shiancoe] and Percy Harvin and Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson. But what Chester Taylor does for this football team -- not only on the field but off the field --he may be, as we look and we evaluate all the free agents out there, one of the top free-agent backs coming out. Especially in that role he plays in third down, it’s so valuable for us.”
On the Vikings' plans for their entire unrestricted free-agent class: “What our goal is and our intention is going into this is to sign Chester Taylor back, to sign Benny Sapp back, to sign Greg Lewis. He made a couple of big plays for us this year. If we can keep our own guys and try to get those guys back and then have another good draft, then I think we’ll be where we want to be.”
On if nose tackle Pat Williams might retire after saying it was 50-50 whether he would return in 2010: “We are so early in the offseason yet, but we are anticipating all of our players being back. Now Pat had injured his elbow toward the season of the season, missed a [game], but played very well in the Dallas game. He played excellent in the New Orleans game. So right now as far as we know Pat Williams is going to be back and be a Minnesota Viking next year."