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Continued: Jennings wanted a fresh start

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 16, 2013 - 11:27 PM

Jennings not only took note of that production, he was constantly aware of how defenses attacked the Vikings, frequently loading eight and nine defenders into the box and leaving ample opportunity for receivers to take advantage over the top.

Peterson’s presence certainly didn’t hurt the Vikings during a 24-hour hard sell to Jennings that both sides wanted to end the same way.

“Standing on the other sideline, you’re in awe of what this guy can do,” Jennings said. “And everyone knows he’s going to get the ball. So just to be able to take some of that pressure off him and off of this offense, I hope to be able to do that.”

Jennings’ signing certainly took significant pressure off Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, who had a master plan for this offseason all along, even if impatient fans couldn’t understand or tolerate his methodical approach during a hyperactive week in which so many other teams struck it big early in free agency.

The Vikings needed so much help at receiver. Everyone knew it. And yet Mike Wallace quickly signed in Miami. Wes Welker went to Denver. Danny Amendola became a Patriot, Donnie Avery a Chief and Brandon Gibson a Dolphin.

Through 72 hours of free agency, the Vikings’ only receiving move was the re-signing of Jerome Simpson.

One out, one in

Spielman never had planned to rush into things. He had reached out to Jennings’ agent during a new NFL contact period last weekend, asking to be kept in the loop on the receiver’s plans.

The Vikings’ push intensified after the Harvin trade. So by the time Spielman finally reeled Jennings in for a late-week visit — dinner at Manny’s on Thursday, a long day of discussions Friday — the GM knew he could ill afford to let Jennings flounder out of the boat.

Still, there was another factor to measure.

“We can want a player here,” Spielman said. “But we want to make sure the player wants to be here as well.”

Whether that was meant as a veiled jab at Harvin and his unfortunate departure is unknown. But Spielman and Frazier have spent the past 14 months unifying a vision to build around a certain brand of player.

Yes, Harvin’s passion and toughness were universally admired. But his occasional volcanic eruptions of immaturity — too many to count over four seasons — led to a severely fractured relationship that convinced the star receiver and the franchise that ultimately they’d be better off apart.

Even with Spielman’s public declarations that he had “no intent to trade Percy Harvin,” speculation percolated for weeks. Those searching for signs Harvin’s time as a Viking had ended found clues in the promotional poster the Vikings put out recently for season tickets.

The ad featured five of the team’s biggest standouts. But no Harvin. That had to be a tell, right?

Yet even presence on that poster wasn’t a guarantee of job security. Cornerback Antoine Winfield, a 14-year veteran who had infused his toughness, savvy and charisma into the franchise for nine seasons, got the nod for the season-ticket campaign then received an unceremonious dismissal from Spielman in the final hour before free agency began last week.

With the money Spielman needed for his 2013 roster-building plan, Winfield’s $7.25 million salary felt like too much to invest in a 35-year-old cornerback who seemed bound for a reduced role.

But even if there was business savvy behind the move, by Tuesday night the Vikings had overshadowed the re- signing of six in-house free agents with moves to get rid of their best receiver and the defense’s emotional leader.

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