A Purple shopping list for free agency

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2012 - 9:12 AM

The Vikings have $23 million under the salary cap to spend, but must balance immediate impact with long-term value.

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Free agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson

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Go ahead, Vikings fans. Allow yourself the dream visions. Now is as good a time as any.

Imagine Vincent Jackson, in a purple No. 83 jersey, blurring down the sideline at Mall of America Field, flustering defensive backs and providing Christian Ponder with the consistent deep threat he lacked as a rookie.

Now picture Brandon Carr, a young and promising cornerback, steering around the Vikings secondary with the strength and savvy that can stabilize a pass defense.

And, hey, if it's not Jackson catching Ponder's long passes, maybe it will be Marques Colston.

If not Carr adding confidence to the defensive backfield, then maybe it's Cortland Finnegan.

Let the shopping begin.

With free agency opening across the NFL at 3 p.m. Tuesday, there's ample reason for fans to feel optimistic. The Vikings, after all, have a lengthy wish list, piles of money to spend and a general manager in Rick Spielman who is intent on making an impact in his first offseason in charge.

Over the weekend, for example, Spielman released three high-priced veterans (guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin) who were due to make more than $13 million combined in 2012.

That savings, it's presumed, will now arm the Vikings to attack free agency with a competitive mindset. After all, at present, the organization is approximately $23 million under the salary cap.

Feels like Christmas Eve right now, doesn't it? The hope, those surges of eagerness, the curiosity for what exactly will be under the tree to unwrap.

Which leads us to the obligatory parental warning: Don't be disappointed if you don't get everything you asked for.

Keep in mind, the Vikings' wish list is only part of the equation. There's also the matter of practicality. And affordability. And, oh yeah, to finalize deals, the Vikings not only need to aggressively pursue the players they covet, they need to be wanted back.

• • •

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, the free agency flea market will seem like the Mall of America on Black Friday.

The chase for the best deals will be fierce.

Twitter will be abuzz. The NFL Network will go haywire with speculation and analysis.

Yet as Spielman has insisted from the first day he was promoted to GM, it's critical the Vikings don't get carried away in the frenzy and sucked into the temptation to think so big that their judgment becomes clouded.

Make no mistake: The Vikings will make every effort to overhaul and upgrade their roster. But they are not planning to win big in 2012. They can't afford it.

Such short-sighted romanticizing is a part of what's put them under all this rubble to begin with. So going forward, Spielman will continue preaching the need for a realistic long-term vision. He knows these Vikings, as currently assembled, are more than one or two major free-agent signings from being major contenders again.

So it will take calculated moves over multiple offseasons and success in multiple drafts to build a sturdy ladder from the bottom of the NFC North up toward relevance in the playoff picture.

• • •

As Spielman opens the organization's checkbook and begins negotiating with top free agents, he will repeatedly analyze whether a Jackson, a Carr, a Colston or a Finnegan can help long-term, not just in 2012 and 2013 but beyond.

The Vikings have not hidden their intent to improve their secondary and receiving corps. But at what cost? That's why every potential big-splash move that might invigorate the fan base this week must be assessed for its long-term worth.

As comfortable as the Vikings are under the salary cap right now, they can't handcuff themselves with deals that might paralyze them a year or two up the road.

Keep in mind, the contracts of several big-name, high-priority Vikings will expire after the 2013 season. Among them: defensive end Jared Allen and receiver Percy Harvin. Defensive end Brian Robison, running back Toby Gerhart and quarterback Joe Webb, too.

This isn't to say the focus on the distant future will hinder the Vikings from capitalizing on the present in free agency this week. But Spielman's urge to revive the Vikings as soon as possible will also be balanced by a measure of frugality.

Dream visions might become reality -- but only so long as they are practical from a business perspective.

MARQUES COLSTON

• Is he an elite receiver, or is his value higher because he's played with Drew Brees?

VINCENT JACKSON

• A true No. 1 WR, but a bidding war could erupt for his services.

LERON LANDRY

• Plays both FS and SS, but injuries in past two years might scare some.

CORTLAND FINNEGAN

• Rumor of package with Jackson could be pricey.

BRANDON CARR

• Young CB could fit well in Vikings' zone-oriented defense.

  • NFL FREE AGENCY BEGINS 3 P.M. TUESDAY

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