Quiet day for Vikings not exactly a surprise

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2012 - 7:00 AM

The major rebuilding job going on at Winter Park is not likely to include the signing of any big-name free agents.

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Might Mario Manningham, who made this key catch for the Giants in Super Bowl XLI, be a target for the Vikings in free agency?

Photo: Pat Semansky, AP

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For months, the free-agent class of 2012 of wide receivers seemed so plentiful, a potential gold mine for a struggling team like the Vikings to storm into and get richer.

The list of headliners proved impressive -- from Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker to Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson and DeSean Jackson.

Certainly, logic said, receiver-needy teams would have their options.

Yet alas, after the opening day of NFL free agency, that gold mine has all but vanished and the Vikings' pan remains empty.

Colston is still a Saint, agreeing to a new five-year deal Tuesday just a few hours before he was scheduled to hit the open market.

Vincent Jackson is now a Buccaneer, getting his big payday and remaining in a tropical locale.

And Pierre Garcon might have been the biggest winner, agreeing to a five-year deal with Washington reportedly worth $42.5 million over five seasons.

Now, inevitably, a Vikings fan base that had grand visions for the opening of free agency, has been left to deal with the anxiety of a first-day shutout.

A flurry of noteworthy activity took place Tuesday. But all of it was elsewhere.

Not just at receiver but in the secondary as well, where premier cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan, Brandon Carr and Aaron Ross began scheduling free-agent visits and making their future plans with the Twin Cities nowhere on their itineraries.

All's quiet

With receiver and cornerback widely designated as the team's two greatest areas of need, the Vikings were unable to upgrade either position when the free-agency flea market opened. In fact, the only deal finalized by the team Tuesday was the re-signing of defensive tackle Letroy Guion, not exactly the kind of move that brings the ESPN crawl to a standstill.

By no means does that mean the Vikings will walk away empty-handed when the shopping is done. But it has underlined a philosophy Rick Spielman has been preaching since he became general manager in January.

The Vikings, Spielman asserts, are not looking for a quick fix, instead vowing to make a dramatic youth movement and only seeking talented free agents who can provide long-term help to a massive rebuilding project.

Even though the Vikings have plenty of money -- they entered Tuesday close to $24 million under the salary cap -- Spielman has no designs on spending just to spend. Practicality remains a priority.

So, for example, while the Redskins' signing of Garcon quickly has become an eye-catching headline that signified Washington as a major player in the market, it will eventually be worth asking whether $42.5 million was an excessive price to pay for a receiver who has yet to have a 1,000-yard season.

Might young receivers such as Mario Manningham and Early Doucet still be on the Vikings' radar? Possibly. But only so long as there is mutual interest at the right price.

Life at the bottom

In the modern world, where every NFL sneeze is documented, replayed and then hyper-analyzed, it's easy to assess Tuesday's happenings -- and eerie stillness in Minnesota -- and think the Vikings fumbled away an early chance to move back towards relevance.

But it was never in Spielman's plans to catalyze the revival with a free-agent spending spree. The hope, he has consistently reiterated, is to build heavily through the draft with free agency serving as a much smaller variable in his formula for success.

Right or wrong, those are the marching orders. Which means this period might ultimately become a bargain hunt at Winter Park with the Vikings' front office patiently waiting out the early flurry of mega-moves across the league and later looking to find a few good-value players.

Of course, such a patient approach might prove harder and harder to fully commit to if the gap between the Vikings and the rest of the NFC North continues widening.

Those much-publicized holes in the secondary? That huge problem was only exacerbated Tuesday when the Chicago Bears sent two third-round draft picks to Miami and hauled in Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall in return.

That, by far, was the biggest deal of the day with the aftershocks being felt in the Twin Cities.

As if the Vikings didn't have enough trouble containing Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Detroit's Matthew Stafford -- that pair was 99-for-135 for 1,191 yards with 11 TD passes in four wins over the Vikings last season -- now Chicago's Jay Cutler is reunited with his top playmaker from his days in Denver.

In his final two seasons playing with Cutler, Marshall caught 206 passes for 2,590 yards with 13 scores.

Twice per season for the foreseeable future, the Vikings will have the challenge of slowing that duo.

Reinforcements are needed. That's been obvious for awhile. Yet the wait continues to see just how Spielman plans to obtain them.

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