Homegrown Carlson gives Vikings another building block

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2012 - 2:29 PM

The former Litchfield, Minn., standout should pair nicely with TE Kyle Rudolph.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman preached patience once again while explaining his decision to target tight end John Carlson while players at positions of greater need were flying off the board during a financially frenzied first day of NFL free agency.

"I don't think we're a player or two away to go out and spend the money that's being spent on all those players that have gotten contracts early," Spielman said after Carlson, a St. Cloud native who grew up in Litchfield, Minn., signed a five-year, $25 million deal with an $11 million guarantee.

"I think what we're trying to do is find some players who we think are going to help us win ballgames, who are going to be able to contribute and then build this through the draft. Keep our roster competitive year in and year out that way."

Coming off a 3-13 season, the Vikings were about $24 million under the salary cap. Only a few teams had more to spend, but the Vikings openly admitted they had too many holes to fill to be risking long-term stability throughout the 53-man roster for a quick-fix spending spree on two or three players.

Meanwhile, all heck was breaking loose and draining banks around the league. For example, Tampa Bay, a four-win team, dumped a combined $72.5 million just in guaranteed money to sign a receiver (Vincent Jackson), a cornerback (Eric Wright) and a guard (Carl Nicks) -- all three positions of need for the Vikings.

Building around Ponder

Closer to home, a Vikings fan base was -- and is -- growing increasingly frustrated.

"Just give us time to put this roster together," Spielman said. "We're not only putting it together for 2012. We're building this roster to be able to maintain it for over the next three to four to five years."

Spielman said he believes Carlson, 27, is one of the key young building blocks that will grow alongside 24-year-old quarterback Christian Ponder, 26-year-old running back Adrian Peterson, 23-year-old receiver Percy Harvin and 22-year-old tight end Kyle Rudolph. Carlson and Rudolph, two former second-round picks from Notre Dame, will see considerable playing time together because the Vikings emphasize a multiple tight end passing attack.

"We've talked about adding as many playmakers as we can around Christian Ponder," Spielman said. "John Carlson definitely fits the bill there."

Carlson, the 38th overall pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2008, had back-to-back 50-catch seasons with 12 touchdowns in 2008-09. But he also missed all of last season after tearing the labrum in his left shoulder during a preseason practice. Not only that, but the last time Carlson played in a game that counted, he was carted off Soldier Field in Chicago after suffering a concussion during an ugly fall in a divisional playoff game in January 2011.

The Vikings put Carlson through an extensive physical and deemed him 100 percent. Carlson said his shoulder returned to full strength after surgery and that he never had any lasting symptoms from the concussion, which was the third of his football career, including college.

"It [the concussion] was worse than it looked," Carlson said. "They took me off on a board. That never looks good. ... But I was cleared the next week. No lasting effects."

Hoops star changes sports

The 6-5, 251-pound Carlson was all-state in football, basketball and tennis at Litchfield High School. He led the Dragons basketball team -- still coached by his father, John Sr. -- to three state titles. He wasn't a die-hard Vikings fan because he had visions of basketball stardom until realizing a 6-5 power forward would never make it in the NBA.

Carlson was in Kansas City when he fielded the call from Spielman as free agency opened Tuesday. Carlson must have liked what he heard because he quickly cancelled his visit with the Chiefs and headed for his home state.

Carlson joked that it was because he wanted to see the Dragons play a section final game this weekend. But, joking aside, he said he's not here just to be close to family and friends.

"I wouldn't have come back here if I didn't think the Vikings had a great thing going and a chance to be really special on the offensive side of the ball," Carlson said. "That's something I want to be a part of. So the family thing was a factor, but not the primary factor."

Like Rudolph, Carlson is primarily a pass catcher with the athleticism to split wide, play H-back or line up next to the tackle. Carlson replaces Visanthe Shiancoe, 31, who turned down a contract offer during the season to leave via free agency.

"Good memories in minn., especially '09!" Shiancoe said via Twitter on Wednesday.

As for the Vikings' next step, Spielman said the team will monitor the unrestricted free agent market overall with an understanding that "we also have some defensive needs as well that we have to address."

"We're not done yet," Spielman said. "There could be a couple of guys in over the next couple of weeks. We'll continue to add players as we see fit, but ... other than a guy here or there in free agency, we're really honing in and building this roster through the draft."

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