Free agency is a risk. Like trying to drive somewhere between 3 and 7 p.m. in the Twin Cities. Or like trying to drive in downtown Minneapolis without hitting an orange cone or having your car fall into a pothole like a 2-foot putt.
When pro teams sign free agents they often get damaged goods, or arrogant goods, or selfish goods.
Somehow, the Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman have avoided these Minneapolis pothole-like pitfalls. Captain Munneryln and Terence Newman arrived as veteran free agents, and rank as two of the best personalities and most savvy players in the Vikings locker room.
Joe Berger and Linval Joseph arrived as veteran free agents and became important players and admired professionals.
This winter, Spielman signed two potentially important offensive linemen in free agency to try to fix the Vikings’ biggest problem, protecting the quarterback. Alex Boone immediately became the starting left guard, and just as quickly demonstrated that his will be one of the bigger personalities in the organization.
Spielman also signed veteran offensive tackle Andre Smith away from the Bengals. Smith is not guaranteed a starting job, but he may win one, and the first impression upon meeting him is that he is another likable professional who could prove to be a free-agent steal.
Smith spent time at right tackle with the first-team offense during practice on Wednesday. He also appeared to perform better than expected starter Phil Loadholt, who hasn’t played a regular-season snap since Week 12 of 2014.
After practice, Smith sounded what are becoming familiar themes. Having played for the Bengals when coach Mike Zimmer was their defensive coordinator, he wanted to be reunited with Zimmer. And he wanted a chance to win big.
“I have a relationship with Zim,” Smith said. “Great team. Great organization. The locker room, there’s a lot of camaraderie. I knew a couple of guys here, and I wanted to go somewhere I had a chance to win. Minnesota’s on the rise.”
Smith called Newman, who played for Zimmer in Dallas, to scout the Vikings. He could have called another old friend — Munnerlyn.
The two played on high school all-star teams in their home state of Alabama. Munnerlyn played college ball at South Carolina. Smith became an All-America for the Crimson Tide.
The Bengals chose Smith with the sixth pick in the 2009 draft. The Vikings chose Percy Harvin later in that round, and Loadholt in the second round.
“Me and Cap played in an all-star game, Mississippi versus Alabama, way back in 2006, so I’ve known Cap for a long time,” Smith said. “He’s exactly the same guy he was then.
“I didn’t call Cap. I talked to Terence, and I played for five years with Zim in Cincinnati. We have a rapport. Him seeing the growth in me and him knowing the man that I am, I just trust him.
“He’s the type of guy that you don’t want to let down. He’s going to get you all of the answers to the test that is coming up on Sunday. You want to give him your best effort at all times.”
Smith is one of 14 first-round draft picks on the Vikings roster, along with Newman, Chad Greenway, Adrian Peterson, Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Michael Griffin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Barr, Teddy Bridgewater, Trae Waynes and Laquon Treadwell.
Boone and Smith were roommates at the NFL combine in 2009. Their arrival, combined with the return from injury of John Sullivan and Loadholt, means the Vikings have more depth on the offensive line than they did last season. They also have competition for starting jobs, and a new offensive line coach, Tony Sparano.
Who yells the most, Sparano, Zimmer or Norv Turner? “Sparano,” Smith said. “He’s always cussing us. He’s a great coach with a lot of energy, and he ain’t scared to tell you how he feels.”
Smith signed a one-year contract valued at $3.5 million. “I’ve made a lot of money in my career,” he said. “If I’m going to go somewhere, I want to go somewhere I can win. This was the best place for me.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org