WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. - The news surfaced around breakfast time Monday. The Vikings, on Day 13 after the free-agent marketplace opened, finally had signed a defensive player from outside Winter Park.
His identity: Zack Bowman, 27 years old, a cornerback formerly of the Chicago Bears.
His objective: to help upgrade a Vikings secondary that spent most of 2011 held together by chicken wire and bubble gum, allowing more than four times as many touchdown passes as it collected interceptions.
Now enter Bowman, still young, still promising, plenty capable of becoming a solid player in the system of new defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
Was it a headline-stealing transaction? By no means. But hey, when you're in rebuilding mode, you've got to start somewhere. So while the Jets might have magnetized the NFL's hype machine with their bright lights Monday introduction of quarterback Tim Tebow, the Vikings' less impactful news featured the acquisition of a defensive back who spent last season as a backup to Tim Jennings.
Bowman's upside? For starters, he has good size at 6-1 and 196 pounds. Plus, he's instinctive and quick, and in his second NFL season in 2009, he led the Bears with six interceptions.
"I'm not quite sure why things haven't worked out for him in Chicago," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said from the league's owners meetings. "But we want to give him a chance to compete. He's shown those flashes that we like to see. Hopefully we can get some consistency out of him when we get him and work with him."
The right fit
Bowman agreed to a one-year deal, the latest in a string of short-term signings that have failed to enthuse a downtrodden Vikings fan base yet serve a purpose nonetheless.
Sticking true to his "build through the draft and fill in the gaps through free agency" philosophy, General Manager Rick Spielman has spent much of his March seeking out what he labels "value players," potentially solid contributors who don't require a huge initial investment.
Others signed to one-year deals over the past two weeks: linebacker Erin Henderson, fullbacks Lex Hilliard and Jerome Felton, receiver Devin Aromashodu and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz.
Frazier is on board with the overarching philosophy, understanding the Vikings' plans to attack this offseason with an intense focus on the draft yet little intention of reeling in a big-splash free agent.
The coach attempted to explain that rationale Monday.
"We're looking for guys who really fit what we're looking for from a character standpoint and athletically," Frazier said. "Those big names aren't as big of a priority as guys who fit what we're building. The guys we've identified and signed fit what we're looking for and give us competition at positions. We're really trying to create quality competition at as many positions as we can."
Doing their homework
Team president and co-owner Mark Wilf also chimed in Monday, fully backing the rebuilding approach of Spielman, whom he helped promote to the GM's role only two days after last season ended.
"Again, we want to be successful in the long term," Wilf said. "And what Rick is about is a long-term process. ... We want to win right away too. But the main thing is we want to be first rate and first class on a consistent basis."
It's been nearly two weeks now since the marquee free agent names at the Vikings' biggest positions of need have settled -- receivers Vincent Jackson (in Tampa Bay) and Pierre Garcon (Washington) and cornerbacks Brandon Carr (Dallas), Cortland Finnegan (St. Louis) and Carlos Rogers (San Francisco).
So what would have been the disadvantage for the Vikings of making a serious run at such standouts?
"If there is a disadvantage," Frazier said, "sometimes you have to sway your team in that new guy's direction. And then you get away from 'team.' At the same time, if it was the right guy, they can make you better overnight.
"We talked about all the free agents, every single one who was out there. And I can assure you we did our homework. The guys that we've really gone after hard are the ones that will give us the best chance to be successful."
Bowman is the latest player to fit. Even more exciting for the Vikings, the draft is now just four weeks away, a valuable chance to add 10 more pieces to the puzzle.