What we know about the Vikings after months of free agency and three days of the NFL draft is this:

Pretty much the same team that flew home from New Orleans in January will fly to New Orleans this September.

And the focal point of each flight might prove to be Brett Favre's cankle. (That's the widening intersection of calf and ankle visible on underconditioned office workers and bruised, melodramatic quarterbacks.)

In free agency, the Vikings lost one important player, backup running back Chester Taylor. During the draft, the Vikings acquired, at best, a slew of backups for the 2010 team.

The addition of cornerbacks Lito Sheppard (a veteran free agent) and Chris Cook (the Vikings' first draft pick, in the second round) bolster a position where depth is needed.

Taylor's absence is a minor annoyance that should be assuaged by a combination of Adrian Peterson taking more third-down snaps and Toby Gerhart providing a power running threat against defenses spread out to stop the pass.

The arrival of Cook, Gerhart, defensive end Everson Griffin and guard Chris DeGeare should provide depth this year and a starter or two down the road, but three days of listening to Mel Kiper and Todd McShay bicker left the Vikings with exactly the same set of important questions that they have faced since Garrett Hartley's field goal landed in the Superdome:

1. What is Brett Favre thinking?

2. How injured is Favre's ankle?

3. What's Favre's timetable?

4. Could a season of experience and familiarity help a Vikings team with all of its starters returning take one more step in 2010?

Here are my guesses with the opener less than five months away:

1. Favre's thinking, "I'm sure the team plane can stop by Hattiesburg on the way to New Orleans and save me a trip to Minnesota."

2. Not bad enough to keep him from playing in the regular season; just bad enough to give him an excuse to skip Mankato.

3. Years of being criticized for his indecisiveness have not shamed Favre; they have encouraged him to do commercials making light of his waffling. He'll let us know when he lets us know.

4. That wouldn't be surprising.

Let's review the 2009 season: Favre showed up late, shook hands, took a crash course on the Vikings' offense, then played as well as he ever has while taking the Vikings to within one play of the Super Bowl.

If the Vikings are going to be even better this year, it won't be because of the draft. It will be because their secondary plays better, either due to the presence of Cook and Sheppard or because they get more out of their safeties, or it will be because their offense performs even better than it did in 2009.

"We lost a Chester Taylor, and Artis Hicks [the departed backup offensive lineman]," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "Time will tell whether these guys will adequately step up and take care of that.

"But really, we're going to be a good football team. Now you get to see it molding together and how this thing goes. That's a process. You can't recapture that dynamic."

As well as Favre played last year, he experienced a midseason slump along with the entire Vikings offense, and Peterson seemed to fumble every fifth play, and the offensive line featured two first-time starters, and the Vikings spent the regular season experimenting with the best ways to use Percy Harvin.

Yes, this offense could be even better this year, if Favre is present and healthy.

The defense is more problematic. The starting defensive linemen could be suspended four games. The starting cornerbacks are coming off injuries; Cedric Griffin might not be ready for Game 1, and Antoine Winfield will start playing like an old cornerback one of these years.

The Vikings didn't upgrade their safeties with outside additions, and the road to the Super Bowl is packed with great quarterbacks who take advantage of every flaw they find in an opposing secondary.

Nothing that happened regarding the roster in the past three months changed the fact that Favre is the key to their success in 2010, or that he probably is enjoying that leverage.

Asked about the future of the quarterback position, Childress chuckled. "I think I saw a commercial of Favre, or maybe it was just me going forward, of him winning the MVP award 10 years from now," Childress said. "I mean, maybe it was me just seeing a lot of tape here, maybe I was dreaming.

"Was I dreaming? I think the native thing in this is change. Whether the guy who is going to be the quarterback here is on our roster or someone we acquire remains to be seen. It just keeps changing. I'm going to stick by my dream."

At this point, he has no choice.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com