Zygi Wilf fired coach Mike Tice on the last day of the 2005 season and announced Brad Childress as the replacement five days later. The Vikings owner tried to give his new man a jump start by doling out $28.6 million in guaranteed money over the next few weeks.

The Vikings maneuvered left guard Steve Hutchinson away from Seattle for $16 million guaranteed and a total package of $49 million for seven years.

Wilf also approved $12.6 million guaranteed and total deals worth $44.1 million for kicker Ryan Longwell, running back Chester Taylor and linebacker Ben Leber.

The Vikings were basically non-participants in 2007 free agency, bringing in receiver Bobby Wade, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and linebacker Vinny Ciurciu. The offseason became a success when running back Adrian Peterson fell in their laps at No. 7 in the draft.

The result of the first two seasons when Wilf had an actual imprint on the team was a record of 14-18 without a playoff appearance. Zygi told his personnel department to go nuts.

The Vikings acquired defensive end Jared Allen and signed him to a six-year, $74.5 million contract with $31 million guaranteed. At the time, it was the fourth-largest pile of guaranteed money in NFL history.

The Vikings also gave contracts worth $81 million with $30.2 million in guarantees to receiver Bernard Berrian, safety Madieu Williams and fullback Thomas Tapeh. The smallest numbers -- $6 million, with $1.2 million guaranteed -- went to Tapeh, and became a write-off as he was beaten out by Twinkle Toes Tahi.

This spending orgy advanced Zygi's team to 10-6, an NFC North title and a first-round playoff loss. It also earned Wilf a reputation as an owner so determined to win that he would throw whatever millions necessary to sign a coveted free agent or trade for a star.

The notion was very comforting to the Purple Faithful. Unfortunately, this has been an offseason of financial reality for Mr. Wilf, his family and Vikings fans.

The Wilfs' company, Garden Homes, is located in Short Hills, N.J. It is privately held, meaning no numbers are available, but a big part of the business is Garden Commercial. That subsidiary owns or manages more than 25 million square feet of retail and commercial space.

Put it this way: If the Wilfs' commercial arm hasn't taken a huge hit during this recession, that would make Garden Commercial an extremely rare gem in its field.

Wilf has suggested the Vikings operate in a vacuum -- that the football team has nothing to do with other holdings. Even if that's true, the Vikings' business isn't too hot, either.

Zygi spent money before last season like an intoxicated midshipman. His reward was threefold: One, reaching the playoffs; two, battling regularly to avoid TV blackouts in the Metrodome; and three, making no political progress toward public funding for a spiffy retractable dome.

You are entitled to embrace the reasoning offered by Wilf's football people -- that this was an offseason with few needs and few available difference-makers aged 25 to 28 and looking for their second NFL contracts.

You can cite the Vikings making a generous offer to receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and losing out to Seattle.

You can embrace all such justifications for an offseason when the Vikings have spent a total of $11.55 million (with $5 million or so guaranteed) on new talent: quarterback Sage Rosenfels in a trade, and defensive back Karl Paymah and receiver Glenn Holt as free agents.

You are allowed to accept that guaranteeing about 8 percent as much money and offering about 7 percent as much in total contracts to new veteran talent compared to last offseason has been strictly a football and not a business decision.

You are entitled to accept the theory the Vikings ended last season with a roster comparable to any in the NFC -- and to not accept other assessments that the Purple entered this offseason chasing the New York Giants, Philadelphia, Dallas, Carolina and perhaps Arizona when it came to talent.

Go ahead and embrace these things, but from here, this looks like an offseason that has been all about business -- about a reaction to a nasty recession, a fall in season-ticket sales and another stadium shutout suffered at the Legislature.

This looks like an owner who has stacked millions upon millions without receiving proper rewards, and now he's said, "Enough."

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • preusse@startribune.com