Vikings work to protect key players
By: By Judd Zulgad, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Superior Telegram
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Two weeks ago the Minnesota Vikings signed cornerback Cedric Griffin to a five-year, $25 million contract extension. On Monday, coach Brad Childress said negotiations continue with the agent for Antoine Winfield, who will be entering the final season of his contract in 2009. And the veteran cornerback might not be the last player in line for a new deal.
In the midst of an offseason in which the Vikings were not very active in free agency, Childress made it clear the organization is taking a proactive approach toward keeping its most valuable assets.
“Rob (Brzezinski, the Vikings’ vice president of football operations) does a great job of all those projection-type things,” a relaxed Childress said while sitting in his Winter Park office. “I really wouldn’t want to comment on (individuals) but, yeah, you’re looking at the guys that are next, next, next. Where you can go out and do that. Those deals don’t just happen. You’ve got to have them on the radar for them to happen.”
While Childress would not go into detail, it’s safe to assume that talks of extensions could commence in the coming months with linebacker Chad Greenway (two-years remaining), running back Chester Taylor (one-year remaining) and even superstar running back Adrian Peterson, who has three seasons left on his contract. The Vikings have not hesitated to give extensions to players since Childress arrived in 2006, rewarding a group that includes defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, linebacker E.J. Henderson, left tackle Bryant McKinnie and punter Chris Kluwe.
A year ago the Vikings also gave rich deals to several outside players, signing wide receiver Bernard Berrian, safety Madieu Williams and fullback Thomas Tapeh on the opening weekend of free agency. This was followed by the expensive trade-and-sign deal with Kansas City for Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen days before the draft.
The Vikings’ additions this month — cornerback Karl Paymah and wide receiver Glenn Holt — have been far more of the low-level variety. Paymah is expected to compete for a job in the nickel defense and Holt likely will be used on kickoff returns. The Vikings made a bid but failed to land one big-name free agent — wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Childress did not completely go along with the suggestion that the freedom to extend Griffin’s contract and approach Winfield was a direct result of the Vikings holding onto much of their money in free agency.
“Yes and no,” he said. ”Sometimes you get presented with, ‘You can have this guy or this guy,’ or, ‘You don’t do this guy, you can do these guys.’ We go with the philosophy that you identify the guys that you want to keep and then you try to keep them. But (this year’s approach was) based more on how we felt about the market and the market was just wishy-washy.
“Everybody can say, the constituency can say, ‘I wish they would have been more active in free agency.’ Well, you get spoiled by signing three good players last year. But those players weren’t out this year, quite honestly. It was kind of a water downed group and you know what? Only to get more watered down next year.”
That’s because unless the NFL and the NFL Players Association reach agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, unrestricted free agency will require six years of service instead of four years in 2010. Players with four or five years of service would be restricted free agents, making it far more difficult to pry them away.
Griffin is one of those players who will have four years of service after next season. The Vikings’ decision to extend him made sense given that he won’t turn 27 years old until Nov. 11 and should be hitting his most productive seasons during his new contract. Winfield is coming off his first Pro Bowl berth and remains a top-notch tackler but he will turn 32 in June and has played 10 seasons.
Asked if there was any concern about this, Childress said: “There’s all kinds of data and charts of players redoing contracts at that age. And, of course, age is like the scrape (on the chalkboard) that players don’t want to hear. But you just look at ability, you look at how he plays, what he still has. I think that we would do a deal that we felt like was fair and typically when you do a deal both parties have to feel like it’s a good thing going forward. I think the added thing is that he can play outside and he also has the ability to play in that nickel slot, which as kind of a different animal.”
— Copyright (c) 2009, Minneapolis Star Tribune/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services