The available players when free agency began more than a week ago were intriguing – Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Pierre Garcon, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Laurent Robinson, Brandon Lloyd, Robert Meachem, Early Doucet, Josh Morgan, Harry Douglas and Donte Stallworth.
The Vikings are doing their due diligence, but fans are becoming increasingly frustrated that the only outside free agents that have been brought in are tight end John Carlson, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, a pair of fullbacks and a former point guard hoping to latch on as a cornerback. The belief is that somehow Mike Tice is calling the shots for the Vikings signings, not Rick Spielman in his debut season as the final voice in the Vikings war room.
Perhaps the bigger problem is that the Vikings don't have to break the bank to bring in bodies to help. Perhaps the Vikings should employ the blueprint the New England Patriots have executed in free agency.
The Patriots have become the franchise model that other teams look to replicate. Over the last decade no team has been as dominant, yet, for the most part, been devoid of star power talent. At a time when NFL stars are created relatively easily, the Patriots have been the gold standard of the league without many big-name stars. People remember the great teams of yesteryear because so many of them eventually made their way to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lynn Swann never had a 1,000-yard receiving season, but he's in the Hall. The Cowboys, Steelers, 49ers and Dolphins have all placed multiple players into the Hall of Fame, yet the Patriots have been the league's dominant franchise for a decade and the only lock to be a Hall of Famer of the core group is Tom Brady.
They can be a cold organization, letting star players get away when their contract demands get too high. They infuriated their fans when they traded away guys like Richard Seymour and Randy Moss, but they continue to find ways to get the job done. They always seem to have extra picks in the draft and, when it comes to free agency, they find ways to sign a lot of players without spending a lot of money.
Division rival Buffalo backed up the Brink's truck to get one player – defensive end Mario Williams. The Patriots have refused to get into bidding wars for the top free-agent talent, instead using a scatter-gun approach that targets lesser free agents that can fill valuable roles.
Can you think of any big-name free agents the Patriots have signed this offseason? Probably not, because they haven't been involved in any of the megabuck signings. But that doesn't mean that they haven't been active. In fact, they've signed just about as many players as any team in free agency, just not the big names that require big bucks.
The Patriots refused to get in bidding wars for RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis or DE Mark Anderson, both of whom signed elsewhere, but they addressed multiple needs in the first week of free agency by making numerous moves.
In need of wide receivers, the only major commitment made was franchising Wes Welker, opting to give him a one-year deal instead of a long-term contract. But, they stocked their shelves by signing free agents Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez.
They have two of the top tight ends in the league in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but still found a roster spot for Denver TE Daniel Fells and brought him in.
The offensive line suffered numerous injuries in 2011, so the team re-signed center Dan Connolly and brought in former first-round pick Robert Gallery on the cheap to compete for a guard spot.
On the defensive line, the team lost Anderson, but signed three players to compete to replace him – Oakland's Trevor Scott, Cincinnati's Jonathan Fanene and Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett.
Needing help in the secondary, the Patriots made their annual raid of the Jets roster by plucking cornerback Marquice Cole and taking away San Diego safety Steve Gregory.
The Patriots have lost just two free agents 10 days into free agency, yet have found a way to bring in 10 free agents – none of them bona fide stars, but all of them players in which they see potential. Perhaps even more ironic is that the 10 players that were brought in were signed away from 10 different teams – Cincinnati, Denver, Indianapolis, New York, Oakland, St. Louis, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington. They're equal-opportunity pilferers.
The Patriots have found a way to add players at many positions of need – whether as starters or role players – without breaking the financial bottom line of the franchise. The Vikings and other teams can learn something from this tactic. Not every free agent has to be an enormous investment. If they can provide a specific role to the team, they have value – and combine to cost about the same amount as Buffalo spent to land one superstar talent.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.