Tarvaris Jackson (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
The Vikings are expected to enter the 2008 season with Tarvaris Jackson as their starting quarterback, but they still have some roster work to do behind him.
While all signs point to Tarvaris Jackson being the Vikings’ starting quarterback in 2008, the organization has explored its options when it comes to adding a veteran backup.
This included trade talks with Houston about Sage Rosenfels — the Texans wanted a second-round draft pick and the Vikings were offering a No. 3 — and inquiries about free agents such as Cleo Lemon and Josh McCown.
The Vikings released veteran Kelly Holcomb just before the start of free agency, leaving them with Jackson and Brooks Bollinger. Clearly, they aren’t comfortable with that situation.
Holcomb was acquired from Philadelphia for a sixth-round draft pick in 2009 near the end of the preseason last summer only after Bollinger struggled.
While the Vikings would like to replace Holcomb with another veteran, that might not be possible. One theory is that any free-agent quarterback looking at Minnesota’s situation is going to know the odds of beating out Jackson for the starting job aren’t good.
Thus, the incentive to sign with the Vikings simply isn’t there. While it’s possible a trade for Rosenfels, or perhaps Buffalo’s J.P. Losman could remain an option, the Vikings also might end up targeting a quarterback in the draft to develop behind Jackson.
The team was expected to bring Joe Flacco in for a visit, but actually landing him would seem liked a long shot. Flacco, who played at Delaware, has seen his value increase to the point that some feel he could go in the first round of the NFL draft next month.
The 6-foot-7 Flacco is expected to go no later than the second round. It’s hard to believe the Vikings would use the 17th pick in the draft on a quarterback when the franchise clearly has a big need at defensive end.
Nonetheless, the Vikings are going to have to address the quarterback situation before training camp arrives and add a capable player to a position that right now is on the thin side.
Considering the Vikings have one of the NFL’s best 1-2 punches at running back with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, that position wouldn’t have seemed to be a big area of need entering free agency.
However, with Mewelde Moore electing to take his services to Pittsburgh, the Vikings did target a No. 3 running back who could be utilized in third-down situations and on special teams.
That player is Maurice Hicks, who signed a three-year deal with Minnesota after spending the past four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
While it’s hard to believe Hicks is going to actually find himself being used much in the tailback role — Peterson and Taylor accounted for 92 percent of the Vikings’ carries in 2007 — he said the coaching staff told him there would be a third-down role for him.
“I was kind of shocked that the Vikings had interest in me,” Hicks said. “They have two great backs already in Adrian and Chester. I wanted to know, and my agent wanted to know, what could be their interest? But now I see the reason, and I see myself fitting into this offense very well.”
The reality is that Hicks’ primary contribution almost certainly will come on kick returns. Hicks averaged 22.9 yards on 185 returns in his four seasons with the 49ers. He had a pair of 55-yard run backs last December against the Vikings in San Francisco.
Hicks started his NFL career with the Chicago Bears after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2002. He never played in a game with the Bears and joined the 49ers two years later. He has rushed for 869 yards on 205 carries and six touchdowns and also caught 55 passes for 424 yards and a touchdown in his career.
The fact the Vikings would bring in a kick returner was a bit of a surprise considering the success receiver Aundrae Allison had in that role in his rookie year. Allison averaged 28.7 yards on 20 returns, finishing third in the NFL and first in the NFC.
This came after Allison, a fifth-round pick of the Vikings in the draft last April, did not return kicks at East Carolina. The Vikings’ decision to sign Hicks could mean the coaching staff wants to get Allison more involved in the offense and thus doesn’t want him to have to concentrate on returns.
WR Bernard Berrian, signed as a free agent from Chicago, agreed to a salary-cap friendly deal with the Vikings. More than half of the guaranteed money coming to Berrian will count against the team’s 2008 cap. Reports say his cap number for the upcoming year will be at least $9.44 million. Berrian will get a total of $16 million in guarantees.
Berrian wore No. 80 while playing for the Bears, but can’t have those digits in Minnesota because they belonged to Cris Carter and have been retired. Thus, Berrian will wear No. 87 with the Vikings.
DL Ellis Wyms recently visited the Vikings and has had preliminary contract talks with the team. Wyms spent last season with the Seattle Seahawks. He also has talked to the Tennessee Titans.
CB Nate Jones, a free agent who spent last season with Dallas, visited with the Vikings this week. Jones could be a candidate to challenge for playing time in nickel situations and also on special teams.
LB Derrick Pope, a player the Vikings targeted to talk to in the second wave of free agency, visited the Vikings. Rick Spielman, the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel, drafted Pope in 2004 when Spielman was running the show for the Miami Dolphins. Adding Pope would help replace backup linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers.
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
For the most part, the Vikings have been more than willing to let their own free agents sign elsewhere.
The only two who might have a chance of returning are wide receiver Robert Ferguson and defensive linemen Darrion Scott, who can play both inside and on the end.
The Vikings’ lack of depth at end makes Scott attractive. Ferguson, meanwhile, will have to come back at the right price.
1. Defensive end: The Vikings were hoping to lure a free-agent such as Justin Smith, Antwan Odom or Jevon Kearse, but all three ended up elsewhere. Thus, the draft, and perhaps a trade, might be the best route to fill a glaring need at this spot(s).
2. Quarterback: Tarvaris Jackson is all but guaranteed the starting job, but if Jackson falters the Vikings could be in big trouble. And they know it. Brooks Bollinger is currently the No. 2 quarterback but doesn’t figure to remain in that role. The team continues to explore its options to bring in someone else at this position to at least push Jackson.
3. Offensive line: The Vikings are set with their starters but depth is an issue and needs to be addressed. Center Matt Birk will be entering his 11th season and doesn’t have a true backup. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie’s recent legal troubles in Miami could mean the NFL will take disciplinary action against him. If McKinnie is suspended his replacement would be Artis Hicks. That’s far from an ideal situation.
MEDICAL WATCH: WR Bobby Wade has been rehabbing his left knee in Arizona after undergoing arthroscopic surgery. Wade injured the knee in October and played the rest of the season despite being hobbled.
DE Kenechi Udeze has been diagnosed with a form of leukemia and is not expected to play in 2008. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
It also has been revealed that nose tackle Pat Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield had undisclosed surgical procedures performed.