For many NFL teams, the last two months have been noted by looking back at the 2008 season. Starting at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time tonight, those teams as well as those that advanced into the playoffs will begin the process of re-shaping their teams. As is the habit with free agency, there is likely to be an initial flurry of signings, which may well include the Vikings.
While the current economic climate may have some time resistant to handing out monster contracts, it won't keep everyone from being busy. With as little difference as there is between being a team that was viewed as playoff-vulnerable (Arizona Cardinals) to teams viewed as potential Super Bowl champions in early December that didn't make the playoffs (Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots), making a key signing or two or three could be the difference between a team spending next January playing in the postseason and watching it on TV.
Where might the Vikings go? Here is a semi-educated guess as to which positions may get the longest look.
QUARTERBACK – This one should be a slam dunk. From the sounds of all the rumors we've heard, look for the Vikings to announce tonight or early tomorrow that they have traded for QB Sage Rosenfels. While not the kind of huge investment that would have been required to sign a Kurt Warner or trade for Derek Anderson, the Rosenfels deal seems like almost a sure deal to go down. In the event it doesn't, look for the Vikings to make a run at Jeff Garcia.
RUNNING BACK – With Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor in the fold, it is unlikely the Vikings will make a push to add a third veteran running back this year. Fullback may be another story, however.
WIDE RECEIVER – There continues to be rumors the Vikings will make a run for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, despite spending heavily for Bernard Berrian and drafting Sidney Rice in the second round of the 2007 draft. If there is a signing here, don't expect it to be one that creates a big splash.
TIGHT END – The potential loss of Jim Kleinsasser could have an impact here. The Vikings will likely make an effort to re-sign Kleinsasser. If that doesn't happen, trying to lock down a blocking TE might be in the cards, but the Vikings have consistently kept four TEs in the past, so they may be set there regardless of whether Kleinsasser comes back or not.
OFFENSIVE LINE – This could be a very active position. The Vikings were believed to have interest in both right tackles Jordan Gross and Vernon Carey, as first reported by Scout.com's Adam Caplan – and both of those players were re-signed by their current teams. With Matt Birk far from certain to return at center, if he doesn't come back, the Vikings could be looking to free agency to shore both right tackle and center – there is a sentiment that John Sullivan may not be ready to take over at center if Birk leaves. While not a glamorous position, it may be what the Vikings need to address early.
DEFENSIVE LINE – This position would appear set at the top, but the potential four-game suspensions to Pat Williams and Kevin Williams could cause the Vikings to seriously consider taking someone to upgrade the position from the backup standpoint. Clearly, the Vikings won't likely give someone starter's money if they intend to have him playing behind two Pro Bowlers, but the looming suspensions might get the Vikes to pull the trigger on a young talent that could eventually replace Big Pat.
LINEBACKER – The team has three solid starters, but the recent release of Tampa Bay linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June could be enticing since both are almost certain to go to teams that run the Tampa-2 defense, which apparently is being abandoned in Tampa itself.
SECONDARY – This one could surprise. The Vikings had a Pro Bowler in Darren Sharper entering the final year of his contract last free agent period and jumped on Madieu Williams. This year, they have a Pro Bowl cornerback in Antoine Winfield entering the final year of his contract. Could that mean the Vikings look for an eventual replacement in free agency? Don't bet against it.
We'll know a lot more by tomorrow night and over the weekend, but, as it stands now, the Vikings have the cap space to be competitive and needs aren't nearly as across the board as they were last year. The team has a chance to shore up problem areas and add depth to others, making this free-agent period one that will be exciting and could provide a surprise or two along the way.