Free Agency Opens at Midnight

Minnesota Vikings

While other teams are cutting loose players, the Vikings are waiting on the midnight deadline for free agency to begin and may start their work as early as tomorrow.

For the last few years, the Vikings have been on the other side of the late-February blood purge -- forced to get rid of players they wanted to keep for salary-cap reasons. However, after swallowing hard, the Vikings sit with more than $25 million in available cap space prepared to make a big splash in free agency.

All 32 teams must find a way to get under the $75 million salary cap figure by midnight tonight, and the Vikings have been watching with some interest as several teams make wholesale changes -- including defensive cuts that could become future Vikings.

With big-name veterans joining the ranks of the free agent Class of 2003, the Vikings are in a rare position -- one of the few teams with money to spend and a willingness to invest in making big improvements in one year.

THURSDAY NOTES
* The Vikings tendered restricted free agents Doug Chapman and Cory Withrow with minimum contract offers of $605,000. Some in the organization believe at least one team will make a serious play for Withrow.
* Neil O'Donnell left Minnesota without signing a deal, but he's been made an offer and will mull it over with his wife this weekend. The Titans have expressed an interest in bringing him back, but Tennessee sources say the grapevine there says he was impressed with the Vikings and might be willing to sign a deal. If he does, it will likely come quickly -- word is it would be by the middle of next week if at all.
* Wednesday was a bad day for former Vikings. The Browns released Dwayne Rudd (and his errant helmet) as well as Corey Fuller. Meanwhile, the Chiefs let former Viking Duane Clemons go after he refused to restructure his contract significantly downward.
* Former Viking Ronnie Bradford has accepted an assistant coaching job with the Broncos.
* If the Vikings can't work out a deal with ORT Orlando Brown, they may turn their sites to James "Big Cat" Williams. Although he's getting old at age 34, he's started every game the last eight years with the Bears.

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