No End in Sight for Minnesota Vikings

RealFootball365.comSenior Writer IMarch 7, 2008

Factor in the $30 million pool of salary-cap money the Vikings are dipping into this offseason, and the team's fans might have rightly assumed heading into free agency that at least one of the top pass rushers available would already be signed to a lucrative contract with the organization seven days into the process.

But one by one during this first week, those players have all found reasons to be someplace else.

Justin Smith paid a visit to San Francisco and never left. Antwan Odom made it as far as the ticket counter at the Cincinnati airport for his Minnesota-bound flight before the Bengals made an offer he couldn't refuse, and his luggage had to be pulled off the conveyor belt, literally, so he could go back and finalize the details.

The Vikings contacted the agent for Travis LaBoy to arrange a visit before he signed with Arizona, and Minnesota was the next stop for Jevon Kearse before he agreed to terms with Tennessee.

It seems a plane ticket to the Twin Cities is a necessity this year for defensive ends looking to strike free-agent gold.

Good for them, bad for the Vikings.

The team currently has six defensive ends on the roster. Together, they totaled 119 tackles and 19.5 sacks during the 2007 season. Two of those players, however, may not be healthy enough to play in 2008. Kenechi Udeze, the team's first-round draft choice in 2004, was diagnosed with leukemia in early February, and Erasmus James—a 2005 first-round pick—underwent the third knee surgery of his professional career last December to repair a torn ACL.

A third player—Ray Edwards—was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy last season and is one more violation away from a one-year ban.

Subtract the contributions made by those players from that earlier total and the Vikings are left with three ends who made 35 tackles and had 6.5 sacks last year.

That's not going to get it done for a team that was last in the league in 2007 in passing yards allowed, giving up 264.1 per game.

The Vikings have a decent secondary that should be helped by the addition of Madieu Williams -- Cincinnati's former safety known for his coverage skills -- who signed with the Vikings on Feb. 29. But pressuring the quarterback is an area defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would really like his squad to improve upon in 2008.

The Vikings were eighth in the NFL in total sacks (38) in 2007, but they often had to blitz to get to the quarterback. The Tampa 2 scheme Frazier favors as a base defense is most effective when the front four are able to apply pressure by themselves.

As things stand right now, the Vikings will rely on a pair of fourth-round draft choices to apply that pressure this fall. If he can stay on the field, Edwards—drafted in 2006—has shown flashes of promise; Brian Robison, drafted by the team last season, seems to have a knack for making things happen when he's in the game.

But they will need help. And, although Vikings officials always maintain that drafting the best player available is much wiser than drafting for need, don't be surprised if, on the evening of April 26, those officials are claiming the best player available was a defensive end.