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Updated: March 20th, 2013 10:10pm
Notebook: Players pushed for Vikings to sign Phil Loadholt, coach says

Notebook: Players pushed for Vikings to sign Phil Loadholt, coach says

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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PHOENIX -- The Minnesota Vikings were never going to let Phil Loadholt leave in free agency.

To hear coach Leslie Frazier tell it, Loadholt's teammates played a role in making sure of that.

"Naturally, he's improved as a player," Frazier said on Wednesday, during the annual NFC coaches' breakfast at the league meetings. "You saw it this season. We all saw it. He was more consistent than he's been at any point in his career in Minnesota. ...

"But in my exit interviews with our players, the number one name that kept coming up -- 'Coach, you've got to get this guy signed' -- was Phil Loadholt. And I realized that he was more than just a good player for our team."

The Vikings held firm on their offer of around $5 million a year until shortly before free agency opened, with division rival Chicago making a push to sign away the four-year veteran.

They ended up giving him a four-year, $25 million contract -- a $6.25 million average, with a $7 million signing bonus -- that made Loadholt one of the NFL's highest-paid right tackles.

Run blocking always has been Loadholt's strength, and Frazier praised him for his role in MVP halfback Adrian Peterson's 2,000-yard season, in more ways than one.

"He has influence in that locker room because of the way he practices, plays with injuries, his performance on the field," Frazier said. "And he really epitomizes the type of player we want on our team -- just a tough, physical, smart player, a disciplined guy."

Peterson stumped publicly for Loadholt after the season. Other players privately said Loadholt was more important than many realized to what they do up front, too.

"Just hearing his teammates coming in my office telling me, 'Coach, we've got to get Phil signed. Hey, what are we going to do? How are we going to get Phil signed?'" Frazier said.

"I'm going, 'Man. Phil.' So, when I talked with Rick (Spielman) and our management, I mentioned Phil Loadholt needs to be priority number one in this offseason when we're talking about re-signing our guys. Fortunately for us, we were able to get it done."

Winfield coming around?

When the price rose on Loadholt, the Vikings made the decision to cut loose veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, who had been due $7.25 million in base salary.

Discussions about a possible reunion are ongoing, though, and Frazier strongly indicated on Wednesday that Winfield is amenable to a return -- for the right price.

"I do know that there are other teams calling him and seeing what his interest is in continuing to play, and he does want to continue to play," Frazier said. "But he gave me the impression that he'd like to be able to be back here in Minnesota. Now it's just a matter of, can we work things out financially to his liking as well as our team's liking?"

The Vikings were $5.307 million under their adjusted salary cap as of $130.297 million as of Wednesday morning, prior to the filing of guard Seth Olsen's deal, according to a source.

Depending what Winfield finds on the open market, the Vikings could try to lure him back with a modest one-year offer, perhaps in the neighborhood of $3 million, and worry about clearing space to sign their rookies later.

That'd be a more team-friendly price for a 35-year-old cornerback Frazier reiterated on Wednesday would return in a reduced role if he returns at all.

"He's very comfortable coming back in that role only," Frazier said. "That's the best thing for the team and the best thing for him, to be able to keep him on the field this entire season. So, he had no qualms with that. He understands why. ... He's still going to play a lot of snaps."

Staying put

There are no imminent plans to try Joe Webb at receiver again after the signing of new backup quarterback Matt Cassel, according to Frazier.

"That's not in my mindset right now, that he's going to be looked as another position," Frazier said. "We're coming into it saying that he's going to be fighting for that other spot on our roster as a quarterback and we'll see how it unfolds. But I talked with him just a few days ago and told him, 'You're a quarterback and want you to come in and battle as a quarterback.'"

That battle figures to be for third-string duties with McLeod Bethel-Thompson -- not a battle for No. 2 with Matt Cassel, whose two-year, $7.4 million contract included a $2 million bonus.

Does that mean the Vikings would take four quarterbacks to training camp?

"We expect to," Frazier said. "As we sit here today, I would think that would be the case."

A Super Bowl for Minnesota?

The Vikings have submitted an application to host the Super Bowl after the 2017, '18 or '19 seasons at their new stadium, which is scheduled to open for the 2016 season.

Commissioner Roger Goodell was noncommittal when asked about eventually holding the game in Minneapolis, saying the league is focused on the two games they'll award in May.

"I guess that I would just reinforce the point again that the stadium is a big component of that," Goodell said. "It's important for us to be able to play the game on the best possible stage and the stadiums are getting better and better and more and more important."

Quick hits

• RG Brandon Fusco and S Jamarca Sanford will be starters when the Vikings begin organized team activity practices in May, Frazier said.

• Peterson is "just about" recovered from the sports hernia surgery on Feb. 7, Frazier said. "Just some of the full-speed running that he needs to be able to do and some of the cutting. He's kind of in moderation for him at this point."

• Former Vikings MLB Jasper Brinkley's two-year deal with Arizona is worth $3.5 million, including a $400,000 signing bonus, a source said.

• Olsen received a $20,000 signing bonus on his one-year, $670,000 deal, per a source.

• The Pro Bowl will survive for at least one more year and will be played the Sunday before the Super Bowl in Hawaii, Commissioner Goodell said. The league is considering several ideas to change the dynamic of the much-mocked event, including having the teams selected through a draft.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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