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Updated: February 23rd, 2012 3:03pm
Notebook: Vikings will finalize plans for cuts, free agency next week

Notebook: Vikings will finalize plans for cuts, free agency next week

by Tom Pelissero
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The fate of several declining veterans on the Minnesota Vikings roster could be sealed by the end of next week.

General manager Rick Spielman declined on Thursday to comment directly on any of the Vikings' 18 pending free agents or the list of potential releases and restructures topped by guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin.

But Spielman acknowledged he'll meet next week with coach Leslie Frazier, cap man Rob Brzezinski and Vikings ownership to discuss the team's plan leading up to the start of free agency on March 13 -- and players who could be let go before then.

"Do you look at it as, 'Well, maybe he's not playing at that level anymore, so do you restructure his deal and take him down some?'" Spielman said, speaking generally. "Or do you just outright release that player?' Those are things where hopefully we'll have our finalized plan hopefully by the end of next Friday."

Spielman will be on the road the following week for campus workouts, raising the urgency for the Vikings to set their course.

He did confirm the Vikings won't use their franchise tag after locking up several key starters to long-term deals last fall and said "there are some guys we definitely want to keep" from a free-agent list that includes linebackers E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and safety Husain Abdullah.

The Vikings are expected to be more than $10 million under their adjusted salary cap and could be $23 million under if they sever ties with Herrera, Griffin and Hutchinson, who is probably the most logical candidate of the ground to be restructured instead.

"We're talking to everyone's agent, those guys, and (finding out) if they're interested in that or not interested in that," Spielman said. "We might not be interested in restructuring. We may be just be ready to move on, too."

Color by numbers

The lead-up to Spielman's first draft as GM has yielded some changes to the way the personnel department, scouts and coaching staff work together.

Coaches had last week off while Spielman, assistant general manager George Paton, college scouting director Scott Studwell and others on the scouting side went through their usual week of meetings before the combine.

Then, coaches rejoined the conversation for eight hours on Monday before the team set its initial draft board, providing video cutups to highlight the traits they look for to fit their schemes.

"What I try to do is every year, we try to evolve and try to either do something different or something better," Spielman said. "I think if you stay all the time in the same thing without trying to educate yourself on this or that or, 'Hey, that's a great idea. Let's try this' -- it adds some I don't want to say freshness, but some even more focus to what we're trying to get accomplished from a roster standpoint."

It also is part of the process for making sure the Vikings are effectively allocating their financial resources as they turn over their roster after a 3-13 season.

Spielman recently performed a study of recent Super Bowl teams, calculating how many blue (elite), red (solid starters) and purple (replaceable) players those teams had and at what positions. Then, he asked Frazier and other coaches to tell them where they want their blue money to be.

"You hope to get blue players everywhere, but that's unrealistic," Spielman said. "You're not going to get 22 Pro Bowl players on offense and defense. But the positions that can make differences in the ballgame are the areas where we're going to focus where your best players are."

Winfield at safety?

Spielman said the Vikings have talked "a little bit" about moving Antoine Winfield to safety -- a possibility at which the veteran cornerback bristled late last season.

"But we still feel that he has the quickness and effective style of play to be an effective (nickel cornerback) as well," Spielman said. "Antoine has been a very smart player, been a great player for us since he's come in, but also you have the age concerns a little bit and the durability concerns, which is normal for a player of his age."

Winfield missed most of last season with a neck injury and a broken clavicle that required surgery. That triggered a clause in his contract that dropped his base salary from $7 million to $3 million next season, although he can make back the difference through playtime incentives.

"He was playing good outside last year, but I just think as guys get older, his roles change," Spielman said. "And Antoine is still an excellent football player. What that role is is yet to be determined. That's what the coaches do."

Access denied

Chicago coach Lovie Smith didn't mince words when asked why he wouldn't let defensive backs coach Jon Hoke interview for the Vikings coordinator position.

A lot of things go into a decision like that," Smith said. "We're not trying to help any of our division opponents. But we look at every situation individually.

"In the three years we've been here, Jon has gone and interviewed two different times, interviewed for the Tampa Bay job, so we look at each individual situation and in that one we didn't feel it was the appropriate thing to do for our team."

The Vikings interviewed a handful of candidates before hiring Alan Williams, who had been the defensive backs coach in Indianapolis for a decade.

Quick hits

• Spielman dismissed the idea the Hendersons' future might be tied together. "That's tough business decisions," Spielman said. "But that's the hardest part, is trying to take the human element out of it and just trying to do the best business decision you can make."

• Vikings OL coach Jeff Davidson remains on crutches but said he is feeling far better than he did at the end of last season. Davidson had hip replacement surgery last month and didn't travel with the rest of the coaching staff to the Senior Bowl.

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