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Updated: December 31st, 2010 2:37am
Pelissero: For aging Vikings, visit to Detroit may be the last stand

Pelissero: For aging Vikings, visit to Detroit may be the last stand

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by Tom Pelissero

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There was a touch of capitulation in Pat Williams' voice as he glanced around the locker room.

In the final throes of his sixth season with the Minnesota Vikings, the 38-year-old nose tackle knows there's a fairly good chance he'll pack his belongings on Monday, pick up his ever-present rocking chair and walk out the doors of Winter Park for the final time.

"They'll need to rebuild around here," Williams said, rocking next to his locker on Thursday afternoon. "It's going to be kind of rough. ... It'll be real rough."

These are the last strange days of a season gone hopelessly haywire. And as it goes so often in the win-now-or-else NFL, many of those who have endured all the drama and disappointment together won't have a chance to make good -- at least not here.

Of the 60 players on the Vikings' active roster and injured reserve, 22 are unsigned beyond this season. Williams is among the eldest of 18 who have at least four years' service, meaning they could be headed for unrestricted free agency.

Just as significant: 20 players, including Williams, will be on the wrong side of age 30 by the time the 2011 season begins. And the coaches who have wanted them around apparently will take the field on Sunday at Detroit with no indication from owner Zygi Wilf if it's their final day as Vikings, too.

"It's going to be a long offseason," veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield. "Change happens every year. You get new players, new coaches, so I just take it year to year. I prepare myself to go out there and do my job."

Winfield, 33, is aging better than most. But for any player entering his career's late stages, change -- in leadership, personnel, scheme -- tends to sound like reconstruction.

Change takes time and usually requires steps back before bigger steps forward. Change is no place for old men.

"I want to see, talk to my agent and see what he say, stuff like that, and just figure it out," Williams said. "But I want to win, though. That's my main focus."

Though Williams isn't what he once was, some team -- maybe a contender -- probably will be willing to pay him to take up space for 25 snaps a game.

Place-kicker Ryan Longwell, 36, and linebacker Ben Leber, 32, also may find better offers elsewhere as the Vikings focus on re-signing the younger likes of linebacker Chad Greenway and receiver Sidney Rice.

Quarterback Brett Favre, 41, seems more likely to follow Jon Gruden someplace than return under a new Vikings regime if he goes back on retirement again.

Receiver Bernard Berrian and safety Madieu Williams, who both turn 30 next season, are wildly overpaid and seem unlikely to return.

A youth movement could proceed without starting guards Steve Hutchinson, 33, and Anthony Herrera, 30, given that Hutchinson's declining play doesn't match his monster contract and Herrera will be coming off knee reconstruction.

Several veteran backups -- including quarterback Patrick Ramsey (31), receiver Greg Lewis (30) and cornerback Lito Sheppard (30 in April) -- may be lucky to find work at all.

What's certain is a roster built to a win a championship this season will take the field on Sunday trying merely to avoid finishing at the bottom of their division for the first time in two decades.

"We were talking about that (Thursday) in the meeting room," Williams said. "We say, 'We can't go in last place.'"

But if they do?

Well, it'll be up to a far different -- and probably much younger -- group to put the mess of 2010 in the past and turn things around next fall.

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.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero