Pelissero: Free agency 'exactly' as Vikings GM Rick Spielman planned
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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Erin Henderson was a free agent for 10 days before he realized the outside linebacker market wasn't moving.
On Friday, he settled for the Minnesota Vikings' one-year, $2 million offer and became the latest in a series of low-risk, short-term signings that say a lot about general manager Rick Spielman's thoughts on free agency.
"You don't start the season next week," Spielman said on Sunday at The Breakers resort, where the NFL meetings begin on Monday morning.
"You start the season in September. It's a process, and I really believe in being patient and trying to get value and developing the young, and most of the guys we've been signing have been in that range."
The Vikings re-signed 24-year-old defensive tackle Letroy Guion to a three-year, $9 million deal just before free agency opened on March 13.
That night, they talked 27-year-old tight end John Carlson into ditching his meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs and flying north to sign a five-year, $25 million deal.
Of the Vikings' six veteran signings since, only nose tackle Fred Evans, 28, got even a two-year deal. Bonuses were modest across the board.
"We've signed a pretty good amount of guys over this second wave," Spielman said. "It's not like we're not signing anyone. I just really believe in doing your due diligence and being patient and there's no hurry for anything."
That's why Spielman was willing to wait out Henderson, 25, even though losing him would have meant two question marks at linebacker instead of one.
That's why Spielman has yet to go outside last year's roster to find a receiver, cornerback or safety -- three positions at which the depth chart suggests the Vikings still have major holes.
"It's funny how I think sometimes people think, 'Well, you have this need. You have to fill it now!'" Spielman said. "There's no order you have to fill your needs in -- that's at least last time I looked."
The plan is to find blue-chip players in the NFL Draft, not anchor the payroll by paying retail price in free agency's frenetic first 48 hours.
The exceptions are players such as Carlson, who apparently was important enough to the Vikings' plans they weren't willing to let him go. Yet even Carlson fit the bargain mold entering free agency because he sat out last season following shoulder surgery.
Same with offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, 25, who missed last season following hip surgery and got a $150,000 bonus on his one-year deal.
Same with fullback Jerome Felton, 25, who has landed in a series of bad situations and got a $50,000 bonus that won't be fully paid unless he makes the 53-man roster.
"We think we may not have made the splash that other teams may have, but we think we've done the right things for our team," coach Leslie Frazier said. "Time will tell."
Any remaining holes after the draft could be filled with veterans on minimum deals, but Spielman will be reluctant to delay the development of potentially ascending players on what should be one of the NFL's youngest teams.
"We took a run at where we started doing that in '09, keeping it together in '10," Spielman said, "but you have to kind of (reverse) that sometimes, build up through these second-tier guys that we think are some quality football players and then hopefully, you hit on some of these young guys in the draft and then see where you're at next year and the year going forward."
Asked if free agency has gone the way he planned, Spielman smiled and said, "Yeah. Exactly."
Until further notice, that means searching for value in March and trying to find the missing pieces in April instead.