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Updated: March 13th, 2012 10:14pm
Zulgad: Vikings have good reason for sitting out early spending spree

Zulgad: Vikings have good reason for sitting out early spending spree

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

In this case, silence clearly wasn't considered to be golden.

Many Vikings fans had themselves worked up into a Christmas-morning like excitement on Tuesday afternoon as the opening of NFL free agency approached. The Vikings had roughly $23 million in available salary-cap room, were coming off a 3-13 season and had a boatload of glaring holes that needed to be filled.

No matter how much they might have been cautioned, this group of Purple followers had visions of wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Pierre Garcon, safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Cortland Finnegan all showing up at a joint press conference at about 3:30 p.m. at Winter Park.

And then free agency started and reality set in.

As the news of free-agent signings and visits came fast and furious, the Vikings were barely mentioned.

Defensive tackle Letroy Guion agreed to a three-year deal to stay in Minnesota but that wasn't going to move the needle. Neither was the report that the Vikings might be interested in tight end John Carlson, a native of Litchfield, Minn.

Not when the Chicago Bears opened the NFL's new league year by acquiring wide receiver Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins for third-round picks in 2012 and 2013.

The Vikings have some serious needs at wide receiver and moments after free agency started this group of players started to fly off the shelf.

• Garcon announced on his Facebook page that he was leaving the Indianapolis Colts to sign a five-year, $42.5 million deal with the Washington Redskins that included $20.5 million guaranteed. 

• Jackson received a five-year, $55.55 million contract from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will guarantee him $26 million. The Buccaneers, who also were looking to pry All-Pro guard Carl Nicks away from the New Orleans Saints.

• Reggie Wayne re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts, receiving a three-year, $17.5 million deal with $7.5 million in guarantees.

• Robert Meachem, was visiting with the Buffalo Bills and being courted by the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams. He later reportedly agreed to a four-year deal with the Chargers.

• Finnegan, according to Fox Sports, agreed to a five-year contract that is valued at around $50 million.

Just for good measure, the Buffalo Bills were reportedly prepared to make Mario Williams the highest-paid defensive player ever.

There seemed to be some legitimate hostility on Twitter that the Vikings weren't being more active. Wise cracks were tweeted that on this gorgeous March day general manager Rick Spielman and his staff must be headed to the golf course.

It comes as no surprise that given the Vikings' ineptitude during 2011 that the team's fans would be disgruntled. But, honestly, no one should have been surprised by the fact the Vikings did not open free agency electing to play with the big boys.

Since Zygi Wilf took over as owner of the Vikings in the spring of 2005, the organization has been all over the board when it comes to free agency.

There have been years when they've been major players - Steve Hutchinson's seven-year, $49 million deal in 2006 highlighted a class that included Ben Leber, Chester Taylor and Ryan Longwell - and other years when they have been limited participants.

The signings of Bobby Wade, Visanthe Shiancoe and Vinny Ciurciu in 2007 didn't exactly draw rave reviews.

But what Vikings fans are seeing now appears to be a change in philosophy and that's not a bad thing.

Spielman, who was named GM right after one of the worst and most disappointing seasons in franchise history, has been charged with rebuilding a roster that had become long in the tooth and no longer even came close to resembling a contender.

With Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier sharing the power last offseason, the Vikings came out of the NFL lockout convinced (at least some people were) that their team could remain a contender by moving a few pieces around.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb was acquired in an ill-advised trade with Washington, far too many players were allowed to stick around and what transpired was a disaster for an organization that hasn't been all that familiar with terrible seasons since it joined the NFL in 1961.

The fact the Vikings did not spend last season attempting to rebuild this thing and ended up going 3-13 was unforgivable. It was bad enough that Wilf became convinced he had to restructure how the football side of the business operated.

Short term the fact the Vikings did not make any big moves on Tuesday is going to upset fans. Long term it should prove to be beneficial.

Yes, the Vikings have plenty of salary-cap room but are one or two veteran players added to the mix actually going to make this team that much better? We are talking about redoing this thing from the ground up. We're talking about a roster that needs to get younger and not older.

This isn't about competing in 2012, it's about building a foundation for a team that can compete in 2013 and be much better the following season. Attempt to force that timetable through free agency and odds are you will end up costing yourself in the long run.

As much as some would like to believe Spielman and the Vikings went home early Tuesday, the reality is they likely made several phone calls, got a gauge on the market and then began to wait it out.

The Vikings certainly wouldn't be the only team to use this strategy. Ted Thompson, the general manager of the Green Bay Packers, has had plenty of success by patiently sifting through what is left in the free agency bargain bin and then either buying or passing late in the process.

This isn't to compare Spielman to Thompson as a football evaluator.

Thompson has proven himself to be very creative about how he handles the draft, trading back when many would stand pat because there's an extra pick to be acquired.

Spielman also wants to use this philosophy, but the difference has been that Thompson's drafts seem to have turned out far better than the Vikings.

Spielman is going to have to make sure that changes this April or the Vikings will be in trouble. The team expects to have 10 selections, including two that should come as compensatory picks for the loss of Ray Edwards and Sidney Rice.

The Vikings have little room for error in this or any future draft.

It will be either the thing that gets this organization better in a hurry or the thing that drags it down into a spiral that will leave it near the bottom of the NFL for years to come.

Now that we know Spielman is the guy calling the shots, in time we will be able to praise or blame him for where the Vikings end up.

That will be fair.

But to get all excited about not diving into free agency in the opening hours of a frenzy in which dollars are thrown around like Aaron Rodgers' passes? That's just silly.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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