Big Decisions Coming In Next Week

Minnesota Vikings

With the clock ticking on either signing or tagging TE Jim Kleinsasser as a transition free agent, the Vikings are facing several imminent questions in the next week.

VU has been hearing conflicting reports late in the night Wednesday. One says the team is still working with the agents for Jim Kleinsasser to beat the 3 p.m. Central deadline for submitting any players franchised or named transition free agents.

The other, which has been confirmed by more than one source, is that the team isn't going to back off of its wish to get Kleinsasser signed at a reasonable price and will more than likely assign a transition tag to Kleinsasser today.

Whichever happens, it is one of several key decisions the Vikings need to make in the next week. These include:

* Getting their best look at the top eligible draft players. While the Vikings are talking down an interest in DT Jimmy Kennedy, that has been the bunker-mentality of the Vikings brass all along when it comes to drafting over the years. This weekend's rookie Combine will be a chance to see not only first-round talent, but players who could potentially become Vikings in the later rounds.

* Decide if offensive tackle Jordan Gross of Utah, if still available, would be a "best athlete" pick at No. 7 than the dire need for defensive help and get a feel for the type of player Gross could be if the Vikings go for building the most dominant offense in the NFC from the front line back.

* Decide which, if any of the restricted free agents will be tendered an offer or allowed to become full free agents. VU is being told the team will likely tender center Cory Withrow, who wants to be a starter somewhere (it won't be, with a healthy Matt Birk, as a Viking) but is simply too valuable to give away. We're also told there's a decent chance they will tender RB Doug Chapman. But, the futures of LB Antonio Wilson and DB Tyrone Carter are very much up in the air and word is neither will get an offer before the Feb. 27 deadline.

* Determine whether they should keep WR Derrick Alexander (not likely), ask him to restructure his contract to a minimum salary to stay with the team (possible) or just release him (most probable of the three).

Who says there's an off-season. The Vikings have as many decisions to make in the final week of February than they do the first week of August.

THURSDAY NOTES
* VU has been told that OT Orlando Brown will work out with the team March 3 when the coaching staff returns from Indianapolis and finalizes its free agent plan. Brown is a player Mike Tice would like to sign quickly to kill the void at right tackle -- his signing would let Chris Liwienski (who did a solid job at RT) to move back to his natural left guard spot and get used to working next to Bryant McKinnie. The Vikings considered swaying Brown out of retirement last year, but, with his legal matter with the NFL still pending, he wasn't available. Early word is that the free-agent laden OL of the Rams will be getting a big makeover and that St. Louis is ready to make a serious incentive-laden push for Brown. The Broncos and Chargers are also rumored to be interested, but the Rams will clearly be the early opponent in the Brown sweepstakes.
* Teams began announcing more franchise tag designations. Two were for players who were viewed as the best available free agents -- Buffalo WR Peerless Price and Baltimore CB Chris McAlister. VU had been told the Vikings were prepared to make a legitimate run for McAlister, since a seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft would command a slightly lesser salary, but not have the experience. However, that statement to VU was followed up by a comment that the team wouldn't get into the "ludicrous bidding war" that the top-flight free agents have received from teams the last couple of years.
* In a move that boggles the minds of many, the Panthers slapped a franchise tag on punter Todd Sauerbrun. While a valued punter and kickoff man, what team is going to give up two first-round draft picks (the charge for signing a franchise player) for a punter? The worst part for the Panthers is that, if Sauerbrun balks on a new deal immediately and signs later, the Panthers can't use the franchise tag again for the duration of his contract with the team.
* In somewhat of a surprising move, the NFL deemed that the Vikings adeqautely replaced lost free agents last season with free agent replacements. As a result, the Vikings will receive no compensatory picks in this year's draft. Last year, the team was compensated with a fourth- and fifth-round pick.

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