Vikings finalize deals with Henderson, Simpson
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have spent plenty of money already on free agents.
Just not on anyone else’s players yet. Only their own.
The Vikings finalized new contracts with linebacker Erin Henderson and wide receiver Jerome Simpson on Wednesday.
That followed the four-year deal for Phil Loadholt worth as much as $25 million they gave their super-sized right tackle before free agency began on Tuesday.
Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton and safety Jamarca Sanford have also confirmed they’re coming back on new contracts, though the team has yet to announce them.
But the Vikings have started the new season exactly the way general manager Rick Spielman has repeatedly spelled out the organization’s philosophy on building a roster.
They’re focused on the draft and the subsequent development of those players to fit into their systems as a potential path to a Super Bowl, rather than being tempted into a bidding competition for the best available free agents.
Loadholt, whose deal includes a $7 million signing bonus, is a prime example of that. The second-round pick in 2009 has had his share of penalties and inconsistent performances, but he has been the starter his whole career and missed only one game.
Bringing the 6-foot-8, 343-pound Loadholt back makes left guard Charlie Johnson the oldest member at age 28 of the offensive line that helped Adrian Peterson rush for 2,097 yards in 2012.
“I had let it be known publicly and privately that I wanted to be a Viking,” Loadholt said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “I’m pretty sure everybody knew that was my priority coming into the situation. It took a little longer than expected, but the business part of football is shaky. You never know what to expect. But ultimately everything ended up just right.”
Loadholt said he’s determined to improve his hand placement in pass blocking and body leverage in the running game.
“Something that I’m always going to have to improve on as long as I play with my height and everything and things like that. ... Just become a true technician. I think the more you play, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the more I can apply to my game and make it useful out there,” Loadholt said.
Drafted in the same year as Percy Harvin, Loadholt said he sees himself “forever connected” to the dynamic, multi-skilled wide receiver, who was traded to Seattle. He said he’d miss Harvin and cornerback Antoine Winfield, who was cut in a startling move on Tuesday with a $7.25 million salary due the 35-year-old in 2013.
“I know we all have the same goals in that building. The business part of football, I can’t understand it and a lot of people will really never understand it,” Loadholt said, adding: “I’m on board with whatever they’re doing, and we’ll just keep moving from there.”
Simpson was given a one-year contract for the second straight season, another chance for the speedy 27-year-old to produce up to the potential he showed in training camp before serving a three-game suspension and then suffering a lower-leg injury that hampered him for weeks.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” quarterback Christian Ponder said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “He has a lot of ability and potential, and he’s going to work to tap that potential and see what he does on the field. He’s got the right attitude. I mean, he cares. He’s been busting his butt. We’re happy to have him back.”
Simpson, Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton are the only wide receivers on the roster with any NFL experience, and Wright has only played in six games.
Even if they draft wide receivers next month, which they’re expected to do, the Vikings will almost certainly need to sign at least one veteran to fill out the group. Greg Jennings is the best one left on the market, after seven stellar seasons in Green Bay.
“I think there are positives to having that veteran guy and having that leadership in the room and with that group. At the same time it’s fun to work with new guys starting on a blank page in the NFL,” Ponder said.