Vikings to hold training camp in Mankato again
By Jon Krawczynski, AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE -- The Minnesota Vikings are headed back down to Mankato for training camp, just as they've done every summer for the past 46 years.
The week leading up to reporting day, an expected frenzy of activity to sign college free agents, their own free agents and possibly add a veteran quarterback or another key piece or two from outside the organization, promises to be unlike anything this franchise has experienced.
The NFL lockout finally came to an end on Monday, and few teams have more questions to answer than the Vikings, who have 16 unrestricted free agents, a bevy of new assistants under Leslie Frazier and a rookie quarterback atop the depth chart.
The team did answer one of those questions definitively on Monday -- they'll start training camp at Minnesota State University, Mankato as originally scheduled, with players reporting on Sunday and the first practice on Aug. 1.
Just who will be wearing the purple on that first day of practice is anybody's guess. Receiver Sidney Rice, linebacker Ben Leber, defensive end Ray Edwards and kicker Ryan Longwell are among the key free agents whose status will have to be addressed.
"Now the fact you're going to have college free agency, NFL free agency, trying to sign our draft picks, along with trying to get everybody to camp on time, there are a lot of different things going on," Frazier said. "I think we've done a great job of preparing for this moment. I don't think it's anything that makes us feel overwhelmed at all."
Every team in the league will have to deal with the same beehive of activity, but the Vikings are one of just a few teams who are over the salary cap.
They need to cut about $5 million by Aug. 4 to get below it, something that could be done by signing running back Adrian Peterson and linebacker Chad Greenway to long-term deals. Peterson's contract calls for a cap hit of nearly $13 million while Greenway is slated to make $10 million after being given the franchise tag.
Frazier and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman didn't get into many specifics about players, only saying all options are on the table. Frazier said he spoke to Peterson on Monday and the running back assured him that he does not plan to hold out of training camp if he does not have a new deal by Aug. 1.
"We've identified all of our key guys and identified at what points we'll be approaching those guys and just work from there," Spielman said.
Rice has to be near the top of the list, which presents quite a quandary. He was one of the best receivers in the NFL two years ago, catching passes from Brett Favre and becoming the kind of game-breaking deep threat that the Vikings envisioned when they drafted him in the second round in 2007.
But Rice missed 10 games last season with a hip injury, and no one really knows how he will respond in his first full season removed from surgery.
Frazier has said in the past he wants to see Rice return to give the Vikings a big target for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
"Hopefully things will work out the way they should," Frazier said Monday.
The team will also look at adding a veteran quarterback to help Ponder get ready to be the starter. Ponder missed all of the offseason program that can help prepare a rookie to play right away, but Frazier did not rule out the 12th overall draft pick starting in San Diego in Week 1.
Placeholder candidates who could be brought in to start while Ponder works to get ready include Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Edwards, Bruce Gradkowski and Billy Volek.
"We're going to try to do what's best for the Vikings and what's best for our roster, but I wouldn't put it past us to open the season with a young quarterback if that's the case," Frazier said.
Leber, one of the leaders on defense in Minnesota for the past five seasons, said he hopes to return for a sixth season.
"I left in pretty good terms," Leber said of his last meeting with the Vikings before the lockout went into effect. "We had a good exit interview with Frazier and Spielman and we both expressed a desire to come back.
"My feelings haven't changed and I hope their feelings haven't changed either."