Vikings continue defensive overhaul by adding Smoot

Cornerback Fred Smoot, the top coverage defender still remaining in the unrestricted free agent pool, has reached a contract agreement in principle with the Minnesota Vikings, a move that will further bolster a defense that statistically ranked 28th in the league overall during the 2004 season.

The four-year veteran cornerback, who had played his entire career with the Washington Redskins, is the second high-profile free agent acquired by the Vikings in the past week. Minnesota signed former Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Pat Williams last week.

Smoot's contract is for six years and a total of $34 million. It includes bonus money of $10.8 million.

Smoot, 25, is also the second premier cornerback added by the Vikings, who ranked 29th in pass defense last season and had just 11 interceptions, in two years. Antoine Winfield, a feisty little cornerback who began his career with Buffalo, was signed last spring by the Vikings and was clearly their best player in the secondary in 2004.

If the Vikings can shore up the safety position, Minnesota could field its best secondary unit in several years. Donovin Darius, a "franchise" strong safety from Jacksonville, has indicated he would like to be traded to the Vikings.

On Tuesday, Smoot arrived for his visit with Minnesota and, by evening, the two sides had agreed on the significant contract parameters.

Late last season, Smoot rejected a contract extension proposal from the Redskins, an offer that included a $10 million signing bonus. Redskins officials had hoped that a slow free agency market might force Smoot to reconsider.

The first week of free agency for Smoot had been somewhat puzzling in that he seemed to generate only modest interest. It was believed that, given his age and experience as a four-year starter in Washington, he would have been one of the most hotly-pursued free agents from the outset of the signing period.

Although he entered the NFL in 2001 as a brash and sometimes overly cocky player, and remains relatively talkative on the field, Smoot has matured considerably in the past two seasons. An aggressive single-coverage defender, the former Mississippi State standout also supports well against the run.
The former second-round draft pick has 212 tackles, with 16 interceptions and 48 passes defensed in 60 games.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.