EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Armed with plenty of space under the
salary cap, the Minnesota Vikings surged into free agency Saturday.
They signed running back Chester Taylor, kicker
and linebacker Ben Leber after retaining receiver Koren Robinson
and safety Willie Offord -- and continued to talk to other teams
about trading disenfranchised quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
"We're dealing with the other situation," coach Brad Childress
said, referring to the injured Culpepper's recent request to be
traded or released. "It will play itself out."
Asked if there was a timetable for a deal, Childress joked,
"Sometime before next season."
Taylor, the backup in Baltimore to Jamal Lewis, signed a
four-year, $14.1 million contract that includes $5.6 million in
bonuses. Since injury-prone Mewelde Moore is the only returning
back with any experience, Minnesota was in the market for a
featured runner. The Vikings haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since
Michael Bennett in 2002. Bennett, a free agent, won't be re-signed.
"Standing on the sidelines was killing me," Taylor said at the
team's practice facility, where he was introduced with Longwell and
Leber. "I just wanted to go out there and see what I can do. I've
always wanted to be the go-to guy and have people depending on me.
I want the ball in my hands."
Taylor rushed for 487 yards on 117 carries last year, his fourth
in the league, after rushing 160 times for 714 yards and two
touchdowns in 2004. Taylor also caught 41 passes for 292 yards and
a score in 2005.
"The last backup to Jamal Lewis was Priest Holmes," vice
president for player personnel Fran Foley said. "I'm not saying
that he's Priest Holmes, but that was a selling point of ours."
Robinson's deal is worth $12.7 million with a $1 million signing bonus, ESPN.com's John Clayton reported. Had he gone onto the open market, Robinson would have been sought by many teams as a wide receiver, his primary position. Negotiations between the Vikings and Robinson had been ongoing for much of the past month.
Green Bay's all-time leading scorer, Longwell has been with the
Packers since 1997, when he was a rookie on their second Super Bowl
team. In 2000, Longwell totaled a career-best 131 points and went
33-for-38 on his field goals -- including 20 makes from 40 yards and
In 2005, the nine-year veteran posted career lows in several
categories, making only 74 percent of his field goals (20-for-27)
and finished with 90 points. He went 6-for-10 between 30 and 39
yards and 3-for-5 between 40 and 49 yards.
In Minnesota, Longwell is best known for twice giving Green Bay
victories on game-ending field goals during the 2004 season, though
he has missed his share of clutch kicks with the Packers.
Paul Edinger had modest success, including three game-winning
field goals, as the Vikings' kicker last season. But he is a free
agent and now surely won't be retained. Instead, Minnesota was more
than happy to lure a key player away from a division rival. And
Longwell was more than happy to find a team with that plays
"I braved the wind and the field and the cold in Lambeau for a
long time," he said. "It's always been an appeal to me to see
what I can do in a controlled environment."
Leber started for San Diego at outside linebacker since his
rookie year in 2002, losing his job to star rookie Shawne Merriman
last October and landing on injured reserve in November with a foot
injury that required surgery. He's still rehabilitating, but the
South Dakota native said he's close to 100 percent.
Leber played at Kansas State and was drafted by the Chargers in
the third round. Leber has 12 sacks in his four-year career and
could replace incumbent starter Keith Newman, who isn't expected to
Offord spent most of his season on injured reserve after
undergoing knee surgery, but he was a valuable special teams player
and backup safety. He agreed to terms on a two-year contract,
according to his agent, David Canter.
The Vikings did lose two starters from their secondary they
weren't expected to pursue, cornerback Brian Williams (to
Jacksonville) and strong safety Corey Chavous (to St. Louis).
Williams took over in November for Fred Smoot, who got hurt and
never regained his job. Smoot was one of Minnesota's high-profile
signings in 2005.
In deference to Sunday's memorial services for Twins Hall of
Famer Kirby Puckett, the Vikings wanted to get these signings done
as quickly as possible. There's a chance they'll look at bringing
in a quarterback, but with Brad Johnson returning as the starter
after a successful fill-in for Culpepper down the stretch, the
offensive line is probably the next place Minnesota will look to
"At this point, you don't rule anything out," Foley said.
"There's good players out there. If there are good players and we
have an interest in them, we'll try and get them in here."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.