Vikings make splash, land RB Taylor, K Longwell
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 Ryan Longwell 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 longer.
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 indoors.
"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 be re-signed.
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 upgrade.
"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.