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With some of this year's free agents (Alterraun Verner, Michael Johnson) having ties to some of our new coaches (Jerry Gray, Mike Zimmer, respectively), I assume the Vikings would have an advantage in pursuing them. Do you agree? I haven't heard too much interest in Jairus Byrd from the Vikings perspective, and I just read the Vikings are interested in Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai, who has a small connection with George Edwards, our new defensive coordinator. -- Richard B. Grand Forks, ND
Previous working experience and/or an existing relationship between coaches and free agents certainly factors into where players choose to sign, but there are a number of other factors that free agents also consider when deciding where to play. Scheme fit, playing time, quality of life and, of course, money are also key elements to the process. So while the presence of Coach Gray and Coach Zimmer may give the Vikings an angle if they choose to pursue Verner and/or Johnson, those relationships alone won't give the Vikings a significant advantage.
Do you think the Vikings would go after safety Jarius Byrd? Or do you think the liked what they saw from Andrew Sendejo last year? -- Matt A. Lakeville, MN
Both possibilities are not mutually exclusive, meaning the Vikings could very well have liked what they saw from Sendejo last year and they could still pursue Byrd in free agency. One thing to consider is the presence of safety Harrison Smith. I would categorize him as a blue-chip player, and I don't know that the Vikings would pursue and commit that much money to another blue-chip player at the same level of the defense when there are other holes to fill throughout the defense.
Does Darren Sproles fit as a 3rd down back/punt returner in Minnesota? -- Nicholas H.
Sproles' skill set is such that I think he'd be a good a fit with almost any team. Beyond the fact that he's a dynamic offensive weapon that would improve the offense, he's a fit for Minnesota because he played for Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner in San Diego. I'm not sure he'll land in Minnesota, though, because I believe there will be teams out there who will believe Sproles is a "put us over the top" player and thus they will be willing to commit the kind of money that a team such as the Vikings will not be willing to commit because they'll want to spread their commitments out to several players and several different parts of the roster.
What is the inside scoop on the Matt Cassel re-signing? Are they thinking that no one in the draft is "the guy"? -- Rich S.
If the Vikings re-sign Cassel or sign any other veteran on the market, I wouldn't read into it as an indictment from the Vikings on this class of quarterbacks and the potential that one of them can become a franchise guy. In fact, one could argue it the other way and say the retention of Cassel sets the stage for the Vikings to draft a quarterback at some point in this draft because that quarterback will have a solid veteran under which to learn in his first season.
What are some skills teams look for in a nickel/slot cornerback versus an outside cornerback? -- Austin Winnipeg, Canada
I'm sure it varies from team to team and scheme to scheme, but generally a cornerback who is covering a slot receiver is quick, not afraid to help versus the run, and can quickly diagnose a play. Antoine Winfield is the best slot cornerback I've ever seen play, and he had all three of those traits. While he wasn't the speediest defender, he was quick as a whip. He was one of the best tacklers I've ever seen and he was particularly good against the run and in stopping screen passes. And he was an incredibly smart and instinctive player who spent hours-upon-hours in the film room studying his opponent.
What is your position on the Vikings cutting tight end John Carlson? Do you think Chase Ford will excel as a backup to Kyle Rudolph under new Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner? -- Max M. Minneapolis, MN
You never like to see a player get cut, particularly one as classy as Carlson. I wish him nothing but the best in Arizona. Throughout his time as a member of the Vikings, Ford has flashed some ability in the receiving game. He has great size for the position and I'm sure the Vikings staff can improve his blocking, as well. I'm not ready to anoint Ford as the sure-fire backup to Rudolph, but I believe Ford will compete hard for that role during the offseason and training camp. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Vikings add to the depth chart at tight end during either free agency or the draft.