Amid their turbulent offseason that has included a proposed ownership change and a ticket-scalping scandal involving Coach Mike Tice, the Minnesota Vikings quietly have made significant improvements to a defense that was badly in need of the upgrades.
The Vikings' signing of veteran safety Darren Sharper over the weekend, just after he was released by the Green Bay Packers late last week because of his refusal to agree to a reworked contract, gives the Minnesota defense its fourth new starter.
The Vikings, whose defense was ranked 28th in the league last season, obtained linebacker Napoleon Harris in the Randy Moss trade and have signed defensive tackle Pat Williams, cornerback Fred Smoot and Sharper as free agents.
Harris was a disappointment in Oakland but is a former first-round draft choice who represents a clear upgrade to the Vikings. Williams and Smoot were among the best players available at their positions in free agency -- some in the league thought they were the best players at their positions on the market -- and Sharper is the sort of stabilizing force who could bring everything together.
The Vikings received the seventh overall selection in the NFL draft in April from the Raiders in the Moss deal, and could use that choice to fill the offensive void left by Moss's departure. Or they could sign free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress as Moss's replacement, and use their two first-round draft choices -- both within the top 18 overall picks -- to address other needs. The Vikings are in pursuit of Burress, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, after his negotiations with the New York Giants fell apart last week.
The problem is, the Vikings might have to wait until the end of this week to complete a deal with the wideout. Burress fired agent Michael Harrison and is replacing him with Drew Rosenhaus, and the NFL Players Association requires an agent to wait five days before negotiating on behalf of a new client. The only way for Burress to sign with a team sooner is if Harrison waives the requirement.
Browns Giving Up On Brown
Nearly five years after making Courtney Brown the top overall choice in the 2000 draft, the Cleveland Browns seem prepared to finally give up on the defensive end. The Browns likely will release Brown today, barring a last-minute agreement on a revised contract, to avoid paying him a $2.5 million roster bonus due Tuesday and a $5.5 million salary for next season.
Brown managed only 17 sacks in five seasons in Cleveland and never had more than six sacks in a season. Injuries were a major part of the problem. He played in only 47 games, and hasn't played 16 games in a season since his rookie year. His 2004 season was ended after two games by a serious foot injury.
Chicago is down to the last of its three main options for signing a veteran quarterback -- Brad Johnson, the former Super Bowl winner for Tampa Bay who was released by the Buccaneers.
Jay Fiedler picked the New York Jets over the Bears late last week. Earlier, Chicago was rebuffed by Kurt Warner, who signed with Arizona. Now the Bears are left to compete with Miami and Minnesota to sign Johnson, who is scheduled to visit the Vikings today. The Bears are looking for an experienced quarterback to back up Rex Grossman. . . .
Denver is scheduled to host free-agent quarterback Gus Frerotte on a visit today after losing out on Jeff Garcia over the weekend.
Garcia picked Detroit over Denver, Seattle and Tampa Bay. The move reunites Garcia with Lions Coach Steve Mariucci, who formerly coached him in San Francisco.
Frerotte also has drawn interest from the Dolphins, and the Vikings apparently remain interested in re-signing him. . . .
The Vikings' signing of Sharper probably ended their interest in trading for Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius, the Jaguars' disgruntled franchise player who shopped himself to Minnesota and Miami after being granted permission to seek a trade. . . .
Rosenhaus, who is based in Miami, plans to try to get the Dolphins interested in Burress. The wideout's agent switch perhaps also could rekindle the Giants' interest in him. Giants officials were frustrated in negotiations with Harrison, who rejected a $4 million-a-year contract offer for Burress that included $8 million in bonus money. Philadelphia is thought to be interested but the Eagles are yet to jump into the negotiations.
Howard To Cowboys?
Dallas is attempting to trade for New Orleans defensive end Darren Howard, the Saints' franchise player. Obtaining Howard would give the Cowboys another significant upgrade on defense after they added defensive tackle Jason Ferguson and cornerback Anthony Henry in free agency. The Cowboys are attempting to negotiate a long-term contract with Howard as a precursor to a trade. Howard, 28, has 41 sacks in five seasons with the Saints, including 11 last season. . . .
Tuesday is the deadline for players with their clubs' franchise tags to sign long-term contracts with their teams, or negotiations must be suspended until July 15. . . .
Philadelphia suffered a significant free-agent loss over the weekend when defensive end Derrick Burgess agreed to a five-year, $17.5 million contract with Oakland that includes $6 million in bonuses. The Eagles wanted to re-sign Burgess after he thrived during the postseason, but weren't willing to pay as much as the Raiders did. . . .
Seattle re-signed free-agent offensive tackle Floyd (Pork Chop) Womack. . . . The Giants' free-agent signing of one defensive tackle, Kendrick Clancy, perhaps could lead them to release another, Norman Hand. . . .
Quarterback Doug Flutie probably is headed to retirement after being released by San Diego on Friday. The Chargers avoided paying him a $300,000 roster bonus due Tuesday, and Flutie indicated the split was amicable. If Flutie, 42, does play one more season, it probably would be in New England. The Patriots have had some interest in recent years in the former Boston College star, although it's not clear at this point whether they remain intrigued by the notion of signing him as one of Tom Brady's backups.