Allen trade made NFLdraft quiet for Minnesota
By Kevin Seifert
MINNEAPOLIS — Zygi Wilf wore a perpetual grin Saturday as he shuffled through the Vikings’ 2008 draft party/pep rally at Winter Park. He shook hands with fans — well, high-fived most of them — pumped his fists like a conquering hero and even tried his hand at play-by-play, announcing his newest player by intoning a broadcaster’s voice and saying, "Sack by Jaaaaaaaaaared Allen!"
Upon spotting a group of reporters, Wilf pointed at his grin — and then transformed it to a full-on chortle by tugging on his cheeks. Consider it the personification of the Vikings’ offseason theme: We’re thinking big.
A quiet opening day of the NFL draft was as good a time as any to reflect on the Vikings’ historic offseason, one they hope will lift them into Super Bowl contention. At each turn, always with Wilf’s blessing and occasionally at his urging, the Vikings shot for the moon and usually landed.
"It just sends the message that this organization is going to walk the walk," linebacker Ben Leber said after a draft-party autograph session. "You see a lot of new owners come in, and a lot of new personnel guys come in, and say, ‘Oh yeah, we want to win now. We’re going to do whatever it takes.’ Those are the cliches that you hear.
"But these guys are actually proving it. They saying, ‘We’re going to go out and we’re going to get the guys we’re talking about and we’re going to pay whatever it takes to get them.’ It’s a great message to send to players and a great message to send to the fans."
It started on Day 1 of free agency, when Wilf sent his private plane to Fresno, Calif., to collect receiver Bernard Berrian. The Vikings had decided that receiver and defensive end were their top priorities, and Berrian was widely considered the best pass-catcher available.
While the Vikings had Berrian on lockdown at the 601 Graves Hotel, several other teams — Oakland and Tennessee among them — tried persuading Berrian to leave town.
The Vikings? They kept increasing their offer until Berrian agreed to terms on a deal that included him $16 million in guaranteed money.
Oakland ended up signing receiver free agent Javon Walker, a riskier move considering Walker’s history of knee injuries, while Tennessee was left with no choice but to re-sign journeyman Justin McCareins.
"They sold me on the fact that they’re trying to get to that championship game," Berrian said.
Yes, Kansas City All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen remained on the Vikings’ radar even as they expressed interest in free agents Justin Smith, Antwan Odom and Jevon Kearse.