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Free agent shopping about over

Tice looking to filla 'few needs'

By Bill Williamson

Knight Ridder Newspapers

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Last year, the Vikings didn't become active in the free-agent market until two weeks into free agency. This year, the Vikings are all but done shopping as the open market enters its 11th day.

After being uncharacteristically active during the first week of the open market, the Vikings are looking to fill just a few needs.

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They will attempt to solve their problem at punter next week. They are arranging visits with Darren Bennett (San Diego) and Toby Gowin (Dallas). Bennett, 39, is their favorite to replace Eddie Johnson, who struggled last fall as a rookie. They also are considering bringing in tight end Jermaine Wiggins (Carolina).

"We're all but done," coach Mike Tice said. "We've had a great free agency. There's not much left to do. I want to get that punter in and maybe a couple of pieces... by then we're really going to concentrate on the draft."

The Vikings went into free agency hoping to retain tight end Jim Kleinsasser and sign cornerback Antoine Winfield. The team's brass figured if they could achieve that, their free agency would be a rousing success.

They kept Kleinsasser by giving him a five-year, $15 million deal on March 2, three hours before he was set to become an unrestricted free agency. Then, they got the player they really wanted by stealing Winfield away from the New York Jets with a six-year, $34.8 million deal on March 5.

The Vikings also signed receiver Marcus Robinson (Baltimore). The Vikings added depth to their defense by signing defensive tackle Steve Martin (Houston) and former University of Minnesota and Vikings defensive back Tyrone Carter (Jets).

In addition to punter, the Vikings are looking for a starter at weakside linebacker and help at right defensive end. But there are no impact players remaining at either position. The only linebacker they might consider is Brandon Short (Giants), and there are no defensive ends the Vikings view as an upgrade over Nick Rogers, slated as the starter.

• Tice; said there is no truth to rumors that Twin Cities-based pro wrestler Brock Lesner, a former heavyweight wrestler with the Gophers, is preparing for a tryout with the Vikings. "It's not happening," Tice said.

• Washington,; needing a nickel cornerback, might get in the picture to acquire Denard Walker. The Vikings will likely cut him if he is not traded.

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