Vikings sign Lito Sheppard

MINNEAPOLIS — A popular prognostication leading to the start of the NFL draft Thursday had been that the Vikings would use the 30th pick on a cornerback. But the chances of that happening appear remote after the Vikings signed veteran Lito Sheppard on Wednesday to add much-needed depth at the position.

Sheppard, an eight-year veteran who spent his first seven seasons in Philadelphia and last year with the Jets, agreed to a reported $2 million, one-year deal after spending the day visiting Winter Park.

The move reunites Sheppard with Vikings coach Brad Childress and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Childress was the Eagles offensive coordinator when Sheppard arrived as a first-round pick (26th overall) in 2002 out of Florida; Frazier, the Vikings defensive coordinator, was Philadelphia's defensive backs coach during Sheppard's rookie season.

"Lito is a great guy who fits what we are looking for," Childress said. "He's the type of person and player we value at the cornerback position. Coach Frazier and I have seen him up close and personal and we know what he can bring to our team on and off the field. We look forward to him being a Viking."

Sheppard, who visited the Detroit Lions last week, wanted an opportunity to compete for a job and he will get it in Minnesota.


Starters Cedric Griffin (torn left anterior cruciate ligament) and Antoine Winfield (broken foot) are coming off injuries, and it's not certain when Griffin will be ready. The Vikings also have cornerbacks Asher Allen, Benny Sapp and DeAndre Wright under contract.

Sapp started nine games last year because of Winfield's injury, but the Vikings would like to use him as their fifth defensive back in the nickel defense. Sheppard also could challenge for that role when Griffin is back at full strength.

Signing Sheppard could give the Vikings more flexibility with their first-round selection. One scenario would be the ability for the Vikings to trade down and get additional picks. There also is a chance the Vikings have their eye on a non-cornerback — Florida center Maurkice Pouncey appears to be on their radar — and thus could solidify that position. The biggest buzz would be created if the Vikings elected to take Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and have him develop behind Brett Favre.

Sheppard, who turned 29 on April 8, was acquired by the Jets from the Eagles for a fourth-round pick last year, but he battled injuries and was benched in New York's loss to Indianapolis in the AFC title game. He played in 11 regular-season games with the Jets and started nine, recording one interception and 31 tackles.

Sheppard was named to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and '06 and was an All-Pro selection in 2004. He has 19 career interceptions in 104 games (70 starts), getting a career-high six picks in 2006 and five in 2004. The Jets declined to pick up a $10 million roster bonus that Sheppard was due in March.

Sheppard, who has been on playoff teams in six of his eight seasons, is first NFL player to return two interceptions for touchdowns of more than 100 yards in a career.


(c) 2010, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)


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