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Vikings still shopping in free agency

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- With an asset like Adrian Peterson, the NFL's reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Minnesota Vikings appear to be built for the future.

But many of the Vikings' best players are in their 30s, so there's a narrow window of opportunity for star-crossed franchise that has never won a Super Bowl and has made the playoffs only once over the last seven seasons.

In short? The time to succeed is now, especially as coach Brad Childress enters his third year with a career record of 14-18.

In response? The Vikings have been aggressive in the opening of free agency, shelling out elite-level money for a new fullback, safety and wide receiver -- and hoping to do the same for a defensive end.

Defensive tackle Pat Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield are two Vikings who aren't getting any younger, as they've frequently reminded their coach.

Childress called them "weekend GMs."

"They have no problem text-messaging me and giving me free advice," Childress said over the whirlwind weekend that brought three free agents: fullback Thomas Tapeh, safety Madieu Williams and wide receiver Bernard Berrian.

The Vikings hosted running back/kick returner Maurice Hicks on Monday, and they were arranging for a Tuesday visit from defensive end Antwan Odom.

Since buying the team in 2005, owner Zygi Wilf has stressed a spend-to-win commitment as he simultaneously tries to get public money for a new stadium.

That has clearly made an impression on prospective players. Berrian beamed about Friday's ride from his home in northern California to the Twin Cities in Wilf's private plane.

"It was my first time on one, and I was kind of shocked that the flight was so smooth and it was definitely faster," Berrian said. "I asked the pilot, 'How much does one of these cost?' He told me, and I was like, 'Gosh, I really want one, but I can't afford that one."'

He has a better chance of buying one now. It's easy to be happy after being wined and dined by a team determined to give out a huge contract like the $42 million deal Berrian received, including $16 million guaranteed. Williams got nearly $13 million in guarantees.

With Peterson in the backfield and a defense that had three Pro Bowl picks last season while yielding the fewest yards rushing in the league, though, the Vikings are more attractive to free agents than they've been in awhile -- despite their 51-61 regular-season record since 2001.

"I think I had my mind made up once I realized how serious they were and realizing the amount of talent is on this team," Williams said. "It was definitely something I want to be a part of and the place that I wanted to be."

Said Berrian: "I don't think I would have signed here if I didn't see that within the organization. I definitely see this team being a playoff team and definitely making a run at the Super Bowl. I mean, they were pretty close last year. The Giants, for instance. They blew the Giants out of the water when they played them, so you definitely see the positives in coming to a team like this."

Childress said he senses the same vibe.

"I'm not being facetious when I say the attraction is that this team is a team on the rise," the coach said. "I think people see it that way, and sometimes when you get out of the metropolitan area here as we've been able to do through the combine and you see your peers in the business, you feel it palpably."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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