Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wrapped up the team's free-agency game plan late last week and headed out Monday on a tour of pro days that have taken him to USC to see left tackle Matt Kalil on Wednesday and Oklahoma State to see receiver Justin Blackmon on Friday.
Kalil and Blackmon are the two most likely options if the Vikings stay put and use the No. 3 overall pick in next month's draft. Either player would immediately and significantly upgrade one the two weakest parts of the Vikings' offense and be a major asset in the development of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.
Spielman, however, is still hoping to trade down and acquire more picks that he can use to plug as many holes as possible in what will be a major offseason overhaul of the current aging roster.
"Everybody knows we're open (to trading down)," Spielman said. "We're open for anything right now."
The Vikings have eight picks and are expecting to get an additional two when compensatory picks are distributed. Whether they can get even more picks by trading the third overall selection is uncertain considering most teams coveting quarterback Robert Griffin III are expected to go over the Vikings' head and deal with the Rams at the No. 2 pick.
Spielman said he isn't sure if there's a player at another position that teams will trade up for at No. 3.
"You never know what will happen on draft day," Spielman said. "Anything can happen. You just have to be prepared."
The Vikings' biggest need is cornerback, but teams typically don't use the third overall pick on that particular position. It's possible the Vikings are looking to trade down so they can get LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and extra picks.
The draft is deep at receiver and cornerback, but that won't keep the Vikings from looking to fill those two huge needs when free agency begins on Tuesday.
The Vikings are expected to be about $10 million under the salary cap. If they need more room, they have some flexibility. They can cut older or ineffective veterans such as cornerback Cedric Griffin. Left guard Steve Hutchinson also is likely to rework the final year of a deal that pays him $7 million this season.
"If we need room, we'll find it," Spielman said.
The Vikings won't chase just any free agent. Like many general managers, Spielman doesn't believe championships can be bought in free agency.
"You're hoping that you're always drafting and keeping the guys you draft as you bring them up through your system," Spielman said. "If you're able to keep those guys, I think that's the best way to do it. But if there is a free agent out there that you think is unique, or a trade like when we traded for Jared Allen, if something pops up like that then you try to go ahead and do that if you can.
"But for the most part you're hoping to re-sign some of the guys as they get to the end of their contract from their rookie deals."
Considering the team is embarking on a youth movement that it hopes will grow along with Ponder, look for the Vikings to target young free agents. Cornerback and receiver are the logical positions of emphasis.
One of the most intriguing free-agent prospects for the Vikings is Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr. He's 25, coming off his best season (four interceptions) and is just entering the prime of his career. He would help the team's No. 1 weakness, which is magnified by having to play Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler a combined six times a year.
Carr is a 6-0, 207-pounder that can play press coverage and zone. His four interceptions were half as many as the Vikings had as an entire team last season.
At receiver, Vincent Jackson is a player the Vikings tried to acquire in the past. He's 6-5, 230 pounds and is the perfect deep threat (17.5-yard career average per catch) that the Vikings don't have. But Jackson also is 29, which might be a tad too old considering the Vikings are at least a year or two - or three - from competing for a Super Bowl.
With the focus on youth and the long-term health of the franchise, the Vikings will be careful not to tie up too much money on players who will be in their 30s when Ponder and the team are ready to compete for titles again.
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