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Monday, September 1, 2008
Daily mailbag: Should Vikes pursue Anderson?

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

As we write, the Detroit Lions are deciding whether to sign free agent running back Rudi Johnson. When name players like Johnson become available, it's only natural for fans to start hoping.

So it makes perfect sense that Melissa of Phoenix would send a note to the mailbag, wondering if the Minnesota Vikings would be interested in another Cincinnati castoff: Tackle Willie Anderson, a four-time Pro Bowler who was released Saturday.

 
 George Gojkovich/Getty Images
 Could Willie Anderson find a home in Minnesota? Time will tell.

The short answer is that we're certain the Vikings will discuss Anderson. We're not sure they will pursue him.

The Vikings have a short-term need at left tackle because the NFL has suspended starter Bryant McKinnie for the first four games. Anderson, of course, plays right tackle. But most observers of the team would acknowledge the Vikings' situation at right tackle is hardly secure.

Ryan Cook is entering his second full season at right tackle, but most of you know the story: He was a center for his entire football career until the Vikings made him a second-round draft pick in 2006. With Pro Bowl center Matt Birk healthy after missing the 2005 season, the Vikings tried Cook at right tackle midway through 2006.

Cook turned in a solid performance, especially for a player with no experience on the edge. That earned him the starting job in 2007, and the Vikings haven't pursued anyone to unseat him since.

I can't claim to have watched every down of the preseason. But in the games I saw -- especially the Aug. 23 matchup against Pittsburgh -- Cook still looked like a center who is trying to play right tackle. He was adequate on some plays and got beat on others. Sometimes, he just got mauled.

At 33, Anderson is past the prime of his career. But if healthy, Anderson represents a notable upgrade over Cook in the short-term. Cook could eventually develop into a more-than-serviceable right tackle, but the timetable is unknown.

Of course, Anderson would be a year-to-year Band-Aid for the Vikings. Normally, teams shy away from those situations -- especially when you consider Anderson would need some time to familiarize himself with his new teammates and learn the Vikings' zone-blocking scheme. But there are several reasons a short-term answer might not be a bad thing for the Vikings.

First, let's face it: The Vikings have assembled a cast of veterans with the intention of winning now. Defensive end Jared Allen, receiver Bernard Berrian and others aren't on board to build for the future. The Vikings think they can overtake the Green Bay Packers this season for NFC North supremacy. If you're in a win-now mode, why wait for a right tackle to develop -- especially when you're already weakened at left tackle?

Second, Cook might not be the Vikings' long-term answer at right tackle, anyway. Birk's contract expires after this season, and it's expected that Cook, at least, will be in the mix as his replacement next season. So for all we know, giving Cook time to develop at right tackle might be a moot point.

Will the Vikings ultimately pursue Anderson? We don't know for sure, but based on past experience, we think it's more unlikely than likely. No one knows how long it would take Anderson to adjust to a new team after spending 12-plus seasons with the Bengals, and more than any other position, offensive lineman need a familiarity with their teammates in order to play well.

In addition, vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman hasn't often pursued grizzled veterans since joining the Vikings in 2006. In fact, Spielman is responsible for signing only two players who are older than 29 on the current roster: Running back Maurice Hicks (30) and quarterback Gus Frerotte (37).

Those facts make a play for Anderson unlikely. Is it the wise move? Time will tell.