MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Alex Boone didn't need a visit to Minnesota to be persuaded. As soon as the Vikings expressed interest, this first-time free agent was already sold.
''They're so close. So close,'' Boone said after signing his four-year contract Thursday that will make him Minnesota's new left guard. ''I think that a few more pieces and this could be a championship team easily.''
Boone's agent even called other teams in the mix and told them his client would grant any tiebreakers to the Vikings.
''I love the atmosphere around here. I've got friends on the team, and they've all said the same thing,'' Boone said. ''Great locker room, great guys, great coaches, great organization from the top down, and these are guys that I trust, so I believed them.''
The Vikings have targeted the offensive line as their top offseason need, and they've been aggressive about it.
Free agent Andre Smith, a right tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals since he was drafted with the sixth overall pick in 2009, was scheduled for a weekend visit, according to a person with knowledge of the situation speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
The Vikings have already retained left tackle Matt Kalil, right tackle Phil Loadholt and right guard Mike Harris after questions about whether they'd be back.
Boone's match with Minnesota was about more than the Vikings being an on-the-rise team that reached the playoffs in coach Mike Zimmer's second year.
A native of Cleveland with Irish heritage raised in a northern, working-class environment, Boone played in college at Ohio State. The history and culture in the NFC North felt right to him.
''I'm really pumped up for this team and this season, especially in this division,'' said Boone, whose deal has a maximum value of $26.8 million with $10 million guaranteed. ''It's going to be a lot of fun, a lot of hard hitting, and this is going to be about as good as it's going to get.''
Thus, this blue-collar guy didn't need the red-carpet treatment.
''Hard work has been instilled in me since I was a little kid. This is nothing new,'' said Boone, who spent seven years with the San Francisco 49ers, progressing from the practice squad in 2009 to starter on their Super Bowl team in 2012. ''This is just on a much more epic scale, and the result is so much more fun.''
Boone is already familiar with the NFC North. He infamously said he'd like to punch Clay Matthews in the face after the Green Bay Packers linebacker levied an illegal hit on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2013.
''How did I know that question was going to come up?'' Boone said on a conference call with Minnesota reporters. ''You know, Clay's a good guy, and I talked to him after the game last time. What happens between the lines is strictly violent, and I am a full, firm believer in that. So when we're out there between the lines, it's full go to the whistle, maybe to the echo of the end of the whistle, however it happens.''
Boone added: ''I felt like I was born to be in this division. Now I'm excited to be in it.''
The first teammate Boone interacted with at Vikings headquarters Thursday was, fittingly, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
''After five minutes of meeting him I already love him and am going to do everything that I can to protect him,'' Boone said. ''He's just a normal guy. You've seen so many guys in this league who are kind of prima donnas, and he doesn't seem like that. He seems like a good guy. He gave me a hug, told me he was excited that I'm here, and I believed him.''
Boone wasn't the only new guy Thursday at Winter Park. Linebackers Emmanuel Lamur (Cincinnati) and Travis Lewis (Detroit) also finalized their contracts after passing a physical exam. Veteran safety Michael Griffin (Tennessee) has agreed to terms and will be the fourth free agent to join the Vikings from another team this month once he signs his deal.
''The reason why I came here was because of Zimmer. It's as simple as that. He's a good coach. He brings the best out of players, and I wanted to play for him,'' said Lamur, who had Zimmer as his defensive coordinator with the Bengals during his first two seasons.
Lamur played four years for the Bengals, mostly as a backup, but he started 13 games in 2014 with 90 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions. If Chad Greenway doesn't return for an 11th season, Lamur could start at the weak side spot.
''That's the main goal for right now,'' Lamur said.
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