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Vikings cut ties with James after series of knee injuries

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings cut ties with former first-round pick Erasmus James on Friday, essentially tying a bow on a monumentally disappointing 2005 draft.

The Vikings waived James after he failed to pass a physical and now have hardly anything to show for a 2005 draft that was supposed to shore up several weak spots in the post-Randy Moss era.

Minnesota chose James out of Wisconsin with the 18th overall pick, envisioning him as the pass-rushing defensive end they had sorely lacked since the days of Chris Doleman. But after notching four sacks in 15 games during his rookie season, James had a series of serious knee injuries that derailed his time with the Vikings.

James tore the ACL in his left knee in Week 2 of the 2006 season. After a long and arduous rehab, James returned to the Vikings and played sparingly in six games last year. But he suffered a similar injury to the same knee in Week 13 against Detroit and again was placed on injured reserve.

After his second injury, coach Brad Childress said he expected James to make a full recovery. James also attended the four days of "organized team activities" this week and participated on a limited basis.

"We decided to waive Erasmus and we wish the best for him in the future," Childress, who was not with the team for the 2005 draft, said in a statement issued by the team.

A message left with James' agent, Ethan Lock, was not immediately returned.

The Vikings sorely missed James on the defensive line the last two seasons, an absence that contributed to the team ranking last in the league in pass defense.

James' injury, coupled with Kenechi Udeze contracting leukemia, makes defensive end a priority for the Vikings in free agency. They made a big splash in April when they traded with Kansas City for All-Pro Jared Allen, who led the NFL with 15½ sacks last season.

Now, with Allen, Ray Edwards and Brian Robison, the Vikings are on much more stable ground at the position, though defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Thursday they will need someone like Jayme Mitchell or Ellis Wyms to step up and provide depth.

The 25-year-old James leaves the Vikings with just five career sacks and 38 tackles in three seasons. Making the move this long before the start of training camp affords James the chance to catch on with another team, provided he is healthy enough to play.

James' inability to stay healthy was just one of the failures of the 2005 draft.

Earlier in the round, at No. 7 overall, the Vikings took receiver Troy Williamson out of South Carolina as the heir apparent to Moss, who was shipped to Oakland that season. Williamson struggled mightily with drops during his three years in purple and was traded to Jacksonville earlier this offseason.

Third-round cornerback Dustin Fox, fourth-round running back Ciatrick Fason, sixth-round defensive lineman C.J. Mosley and seventh-round cornerback Adrian Ward are also no longer with the team, leaving second-round offensive tackle Marcus Johnson, a seldom-used backup, as the only player remaining from the 2005 class.

The Vikings went 9-7 in 2005, coach Mike Tice's last season with the team. Owner Zygi Wilf cleaned house after a season-ending victory over Chicago.

The new regime headed by Childress and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman has had more success in the draft early in their tenures.

Last year, the Vikings struck it big with running back Adrian Peterson in the first round, while receiver Sidney Rice (second round), cornerback Marcus McCauley (third round), Robison (fourth round) and receiver Aundrae Allison (fifth round) all made significant contributions.

In 2006, the Vikings drafted future starters in linebacker Chad Greenway (first round), cornerback Cedric Griffin (second round), offensive lineman Ryan Cook (second round), quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (second round) and Edwards (fourth round).

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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