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FED-UP VIKES FANS TELL MCCOMBS TAKE MONEY, RUN

innesota football fans are counting the days until they can say good riddance to Vikings owner Red McCombs.

McCombs, meanwhile, is crossing his fingers that a golden, diamond-studded, ruby-laced parachute opens up and allows him to coast out of the Twin Cities.

McCombs, who got his start as a Texas-based car salesman, bought the Vikings for $246 million in 1998. Talk about a great deal. He had to put up only about $200 million because the sale price included $40 million in debt that he assumed. The sale also included a Vikings food service company, which McCombs subsequently sold for $27 million.

Sale prices of NFL clubs skyrocketed since McCombs entered the NFL ownership fraternity. The next man to buy a club was Arthur Blank. He purchased the Atlanta Falcons for $545 million in 2001.

In the seven years he has owned the club, McCombs has run the cheapest organization in the league. He has no general manager and a thin front-office staff. He once ran a garage sale of front-office equipment in the practice facility. He has spent close to the minimum required under salary cap rules, which is why the Vikings have had the most room under the cap the past two years.

Now McCombs is about to sell the team to Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler for $625 million. That's a profit of about $380 million, not counting the food service sale or the annual profits McCombs has raked in for seven years.

The Vikings have gone on somewhat of a spending spree this offseason, adding Fred Smoot, Darren Sharper, Pat Williams and Travis Taylor in free agency. But all the guaranteed money is deferred until at least July, allowing McCombs to pass the cost along to Fowler.

The sale, however, needs to cross a few more hurdles. Fowler reportedly is trying to sell off a $300 million stake in an aviation company he owns, which would provide him with the capital he needs to make the deal work. The NFL is awaiting the completion of the deal before deciding on Fowler's bid. Vikings fans are praying McCombs makes out like a bandit -- and leaves.

Arkansas phenom

Perhaps the most amazing athlete available in the draft -- and the fastest rising prospect -- is Matt Jones, who played quarterback for Arkansas the last four seasonss.

He is 6-foot-6 and 242 pounds, but he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds at the scouting combine and was hand-timed at 4.37 seconds at his pro-day workout. He has a 39 1/2 -inch vertical jump.

How does that compare? The top-ranked receiver, Michigan's Braylon Edwards, is 6-3, 210 and ran 4.45. He has a 37 1/2 -inch vertical jump. No. 2-ranked wideout Mike Williams of Southern California is 6-5 and 229, ran 4.58 and vertical-jumps 38 1/2 .

Jones is a freak. He was good enough to start for the Arkansas basketball team as a junior.

He isn't regarded as a quarterback prospect. He has poor mechanics and lacks accuracy. But he made things happen for the Razorbacks. His 2,545 rushing yards set the Southeastern Conference career record for quarterbacks. He helped Arkansas finish 9-4 two years ago and 5-6 this year.

Draft guru Mel Kiper rated Jones 18th among tight end prospects in the draft at the end of the college season. But Jones looked great playing receiver at Senior Bowl workouts and had a super combine.

It's apparent he will be tried first at wide receiver and maybe used as an H-back. Jones thinks receiver is his best spot. Once considered a second-day flier, Jones is moving much higher on draft boards. He should be gone in the second round. Might he even slip into the late first round? Possible, if some team thinks he can quickly learn how to run pass routes.

"I think Arkansas probably won more games because of Matt Jones' contributions than maybe any other team in our league relative to any single player affecting their team," new Dolphins coach Nick Saban said at the scouting combine. "I think Matt Jones is probably one of the unique players in this draft."

"He said he didn't think he dropped a ball during the entire practice or game at the Senior Bowl," said Titans General Manager Floyd Reese. "I can't verify that, but the point is he caught a lot of the balls that were thrown to him. So you say, 'Can he be a receiver?' He's got things that he has to learn. . . . He doesn't feel like, other than release (from the line of scrimmage) and having to play against the jam, that he's real far behind the other receivers (at the Senior Bowl)."

Onside kicks

Patriots cornerback Ty Law, the four-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Fame candidate, remains unsigned. Law had surgery in January on a broken foot that sidelined him most of last year. He insists he will be ready for the start of the regular season but has been in a protective boot all winter. The boot was due to come off this week. Law has visited Pittsburgh and Kansas City. The Chiefs said they would wait to see how his foot mends before making an offer. The Jets and Indianapolis reportedly also may be interested.

Chargers owner Dean Spanos strongly dismissed rumors that the Chargers would consider trading quarterback Philip Rivers to San Francisco for the Niners' top draft pick. The Chargers say they're sticking with both Drew Brees and Rivers for another year. Brees will return as a franchise-tag player for $8 million. The Chargers did not make an effort to sign Brees to a long-term deal, indicating they're not giving up on Rivers, who was the fourth pick in last year's draft. San Diego would take a cap hit of about $10 million by trading Rivers this year.

Steelers Hall of Famer Lynn Swann is considering running for governor in Pennsylvania against charismatic incumbent Ed Rendell. This prompted the National Journal to write: "Ed Rendell probably knows more about football than Swann knows about government." Rendell, former Philadelphia mayor, is on the Eagles postgame show.

Head-Scratching Dept.: After a second trade in a month and a free agent signing, Denver has acquired four Browns defensive linemen -- including three starters -- from the defense that ranked 32nd against the run last year. The Broncos also hired the D-line coach of that group in Cleveland, Andre Patterson. The new Browns-turned-Broncos are DT Gerard Warren, DE Courtney Brown, DE Ebenezer Ekuban and DT Michael Myers.

The Patriots are trying to convert third-year nose tackle Dan Klecko to an inside linebacker. They experimented with the conversion last preseason, but it didn't get very far. The 5-11, 270-pound Klecko saw spot duty at fullback and played special teams before going on injured reserve after just six games. With star inside backer Tedy Bruschi recovering from a stroke, the Pats are expected to target that position in the draft.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com