|Monday, July 15
Santiago hopes to rejuvenate career in Minnesota
By Len Pasquarelli
Free agent tight end O.J. Santiago, again attempting to jump-start a once promising career that has been stalled the past three seasons, Monday night signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings, his fourth different team since 1999.
The five-year veteran received a contract with a base salary of $525,000. As recently as two weeks ago, Santiago was seriously considering retirement.
"I just felt like there's still a lot I want to accomplish," Santiago said. "The last few years haven't been what I wanted them to be. I know I can still play the game."
Santiago, 28, will have to battle, however, for the No. 3 or No. 4 tight end opening on the roster. Byron Chamberlain and Hunter Goodwin are the top two tight ends and the field for the remaining jobs already was crowded before Santiago signed. Rookie coach Mike Tice is expected to carry four tight ends in the regular season.
The deal with Minnesota is slightly ironic in that Santiago created the "Dirty Bird" dance that was a hallmark of the Atlanta Falcons' surprise Super Bowl season in 1998. Atlanta defeated heavily favored Minnesota in the NFC championship game and Santiago was one of the Falcons players who performed the dance on a riser after the contest.
There is no denying Santiago's raw physical ability, but the mammoth tight end (6-feet-7, 265 pounds) has been plagued by injuries, and also poor hands. Santiago is an adequate and willing blocker, can run deep, but lacks consistency catching the ball.
In five seasons, he has played in 55 games, and started 53 of them. He has 76 receptions for 972 yards and nine touchdowns. His best season came in '98, when he started all 16 games for the Falcons, posting 27 catches for 428 yards and five touchdowns.A third-round pick by Atlanta in the 1997 draft, Santiago was traded to Dallas in 2000 after he fell out of favor with coach Dan Reeves. He was released by the Cowboys and then signed by Cleveland, where he played through the 2001 campaign.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.