James, 25, has played only eight games the last two seasons because of two knee injuries and failed a physical last week. The Vikings were preparing to put him on waivers.
James is a former first-round pick who played at Wisconsin. His position coach was Redskins defensive line coach John Palermo.
“We loved Erasmus when he was coming out,” Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said. “[Defensive coordinator] Greg Blache really liked him as a pass rusher. … Fred Smoot played with him in Minnesota and liked him. And he had what, four pressures, against us in the 2006 opener before he hurt his knee.”
A league source said Oakland and Miami were interested in claiming James off waivers, so the Redskins decided to call Minnesota and offer the pick. During the waiver period, the teams with the worst 2007 records get first chance at claiming a player.
The Redskins didn’t address defensive end in free agency or the draft and appear unwilling to trade a first-day draft pick to Miami for Jason Taylor. Dealing for James is a no-risk move. If he doesn’t make the roster out of training camp, the Redskins would get the pick back.
James played 15 games as a rookie, posting 28 tackles and four sacks. But he tore his ACL in Week 2 of the 2006 season and Week 13 of last season. James became disposable when the Vikings acquired defensive end Jared Allen last month.
Cerrato said James’ knee is 90 percent, and he will be ready for training camp. Redskins consultant Dr. James Andrews performed James’ second ACL operation.
To make room for James on the roster, the Redskins released undrafted free agent defensive end Dorian Smith.