When the NFL lockout does finally end, one of the most important questions facing the Vikings will be whether they can retain wide receiver Sidney Rice. Indications are that a new collective bargaining agreement will make Rice an unrestricted free agent, meaning there could be plenty of demand for the 24-year-old.

Rice has had various injury issues during his four NFL seasons, including hip surgery that sidelined him for the first half of last season, but he also had a standout 2009 (83 receptions, 1,312 yards, eight touchdowns) and would be considered one of the top free agent wide receivers on the market.

Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, who is one of the NFL's best receivers and is friends with Rice, was asked about Rice's situation.

“He’s 24 years old, 25 years old. He’s got an unbelievable skill set," said Fitzgerald, a Minneapolis native who works out in the Twin Cities in the summer. "People up here in Minnesota really love him and appreciate it. I’m just a guy that the team you get drafted by is the team you’re familiar with. They liked you from the beginning and they want to see you have success. I just want to see him happy. I don’t care where he ends up playing, but from every time I talk to him he seems to enjoy his time here in Minnesota.”

Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter, who spent Tuesday on the University of Minnesota campus helping Fitzgerald and other players through their workouts, was at these same workouts a couple of years ago when Rice showed up and then went on to have an outstanding season. Carter did not seem too happy last year when Rice did not attend but it turned out the hip injury played a role in him staying away.

Carter, an NFL analyst for ESPN, praised Rice when asked him about him this week.

“He’s one of the guys that is really emerging because he’s very young, he has some experience," Carter said. "I think the hip injury is behind him. He’s an explosive guy, he’s a playmaker and if you look at all the guys who are free [agents], he’s probably one of the top one or two guys that are most desirable. His career could really explode. A lot of things could really happen for him.”

Fitzgerald, by the way, made it clear that Rice would be welcomed at his workouts but does not know if he will attend.


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