The Vikings will have a long list of free agents to deal with when the NFL lockout finally does end, but vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said team officials have "a pretty good idea" of the players they want to keep. That such decisions have been made comes as no surprise given the amount of time the Vikings have had to analyze any situation that might happen when the work stoppage is done.
"Our history has been to keep our young guys, especially trying to come out of their first contracts [as well as] get those guys," Spielman said Wednesday while playing in the team's charity golf tournament that benefits the Vikings Children's Fund at Rush Creek in Maple Grove. "I think that’s the top priority and then we’ll kind of see where everything else falls in place. That also depends a lot on what type of [salary] cap number you’re working with, if you’re working with a cap number, and the years. You don’t know anything [about what the rules will be].”
Indeed that is a major issue facing the Vikings and other NFL teams. When the salary cap was in place, players were eligible to become unrestricted free agents after four years of service. Last year, with the salary cap gone and the collective bargaining agreement entering its last year, a player had to have six years of service to become unrestricted.
It remains unclear what the requirement will be for unrestricted free agency under a new CBA, but many expect it will go back to four years.
That would mean the following list of Vikings could hit the open market during what would be a wild free agency period: Nose tackle Pat Williams (14 years of service); kicker Ryan Longwell (14); linebacker Ben Leber (nine); quarterback Patrick Ramsey (nine) cornerback Lito Sheppard (nine); wide receiver Greg Lewis (eight); cornerback Frank Walker (eight); wide receiver Hank Baskett (five); defensive end Ray Edwards (five); defensive tackle Fred Evans (five); offensive lineman Ryan Cook (five); quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (five); fullback Naufahu Tahi (five); safety Eric Frampton (four); and wide receiver Sidney Rice (four).
Linebacker Chad Greenway, a veteran of five seasons, also could join the above list but that will only happen if there is no franchise tag included as part of a new CBA. The Vikings put the franchise designation on Greenway after the 2010 season, meaning he would make about $10 million in 2011.
Going by what Spielman said about keeping younger players, the two names that jump out are Rice and Edwards. Rice had a brilliant 2009 season but he is coming off hip surgery last year and there is a chance that given the Vikings situation at receiver they might be willing to pay him more than some other teams that might be worried about the hip.
As for Edwards, that's an interesting situation. The starting left end for the Vikings has had 16.5 sacks the past two seasons in 30 starts. Edwards, though, has made it clear he does not want to return to the Vikings, going so far as to refer to himself as a "former Viking" in the press releases that have come out while he has been boxing during the lockout.
“I’ve been in this business for over 20 years and players are going to get frustrated and the business side is always going to be frustrating for them," Spielman said when asked about Edwards' situation. "We’ll just see. We don’t know if he’s restricted, unrestricted, what’s going on in that area and if we can sign him or not sign him to a long-term deal."