Will Rice be free agent? Vikings aren’t sure

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2011 - 11:14 AM

Until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, some NFL teams will use existing rules to restrict players and avoid extending contracts.

INDIANAPOLIS - The Vikings decision to place their franchise tag on linebacker Chad Greenway this week caused some questions about whether consideration was given to putting that designation on receiver Sidney Rice.

Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman declined to provide much insight into the matter Thursday as he addressed a group of reporters at the NFL scouting combine.

"I'm not going to go into what our internal discussions were," he said. "We made a decision that Chad was our franchise [player], and hopefully we'll be able to get Sidney under contract this year."

Greenway has yet to sign the franchise tender, but is expected to in the coming days.

The Vikings might not be convinced Rice will become an unrestricted free agent when that period starts. Under the last year of the collective bargaining agreement, which will expire March 3, a player didn't become unrestricted until he had six years of service. Rice just completed his fourth season, the number of years needed to become unrestricted before 2010.

ESPN reported Thursday that teams are prepared to use restricted free-agent tenders, even if they don't know if those tags will be binding once a new labor deal is in place. "We will finalize all our tags on potential restricted free agents when we get back [from the combine]," Spielman said. "I'm not going to tell you what we're going to tag or who we're going to tag."

Placing a tender on a restricted free agent means the player can still get offers from teams but his current club has the ability to match or receive compensation in the form of draft picks.

Using a tender that might not exist on Rice could be viewed as antagonistic, but Spielman points out that the Vikings can only operate under the rules that are currently in place. NFL officials and the NFL Players Association have been engaged in talks but an agreement does not appear close, meaning a work stoppage could be on the horizon.

Rob Brzezinski, Vikings vice president of football operations, will spend time at the combine meeting with the agents for several of the team's 20 potential free agents. That likely will include a discussion with Rice's agent, Drew Rosenhaus. The Vikings also could approach Greenway's representatives about a long-term deal.

While the organization clearly is waiting for the CBA to get done before giving contract extensions, the groundwork could be laid for deals. While Spielman refused to get into many specifics, he did say there were no plans to jettison any veteran players from the roster. That means receiver Bernard Berrian ($3.9 million base salary for 2011) and safety Madieu Williams ($5.4 million base) are safe.

"Right now, we're going to keep our roster status quo," Spielman said. "I don't anticipate any moves. Again, that's always etched in oatmeal."

One veteran who might not return is linebacker Ben Leber, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Leber had a base salary of $3.95 million last season and might command a bigger salary than the Vikings are willing to pay.

"We're focusing on the Chad Greenways of the world," Spielman said when asked about Leber. "Are we going to be able to keep everybody? I don't know. Would you love to have Ben back? Ben's been a very good football player for us, done a lot of good things for us. I don't know where that's going to go, to be honest with you."

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