Remember all that exuberance Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman had late night back on April 25 and again the next afternoon? Spielman had hit the trifecta, landing three first-round picks in the NFL Draft.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd at No. 23.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes two picks later.
And then, after a blockbuster trade with New England, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was added to the mix with the 29th overall pick.
Spielman was glowing when he introduced the three picks at Winter Park upon their arrival the next day.
Media saw the 1-2-3 package -- three potential difference makers at three positions of need -- and lauded the Vikings for their vision and aggressiveness.
The most optimistic of fans began wondering whether the most memorable draft in franchise history had just taken place.
And now? Well, the Vikings are in the final hours before training camp begins in Mankato and none of those three difference-makers has signed his rookie contract.
Time to panic, right?
Our one-word response: Re-lax. It’s no big deal.
Honestly. It’s not.
Don’t forget, a year ago the Vikings top draft pick, left tackle Matt Kalil (selected at No. 4 overall) didn’t finalize his deal until the day players reported to training camp. Kalil put ink to paper in an office at Winter Park, then got in a car with quarterback Christian Ponder and zipped down to Minnesota State University to join the action.
Didn’t miss a meeting. Didn’t miss a walk through. Didn’t miss a practice.
Might we expect the same for Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson? We might.
And yet even if none of the three picks were to sign on Thursday, here’s a few things to digest to keep it all in perspective.
- The Vikings’ first practice isn’t until Friday afternoon.
- The team’s first padded practice – which is when the action becomes more meaningful – won’t be until next week.
- The first preseason game isn’t until Aug. 9.
- The first regular season game isn’t until Sept. 8.
In other words, the chances of any of the Vikings’ three first-round picks missing significant time is next to none. And no one is anticipating any sort of lengthy holdout for any of the three players.
Furthermore, don’t forget that Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson all participated in the team’s rookie mini-camp in May followed by three weeks of Organized Team Activities and another week of mandatory mini-camp. So it’s not like they haven’t already had a chance to make a first impression on teammates and the coaching staff. They've already been through plenty of early orientation.
So what’s the hold-up with these contract you might ask? It’s just the nature of the beast. Deadline pressure is fast becoming a factor in negotiations, influencing a staring contest in which teams don’t want the distraction of the headlines that'd come with top draft picks not locked up before camp begins. And rookies don’t want to be late to their first training camp.
But what must be reiterated is that under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was installed in 2011, there really isn’t a whole lot for first-round picks and teams to haggle over. With the new rookie salary structure, first-round picks fit into slots with the maximum value of their deals having very little wiggle room. All first-rounders get four-year deals with a fifth-year team option.
Most often at the center of these first-round pick negotiations: a) the amount of guaranteed money in the deal; and b) the inclusion or exclusion of offset language, which is essentially fine-print provisional details teams try to install to relieve themselves of financial responsibility in the event that they eventually cut a first-round pick, whom another team then signs.
Getting a little too technical here now, right?
So here’s another thing to keep in mind. As of Wednesday morning, 14 of 32 first-round picks were unsigned. So it’s not as if the Vikings are dragging their feet and behind the rest of the NFL. There’s a general waiting game that occurs as players and teams try to keep tabs on the contracts signed by rookies in similar pick range. And so it goes.
The agents for Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson are making their closing arguments. And at Winter Park, Vikings Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski is working to iron out every last detail in the contract verbiage.
The priority: getting all three players to Mankato for the first team meeting, which will occur Thursday evening. That’s a gathering that head coach Leslie Frazier stresses. A year ago, Frazier believed he could set the tone for an entire season with his introductory address at training camp and stressed the importance of having all 90 players present. Last year, Frazier used that meeting to deliver a sermon on focus and preparation. He asked players to avoid outside distractions. He told them to ignore the widespread prognostications that said that, after 2011, the 2012 Vikings were more of a laughingstock than a playoff contender. And Frazier insisted his players develop an identity from the very first training camp practice as a group that was united and prided itself on playing smart, tough, disciplined football.
That may sound like Disney-movie fluff to some. But many teams, especially young ones, take that first coaching address to heart. And even with outsiders laughing at the 2012 Vikings' playoff aspirations, the players followed their coaches lead and began thinking big immediately and working accordingly.
So yes, from top to bottom of the Vikings’ organization, there’s recognition that Frazier's emphasis on Thursday night’s meeting has merit. That will likely have a bit of influence on the late stages of negotiations with Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson. But it won't be a make-or-break factor in the business side of things. Even with all three players still unsigned, there is no reason whatsoever for worry.
Before long, the looming contract issues with three promising rookie talents will be finished. So rest easy.