The one time the Vikings got into the position of being forced to franchise a player, it was Jim Kleinsasser in 2003. How long ago was that? On the same day the Vikings franchised Kleinsasser, the Patriots franchised safety Tebucky Jones, which carried a price tag of $3.04 million. When Kleinsasser got the franchise designation, it was an almost identical $3.05 million – done to save the Vikings and head coach Mike Tice from losing their blocking tight end to Joe Gibbs and the Redskins. At times, it's hard to believe that was just eight years ago.
Inflation has taken a toll on both positions. In eight years, the franchise tag cost of a tight end has jumped to $5.91 million, while safety more than doubled to $6.46 million.
The potential franchise tagging of Greenway would make him just the second Viking to receive the designation. The Vikings tried to put the tag on Robert Smith in 1998, but an arbitrator threw it out due to a technicality in Smith's contract – he was always the smartest guy in the room. He eventually re-signed with the Vikings, but they never were technically able to use the franchise tag on him.
As with everything from ticket prices to an $8 adult beverage, the cost of doing business in the NFL has gone up – as have the franchise and transition tags. The franchise tag guarantees a player a one-year contract for the average of the top five salaries at his position – fortunately for interior offensive linemen, they're clumped together with offensive tackles in calculating those numbers – and for the transition players, they are paid off at a rate of the top 10 at their position.
The numbers for 2011 aren't out yet, but here were the 2010 franchise and transition costs:
Cornerback: (franchise) $9.566 million; (transition) $8.056 million.
Defensive End: $12.398 million; $10.193 million.
Defensive Tackle: $7.003 million; $6.353 million.
Kicker/Punter: $2.814 million; $2.629 million.
Linebacker: $9.68 million; $8.373 million.
Offensive Line: $10.731 million; $9.142 million.
Quarterback: $16.405 million; $14.56 million.
Running Back: $8.156 million; $7.151 million.
Safety: $6.455 million; $6.011 million.
Tight End: $5.908 million; $5.248 million.
Wide Receiver: $9.521 million; $8.651 million.
The franchise designation from 2010 would have cost the Vikings $9.68 million to keep Greenway, which would cost two first-round picks in return for another team to sign him away. Rice would cost $8.65 million to keep if they went the route of the transition tag, which isn't used very often anymore. In the case of a transition player, the Vikings can match any offer he receives within seven days. If they don't match, they give the other team no compensation. That was how the Vikings obtained Steve Hutchinson – offering him a top-end contract with a "poison pill" that would have made it fiscally impossible for the Seahawks to keep him – forcing Seattle to make sure he is the highest paid offensive lineman on the team. With left tackle Walter Jones being the highest paid left tackle, doubling that price wasn't rational and the Seahawks lost Hutch to the Vikings.
It will require a stiff price indeed to keep both Rice and Greenway no matter how they do it and it makes one wonder why more effort hasn't been made to sign them to long-term contracts. The answer is the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement. But, given that the team could promise more money up front in bonuses with lower base-salary numbers and the heavy lifting coming in three or four years if they play up to that level of a contract, it would seem to be a wiser investment than making a one-year balloon payment and still having to get deals done.
The players union has disputed the league's assertion that teams can place franchise and transition tags on anyone without a CBA in place, which only adds yet another chapter to the growing tome of discontent between the two sides.
"The current CBA provides that 'each club shall be permitted to designate one of its players who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent [or Restricted Free Agent] as a Franchise Player each season during the term of this Agreement.' The 2011 season is not a 'season during the term of this Agreement' so the NFL has no valid basis for claiming the right to franchise players in 2011," the NFLPA stated in a release on the matter.
The Vikings have time to make such decisions if the use of those tags is allowed, but considering their raids of the UFL, other NFL teams' practice squads late in the regular season and the CFL after the season concluded, it would stand to reason they would lock down as many talented players as they can before a lockout occurs. The most expensive ones, however, seem to be outside that line of thinking.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.