Labor issues leave Vikings, UFAs in limbo

While the Vikings issued tenders to several free agents with fewer than six years of experience, not all of those may hold up and they didn't re-sign any of their longer-tenured veterans. Players know the labor situation is creating extenuating circumstances, but the Vikings aren't making any excuses just yet.

The Vikings made their decisions with their restricted free agents – or at least those they are hoping will remain restricted – but those with six or more years of NFL service are left in greater limbo.

Brett Favre's future is already sealed with him filing his retirement papers and Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier shutting the door on the team pursuing him again. Instead, Frazier is committed to finding a long-term solution at quarterback.

Patrick Ramsey is another quarterback the Vikings had on the roster at the end of the season, but he never played a game for the Vikings as they went to Tarvaris Jackson and then Joe Webb, and the team doesn't appear to have any interest in bringing Ramsey back.

But what about players like Ben Leber, Ryan Longwell, Frank Walker and Lito Sheppard – all veterans with more than five years of experience who therefore will become unrestricted free agents?

"Nobody is talking without a new CBA (collective bargaining agreement)," Leber said after attending a bargaining session between the NFL and NFL Players Association this week.

The "nobody is talking" mantra seems to sum up the Vikings' plan right now. Without a CBA in place, they don't know what kind of salary cap will be instituted and they can't sign unrestricted free agents now that the deadline for a labor agreement has come and gone without an agreement.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Vikings issued tenders to seven of the 12 players scheduled to be free agents that have less than six years of experience. Under last year's free-agent rules, which fell under the "final league year" designation, free agents with less than six years of accrued NFL experience were restricted. In previous years, any free agent with four or more years of service was considered unrestricted, meaning he could sign with another team without his previous team receiving any draft-pick compensation.

The Vikings, like many teams, tendered offers to pending free agents with four or five years of experience, including receiver Sidney Rice and defensive end Ray Edwards. However, with Edwards having five years of NFL experience, a number of his teammates don't believe that tender will hold up when a new CBA is in place and think he will be an unrestricted free agent. That could be one of the reasons the team committed to Edwards' backup, Brian Robison, with a three-year, $14.1 million deal on Thursday.

Rice's situation, with him having four years of experience, is a little more uncertain than Edwards' predicament.

Depending on the level of service and the amount of playing time the pending free agents got, their reactions varied. Some wouldn't comment. Others, like reserve safety Eric Frampton, were full of appreciation.

"It is such a blessing. I feel honored that a great organization like the Vikings wants me to be a member of their team another year," Frampton said after learning he received a tender.

The uncertain labor situation has created several variables for players and teams. With a work stoppage comes consequences. The teams won't be able to have players work out at their facilities or monitor their rehabilitation from injuries.

"What we're trying to do is just prepare for every situation, and I think whatever happens, we'll be prepared to handle it," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. "Who knows what's going to happen? But I'm hoping that March the 4th we'll be with a new CBA and we'll be moving forward. But if that's not the case, we'll be prepared. We've talked through just about every scenario possible and we'll just see what happens."

For now, the NFL and its players union have agreed to keep talking.

With a new head coach and new coordinators, some believe that teams like the Vikings would be at a disadvantage by not having offseason workouts – some of which can include film sessions and practices – during the work stoppage. Frazier isn't looking to make any excuses.

"I think the fact that everybody is going to be operating under the same circumstance – you don't want to make any excuses. So, in our mind, we're approaching it like there's going to be football and we've got to make sure that we're doing what we can do within the parameters of whatever the league allows us to do," Frazier said. "And when we get ready to go, we'll be ready to go.

When exactly that is, nobody knows, but even Leber, a pending free agent who is involved in the labor negotiations as an assistant team rep and also had his first go-round with unrestricted free agency delayed by the lack of a CBA in 2006, is trying to remain optimistic.

For now, all Leber, Longwell and other experienced veterans can do is wait for league matters to get resolved before they can begin working on their own futures.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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