Sunday slant: Can Edwards' hard line endure?

Ray Edwards could be dancing around a financial ring with the Vikings whenever the new league year starts. Publicly, he has taken a tough stand with his current restricted free-agent tender, and it's a stand that he will likely have to backtrack on if he wants to earn more than a fledgling boxing career can pay.

Ray Edwards could be less than two weeks away from his biggest payday of the year.

That isn't a proclamation that the court appeals will step in and force free agency to begin this week, but it may … although that seems unlikely after the delays and stays that have already been issued in the biggest NFL rivalry game of the year. It also isn't a statement that the owners and player representation will suddenly start getting along and iron out a deal that gets the new league year blooming before the spring flowers.

Instead, we're implying that the $5,000 pot for his professional boxing debut on May 20 might be the most he makes in 2011 if he is a man of his word. Edwards is currently stuck as a restricted free agent as part of a class of NFL players that has been issued a pretty raw deal (at least as raw as NFL money-making contracts go).

Last year, Edwards and many in his draft class of 2006 were hoping to become unrestricted free agents and take advantage of what turns out to be the biggest contract many players see in their lifetimes – their first opportunity at free agency is usually the best one. But that wasn't the case with the Class of 2006. In a normal year, Edwards would have been an unrestricted free agent in 2010 and set to reap the benefits of a strong start to his career. He hasn't been a Pro Bowl player, but he has been a durable, strong-effort defensive end who has been as good against the run as he has at sacking the quarterback. In other words, he was an ideal complement to Jared Allen's rush off the right side of the defensive line that pulled double teams his way, and Edwards was also the beneficiary of lining up next to two Pro Bowl defensive tackles like Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.

Having three out of four of the starting defensive linemen being selected to multiple Pro Bowls can't hurt the chances of the fourth rusher, as offenses set their blocking schemes to account for the accomplished and established threats first. But when Edwards' first chance at big money came, so did a contentious labor battle between the league's owners and the NFL Players Association, allowing the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the terms of which set up 18 years of uninterrupted labor peace, to lapse. Last year was called "the final league year," according to the language in the CBA, and with the final league year came consequences designed to get the NFL and the players to bargain in good faith. That changed the terms of free agency and meant players had to have at least six years of experience to become unrestricted free agents instead of four. Edwards had four, meaning the Vikings could simply offer him a tender and he would likely be engendered to the team for another year.

Edwards wasn't alone in feeling the sting of labor unrest. According to league statistics, 212 free agents that would have been unrestricted in 2010 were restricted because of an expiring CBA. This year, Edwards was part of the 2006 class that took the boot to the midsection once again. This time, to borrow a phrase from "Network," he's mad as hell and he's not going to take this anymore.

"They put a first-round tender on me, but even if that holds up, there's no way I will play for less than what my backup got in his new contract," Edwards told the Star Tribune, referring to Brian Robison's three-year, $14.1 million deal that included a $6.5 million signing bonus. "There's no way I would play here."

One problem: Edwards' stance – if he follows through on it, and that's a high-stakes gambling "if" – might mean he's stuck earning nothing instead of $2.8 million. Well, maybe not nothing. There's always the boxing career that might net him about $15,000 by the end of the year.

There is also the chance that the 2011 NFL season is washed out and he and all the players don't earn anything, but I'm guessing that's about as likely as Edwards living up to the implication that he would sit out the entire season rather than receive "only" $2.8 million.

I understand players' desire to earn market value. Nobody, whether they are earning $28,000 or $2.8 million, wants to see others making more when, to date, they haven't produced as much, but Edwards' statement should be slightly insulting to Robison, who was drafted in the same round as Edwards and might just need the full-time playing opportunity to prove he can be as good or better than Edwards. But even beyond the dynamics his statement could cause between teammates is that Edwards' statement has the possibility to be considered negatively outside his own team. It might just be the kind of statement that gets other general managers and decision-makers wondering if the rumors before the 2006 draft were true, that Edwards is the type that is difficult for coaches to stomach.

Edwards' frustration is understandable. While blessed to be physically talented enough to play in the NFL, he had the misfortune of being in the wrong draft class, the one that could get slapped with two extra years of restricted free agency. There is still the possibility that an agreement is reached and he enjoys the freedoms that unrestricted free agency brings, but the better path would have been asking the Vikings privately to trade him if they weren't going to sign him to a long-term contract. They might have been able to reach an agreement that would be desirable enough for another team to trade for him. Instead, if he really is a man of his word, he could be working on his boxing skills harder and longer than he intended.

While Edwards often takes the right path to sack the quarterback, his words aren't likely the ones that will help get him to his sack of gold this year.


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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Last year, Edwards and many in his draft class of 2006 were hoping to become unrestricted free agents and take advantage of what turns out to be the biggest contract many players see in their lifetimes – their first opportunity at free agency is usually the best one. But that wasn't the case with the Class of 2006. In a normal year, Edwards would have been an unrestricted free agent in 2010 and set to reap the benefits of a strong start to his career. He hasn't been a Pro Bowl player, but he has been a durable, strong-effort defensive end who has been as good against the run as he has at sacking the quarterback. In other words, he was an ideal complement to Jared Allen's rush off the right side of the defensive line that pulled double teams his way, and Edwards was also the beneficiary of lining up next to two Pro Bowl defensive tackles like Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Having three out of four of the starting defensive linemen being selected to multiple Pro Bowls can't hurt the chances of the fourth rusher, as offenses set their blocking schemes to account for the accomplished and established threats first. But when Edwards' first chance at big money came, so did a contentious labor battle between the league's owners and the NFL Players Association, allowing the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the terms of which set up 18 years of uninterrupted labor peace, to lapse. Last year was called \"the final league year,\" according to the language in the CBA, and with the final league year came consequences designed to get the NFL and the players to bargain in good faith. That changed the terms of free agency and meant players had to have at least six years of experience to become unrestricted free agents instead of four. Edwards had four, meaning the Vikings could simply offer him a tender and he would likely be engendered to the team for another year. Edwards wasn't alone in feeling the sting of labor unrest. According to league statistics, 212 free agents that would have been unrestricted in 2010 were restricted because of an expiring CBA. This year, Edwards was part of the 2006 class that took the boot to the midsection once again. This time, to borrow a phrase from \"Network,\" he's mad as hell and he's not going to take this anymore. \"They put a first-round tender on me, but even if that holds up, there's no way I will play for less than what my backup got in his new contract,\" Edwards told the Star Tribune, referring to Brian Robison's three-year, $14.1 million deal that included a $6.5 million signing bonus. \"There's no way I would play here.\" One problem: Edwards' stance – if he follows through on it, and that's a high-stakes gambling \"if\" – might mean he's stuck earning nothing instead of $2.8 million. Well, maybe not nothing. There's always the boxing career that might net him about $15,000 by the end of the year. There is also the chance that the 2011 NFL season is washed out and he and all the players don't earn anything, but I'm guessing that's about as likely as Edwards living up to the implication that he would sit out the entire season rather than receive \"only\" $2.8 million. I understand players' desire to earn market value. Nobody, whether they are earning $28,000 or $2.8 million, wants to see others making more when, to date, they haven't produced as much, but Edwards' statement should be slightly insulting to Robison, who was drafted in the same round as Edwards and might just need the full-time playing opportunity to prove he can be as good or better than Edwards. But even beyond the dynamics his statement could cause between teammates is that Edwards' statement has the possibility to be considered negatively outside his own team. It might just be the kind of statement that gets other general managers and decision-makers wondering if the rumors before the 2006 draft were true, that Edwards is the type that is difficult for coaches to stomach. Edwards' frustration is understandable. While blessed to be physically talented enough to play in the NFL, he had the misfortune of being in the wrong draft class, the one that could get slapped with two extra years of restricted free agency. There is still the possibility that an agreement is reached and he enjoys the freedoms that unrestricted free agency brings, but the better path would have been asking the Vikings privately to trade him if they weren't going to sign him to a long-term contract. They might have been able to reach an agreement that would be desirable enough for another team to trade for him. Instead, if he really is a man of his word, he could be working on his boxing skills harder and longer than he intended. While Edwards often takes the right path to sack the quarterback, his words aren't likely the ones that will help get him to his sack of gold this year. 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