The salary cap is almost sure to return, so there aren't any hard figures as to how much teams will have to spend and how much of that money they will invest in one or two big-time free agents. The signing of Brett Favre and his hefty price tag has shown the willingness of the organization to spend big to keep Favre happy. Will they do the same with Rice?
Rice's injury history has followed him much of his four-year career. In his first two seasons, he missed six games due to ankle and knee injuries and had two or less receptions in 20 of the 26 games in which he played. When Favre arrived, so did Rice's production. He exploded on the scene with 83 catches for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. He became the go-to receiver the Vikings hadn't had since they shipped Randy Moss off to Oakland.
However, injuries again sidelined Rice in 2010, who waited until the preseason to have the needed hip surgery and his season was effectively wiped out. If there is a risk-reward type of free agent, Rice could be at or near the top of the list.
Rice is going to get a massive payday from somebody, whether it's the Vikings or not. He could be in the $7-8 million a year range among wide receivers and a lot of that money guaranteed – somewhere around a five-year, $40 million deal with $20 million of that in the form of guaranteed money.
That is a huge price to pay, but, when one looks back on the 2010 season, the one thing that was consistently missing from the passing game was the role of the big receiver who could make plays deep down the field. In the Vikings offense, Rice was a textbook No. 1 receiver, with Percy Harvin as an ideal slot receiver and Bernard Berrian as a No. 3 receiver/deep threat. However, the pay scale was completely out of whack.
As a second-round draft pick, Rice was paid less than Harvin and about 20 percent of what Berrian was paid, despite B2 being the third receiver at best among the team's receiver corps. If the Vikings re-sign Rice to a long-term deal, they could ask Berrian to cut his salary.
In the big picture of things, keeping Rice wouldn't really cost the Vikings $8 million a year if they slashed Berrian's payday. The bottom line price of keeping Rice would only be about $3 million a year, not $8 million or more.
The growing sentiment is that Ray Edwards will likely be gone when free agency begins because some team will offer him $40 million over four years, not five, and it's unlikely the Vikings would match that. Rice is another story. If the Vikings want to keep him, not only will they have to act fast, they had better be prepared to pay him like a Pro Bowl receiver – whether they believe he is worth it or not.
No player was more missed more on game days in the first half of last season than Rice. No player may be more important for the Vikings to sign. It will take a lot of doing (and a lot of cash), but he is the risk worth taking for the Vikings offense moving forward.
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.