Tag And Cut Date Have Vikings Connections

Tuesday is a big day for NFL veterans. It is the first day they officially can be cut, and it's also the deadline for teams to declare transition and franchise players. That has the Vikings in the news because a few moves by other teams will affect Minnesota — like Oakland's decision on Charles Woodson and Cleveland's search for a replacement of QB Jeff Garcia. Might the Vikings gain a CB and lose a QB because of decisions surrounding Feb. 22?

It is growing close to decision time on cornerback Charles Woodson and no matter what the Oakland Raiders elect to do, there are no guarantees the path they choose will be the wise one.

The deadline for deciding is Feb. 22.

The first option they have is to declare him their exclusive franchise player for the second year in a row. It prevents him from going to another team but it guarantees him at least $10.5 million in salary, a 20 percent increase from the $8.78 million he earned last year. Should the average of the top five cornerbacks in the league come to more than that after all accounting is complete, then that would be the payout.

A second choice is they may choose to cover themselves from overpaying by dropping the exclusive tag. That way they could have the option of matching any outside offer he gets or accepting two first-round draft picks.

A third would be to depreciate — give him the transition tag, which would assure him of the average of the top ten players at his position.

A fourth would be to do their best to sign him to a new long-term, and no doubt expensive, deal.

A fifth would be to sign and trade. There has been much speculation of a swap of Woodson to Minnesota for wide receiver Randy Moss. Although so far there seems to be more smoke than fire on that front, the reality is the sensibility of it from Oakland's point of view.

Jerry Porter plans to test the free agent waters. Moss is scheduled to make $7.25 million next year. That's a potential savings of $3 million for the Raiders if Woodson goes in that scenario.

Finally, Oakland could merely say enough is enough in dealing with the demands of the Poston brothers and release him — let them see if another team is willing to pay him as much as he believes he is worth.

Radical though that may seem, there is growing sentiment in the Bay Area that Woodson has not progressed in seven years as a Raider and that he has priced himself out of the market.

As a cover corner, he has not made his mark as a major playmaker, registering just 16 interceptions in seven seasons. The last time he returned an interception for a touchdown was in his second year, 1999.

His most noteworthy contributions have been in the area of tackling — which makes him the anti-Deion Sanders. There isn't a surer tackler around and despite missing the final three games of the season, he finished third on the team with 73 tackles this past season. That was the highest number he had accumulated in a season to date.

However, paying more than $10 million for an accomplished downfield tackler would seem to qualify as an exorbitant outlay.

The question is whether that is the way the Raiders are thinking. If so, they are not saying so in advance of the Feb. 22 deadline to declare franchise and transition players.


The Browns did everyone a favor by announcing they would release quarterback Jeff Garcia Feb. 22, the first day veterans can be cast off in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

General manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel quickly decided Garcia would not fit into the run-oriented offense Crennel wants to operate. It was obvious last year to everyone but former head coach Butch Davis that Garcia was a poor fit in the offense in 2004, too, but Davis stuck with Garcia until a shoulder injury prematurely ended the 34-year-old quarterback's season.

The Browns will take a $3.7 million salary cap hit by releasing Garcia now. The hit would have been about $1.75 million had they waited until after June 1, but then they would have been stuck with a salary cap hit of just under $2 million next year.

Now Garcia will be free to seek a job elsewhere, possibly Detroit or Tampa Bay, and the Browns can get on with the business of finding a different quarterback to carry them through 2005 and possibly beyond.

Crennel and Savage believe Kelly Holcomb can manage a game the way Crennel wants his quarterback to play. Holcomb is a pocket quarterback and has proven that with time to prepare he can play well against good defenses.

But Holcomb also comes with a very big question mark. He is as brittle as uncooked spaghetti. He has started 13 regular season games in the NFL and broken bones in four of them. His first start in 2004 was Game 11 against Cincinnati. He suffered three broken ribs and missed the next four games, not starting again until the final game.

Holcomb also can be a free agent. He said he would like to return to the Browns. The Browns have the salary-cap room to sign him, but it would be unlikely the contract would be for more than two years, and Holcomb might be looking for a longer deal.

Choices are slim among veteran free agents. Gus Frerotte from Minnesota and Kordell Stewart from Baltimore are possibilities. So is Kurt Warner of the Giants, but Warner wants a chance to start. Frerotte and Stewart are backups, but Frerotte would have a better chance for playing time behind Holcomb than he would if he stayed in Minnesota backing up Daunte Culpepper.

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