Cap Challenges For The Future

Without a long-term collective bargaining agreement in place, the challenges in signing players might increase next year. However, Vikings vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski sees progress being made and a positive outlook.

Even with two first-round draft picks in 2005, the Vikings were able to get all their rookies signed before the first preseason game. That is no small accomplishment this year, when many first-round picks were training camp holdouts.

The collective bargaining agreement, the contract between the NFL Players Association and the league, is scheduled to expire in 2008. While that is still three years away, the ramifications of exactly how a new deal might come together made it more difficult for every NFL team to sign draft picks. How much of an impact did the lack of a long-term CBA have on the rookie signings?

"A lot. Because of the rules the way they are with the CBA, being one year removed from the last capped year, it made it challenging to do the rookie contracts," said Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings' vice president of football operations.

First-round contracts are often six years in length and voidable to five years. That means this year's rookies were signing contracts into and beyond the 2007 season, which would be the first uncapped year if no agreement were reached before then.

However, Brzezinski said progress is being made.

"I know the owners are working hard on it. The management council is working hard with the union," he said. "What we're hearing is that progress is being made. I think both sides realize it's critical to solve the problem and are trying to come up with a compromise to do so."

The player salary cap for every team is based on a percentage of the average defined gross revenues of all teams, and it is sure to keep rising. The popularity of the NFL is the reason. That raised the price paid in the new television contracts, and stadium and merchandise revenues continue to grow too.

"There is a lot of good going on in the league right now, with television contracts getting extended and with the game so popular and so healthy right now. That more than anything – the labor peace – is the last piece of the puzzle that we need right now to make sure that the league is rock solid," Brzezinski said. "We can operate from a business standpoint without it being extended, but it's going to cause increasing difficulty as we go, especially when we're facing an uncapped year in '07. That changes the whole dynamics.

"The uncapped year from a cap standpoint, that only helps everybody. Because it's uncapped, anybody with cap issues would have a get-out-of-jail-free card."

Because of Brzezinski's prudent management of the Vikings' salary cap, his team doesn't figure to be needing the relief an uncapped 2007 season might bring. But he agreed that smaller revenue teams would be hurt more than the high-revenue teams if there were an unlimited salary structure in 2007.

But there is a catch.

"Remember that in the uncapped year, free agency goes from four years to six years so there aren't going to be as many free agents. … The pool isn't going to be as big as you might think."

Under the current CBA, players become unrestricted free agents after accruing four years of NFL service.

While it's all conjecture about what might happen if the league and union can't reach an extension within the next 18 months, the Vikings' salary-cap picture for 2005 is right on track even after the restructuring of quarterback Daunte Culpepper's contract, Brzezinski said.

"For this year, we have plenty of flexibility to make an addition or a move to help our football team wherever we might see fit," Brzezinski said. "The cap is not obstacle."

With the NFL's annual training camp roster trimming to 65 players on Aug. 30 and 53 players on Sept. 4, Brzezinski's office is ready if needed.

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