On Your Mark, Get Set...

Despite rumors that the March 3 opening of free agency could be delayed, the NFL has quashed those stories by saying the free agent sweepstakes will get underway in 10 days.

There are a lot of nervous types around the NFL that see the next few months as critical to the future of the league. With no new collective bargaining agreement in place, unless the owners and players can work out a new CBA or at least get some form of an extension done, there will be no salary cap in 2007 -- meaning that if a team wants to "pull a Steinbrenner" and spend millions more than the competition, they may be able to do it.

It was that concern that had league sources rumbling that there might be a delay to the start of free agency -- set to begin a week from Friday.

In an effort to settle down those rumors, the league announced over the weekend that free agency will begin as planned March 3 whether a new CBA is in place or not.

For teams like the Vikings that have a lot of money to spend, this is seen as good news -- since there will be nothing to stop them from spending as much as they want to improve their talent base. For other teams in worse cap situations, they will need to start paring salary to get to the salary cap and placing franchise tags on those players they're fearful will leave without proper compensation.

While there is still very good reason to believe that the NFL is facing a crisis situation if a new CBA can't be worked out in the next round of owners meetings and behind-the-scenes discussions with the players association, for now anyway it means continuing business as usual -- which will include the shotgun start to free agency at midnight Eastern time a week from Friday.

MONDAY NOTES
* There is a chance that the Vikings may release Jim Kleinsasser if he doesn't re-work his contract. The Vikings franchised Kleinsasser two years ago when it was feared that Joe Gibbs was going to snap him up, but under the new coaching philosophy of the West Coast Offense, Kleinsasser may not be the best fit -- making him potentially expendable.
* The top college talent is currently preparing to take off for Indianapolis at the annual scouting combine, which begins this Thursday. VU will be in attendance and will have daily updates as to whose stock is rising and whose is falling.
* If guilt by association means anything, fans are likely to be skeptical of the return of Onterrio Smith. The Vikings had been rumored as one of the teams that the Dolphins were potentially going to try to use as a suitor for Ricky Williams, but reports Sunday that Williams has once again failed a league-mandated drug test and faces a one-year suspension have thrown those not only off the front burner, but completely off the stove. There's been no word from the Vikings (big surprise) about the future of Onterrio Smith with the team, but every time one of these reports surfaces, it makes us question the power drugs can have. Williams and Smith have both lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably millions, because of their inability to stay out of the league's substance abuse program.

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