Free Agency to Begin...Finally

With the NFL owners and players finding a middle ground for a forced peace agreement, the Vikings still have the most money to spend in free agency, but their advantage has been seriously diluted.

Fans of the NFL breathed a sigh of relief last night as the league announced that it had reached a new six-year deal with the players association, but, for the Vikings, the competitive balance was taken a little out of their hands by the agreement.

Had the owners not agreed to the new deal, which calls for more internal revenue sharing and gives players a bump to 59.5 percent of the annual revenue for salaries, the predicted "Black Thursday" (and subsequently "Black Sunday") scenarios never panned out. Without a new deal, there would have been a blood-purge of contracts for spendy veterans. Instead, the 2006 salary cap was bumped from $94.5 million to $102 million for this year and $109 million in 2007 -- which would have been an uncapped year.

The new agreement benefits those franchises that saw the unrealistic shot at an uncapped year and put a lot of money into the 2006 season -- knowing it would be altered. As a result, had there not been an agreement, only about a dozen teams would have been in position to make moves in free agency of any significance and only about three -- the Vikings, Browns and Cardinals -- would have had the money to make a big splash.

Instead, now all 32 teams have a shot at landing high-profile players, which will drive up the market price. While the Vikings now have in excess of $30 million under the new cap, teams that were hamstrung with incentive bonuses and roster bonuses for veteran players saw their poor cap management saved by this decision.

The vote to approve the deal was 30-2 -- with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf voting in favor of the new deal and only the Bengals and Bills voting against it.

With the new deal in place, it is expected that we will see yet another delay in the start of free agency, which would be the fifth broken deadline. As it stands now, free agency is expected to begin at midnight Friday night/Saturday morning.

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