With training camp seemingly right around the corner, the Minnesota Vikings, like many NFL teams, haven't got a drafted rookie's name on a contract.
That is about to change.
Contract negotiations with many of the seven draft selections by the Minnesota Vikings began in late June. While not one single agreement has been announced, this column has learned late this past week that more than a couple signings are close.
Third-round draft choice Willie Offord, the strong safety from South Carolina, and fourth-round selection Brian Williams, a cornerback from North Carolina State, should be under contract by the end of next week, sources tell The Insiders.
"The Vikings have heated up negotiations this past week," the source said. "They are committed to getting every player under contract and into camp on time. Barring something unforeseen happening in the next couple days, both Offord and Williams will be officially signed this week."
This column has learned from representative sources that getting three other rookies under contract is just a formality. Fourth-round selection Edward Ta'amu, sixth-round selection Nick Rogers, and seventh-round selection Chad Beasley will be officially signed in the near future. Only timing is the issue, and all that is left is to sign on the dotted line.
Getting a drafted rookie under contract would seem to be something that should be easily accomplished. Generally the pay scale would be that of what a player in the previous year signed for in that drafted position, plus approximately 8 to 10 percent above that rate.
One major issue that has kept the rookie signings down at the present time heading into training camps is that 8 to 10 percent increase. Many teams are battling agents and representatives to keep the increase down or to eliminate the increases altogether.
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Kelly Campbell fits into a role of getting a decent signing bonus despite not being a drafted player, so he doesn't count against an alloted sum of money the Vikings have to sign their drafted players. Looked upon as a sure-fire second-round draft pick after his junior year (2000 season) at Georgia Tech, Campbell decided to stay in school for his senior season. Minor injuries and team issues kept Campbell from realizing increased success in his senior season, which caused him to drop off the radar screen of many teams.
The Vikings wasted no time in getting Campbell under contract following the 2002 NFL draft, a decision that the Vikings believe could pay dividends in the near future, according to a team source.
"He (Campbell) has done everything that has been asked of him. He is on the smallish side, but has very good quickness and better speed than showed on a stop-watch," the source said. "He has a chance to make this team, worst case maybe being a practice squad player in 2002 with a solid future and outlook for 2003."
All told, we are left with first-round selection Bryant McKinnie and second-round selection Raonall Smith.
Talks regarding Smith have been left close to the vest. The team is not talking about the negotiations and representatives for Smith will not discuss the negotiations on the record.
A league source tells The Insiders that negotiations have hit more than a couple speed bumps in the road.
The Vikings want to get McKinnie under contract. McKinnie stated after the draft that he wanted to get the deal done. It appears that late April was a long time ago, more like a distant memory.
League sources inform this column that the McKinnie camp, led by experienced representative Jim Steiner, has asked for a significant increase in the salary structure for McKinnie, compared to the deal signed by the seventh selection drafted in the 2001 draft, defensive end Andre Carter of San Francisco.
Sources close to McKinnie in South Florida tell The Insiders that his representatives started out looking for a 25-percent boost above the deal Carter inked in 2001. Believing that the deal signed by Carter was under valued, the McKinnie camp believes that his value far exceeds that of the prior year selection and want to be compensated accordingly.
From what was believed to be that of a harmonious negotiation could suddenly turn south if McKinnie's representatives don't get with the program and get him into camp on time.