NFL, Union Get Contract Approval

The NFL labor agreement that was hammered out has been the source of controversy both before and after it was ratified. But several of the key elements to the deal were given preliminary approval Tuesday in district court in Minneapolis.

For the last 14 years, Minneapolis has been at the center of some of the NFL's most bitter and enduring arguments. In the process, it has made Judge David Doty something of a celebrity.

Doty first came to national attention in 1992 when he ruled that the NFL's Plan B free agency violated antitrust laws, and in a subsequent ruling, granted free agency to three Philadelphia Eagles players -- Reggie White, Keith Jackson and Keith Byars. It opened the door to the free agency that exists today. In the years since, whenever there has been a case involving the NFL and antitrust laws, the cases have remained under the domain of Doty and his initial ruling.

On Tuesday, Doty gave preliminary approval to some of the key elements of the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement. Earlier this year, it looked as though the league and the players association were heading down the path to a lockout, as the 2006 season was set to be an uncapped salary year -- allowing the richer teams in the league with owners willing to spend whatever money they deemed necessary to go unchecked and sign as many players to as much as they wanted.

In the 11th hour, a decision was hammered out that, almost immediately, became the source of controvery when owners looked at the details of the deal, and some vocal opponents of the new CBA said the owners gave up too much and that it might not stand as initially written.

However contentious nature that was on display prior to the agreement being forged earlier this year, the 25-minute hearing Tuesday showed none of the animosity that had been going back and forth prior to that. In his ruling, Doty gave preliminary approval to several of the key issues of the agreement, including free agency and the revenue sharing procedure.

While it won't be the last word on the concerns expressed by some of the owners, it does give the players union's position a little more teeth in making the current agreement more binding.

* The deal signed by Dwight Smith Tuesday includes keeping the 2006 salary ($1.2 million) he was scheduled to make with the Saints in place -- roughly half of the money in base salary and the other half in roster bonuses. There was no signing bonus paid out by the Vikings. In the final two years of the deal, Smith is scheduled to make $1.6 million and $2.5 million in base salaries with the potential of bringing in another $1.2 million in bonuses.
* Smith cited his relationship with Mike Tomlin as a factor in his signing with the Vikings and spurning shorter-term offers from the Buccaneers and Ravens.
* The Smith signing could have far-reaching implications. Prior to landing Smith, the plan was to start Tank Williams at strong safety and Darren Sharper at free safety. If Smith wins a starting job, which is likely because of his familiarity with the Tampa-2 system the Vikings defense will employ, he would likely move in at free safety and shift Sharper over to strong safety, whereas if Williams wins the starting job, Sharper will likely remain at free safety.
* The Vikings buzz phrase of position versatility is in play with Smith as well. He not only plays safety, but can also play cornerback and nickel back if needed.
* As of this morning, only four first-round picks have signed -- the latest being CB Antonio Cromartie of the Chargers. While the Vikings are hopeful of getting a deal done with their first rounder, Chad Greenway, as early as today or tomorrow, many of the first-round rookies will be training camp holdouts until a couple of key positions are filled. At that point, the signings will likely fall like dominoes.
* FOX Sports has rated the NFL offensive lines using a complex formula that includes adjusted rushing yards and sacks allowed. Last year with their formula, the Vikings were 31st in adjusted rushing and 29th in sacks allowed. With their offseason additions, the Vikes got bumped up all the way to No. 8 on their ranking system.

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