Franchise Fever

The deadline for signing franchise players to long-term deals came and went Monday with the Lions getting a long-term deal done with Cory Redding and the Bears failing to get a deal worked out with Lance Briggs. Both signings have an affect on not just the teams involved, but teams like the Vikings as well.

While Monday may have been a slow day for most of the NFL, a pair of contract negotiations could go a long way to determining the future of the Vikings as well as several other teams around the NFL.

First and foremost, the Bears, despite getting close to a deal, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus, failed to sign linebacker Lance Briggs to a contract. As a result, the Bears can't sign Briggs to a long-term deal and he is back to the position he maintained earlier this year when slapped with the franchise tag – the vow that he would never play for the Bears again.

While things can change and there has been tough talk like this in the past, those with knowledge of the Bears locker room say that Briggs is more likely to make his stand than most who have felt dissed by the franchise tag in the past. Wanting to get his slice of the pie, even though his tag cost would be $7.2 million, Briggs has said he will never play for the Bears. This standoff can have only a few logical outcomes – either Briggs caves in and signs his franchise tag, the Bears give him their word that if comes into camp they won't franchise him again in 2008, he gets traded or he sits out the first 10 weeks and gets a year of eligibility by coming in for the final six games to get another year of eligibility.

If Briggs makes good on his threat, he will leave the Bears with another hole on their defense. Last month the team released DT Tank Johnson after what was perceived to be a DWI arrest – it was later learned that Johnson's blood alcohol level was below the legal limit in Arizona where he was arrested. The Bears have meticulously built one of the best defenses in recent history and losing two major component pieces and having almost the entire secondary playing in the final year of their contracts can't be good for the Bears front office, which is helpful for the other teams in the NFC North.

The other development Monday also involved the franchise tag, as the Lions signed defensive tackle Cory Redding to the richest contract ever given to a defensive tackle – a seven-year, $49 million deal. Redding's deal surpassed the five-year, $33.2 million contract signed by Kevin Williams in December.

That, combined with the signing of Dwight Freeney to the richest deal ever given to a defensive end, has raised the bar for how much D-linemen are paid. With Redding and Williams both at or near the $7 million a year range and the mammoth six-year, $72 million contract signed by Freeney July 13, the signings have sent a ripple through the rest of the league.

One player who may benefit from this signing binge is Pat Williams. Big Pat is entering the final year of a three-year deal he signed with the Vikings in 2005 that called for $13 million over three years. Although he's going to be 35 in October, the recent increases in what top DTs are paid might end up being a snag in negotiations for a contract extension. Any time a player gets over 30 (much less 35), many teams are wary of putting too much money on the table or guaranteeing too much in the way of up-front money.

If the Vikings want to keep Pat Williams for any extended period of time, it's going to cost them, thanks to the Lions. Detroit did a similar ploy a couple of years ago when it signed Dre Bly, then a nickel back with the Rams, to a huge contract – raising the bar on what cornerbacks could command on the open market. When the Vikings signed Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot, they had to use Bly's deal as a benchmark.

While the two franchise decisions – one to sign and one not to sign – at first blush would look to only affect the Lions and Bears, a deeper look shows that, like a rock hitting a still pond, the ripples go out well beyond just the source of the commotion.

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