Free agency is getting more complicated than ever this year if the NFL and its players association don't come to an agreement on extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement before the start of free agency, scheduled for March 5 this year.
If there is no resolution reached before then, 2010 becomes an uncapped season for the salary cap because that is the incentive that was placed in the CBA in order to get the two sides to agree to something. Right now, there are few people who seem to believe an extension will be reached before the deadline. But an uncapped year also means a season with no floor in the salary. Whereas the 2009 season had a cap at $128 million and a floor at about $111 million, 2010 will see no such restrictions.
The common thinking earlier last year was that the players would win out on that deal and owners would spend like the Yankees in Major League Baseball. However, with no floor and a bad economy, there might be just as many losing players – and quite possibly more – in free agency as there are winners.
To add to the gloomier-than-expected outlook for many of the potential free agents is that an uncapped year also means free agents with four and five accrued seasons in the league will now only be restricted free agents instead of unrestricted. That would further limit movement and give teams more control over retaining players who could be entering the prime of their career.
"This is going to be totally different because those players (those coming out of their rookie contracts) aren't going to be able to go out and move. They're going to be a restricted free agent," Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel, told KFAN radio this week. "The pool of UFAs out there is going to be a lot smaller than it has been in the past."
The other caveat is that teams have an extra transition or franchise tag they can use on their own players, which further increases a team's ability to retain top-end players (although there aren't many top-end unrestricted free agents this year with so many of them being restricted).
The following is a cursory look at the Vikings scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Today, we examined those will be unrestricted no matter what happens with the CBA, with a look at the other categories this weekend.
Chester Taylor – The running back joined the team as unrestricted free agent in Brad Childress' first year and became an immediate workhorse starter and 1,200-yard rusher. However, with the drafting of Adrian Peterson in 2007, Taylor became mainly a third-down back who handled being moved back in favor of Peterson with professionalism. He has become a valuable third-down target, reliable pass protector and capable every-down back if needed.
Taylor finished the season tied for sixth in the league with 26 third-down receptions and 44 catches overall for 389 yards, complementing his 338 yards rushing. Taylor averaged about $3.5 million per year over the life of his four-year contract. He could be one of the better unrestricted running back prospects on the market, joining the likes of Willie Parker, Larry Johnson and Kevin Faulk.
Artis Hicks – Like Taylor, Hicks became a starter after joining the Vikings early in Childress' tenure. The Vikings traded to acquire him, but he moved into a backup role when Anthony Herrera re-acquired his starting seat at right guard. Since then, Hicks has become a versatile lineman capable of playing any position on the line but center.
In 2009, Hicks played in all 16 games, making two starts at right guard and one at right tackle while filling in for injured starters. He also replaced Bryant McKinnie at left tackle against Carolina when he was struggling with DE Julius Peppers. Hicks averaged about $950,000 per season on his four-year deal.
Benny Sapp – When the cornerback joined the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent, Sapp established himself early as a gambler, but he has since turned that boom-or-bust attitude into a serviceable nickel back role.
He started at left cornerback last Sunday against the Giants as an injury replacement for Antoine Winfield, but Sapp is probably best served playing in the nickel defense. During a six-game stretch filling in for an injured Winfield, Sapp had 25 tackles, two pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He made another start on Sunday and had already bested his previous single-season mark of 45 tackles. Sapp signed a one-year deal with the Vikings after last season and earned $840,000.
Jimmy Kennedy – Kennedy wanted to prove that he could play in this league after being labeled as a first-round bust with the St. Louis Rams, who had their share of those guys over the years. After bouncing around from St. Louis to Chicago to Jacksonville, the defensive tackle was excited to find some stability in Minnesota this offseason. He has become the primary backup for nose tackle Pat Williams and increased his stock slightly as a decent backup who can start in a pinch.
Kennedy made one start, two weeks ago for Williams, and has three sacks, tying his single-season best. His 25 tackles are the most for him since 2006. He signed a one-year deal last year for $1 million and is looking for more stability. With Williams' career winding down, Kennedy is an option for the Vikings' future at the position.
Greg Lewis – Lewis has been used sparingly since the Vikings signed him early this season. His big moment came when he grabbed a game-winning 32-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with two seconds left against San Francisco. Since that first catch as Viking, however, he has had a very limited role, playing mostly when Percy Harvin is out of the game as a third or fourth receiver. He finished the season with eight catches for 96 yards and his heroic touchdown. He isn't considered a priority free agent, but he's willingly takes on whatever role he is offered.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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