The only full-time starter among the Vikings' free agents this year is defensive end Ray Edwards, and Edwards will be a restricted free agent if the NFL and the NFL Players Association don't agree to an extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement before the March 5 start of free agency. An agreement isn't expected in the opinion of many insiders, which would limit the number of unrestricted free agents around the NFL to those players who have six or more accrued seasons.
In all, that means more than 200 players that would have been unrestricted free agents under the old rules – which would have made them unrestricted after four seasons in the NFL – are now going to be restricted, giving teams the option to match offers those players get from other teams.
"I always plan for the worst-case scenario. Just like we go into the draft when we do anything – ‘This is the worst possible scenario we could be in. What are you going to do?'" Rick Spielman, vice president of player personnel, told KFAN radio this week. "If you have a game plan for that, anything that happens better than that is gravy."
There are a few Vikings that have made significant contributions in backup roles that will be unrestricted whether or not an extension to the CBA is reached: Chester Taylor, Artis Hicks, Benny Sapp, Jimmy Kennedy and Greg Lewis.
But six Vikings stand to lose the most if there is no CBA extension because they will be restricted free agents.
Only one Viking will be a restricted free agent either way.
SIX WHO LOSE OUT
Ray Edwards – The starting left defensive end has had a solid season, getting a career-high 8.5 sacks to finish second on the team. He has been good against the run and has applied pressure even when he isn't getting sacks. He also finished as one of the leading tacklers on the team.
Edwards seems to be maturing in his game and his approach to his profession, so he is likely to get interest from other teams, but being a restricted free agent the Vikings would have an opportunity to match any other offer he received and would be able to garner a fourth-round pick if they chose not to. More than likely, they would be inclined to match any reasonable offer. At the end of his four-year rookie deal, Edwards' salary nearly doubled in 2009, but he'll be in line for an even bigger payday than his current $1 million salary.
Tarvaris Jackson – Jackson's up and down career is hard to put your arms around. He showed some impressive physical qualities – a strong arm and decent mobility. But he hasn't been able to consistently put it all together, not always showing patience in the pocket and his mechanics break down at times when he feels pressure. He held off a challenge for the starting position from Sage Rosenfels, but he still wasn't good enough to keep the Vikings from pursuing Brett Favre.
Jackson might end up being the most interesting free agent among the Vikings this year. Will they want to pay up for a second costly backup if Jackson gets an offer elsewhere that would give him an opportunity to compete for a starting job? Rosenfels is averaging about $3 million per year on the extension he signed with the Vikings, so it will be interesting to see how they view their No. 2 quarterback if they expect Favre to return and Jackson gets an offer elsewhere to boost his value.
Fred Evans – Evans' role has been diminished in 2009. In 2008 he started the final two regular-season games and the playoff opener for an injured Pat Williams. However, this year it was Jimmy Kennedy who was making the start when Williams sat out a December game with an elbow injury. Kennedy is an unrestricted free agent no matter what happens with the CBA, and both of their fates could rest on Williams' retirement plans. Williams said if the Vikings win the Super Bowl, he will retire. But he also didn't commit to coming back next year if they don't win the championship.
Look for the Vikings to consider defensive tackle among their free-agent and draft plans, and their returning players could come to down to a decision on either Kennedy or Evans, who was inactive for three games this year.
Naufahu Tahi – The Vikings thought enough of the fullback to match a $1.4 million offer sheet he received from the Cincinnati Bengals last year as a restricted free agent. There are a number of decent fullbacks up for free agency in 2010, so the Vikings will have plenty of options if they want to consider players on other teams. Tahi knows his role – to block for Adrian Peterson – and has turned his body into that of a fullback after getting some action as a running back early in his career. His three carries for five yards isn't going to impress anyone, but his value comes down to how teams perceive his blocking skills.
Karl Paymah – Paymah signed a one-year deal with the Vikings and was happy to get out of Denver, where drastic changes were taking place under rookie head coach Josh McDaniels. Paymah was hoping to earn the nickel job. He started strong, showing decent skills on defense and an even better feel on special teams. However, his involvement tailed off. After playing in the first 12 games and starting two consecutive games at midseason, he has been inactive for the final four.
Benny Sapp and Asher Allen have been getting the playing time over Paymah, whose one-year stint in Minnesota could be coming to an end. It would appear the Vikings could be making a decision between Sapp and Paymah, who are both free agents. With a $1.5 million cap number, Paymah cost the Vikings almost twice as much as Sapp in 2009, but Sapp ended up with more defensive contributions.
Ryan Cook – Perhaps no one's playing time has been cut as much this season as Cook's. He was the starting right tackle last year, but this year his main contributions have been on the field goal and extra-point units. He has played on offense sparingly, filling in for much of the first half at Arizona when rookie starter Phil Loadholt was out with an injury and played in a few other games in mop-up duty. After starting 33 of the 35 regular-season games heading into the season, Cook's contributions have been minimal on offense this year.
As could be the case with Sapp and Paymah, and Kennedy and Evans, the Vikings' free-agent decision on the offensive line could come down to Cook or Hicks. Hicks offers more experience and more versatility. In 2009, their cap numbers were similar, with Hicks garnering $1 million and Cook $840,000.
RESTRICTED EITHER WAY
Eric Frampton – Frampton is a safety, but his main role is on special teams coverage units, where he is one of the leading tacklers. He knows his specialty and sticks to that. If the Vikings want to keep him for special teams support, they'll be able to do so at close to the veteran minimum.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Six Vikings who could be free-agent losers
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