Sunday slant: Taylor valuable, not tag-worthy

The Vikings are in a bit of a free agency bind between their final-four limitations and the number of quality unrestricted free agents on the market. Still, rumors that Chester Taylor could receive the franchise tag seem off base. Here's why, from statistical comparisons to salary breakdowns.

Chester Taylor is a solid backup, maybe one of the best all-around backup running backs in the league. He's probably even a starter for a few needy teams. But a franchise player for the Vikings? As all the hip players are saying these days: Child, please.

That's what the slow-season rumor mills have been spewing over the past couple of weeks. But there are many problems that come into play.

First, however, there are some reasons why that rumor could even get started. After all, Taylor does have some valuable qualities.

When he came to the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent from the Baltimore Ravens, it was his opportunity to become a full-time starter. He wore that king's crown well and took a pauper's beating in the process. He rushed 303 times for 1,216 yards, a 4.0-yard average when many defenses keyed on the running game because the Vikings were struggling in the passing game with a new offense and a combination of Brad Johnson, Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger under center.

Taylor proved to be one of a number of valuable acquisitions in Brad Childress' first foray into free agency as a head coach. But when Adrian Peterson was available for the Vikings in the 2007 NFL Draft, they jumped at the chance.

Since then, Peterson has become the workhorse and one of the best runners in the league. And the combination of Peterson and Taylor has proved effective, with Taylor accepting a backup role professionally.

In fact, in four seasons as a Viking, Taylor has become the franchise's 10th-leading rusher with 2,797 yards, a 4.3-yard average and 18 touchdowns. But as Peterson's star rose from a first- and second-down running back, Taylor carved out quite a niche on the team.

He was the league's top running back for third-down receptions in 2009 and was sixth overall in that department with 26 third-down catches. He had one fewer third-down reception in 2008 than he did in 2009 and led all NFL running backs that year as well.

When given the opportunity, Taylor has proved he is still a good runner as well. In his four seasons with the Vikings, he has six 100-yard games – four of them in 2006 and two in 2007.

So why isn't Taylor worthy of the franchise tag? It has as much to do with other influences as it does with any knock against him.

The primary reason is what the one-year franchise tag would cost the Vikings. It would require the Vikings to pay him an average of the top five salaries from last year at his position. That would mean an $8.156 million payday for Taylor, using the 2009 payouts to Reggie Bush, Brian Westbrook, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson and Darren Sproles.

Taylor actually could be as valuable as some of those players, but not to the Vikings with Peterson carrying the load. Last year, Taylor's cap number was a healthy $3.755 million, and more than doubling that amount doesn't make sense for a team that is affected by the economy and a relatively poor stadium deal, putting the Vikings 31st in revenues and value, according to last fall's annual NFL valuation report by Forbes magazine.

Also factoring into the equation is age. Taylor will turn 31 in September, which is a somewhere near death (or something like that) in dog years … which is essentially the same as NFL running back years. Working in Taylor's favor is that he has only been a full-time starter for one year, his first with the Vikings. While Taylor has 1,028 career carries and 265 receptions to his name, that isn't as many as other top-paid veterans. Westbrook has 1,308 carries and 426 receptions; Tomlinson has 2,880 and 530; and Jackson (five years Taylor's junior) already has 1,548 and 281.

Ironically, with Sproles and Tomlinson both in San Diego, that is one of the potential landing spots for Taylor because the Chargers are expected to release Tomlinson and Sproles isn't considered an every-down back. Detroit, Taylor's hometown, is also a possibility. Kevin Smith averaged only 3.4 yards per rush on 217 carries.

Taylor is also the top-ranked unrestricted free agent at running back this year, according to's rankings with Willie Parker, Kevin Faulk and Larry Johnson also scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. Parker has three consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 rushing yards, but he has more career carries than Taylor and isn't considered the every-down grinder that Taylor is. Faulk is more than two years older than Taylor and he, too, is considered more of a third-down back with 839 career carries and 418 receptions. Johnson, who isn't believed to have a strong work ethic, is Taylor's age, has 1,421 carries and 154 receptions.

Another issue with giving Taylor the franchise tag is that it would essentially reverse the pay scale on Vikings' running back tandem. Peterson, the starter, would be making a base salary of $3.64 million with just over $2 million in prorated bonus for about $5.7 million in cap dollars (yes, we're aware there likely will not be a cap) and another $2.45 million in other incentives that could be made. But on base salary alone, Peterson would be making $3.64 million and Taylor would be at $8.16 million.

And, finally, letting Taylor go to another team would enable the Vikings to sign another high-end free agent if they feel another position needs shoring up. As one of the final four teams, they have to first lose a free agent before signing another for the same first-year salary or lower (with restrictions on how much it can increase in subsequent years). Taylor is the only unrestricted free agent the Vikings have that might yield them a starting-caliber player if they lost him.

No doubt there is a market for Taylor, but that market is most likely more lucrative outside of Minnesota, where there might be more money to spend and greater opportunity.

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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