Late last week, when only two weeks remained for restricted free agents to receive offer sheets from other teams, all of the Vikings' restricted free agents were still waiting.
Since the start of free agency, about 60 restricted free agents with 23 different teams have signed their tenders, meaning they are off the market and other teams can no longer negotiate with them. For the Vikings' seven restricted free agents, they have less than two weeks to pick up an offer sheet for a better deal with another team or simply sign their tender and return to the Vikings under a one-year deal.
Last year, 54 RFAs signed before the draft, but there are far more restricted free agents this year – 212 more to be exact – because there is no long-term Collective Bargaining Agreement in place and the league and NFL Players Association agreed if either side opted out the "Final League Year" would have new rules for free agency in an effort to encourage the sides to the bargaining table. One of those rules says that a player whose contract ends has to have at least five years in the league to be unrestricted. Previously, players only had to have four years of experience and an expiring contract to make it to the open market as unrestricted free agent.
The difference between unrestricted and restricted is the original team can place a tender on their restricted free agent that would require varying levels of draft-pick compensation from any other team that signs him to an offer sheet that the original teams declines to match.
A few weeks ago, the rumors were hot and heavy that the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints could be coming after Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards, one of the seven restricted free agents in Minnesota, with an offer sheet. With the Eagles trading for DE Daryl Tapp, their need at the position has greatly diminished, but the Saints might still be searching for help on the left side of their defensive line since they released Charles Grant.
With the final pick in the first round, the Saints still might be tempted to make a run at Edwards, who registered 8½ sacks last year. It would require a long-term offer and the willingness to part with the 32nd overall draft pick, which may or may not produce a quality NFL player. Edwards has proven to be a reliable defensive end, which is why the Vikings were willing to offer him the first-round tender and pay him the corresponding $2.521 million salary that goes along with it. They also had the option to offer him a first- and third-round tender, which would have required them to pay him $3.168 million.
But even if the Saints or another team are willing to sign Edwards to a multi-year offer sheet, the Vikings would have the option to match it.
However, it's getting to be crunch time. The same day personal taxes are due, April 15, is the NFL deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other teams. The idea is that the original team would have a week to match the offer and those decisions would be taken care of before the draft starts on April 22.
Other Vikings restricted free agents could feel the love from other teams in the next 10 days as well. With a second-round pick and a $1.759 million price tag attach to him, DT Fred Evans probably isn't one of them.
If the Seattle Seahawks can give up a third-round pick and pay $8 million over two years to Charlie Whitehurst, who hasn't thrown an NFL pass, then Tarvaris Jackson could be tempting for a team willing to part with a third-round pick. Ryan Cook, who would also fetch a third-round pick, might have to prove his versatility another year as he makes an attempt to become a five-position backup on the offensive line instead of working mainly at right tackle.
Fullback Naufahu Tahi could be a had for a bag of Sunday morning doughnuts (powdered, we assume), as the Vikings only have the right of first refusal and wouldn't receive any compensation from a team signing him to an offer sheet. There have been rumors that the Bengals could make another run at him (they tried last year, but the Minnesota matching funds kicked in for him).
Safety Eric Frampton is the team's other restricted free agent, but he might be hard-pressed to find a team willing to part with a fifth-round draft pick for a special-teams guy.
Frampton and others not finding a lot of interest in the restricted free-agent market won't be alone. With what's been called the deepest draft in a decade and the best first round since the famed draft class of 1983, teams won't be willing to throw around a lot of offer sheets and surrender draft picks, but those that find a temptation like Edwards will have to get it done in the next 10 days.
Can you feel the excitement?
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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