June 1 offers no juice in 2010

Fans used to look forward to this date on the calendar but there won't be any big names released on Tuesday. The Vikings were further restricted in free agency earlier this year and the rules are changing.

June 1.

For diehard, 12-months-a-year football fans, that date needed no explanation.

That was the date when teams could release high-priced veterans while minimizing the immediate salary cap impact. For instance, for a player with three years left on a five-year deal that included a $10 million signing bonus, the remaining prorated amount of that bonus ($6 million; or $2 million for each season remaining) could be spread out over the current salary cap and the next season's cap rather than having the whole amount dumped onto that year's salary cap.

Tuesday, however, will come and go with nary a whimper. By opting out of their agreement with the players union, the teams ushered in an uncapped season. Thus, there's no reason for teams to dump salaries on Tuesday — which means there won't be any big names made available to teams still looking for veteran help to fill a need that regular free agency and the draft couldn't plug.

However, the June 1 date lost its magic long ago for numerous reasons, mainly that most teams have become so adept at managing their salary cap that they can afford to absorb a bad contract or two. Plus, another reason for June 1 cuts — the date of roster bonuses kicking in — disappeared when agents began making those bonuses due in March. Thus, those decisions already have been made.

The Vikings opted to give a big bonus to kicker Ryan Longwell in March this year, and Steve Hutchinson had portions of his signing and roster bonuses deferred until March in each of his last three seasons. Bonuses have been paid or players have been released already, although that wasn't the case with the Vikings, who are expected to return all 22 starters from last year's roster at the start of 2010.

The new structure of the bonuses and the salary cap means the worst free-agent season since the current model of free agency debuted in 1993 isn't going to get a much-needed kick in the pants.

According to the free-agent transactions provided by The Sports Xchange, only 51 unrestricted free agents have changed hands this year. Exactly double that number signed with a new team in the first three weeks of free agency in 2009 alone.

The Vikings, of course, weren't big-time players in free agency this year. They tried to get RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who ultimately chose the New York Jets over Minnesota. The Vikings did sign a trio of players – CB Lito Sheppard, kicker Rhys Lloyd and DL Michael Montgomery – that were released by their previous teams, but none of are expected to be starters by midseason (Sheppard could be an early-season injury fill-in for Cedric Griffin).

The Vikings were impacted by a "Final Four" rule that kicked in with the last year of the current collective bargaining agreement, which said they couldn't sign a true unrestricted free agent until they lost one of equal or greater value. The team wasn't able to re-sign RB Chester Taylor or OL Artis Hicks, but since the three free agents they did sign were released, the Vikings still have the option to sign two unrestricted free agents.

One of those could be guard Chester Pitts, who is expected to work out for a handful of NFL teams on July 15, when his surgically repaired knee should be ready for action. However, the Vikings could lose out if a bidding war ensues.

Head coach Brad Childress basically insinuated two weeks ago that free agency was over, and with no players of great worth expected to break free of a contract today, he's probably right.

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